The director-general of the World Health Organization on Wednesday called for a moratorium on coronavirus vaccine booster shots to allow vaccine access to countries struggling to obtain jabs.
“We call on everyone with influence – Olympics athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots… until at least the end of September,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Tedros said the goal was to focus on enabling at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated.
Top U.S. health officials have said there is not yet enough data to support booster shots, even for the elderly and immunocompromised, though Israel is now recommending them for those groups. But WHO’s call for a booster moratorium comes as infections are surging across the U.S. – driven by the highly contagious delta variants – where vaccine is plentiful but vaccine hesitancy remains a serious concern.
More than 90% of new coronavirus infections across the U.S. are delta variants, according to the latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The primary delta strand accounted for 83.4% of infections in the two-week period that ended July 31, the CDC says. Other delta strands represented another 10%.
Current vaccines have shown effectiveness in protecting against or at least minimizing the damage from a delta infection, and the vast majority of infections and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.
Also in the news:
►Barack Obama turned 60 on Wednesday, but his birthday bash has been scaled back due to virus concerns. Spokesperson Hannah Hankins said the former president will now be celebrating the milestone moment with family and close friends in place of the large outdoor party he had planned.
►Pete Parada, drummer for The Offspring, said he’s been dropped from the American rock band over his failure to receive the vaccine. Parada, 48, said he’s susceptible to adverse vaccine side effects because he has Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks nerves.
►Country music star Garth Brooks said he is reassessing whether to continue his stadium tour in light of the rising number of coronavirus cases across the country.
►The global number of new cases has been increasing for more than a month, with over 4 million cases reported in the past week, according to a World Health Organization epidemiological update out Tuesday. Deaths fell last week by 8% globally but spiked in some places.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 35.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 614,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 199.7 million cases and 4.2 million deaths. More than 165. million Americans – 49.7% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: After more than 18 months of a pandemic, with 1 of every 545 Americans killed by COVID-19, a substantial chunk of the population continues to assert their own individual liberties over the common good. Read the full story.
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Despite the risk the delta variant poses to the unvaccinated, it’s the people inoculated against COVID-19 who are more concerned about the highly contagious version – and more likely to change their behavior, according to a new poll released Wednesday. Vaccinated adults are nearly twice as likely to worry that new variants like delta will worsen the pandemic nationally and locally, according to the latest tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The telephone survey of 1,517 adults was conducted from July 15-27, before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people should mask up indoors in areas with “substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission.
“Seeing their friends get sick and local hospitals fill up again with COVID patients may speed (the unvaccinated) along,” said foundation CEO Drew Altman.
– Maureen Groppe
The delta variants have driven a sharp surge in U.S. infections and hospitalizations that has educators across the nation wary as the new school year begins. The U.S. Department of Education’s road map for return to school includes guidance for wearing masks that in many school districts is pitting educators against state officials.
In Florida, Duval County Public Schools will have a mask mandate with an opt-out option, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens district funding if schools issue one. In Tennessee, Shelby County Schools will keep its mask mandate in place, even start school remotely depending on cases this fall. The state’s House speaker has threatened to call a special session prohibiting it.
And a contingent of legislative Democrats from Oklahoma is calling for a special legislative session to repeal a new law that prevents school districts from imposing mask mandates unless a state of emergency is in effect. Tulsa Public Schools has required masks at all times for students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
“What has to happen before we take COVID seriously?” Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said. “We have children in ICU.”
As COVID-19 cases surged in the U.S. last weekend, Chicago’s downtown was a sea of mostly unmasked humanity as hundreds of thousands crowded together for the outdoor music festival Lollapalooza. The city has called for masking indoors, yet more than 385,000 people packed the four-day event. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the decision to hold the festival, citing strict pandemic precautions that required concertgoers show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and to wear a mask. Lollapalooza said 90% of attendees on the first day of the event proved they were vaccinated. Lightfoot said hundreds were turned away.
