U.S. COVID vaccine program enters new phase as feds deliver jabs directly to drug store chains

U.S. COVID vaccine program enters new phase as feds deliver jabs directly to drug store chains

The U.S. vaccine program will enter a new phase Friday when the federal government starts to deliver doses directly to drug store chains and pharmacies, in an effort to get more jabs into arms as new variants of the virus continue to spread.

The initial plan is to send a million doses to 6,500 pharmacies, White House officials said this week. The program is expected to greatly expand the number of sites that offer vaccines and speed up the overall program.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. will have enough supply of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans, the Associated Press reported.

Biden made the announcement at the sprawling National Institutes of Health complex just outside Washington as he visited some of the nation’s leading scientists on the frontlines of the fight against the disease. He toured the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory that created the COVID-19 vaccine now manufactured by Moderna

and being rolled out in the U.S. and other countries.

Moderna and Pfizer Inc.

and German partner BioNTech SE

confirmed they are supplying the U.S. with another 100 million doses of their two-dose vaccines. There are also hopes that the one-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson

will be granted emergency use authorization as soon as regulators have examined the data from its late-state trial.

The U.S. is on pace to exceed Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office. The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Thursday, 46 million doses had been administered and 68 million doses had been delivered to states.

“That’s just the floor,” Biden said. “Our end goal is beating COVID-19.”

Read now: The U.S. is getting plenty of COVID-19 vaccines, but you still won’t have a normal summer

The U.S. added another 105,600 new infections of COVID on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, exceeding 100,000 for the first time this week. Cases are trending downward, however. The U.S. averaged 101,668 new cases a day in the last week, down 36% from two weeks ago.

Fatalities remain at high levels, with at least 3,878 patients dying on Thursday, although they are also falling, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

“Nationally, all signs point to continued rapid easing of the pandemic’s deadly winter surge,” the COVID Tracking Project wrote in its weekly update. “Cases are down 23 percent from the previous week and down 57 percent from the country’s all-time peak in early January when the US recorded 1.7 million new cases in a single week.

“Hospitalization numbers confirm this rapid decline: There are about 77,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US as of February 10, down 42 percent from the country’s January 6 record of about 132,000 people. Reported deaths dropped for the second week in a row, with 19,266 deaths reported this week—almost 10% fewer than were reported in the previous week,” said the update.

In other news:

• Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, will begin its third lockdown on Friday due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine, the AP reported. The five-day lockdown will be enforced across Victoria state to prevent the virus spreading from the state capital, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said. The Australian Open tennis tournament will be allowed to continue but without spectators, he said. Only international flights that were already in the air when the lockdown was announced will be allowed to land at Melbourne Airport. Schools and many businesses will be closed. Residents are ordered to stay at home except to exercise and for essential purposes.

• Hungary will become the first European Union country to start vaccinating people with Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in the near term, France 24 reported. Surgeon General Cecilia Muller said the first 2,800 doses of Sputnik would be given to those who have registered for inoculations, and that as Hungary was striving for “maximum safety” those who have a chronic disease will not get the shot. Hungarian regulators granted the shot an emergency use authorization before waiting for the European Medicines Agency to do so.

• The U.K. economy suffered its biggest slump in 300 years in 2020, according to official estimates, demonstrating the toll taken by the country with the worst death toll in Europe, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. Gross domestic product shrank 9.9% over the year as a whole, the Office for National Statistics said Friday, the largest decline among the Group of Seven advanced economies, the Wall Street Journal reported. France’s economy shrank 8.3% and Italy’s contracted 8.8%, according to provisional estimates. German GDP declined 5%. The U.K. has had more than 4 million confirmed cases of COVID, and at least 115,748 people have died, the fifth highest rate in the world.

See also: Just 0.5% of U.S. companies mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all employees

• Walt Disney Co.’s streaming service, Disney+, proved again to be a big plus during a pandemic that has all but shuttered the Magic Kingdom’s other businesses, MarketWatch’s Jon Swartz reported. A surge in Disney+ subscriptions, to 94.9 million, led a revenue rebound in the company’s latest quarter from the previous quarter as the media giant continues to double-down on direct-to-consumer sales. Disney 

reported a surprise fiscal first-quarter profit of $17 million, or 2 cents a share, on sales of $16.25 billion, up from $15.8 billion in the year-ago quarter. After adjusting for restructuring charges and other effects, Disney reported earnings of 32 cents a share, down from $1.53 a share in the year-ago quarter. Analysts on average expected Disney to report an adjusted loss of 34 cents a share on sales of $15.9 billion, according to FactSet.

• Germany is banning travel from Czech border regions and the Austrian Tyrol to protect itself against a surge of new cases including more infectious variants, the Guardian reported. The news was announced by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who said it has been agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The interior ministry said on Twitter that checkpoints would be put in place, though certain exceptions were expected, including to maintain commercial links.

Read also: Some hospitals are giving wealthy donors early COVID-19 vaccinations — and that could damage trust in health care at a critical time

Latest tallies

The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed above 107.8 million on Friday, the Johns Hopkins data shows, and the death toll rose above 2.37 million.

The U.S. has the highest case tally in the world at 27.39 million and the highest death toll at 475,449, or about a fifth of the global total.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 236,201 and is third by cases at 9.7 million. India is second worldwide in cases with 10.9 million, and now fourth in deaths at 155,447. Mexico has the third highest death toll at 171,234 and 13th highest case tally at 1.9 million. The U.K. has 4 million cases and 115,748 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 100,551 confirmed cases and 4,828 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

Pessimism about financial security, especially among lower-income Americans, grew in early February and fewer expect the economy to show much improvement by the summer, a new survey showed, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The first of two readings of consumer sentiment this month fell 3.5 points to 76.2 in early February and touched a six-month low, according to an index produced by the University of Michigan. The index registered 79 in January.

Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast the index would creep higher to 80.8.

MarketWatch special : The coronavirus pandemic has remade our working lives, and it’s been anything but fair.

The economy sputtered toward the end of last year after the record rise in coronavirus cases, but it’s still expanding. Growth is expected accelerate later this year as more Americans get vaccinated, Covid cases decline and Washington pumps more federal aid into the economy.

The Democratic-led Congress is on track to pass nearly $2 trillion in additional stimulus in the next month or so.

Read: Rising inflation is no threat to the U.S. economy – or is it?

 The Dow Jones Industrial Average

 fell and S&P 500

fell slightly in Friday trades.

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