The U.S. counted another 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day on Tuesday, as President Joe Biden pledged to speed up the delivery and administration of vaccines, in a plan that aims to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer or earlier in the fall.
The U.S. death toll now exceeds 425,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, while the case tally of 25.4 million accounts for a quarter of the global case tally of 100.3 million. The U.S. still has more than double the number of cases as India, the country with the second highest number of cases in the world at 10 million.
The latest death count is disappointing, coming as the U.S. added at least 151,616 new cases on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, a far lower number than the more than 3,000 cases that were being logged every day early in the new year. The U.S. has averaged 167,651 cases a day for the past week, which is down 33% from two weeks ago.
Hospitalization trends are improving too. There were 108,957 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals on Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, below the 109,936 counted the day before and the lowest level since Dec. 12.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced plans for the U.S. to buy an additional 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, as he boosted efforts to get more Americans vaccinated.
The administration is working to buy an additional 100 million doses each of authorized vaccines from Pfizer
Biden said at the White House. He said he expected delivery this summer. Moderna confirmed Wednesday that it is in talks on delivering the new doses.
“Help is on the way,” said Biden, who said the order would enable vaccinating 300 million Americans by the “end of this summer, beginning of the fall.”
Shortly before Biden spoke, the Associated Press reported that his administration planned to give states an approximately 17% boost in vaccines next week, following complaints of severe shortages.
Chris Meekins, analyst at Raymond James, said the positive news on vaccines is that the program is on track to get 100 million doses administered in 100 days, as Biden had originally promised.
Vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech alone should be able to deliver enough vaccines for the entire U.S. population by October, and if Johnson and Johnson’s one-dose regimen wins emergency use authorization early in the year, that goal could be achieved by late-July, he said.
However, new variants are persisting and are growing more troubling, he said in a note to clients: “We are becoming more concerned about the long-term efficacy prospects for COVID-19 vaccines/candidates given new evidence of reduced NAb titer against newly emerging strains with several Spike protein mutations,” said the analyst. “New vaccine variants may need to be developed regularly in the long-term.”
Meekins is also cautioning that “herd immunity” is unlikely in the next few months, noting that we still do not have any vaccines authorized for people under the age of 16, “ thus meaning nearly everyone over age 16 would have to agree to get the vaccine. Public polling of Americans shows that is unlikely.”
Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned that vaccines are the long games and not what will turn the tide on the pandemic this winter.
“If we don’t get people to double down on wearing masks and keeping apart and washing their hands and waiting their turn for when they should be getting vaccinated, we’re going to be at real risk, especially as this UK variant starts to spread more around the country,” Besser said in an interview with NBC News’ Today show. “Any lapses in those public health recommendations, in our following of those, is going to cost us in a really big way.”
In other news:
• Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. said its COVID-19 antibody cocktail still works against two new more infectious strains of the virus: the B.1.1.7 and the B.1.351, first detected in the U.K. and South Africa, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The company worked with researchers at Columbia University to assess how the drug, which has received emergency authorization in the U.S., works against the new strains in a laboratory, according to a preprint published Wednesday. (A preprint is a type of preliminary study.) The study was not conducted in humans. Regeneron said its antibody cocktail, made up of imdevimab and casirivimab, remained effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, but casirivimab’s potency was reduced against the B.1.351 strain. It has not yet tested the cocktail against the P.1 strain that has emerged from Brazil. Close to 300 people in the U.S. have confirmed cases with the B.1.1.7 strain, and the first case of P.1. in the U.S. was identified this week in Minnesota. The B.1.351 has not yet been detected in the U.S.
• Johnson & Johnson
expects to share details from the Phase 3 clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate “early next week,” according to remarks made by CEO Alex Gorsky. The company’s experimental COVID-19 adenovirus-based vaccine is currently being tested in late-stage clinical trials, and results are being closely watched for several reasons, including that it’s a single-dose vaccine and there are ongoing supply issues for doses of the BioNTech SE/Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. vaccines in the U.S. (Both of the currently authorized coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. require two doses.) “We’re certainly hopeful that you’re going to see a durable and a sustainable and patent response, particularly from our [adenovirus-based] vector approach,” Gorsky told investors, according to a FactSet transcript of the call.
• French drug company Sanofi
will help manufacture millions of doses of the COVID shot developed by rivals BioNTech and Pfizer to help speed up vaccine efforts in the 27-member European Union trading bloc, which has been grappling with shortages and delays, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. In an unusual move, the company will give Germany-based BioNTech access to a production facility in Frankfurt to produce more than 125 million doses of its vaccine in Europe, which will start to be delivered this summer.
• AstraZeneca pushed back on a statement from the EU Wednesday that it had pulled out of a meeting with the Commission that was to discuss delays in vaccine deliveries, Barron’s reported. The company said in a statement that it still planned to meet with EU officials later on Wednesday. AstraZeneca said last week that its initial shipments to the trading bloc would be slashed to 31 million vaccine doses from the planned 80 million doses due to manufacturing challenges. The company’s CEO, Pascal Soriot, defended the shortfall. “Our contract is not a contractual commitment,” he said. “It’s a best effort. Basically we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed.” The EU has threatened to impose export controls to keep vaccine doses on the continent, which has lagged the U.K. and U.S. in its vaccine distribution efforts thus far.
• Two people who stayed at the same New Zealand hotel at the same time as Sunday’s coronvirus case have tested positive for the illness after ending quarantine, the Guardian reported. The two were asymptomatic and had returned negative tests. The fresh cases could see a further delay to Australia reopening its travel bubble with New Zealand. Travel was suspended on Monday for 72 hours after New Zealand’s first case in two months emerged on Sunday.
• The U.K. government is expected to announce that travelers from high-risk countries such as Brazil and South Africa will be obliged to first quarantine in special hotels at their own expense, the BBC reported. The quarantine is expected to last up to 10 days. The U.K. passed a grim milestone on Tuesday of more than 100,000 COVID deaths, the most in Europe and fifth highest in the world, prompting widespread criticism of the Tory government’s management of the crisis.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 100.4 million on Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll rose to 2.16 million. About 55 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 218,878 and is third by cases at 8.9 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 10.7 million, and third in deaths at 153,724.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 152,016 and 13th highest case tally at 1.8 million.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 99,605 confirmed cases and 4,811 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
Business orders for durable goods such as tools, appliances and new cars rose in December for the eighth month in a row, signaling that companies are preparing for a stronger U.S. economic rebound later in the new year, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The increase in orders last month was below Wall Street expectations, but the drag mainly stemmed from a slump in demand for new airplanes since the onset of the pandemic. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.8% increase.
If transportation is excluded, new orders rose a solid 0.6%. Regular ups and downs in transportation often exaggerate monthly changes in the level of demand.
Orders for new cars and trucks increased 1.4% in the final month of 2020. Auto sales have held up pretty well during the pandemic as car buyers took advantage of ultra-low rates to lock in good deals.
Orders for airplanes were negative again, as they have been almost the entire year. Few airlines are ordering new planes with so little travel going on during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This report shows firm upward momentum for business investment as the longest year ever came to an end,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
The Federal Reserve finishes a two-day meeting later Wednesday, but the central bank is not expected to make big changes in its strategy to help the economy.