Still, some experts sounded an alarm. Tina Tan, a Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor, called the festival “a recipe for disaster.”
“You’re less able to transmit COVID in an outdoor space, but that doesn’t mean that you can pack 100,000 people into a small, enclosed space where they’re on top of each other and expect nobody’s going to transmit,” Tan said. “That’s not how it works.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez and Christine Fernando
As the new school year begins, health workers are in a race against time to increase vaccination numbers among eligible teenagers. While vaccination rates have increased in some areas for the general population, the rate of vaccinations among young people has fallen far behind. Health departments are particularly stressed across the South, where vaccine hesitancy remains strong. Many are implementing innovative strategies to quell the concerns of parents and incentivize vaccine-eligible teenagers.
“We still have way too many people out there sitting on the sidelines because parents are forbidding it,” said Dr. David Kimberlin, associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama Birmingham.
– Maria Clark, The American South
A fourth wave of COVID-19 is threatening to overwhelm U.S. hospitals in regions where large swaths of unvaccinated people provide little resistance to the highly contagious delta variant. Nowhere is the strain more apparent than Florida, which reached a new peak Tuesday of 11,515 people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Hospitals in Jacksonville and Orlando last week crashed through their pandemic peaks, and hospitals in Miami-Dade County are at or approaching record coronavirus hospitalizations this week, said Mary Mayhew, CEO of Florida Hospital Association. And cases continue to surge: 110,477 residents tested positive for COVID-19 for the week ended July 29, foreshadowing more people needing hospital care in the weeks ahead.
“The delta variant is ripping through the unvaccinated,” Mayhew said.
– Ken Alltucker
President Joe Biden expressed frustration with Republican governors who are blocking local businesses and schools from implementing coronavirus mask and vaccine mandates as the highly contagious delta variant continues to overwhelm states across the country. Biden singled out Florida and Texas, both GOP-led hot spots that have pushed back against coronavirus restrictions in recent days, which he said accounted for a third of all new COVID-19 cases in the entire country.
“Some governors aren’t willing to do the right things to make this happen,” Biden said. “I say to these governors, please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
– Courtney Subramanian and Matthew Brown
The United States is again reporting more than one new coronavirus case every second. Johns Hopkins University data released through Tuesday night shows at least 620,226 new coronavirus cases reported in the latest week, much more than the 604,800 seconds in that week.
The United States hadn’t hit that mark since Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. At its worst, the country was reporting nearly three cases every second on average in mid-January.
– Mike Stucka
Louisiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations surged Tuesday to record levels: 2,112 largely unvaccinated people were in hospital beds and hospital leaders described facilities overrun with patients. The Louisiana Department of Health reported that 89% of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 weren’t vaccinated. Health officials say the influx of COVID-19 patients is damaging hospitals’ ability to care for people with heart attacks, injuries from car accidents and other health conditions.
“We’re asking for ambulances not to come to us, to divert to another facility. There’s not another facility for them to go to,” said Michele Sutton, president and CEO of North Oaks Health System in Hammond. “So, when I’m making rounds, it’s not uncommon to see five, six stretchers lining up in our emergency room hallway with the EMS drivers standing by waiting to offload, but I don’t have a room to put them in.”
South Korea reported two new cases of the delta-plus variant Tuesday, a variant some experts say is more transmissible than the original delta variant. First identified in Europe in March, the delta plus variant refers to the addition of the K417N spike protein mutation, also found in some sub-strains of the alpha variant, according to a U.K. report released in July.
“To date, there is no clear evidence that it conveys enough of a benefit to the virus to allow it to dominate the original delta variant,” Colin Angus, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield, told the Washington Post. “So although it is clearly here, there is no obvious sign that it has gained a foothold over existing variants of the virus.”
The variant is showing up more in young people, Angus said, but vaccinated people are still showing an immune response to the variant in a small data set.
Contributing: Associated Press