More than 100,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States so far this year, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Since January 1, 2021, the US reported a total of 100,317 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of reported deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic to 446,272.
The first COVID-19 related death came on February 29, 2020, in Washington state. Later in the spring, two earlier deaths in California were posthumously confirmed to be of COVID-19.
The US has had more COVID-19 deaths than any other country, JHU data shows. Brazil has tallied over 200,000 deaths. Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom have all reported over 100,000 deaths.
There are now more vaccinations than reported cases
The number of people who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is now greater than the number of US COVID-19 cases reported during the entire pandemic.
More than 26.3 million cases have been reported over the past year, according to Johns Hopkins University.
But that doesn’t mean the pandemic is going away. Here’s why:
- The number of coronavirus infections may be 4 times higher than the number of cases actually reported, researchers say. In mid-January CDC estimated the US has actually seen 83.1 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. “Even after adjusting for underreporting, a substantial gap remains between the estimated proportion of the population infected and the proportion infected required to reach herd immunity,” the researchers wrote.
- New, highly contagious variants are spreading across the US, threatening to reinfect people who’ve already had the coronavirus.
- Only about 1.84% of the US population has received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. And it’ll be at least several months until most Americans can get vaccinated.
As part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens will begin administering vaccines starting next week. The White House listed 21 national pharmacy chains that will participate in the initial phase of the program.
While CVS and Walgreens have been administered vaccines in some states using those states’ supplies, this is the first time CVS and Walgreens will be sent the vaccine directly from the federal government.
‘This doesn’t appear to be great news for vaccine efficacy’
While viruses mutate all the time, a few variants in particular are worrying scientists:
All three of those variants have been found in the US, and the B.1.1.7 strain has been detected in at least 32 states.
Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer Dr. Paul Stoffels told CNN’s Richard Quest Tuesday that the world needs to vaccinate as many people as possible to limit the number of coronavirus variants.
“If we don’t get the pandemic under control soon, then variants will start emerging, and will continue to emerge, and that will result in more vaccinations annually,” Stoffels said. “The mission is to get the virus under control so that it can’t mutate, and it can’t grow and create new versions.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not yet authorized, but the company said it will ask the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization this month.
Scientists have now discovered a mutation in at least 11 samples of the B.1.1.7 strain that might escape antibody protection, according to a report Monday by Public Health England.
The mutation, called E484K, was already part of the genetic signature of variants linked to South Africa and Brazil.
A new lab study found that antibodies from vaccinated people were less effective at neutralizing a synthetic virus resembling samples of B.1.1.7 that had developed an E484K mutation
“This doesn’t appear to be great news for vaccine efficacy,” said Joseph Fauver, an associate research scientist in epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.
Experts say this news could mean the B.1.1.7 strain, already known to be more transmissible, might be somewhat resistant to the protection given by vaccines, or more likely to cause reinfection among people who were previously infected.
Previous studies suggest that E484K may be the key reason why certain vaccines appear less effective in South Africa. Lab research has also shown that antibodies appear less able to bind and neutralize spike proteins arising from the mutation.
Ex-FDA scientist: Stop using convalescent plasma for COVID-19
The US should stop using convalescent plasma to treat the coronavirus because it might help the virus evolve into new and potentially more dangerous variants, a former pandemic adviser to the Biden transition team said.
Convalescent plasma — taken from the blood of COVID-19 survivors — simply does not work well, and allows the virus to keep on replicating and evolving in the bodies of patients, said Dr. Luciana Borio, a longtime biodefense consultant to US administrations.
“As an additional measure to reduce the chances that the virus develops more mutations that could evade the immune system, I would encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to rescind the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) it issued last year for convalescent plasma,” Borio said in written testimony submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee ahead of a Wednesday hearing.
Last August, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19, saying the “known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.”
“We already know that, in aggregate, this therapy does not help patients with COVID-19. But by using it in circumstances where it does not work, we are providing the virus with a roadmap that could help it develop mutations that evade natural and vaccine induced immune responses even more rapidly,” wrote Borio, who is currently vice president at strategic investment firm In-Q-Tel.
“Convalescent plasma has been used in more than 150,000 patients despite recommendations by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) that its use should be limited to randomized controlled trials, and now the possibility that its indiscriminate use could add more selective pressure on the virus and hasten the day when vaccines become less effective,” said Borio, who is also a former acting chief scientist for the FDA.
Recovered COVID-19 patients could still get reinfected
Even for those who have been infected with coronavirus, there is a “very high rate” of re-infection if the new variants become dominant, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
“We need to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Even though there is a diminished protection against the variants, there’s enough protection to prevent you from getting serious disease, including hospitalization and deaths.”
He said health experts in South Africa have noticed such a high rate of reinfection that previous infection did not appear to protect people.
Fast, widespread vaccinations could help prevent variants from becoming more dominant.
“Viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate,” Fauci said.
“And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations.”
Pfizer to deliver 200 million vaccine doses 2 months earlier than planned
The maker of one of two vaccines currently administered in the US confirmed Tuesday that it expects to deliver 200 million doses to the US by the end of May.
Pfizer was originally scheduled to deliver the 200 million doses by July 31. But CEO Albert Bourla said last week he expects the company’s production to be ahead of schedule by two months.
“In the US, we had promised to provide 100 million doses by the end of the first quarter and we will be able to provide 120 right now,” Bourla said last week.
“The same is with second quarter. We were planning to provide them all the way to 200 million doses by the end of the second quarter, actually beginning of the third. Right now, we will be able to provide the 200 million doses two months earlier.”
The Biden administration has announced it will be purchasing an additional 100 million doses from the company.
Pfizer said it had supplied 20 million doses to the US as of Sunday.
Both Pfizer’s vaccine and the vaccine made by Moderna require two doses, spaced 21 days and 28 days apart.