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Coronavirus Update: COVID vaccination success in U.S. and other wealthy countries contrasts with shortages elsewhere as G-20 promises to step up

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Growing optimism that the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 is in retreat in the U.S. and other wealthy countries was tempered Friday by continuing high case numbers in many parts of Asia, where some countries are running low on vaccines and unsure when fresh supplies will arrive.

Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are almost out of COVID-19 vaccines, according to officials, as cases and deaths hit records in India and flow over to its neighbors, as AFP reported. India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has said it will not export any more doses until year-end as it struggles to contain a deepening crisis.

That has left Asian countries scrambling to secure supplies and some are looking to China and Russia. Bangladesh, with a population of 168 million, has about a million doses of AstraZeneca’s and China’s Sinopharm, according to AFP. The country has recorded 800,000 cases and 12,200 deaths, although, as is the case for much of Asia, the true number is believed to be far higher.

India is also looking for supplies on international markets and has started to import Russia’s Sputnik V to make up for domestic shortages.

The European Union pledged to donate 100 million vaccine doses to poorer countries at the start of a global G-20 summit Friday, at which world leaders are expected to stress the need to scale up vaccine efforts all around the world.

Pfizer and BioNTech told the summit they would provide 2 billion doses of their vaccine to middle- and low-income countries in the next 18 months.

A Word from the Experts: Rick Bright wants to wipe out this virus — but it’s going to take better COVID-19 vaccines, distributed to 70% of the world’s population

That comes after agencies, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the U.N. agency Unicef and the Red Cross, have made appeals for greater vaccine equity. Experts have emphasized that leaving poorer countries out of the vaccine push will allow variants to emerge that have the potential to become resistant to the current vaccines.

“The pandemic is a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned earlier this week.

See now:10 countries where vaccinated Americans are allowed to travel — but it won’t come cheap

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, host of the G-20 meeting, endorsed that message.

“As we prepare for the next pandemic, our priority must be to ensure that we all overcome the current one together,” said Draghi. “We must vaccinate the world — and do it fast.”

The WHO said Friday that the number of global deaths caused by the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 is likely far higher than official numbers suggest, as all countries are struggling to provide accurate statistical models and counts.

The agency’s annual “state of the world’s health” assessment presented in its World Health Statistics report for 2021, found that as of Dec. 31, 2020, the true number of global COVID deaths was at least 3 million, or 1.2 million more than the 1.8 million officially reported at the time.

The official number has since risen to 3.4 million, based on data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, but that is also likely not accurate, said WHO.

“Based on the excess mortality estimates for 2020, the 3.4 million deaths currently reported to WHO are likely a significant undercount, with true figures at least 2 [or] 3 times higher,” said the report.

The U.S., meanwhile, is making progress with its vaccine program, even as it has slowed in recent weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, 38.1% of the population was fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
PFE,
-0.21%

and German partner BioNTech SE
BNTX,
-2.05%

and Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
-1.80%
,
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
+0.20%

single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca
AZN,
+0.07%

AZN,
+0.05%

vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Some 160 million Americans have received at least one dose, equal to 48% of the population.

Among Americans 65 and older, 40 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 73% of that group. More than 46 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 85% of that population.

More state governors have resorted to offering cash prizes to entice their remaining unvaccinated populations to get a jab. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is offering dozens of $40,000 cash prizes to vaccinated residents, as well as a single grand prize of $400,000. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $5 million “vax and scratch” lottery that will give vaccinated New Yorkers a $20 ticket for a lottery with a $5 million prize.

Those schemes come after Ohio said its vaccination rate jumped 28% in the days after Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled a lottery for five drawings of $1 million each to vaccinated residents, Stephanie McCloud, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said in a statement.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is offering a free drink for visitors, as his state tries to entice “the invincibles,” “that 20- to 35-year-old age group that we’ve got to work hardest on,” he said on MSNBC. “That’s why if you come to Connecticut that first drink is free, if you’ve been vaccinated.”

Read now: Will corporate greed prolong the COVID-19 pandemic?

Opinion: For just $25 billion, the U.S. could jump-start a project to quickly vaccinate the entire world against COVID

In other news:

• The International Monetary Fund unveiled a $50 billion plan Friday that it said could end the pandemic by vaccinating at least 40% of all countries by the end of 2021 and at least 60% by the first half of 2022, Reuters reported. Doing so, IMF officials say, would inject the equivalent of $9 trillion into the global economy by 2025 due to a faster resumption of economic activity, with rich countries potentially benefiting the most. Some $35 billion of the total be paid for by grants from rich countries, private and multilateral donors, and the remaining $15 billion to be funded by national governments using low- or no-interest financing available from multilateral development banks.

• Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Friday the share of residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 is lower than that of any other European city, the Moscow Times reported. Only 1.3 million Muscovites out of 12 million (10.83%) have been vaccinated, Sobyanin said. “It’s a shame that we have not had any restrictions on vaccinations for six months and we were the first in the world to launch a mass vaccination campaign,” Sobyanin said at a meeting with activists from Moscow’s Northeast Administrative District. There are still 9,000 Muscovites in hospital with COVID. “People are still dying, yet don’t want to get vaccinated,” said Sobyanin.

• AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine has been approved in Japan for emergency use for immunization of individuals aged 18 years and older, Dow Jones Newswires reported. Production of the vaccine in Japan is already under way, and the first doses are expected to be available in the coming weeks.

• BioNTech’s chief executive has said that the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer is likely to be effective against the variant that first emerged in India, MarketWatch’s Steve Goldstein reported. Ugur Sahin said in a meeting with the Turkish health minister that the vaccine’s effectiveness against the variant called B.1.617 was likely to be in the same range as for the South African variant. Sahin said that BioNTech and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has shown real-world effectiveness of 75% against the South African variant of the coronavirus, and that efficacy against the Indian variant might be in the same range.

• Volunteers participating in the Novavax
NVAX,
-1.09%

COVID vaccine trial in the U.K. are threatening to drop out because they cannot prove they are fully vaccinated on the NHS app, leaving them unable to travel to Europe, the Guardian reported. Among the 15,000 volunteers who took part, many say they are considering quitting or getting alternative jabs — despite the potential health risks — because the vaccine passport function on the app is not set up to accommodate them.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 165.6 million on Friday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose above 3.43 million.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases with 33.1 million and deaths with 588,613, although cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all falling as more Americans become vaccinated.

India is second worldwide with 26 million cases, and third with 291,331 deaths.

Brazil is third in cases with 15.9 million and second in deaths with 444,094.

Mexico is fourth by fatalities with 221,080 and 2.4 million cases.

The U.K. has had 4.5 million cases and 127,972 deaths, the fifth highest in the world and most of any country in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 102,823 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

See: COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘preventable disaster,’ made worse by a lack of global coordination and dithering, independent panel finds

What’s the economy saying?

The IHS Market U.S. composite purchasing managers index flash reading rose to a record-high 68.1 in May from 63.5 in April, according to survey data released Friday, MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.

In the service sector, IHS Markit said its the flash purchasing managers index rose to a record 70.1 from 64.7 in April. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal were expecting a 64.3 reading.

In the manufacturing sector, the firm’s flash purchasing managers index rose to a record 61.5 in May from 60.5 in the previous month. Economists were expecting an unchanged reading of 60.5.

Any reading above 50 indicates improving conditions. The flash estimate is typically based on approximately 85% to 90% of total survey responses each month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.36%

and S&P 500
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-0.00%

were higher Friday.

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