US Surpasses 600,000 Deaths from COVID, Leading the World

The United States has surpassed 600,000 dead from COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported Tuesday. The count spans from the beginning of the pandemic 15 months ago. While the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and daily deaths in the United States have fallen steadily in recent weeks, the milestone is a harsh reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken and is still taking.  U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday acknowledged the approaching milestone, saying that while new cases and deaths are dropping dramatically in the U.S., “there’s still too many lives being lost,” and “now is not the time to let our guard down.” In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced late Monday that the government would be pushing back by nearly four weeks its “road map out of lockdown” date — from June 21 to July 19 — on which all COVID-19-related restrictions would be lifted. Speaking to reporters, Johnson said the decision was based on a surge in COVID-19 infections caused by the delta variant of the virus in certain parts of the country. He said July 19 will be “a terminus date” that will allow the country to proceed with full reopening.  Racial inequalities in COVID deaths Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports it has uncovered data showing how the pandemic has exposed wide racial inequalities in the U.S. A story published Monday by the AP said that where race is known, white Americans account for 61% of all COVID-19 deaths, followed by Hispanics with 19%, Blacks with …

New Study Suggests Coronavirus Was Present in US Earlier than First Believed

The novel coronavirus was present in the U.S. in December 2019, weeks before health officials first identified infections, according to a new government study.   Conducted by a team that included researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the study analyzed 24,000 blood samples. The findings suggest that some Americans were infected as early as the middle of December 2019, weeks before the world recognized the spread of the new deadly virus that erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan.   While the analysis is inconclusive, and some experts remain unconvinced, more federal health officials are accepting a scenario during which small numbers of people in the U.S. were infected with the virus before the world was aware of its spread.   The study, published Tuesday by the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, is the latest and largest to suggest the virus first appeared in the U.S. earlier than previously known. It found that at least seven people in the U.S. states of Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were infected earlier than any COVID-19 case was ever reported in those states. …

Mexico Receives 1.35 Million COVID Vaccines from US

Mexico has received 1.35 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson, single-dose COVID-19 vaccine donated by the United States.The doses will be given to those over 18 in four border towns, Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa. The goal is to end essential travel restrictions on the border.The first vaccinations could be given as early as Wednesday, according to Mexican Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell. Mexico’s vaccination program has used a mix of vaccines and so far, has been focused on people 40 and older. It has administered about 26 million shots, according to the Associated Press.After an upsurge in December and January, cases have been declining across the country until a spike of 8% this week attributed to a breakout along the Caribbean coast.Earlier this month, the Biden administration said the U.S. would donate up to 80 million vaccine doses worldwide by the end of the month. …

Blacks, Hispanics More Likely to Die of COVID-19 in US, Associated Press Finds

As the United States approaches 600,000 COVID-19 related deaths, the Associated Press has uncovered data showing how the pandemic has exposed  the country’s wide racial inequalities. A story published Monday by the AP said where race is known, white Americans account for 61% of all COVID-19 deaths, followed by Hispanics with 19%, Blacks with 15%, and Asian Americans with 4% — figures that track with the groups’ share of the U.S. population as a whole.  But the news agency said an analysis of data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Native Americans, Latinos and Blacks are two or three times more likely than whites to die of the disease after adjusting for population age differences.  The AP also found Latinos are dying at much younger ages than other groups — 37% of Hispanic deaths were of those under 65 years of age, compared to 30% for Blacks and just 12% for whites.  According to the AP, Blacks and Hispanics overall have less access to medical care and are in poorer health, with higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.  They are also more likely to work at jobs deemed “essential,” are less able to work from home and more likely to live in crowded, multi-generational households, where working family members are more likely to expose others to the virus. An analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-policy research organization, tells the AP that the high rates of COVID-19 deaths among Blacks and Latinos parallels …

Gunmen Kill 5 Polio Vaccinators in Afghanistan

Officials in conflict-torn Afghanistan said Tuesday gunmen had shot dead at least five polio vaccinators and injured several others in separate attacks in eastern Nangarhar province.    Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where the crippling polio disease remains endemic.    Authorities said the early morning violence in parts of Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and nearby Khogyani district came on the second day of a four-day national campaign administering polio drops to children under five years of age.     Jan Mohammad, head of the provincial immunization department, told VOA they had suspended the vaccination campaign following the deadly attack. No one immediately took responsibility for what appeared to be a coordinated shooting spree.      In March, three female anti-polio workers were gunned down in Jalalabad during this year’s first polio immunization drive. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack. The terror group’s regional affiliate, known as IS Khorasan Province, has bases in Nangarhar and adjoining Afghan provinces.     The United Nations condemned Tuesday’s attack, saying depriving children from an assurance of a healthy life “is inhuman.”    Ramiz Alakbarov, U.N. secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, demanded the “senseless violence must stop” and authorities bring to justice those responsible for it.     “I am appalled by the brutality of these killings,” Alakbarov wrote on Twitter. The United Nations strongly condemns all attacks on health workers anywhere. Delivery of health care is impartial attack against health workers and those who defends them …

