Coronavirus Update: Global case tally for COVID climbs above 110.4 million as G-7 gathers to discuss vaccine equity

United States

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 110.4 million on Friday, as the leaders of the G-7 economies were scheduled to meet and discuss the effort to get COVID vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.

The administration of President Joe Biden said it will commit $ 4 billion to the World Health Organization’s Covax program, which aims to ensure vaccine equity for lower-income countries, which so far have been left behind as wealthier countries have snapped up the bulk of the vaccine supply.

The European Union said it will double its Covax funding to one billion euros and pledged another 100 million that will be earmarked for African countries. In an interview with the Financial Times, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed that Western countries transfer 3% to 5% of their stock of vaccine to Africa.

The U.K. holds the G-7 presidency this year, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is meeting virtually with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States to discuss international challenges — chief among them the pandemic that has killed almost 2.5 million people around the world, the Associated Press reported.

The head of the United Nations on Thursday sharply criticized developed countries for hogging COVID-19 vaccines and called for a global effort to get all people in all countries vaccinated as soon as possible.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres slammed the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of vaccines, with 10 countries administering 75% of all vaccinations to date, leaving 130 countries without a single dose.

Guterres comments echo those of World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has repeatedly called on richer nations to join the WHO’s Covax program, which aims to ensure vaccine supply for lower-income countries. The agency says Covax needs $ 5 billion in funding in 2021 alone.

“We need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity,” Tedros said in a joint statement issued last week with UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “COVID-19 has shown that our fates are inextricably linked. Whether we win or lose, we will do so together.”

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On Friday, Tedros welcomed the new commitments to Covax.

“This can’t be business as usual and there is an urgent need for countries to share doses and technology, scale up manufacturing and ensure that there is a sustainable supply of vaccines so that everyone, everywhere can receive a vaccine,” he said in a statement.

There was positive vaccine news from Pfizer Inc. PFE, -0.07% and its German partner BioNTech SE BNTX, +3.51%, which said they are requesting a regulatory change to the storage requirements for their COVID-19 vaccine, as MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported.

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The companies said they have new data showing their vaccine is still stable when stored in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators for up to two weeks, between the temperatures of negative 13 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Right now their vaccine must be stored in ultra-low temperature freezers between the temperatures of negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit and negative 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The data submitted may facilitate the handling of our vaccine in pharmacies and provide vaccination centers an even greater flexibility,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

Separately, Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -0.94% said it has submitted an application for its experimental single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to the World Health Organization for emergency authorization. J&J’s vaccine will be reviewed by a group of vaccine experts next week as part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory process. The company also submitted a regulatory application for its coronavirus vaccine in the European Union on Feb. 15.

A Mayo Clinic report found that both of the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. — the Pfizer/BioNTech one and a separate one developed by Moderna Inc. MRNA, +5.54% that uses the same mRNA technology — are nearly as effective at preventing infections with SARS-CoV-2 in the real world as they were in clinical trials.

The study, which was published Thursday as a preprint, found that both COVID-19 vaccines had an effective rate of 88.7% in the roughly 62,000 people included in the retrospective analysis. It also found that people who had been vaccinated had lower hospitalization rates if they did get sick. 

In other news:

• Life should return to normal — more or less — by Christmas, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted Thursday. In an interview with MSNBC, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned that there were many variables at play and returning to some sort of normalcy “is not a mathematical formula…it’s a question of estimates.” But he agreed with President Joe Biden’s estimate that things will start getting back to normal “by the end of the year, by Christmas.” It may not be exactly like pre-pandemic life, though. Fauci said theaters and restaurants will likely still have reduced capacity, and “Maybe you’ll still have to wear masks” in public.

Read now: How COVID-19 is keeping kids away from the dentist — especially children on Medicaid

• It’s very rare for someone to get infected with the coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19 a second time, but the few confirmed cases of reinfection tell us that immunity to the virus isn’t guaranteed and that vaccination could become a regular part of our medical care going forward. There are about 50 confirmed cases of reinfection globally. That’s far less than 1% of the 110 million coronavirus cases reported around the world. BNO News, a Dutch news site, is tracking reinfections at a global level; it’s identified 51 confirmed cases of reinfection along with roughly 11,000 suspected or probable reinfections. Reinfection is thought to occur when protective antibodies wane in people who have previously contracted the virus or in people who contracted the virus without developing antibodies. 

•New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was widely praised for his handling to the pandemic when his state was the epicenter last spring, is facing a growing chorus of criticism over his administration’s failure to disclose data on nursing home deaths related to COVID-19, and a group of Democratic Assembly members has signed a letter accusing the governor of obstruction of justice, as well as introducing legislation that would strip Cuomo of the pandemic-related emergency executive powers he’s held since March 2020, MarketWatch’s Virginia K. Smith reported. “This is a necessary first step in beginning to right the criminal wrongs of this governor and his administration,” reads the letter. The bill is co-sponsored by Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim, who the governor reportedly threatened to “destroy” in his response to criticism over the state’s handling of nursing homes. (Kim’s uncle died from COVID-19 in a Queens nursing home.) On Wednesday, a spokesman for Cuomo accused Kim of lying about his conversation with the governor.

• Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA, +0.76% will receive a weekly allocation of more than 480,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, starting Feb. 25. The places the drugstore chain supports administration of vaccine include Arizona, Arkansas, Chicago, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, New York City, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The company said to date, it has administered more than 3 million COVID-19 vaccinations at long-term-care facilities, as well as other identified vulnerable populations. “We have rapidly accelerated vaccine administration in long-term-care facilities over the last month, and will continue to expand access to vaccines in our pharmacies as supply becomes available,” said Walgreens president John Standley.

• Two women from Florida who dressed up as “grannies” in an effort get vaccinated early were caught, CNN reported, citing the Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. The women were aged 34 and 44 and came to a vaccination site wearing bonnets, gloves and glasses seeking their second dose. Both had valid vaccine cards from their first shot. They were denied when health officials found issues with their ID cards.

Latest tallies

The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 climbed above 110.4 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 2.44 million. About 62 million people have recovered from COVID.

The U.S. has the highest case tally in the world at 27.9 million and the highest death toll at 493,128.

The U.S. added at least 71,757 new cases on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, and counted at least 2,620 deaths.

Case numbers have been declining, however. The U.S. averaged 72,831 new cases a day in the past week, down 44% from the average two weeks ago.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 243,457 and is third by cases at 10 million.

India is second worldwide in cases with 10.9 million, and now fourth in deaths at 156,111.

Mexico has the third highest death toll at 178,108 and 13th highest case tally at 2 million.

The U.K. has 4 million cases and 119,614 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 100,697 confirmed cases and 4,833 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

The flash reading of the IHS Markit U.S. composite purchasing managers index rose to 58.8 in February from 58.7 in the prior month, MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.

Any reading over 50 indicates improving conditions. It is the strongest reading in almost six years.

 The index for services rose to 58.9 in February from 58.3 in the prior month. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal were expecting a 58 reading.

The index for the U.S. manufacturing sector, fell to 58.5 from 59.2. Economists had forecast a 59 reading.

“The data add to signs that the economy is enjoying a strong opening quarter to 2021, buoyed by additional stimulus and the partial reopening of the economy as virus related restrictions were eased on average across the country,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

U.S. stocks were higher on Friday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.41% and S&P 500 SPX, +0.36% up 0.2%.