Global COVID-19 case tally above 134 million as more countries impose restrictions on AstraZeneca vaccine

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 134 million on Friday and the death toll edged closer to 3 million, as controversy continued to swirl around the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University that one regulator said could cause blood clots in very rare instances.

The European Medicines Agency said this week that an investigation found a link between the vaccine and blood-clotting incidents in a very small number of cases involving mostly European recipients. But the EMA said the benefits of the vaccine, which has become the most widely used in Europe, continue to outweigh the risks.

Read: EU and U.K. regulators say AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, but Brits under 30 to be offered alternative shot

The news still prompted a number of countries to announce plans to restrict its use to older, more at-risk people, and to turn to other vaccines for younger people. France said Friday under-55s who have received a first AstraZeneca


vaccine dose would be given a second dose of another vaccine, prompting the World Health Organization to caution that there is not enough data to support that stance.

“There is not adequate data to be able to say whether this is something that could be done,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters, as AFP reported. Harris pointed to recommendations on the AstraZeneca vaccine put out by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, in February.

“No data are available on the interchangeability of doses of this vaccine with other COVID-19 vaccines,” SAGE said at the time.

A number of clinical trials seek to evaluate the efficacy of combining different vaccines. The WHO said Wednesday that the link between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and blood clots was “plausible but not confirmed.”

On Thursday, Italy and Spain joined others in limiting the use of the vaccine to people age 60 and over. Australia announced that it will buy an extra 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as it rapidly pivots away from its earlier plan to rely mainly on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal just hours after saying Australia would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50.

India, meanwhile, continues to suffer from a shortage of vaccines, with dozens of hospitals in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, halting vaccinations because supply has run out, according to a list prepared by the municipal authority, as reported by the Washington Post. India recorded a record of 130,000 new COVID cases on Thursday, the paper reported.

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show good progress, even though cases remain stubbornly high and are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern time Thursday, 229 million doses had been delivered to states, 174.9 million doses had been administered, and 112 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 33.1% of the population.

A full 66.2 million people are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.

and German partner BioNTech SE

and Moderna Inc.
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson

one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S. That’s equal to 19.9% of the population.

Among Americans 65 older, 31.9 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 58.4% of that group. More than 42 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 76.9% of that population.

There was good news Friday afternoon, when Pfizer said it has requested that the emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine be amended to include teens between the ages of 12 and 15 years old. The vaccine is currently authorized for people who are at least 16 years old in the U.S. Pfizer said a Phase 3 clinical trial in 12 to 15 years old found that the vaccine is 100% efficacious and had a similar side-effect profile to past study participants between the ages of 16 to 25 years old.

See now: Vaccines are here. That’s no reason to call off the hunt for effective COVID-19 treatments.

The U.S. added at least 81,303 new cases on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 955 people died. The U.S. has averaged 66,118 cases a day for the last week, up 13% from the average two weeks ago, as cases continue to rise despite the vaccination program, a trend experts say is due to states reopening and dropping restrictions on movement and overall pandemic fatigue.

See: Biden administration surging tests and vaccinators to Michigan, where COVID transmission rate is nation’s worst

Johnson & Johnson

is expected to ship just 700,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in the week of April 12, significantly fewer than the roughly 4.9 million doses of J&J’s vaccine that were allocated to states in the week of April 5. 

In total, J&J has shipped about 11.2 million doses of its single-shot vaccine since it was authorized in February, including the 700,000 doses expected to go out the week of April 12. J&J confirmed on March 31 that a batch of its vaccine did not meet quality standards at a plant run by U.S. manufacturing partner Emergent BioSolutions Inc. 

 in Maryland.

Read also: CDC’s Dr. Walensky makes emotional plea to Americans as COVID cases rise again

In other news:

• French police have arrested chef Christophe Leroy and businessman Pierre-Jean Chalencon after allegations that they organized clandestine restaurant dinners for top figures in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions, AFP reported. The move came after the TV channel M6 broadcast a report based on footage filmed using a hidden camera that appeared to show a restaurant in a high-end area of Paris where neither the staff nor diners were wearing masks. All restaurants and cafés have been closed in France for eating in for the last five months. The country this week began a new limited nationwide lockdown to deal with surging cases of COVID-19.

• Norwegian police have fined Prime Minister Erna Solberg for breaking COVID-19 social-distancing rules when she organized a family gathering to celebrate her birthday, Reuters reported. The fine was 20,000 crowns ($2,352), police chief Ole Saeverud told a news conference. The two-term prime minister apologized last month for organizing an event for her 60th birthday with 13 family members at a mountain resort in late February, despite a government ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Footage of crowded nightclubs in Tel Aviv contrasts with scenes of Paris in lockdown over Easter weekend, highlighting how staggered vaccine rollouts are affecting the speed at which countries reopen amid the pandemic.

• The White House on Thursday backed up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as that agency spars with cruise operators that want its approval to restart voyages in July, MarketWatch’s Victor Reklaitis reported. Norwegian Cruise Line

wants to restart operations from U.S. ports by July 4, while Carnival

this week extended its U.S. pause through June 30 and said it may relocate ships from American ports in order to operate. The CDC has indicated a summer restart is possible but issued guidance last week that didn’t specify when operators can resume sailing out of the U.S. following a long shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of Florida filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the Biden administration aiming to quickly get cruise lines operating again from U.S. ports.

• German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning a new law to force COVID-19 measures onto German states, the Guardian reported. Germany is struggling to tackle a third wave of the pandemic, and Merkel and several regional leaders have called for a short, sharp lockdown while the country tries to vaccinate more people. Health minister Jens Spahn warned that nationwide measures were necessary to break the current wave of coronavirus infections as quickly as possible. He told journalists that there were currently nearly 4,500 patients in intensive care in Germany, adding: “If this continues, it will be too much for our health system.”

• Greta Thunberg has told the BBC she does not plan to attend the U.N. climate conference due to be held in Glasgow this November, because of the uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the BBC reported. The 18-year-old Swedish climate campaigner is concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on attendance at COP26 and believes the summit should be postponed. She said the U.K. government, which is hosting the summit, should wait until global vaccination rates have risen.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose to 134.2 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 2.9 million.

More than 76 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.

The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 31 million, or about a quarter of the global tally, and fatalities, at 560,575. 

 Brazil is second globally in cases at 13.3 million and also second with a death toll of 345,025.

India is third worldwide in cases with 13 million and fourth in deaths at 167,642.

Mexico is third by deaths at 206,146 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,233 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 101,998 confirmed cases and 4,843 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What’s the economy saying?

The producer-price index rose 1% in March, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.5% rise, MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.

The rate of wholesale inflation over the past 12 months climbed to 4.2% in March. That’s the highest level since September 2011.

The government did not release the data for 25 minutes after the scheduled release time, an extraordinary delay of economic data that is a focus of global financial markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

and S&P 500

were higher Friday, while the Nasdaq Composite

moved lower.

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