Coronavirus, Climate and Trade on Agenda for US-EU Summit

Battling the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as working together on trade and foreign affairs are on the agenda Tuesday as U.S. President Joe Biden and European Union leaders hold a summit in Brussels. In statements issued ahead of the talks, the two sides said they would reiterate support for the COVAX facility for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and to work together on ways to promote a global recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. They also planned to discuss efforts to reform the World Health Organization. After both were a major topic at G-7 and NATO meetings this week, Russia and China will again be on the agenda Tuesday.  Both the White House and European Union said the leaders would also express a commitment to supporting democracy and combatting corruption, and to upholding human rights around the world. They are also pledging to cooperate on issues involving cybersecurity and migration. The EU side is being represented in the summit by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. On climate change, the United States and the EU said they would reaffirm commitments to upholding the 2015 Paris climate agreement and to become climate neutral economies by 2050. They also said they plan to urge other “major players” to take ambitious climate actions. Adopted by nearly 200 nations when it was initially signed, the Paris climate agreement’s goal is to slow down global warming.   …

Novavax Reports Vaccine 90% Effective; Supply Questions Remain

Another highly effective vaccine is poised to join the fight against COVID-19.  But its impact may be blunted by supply issues. The manufacturer expected to produce the bulk of the doses is in India, where the government has banned vaccine exports.  FILE – A car drives past the sign for vaccine developer Novavax at the company’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Nov. 30, 2020.”Many of our first doses will go to … low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with,” Novavax CEO Stanley Erck told The Associated Press. The vaccine does not have the special cold storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. That means low- and middle-income countries “can use the cold chain that they have already set up for routine childhood vaccines,” said William Moss, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University International Vaccine Access Center. “They don’t need to make modifications to handle the cold chain requirements” of the Pfizer and Moderna shots. Doses in limbo Novavax also has a deal with the Serum Institute of India (SII) to manufacture an additional 750 million doses of the vaccine.  SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and the main supplier of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to COVAX. But the Indian government has barred the company from exporting those doses as the country suffers through a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections.  People register their names to receive a coronavirus vaccine at a free camp in Kolkata, India, June 14, 2021.”Considering the situation in India, there are still a lot of questions …

WHO Chief: New COVID-19 Cases Decline for 7 Weeks

The World Health Organization said Monday that while the number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen steadily for seven straight weeks, the virus continues to spread and kill people in Africa, a region with little or no access to vaccines and treatments.Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the overall decline in new cases, the longest since the pandemic began, was certainly welcome news. But he said deaths overall were not falling as quickly and declined only slightly last week.Tedros said the decline in cases also masks the fact that the virus continues to spread and kill in regions such as Africa, which has limited access to vaccines and treatments such as oxygen and diagnostic equipment.FILE – A medical team rolls a coronavirus patient from a bed onto a stretcher in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Kenyatta National Hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya, April 14, 2021.He cited a recent study in the British medical journal The Lancet showing Africa with the highest global mortality rate among critically ill COVID-19 patients, despite it having fewer reported cases than most other regions. Tedros said that available evidence suggests new variants have substantially increased transmission globally, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. The risks have increased for people who are not protected, which is most of the world’s population, he said. “Right now, the virus is moving faster than the global distribution of vaccines.”The WHO chief expressed his gratitude to the leaders at the G-7 summit last …

Cameroon Begs Civilians to Donate Blood on World Blood Donor Day

Medical authorities in Cameroon marked World Blood Donor Day on Monday with continued pleas for blood donors, after a dramatic drop in donations over the past year. Donations fell by half in 2020, then by nearly half again so far this year, worsening the country’s blood shortage.Officials in Cameroon point to 32-year-old Alphonse Suh Chia as a good example of a determined, voluntary blood donor.  Chia says he became a blood donor in February, after he watched as a 6-year-old boy died of severe anemia in the Central Hospital in Yaounde. He says the medical staff members on duty told him that the blood bank was dry and there was no one to donate blood to save the child’s life. Chia says he was being treated for malaria at the hospital and could not donate blood at the time.But since then, he says, he has joined an association called Green Hearts that donate blood to people in need. Cameroon says it needs 400,000 pints of blood each year to meet the medical needs of its 25 million people. But in 2020, people donated just 48,000 units of blood, down from 103,000 units in 2019. The central African state says blood donations have fallen again so far this year. Dora Ngum Suh Mbanya, director general of Cameroon’s National Blood Transfusion Center, says COVID-19 scares people away from donating blood.”With the COVID pandemic in 2020, there was a deficit of 44 percent in blood donation,” Mbanya said. “What we gathered is that COVID had a huge …

Novavax Reports its COVID Vaccine is 90 Percent Effective

U.S.-based biotech company Novavax announced Monday that Phase 3 clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine show it to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing the disease and provide good protection against variants. A release from the company said the study enrolled 29,960 participants across 119 sites in the United States and Mexico with an emphasis on recruiting a representative population of communities and demographic groups most impacted by the disease. While demand for COVID-19 shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, the need for more vaccines around the world remains critical as many developing nations are just getting vaccine programs going or have yet to start. The Novavax vaccine, which is easy to store and transport, is expected to play an important role in boosting vaccine supplies in the developing world. In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck said, “Many of our first doses will go to … low-and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with.”   The White House’s top adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told The Washington Post the vaccine is “really very impressive,” saying it is on par with the most effective shots developed during the pandemic. “It’s very important for the world’s population to have, yet again, another highly efficacious vaccine that looks in its trial to have a good safety profile.” The company intends to file for regulatory authorizations in the third quarter, upon completion of the final phases of …