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By Jamie Ducharme
Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2021
BY JAMIE DUCHARME

How the Pandemic Might Revolutionize Global Public Health

It’s hard to make the case that the COVID-19 pandemic has been anything but an unalloyed disaster. It’s not just the 171 million cases and the 3.7 million deaths worldwide. It’s the devastation of economies and upending of daily life—and surely the emotional scars that will linger long after the virus itself recedes. But as global health professors Gavin Yamey and Madhukar Pai write for TIME, there have also been powerful lessons learned and important victories achieved in the last year.

For starters, Yamey and Pai argue, there is the sea change in the way science has manufactured vaccines—going from “lab to jab” in under a year, in some cases using mRNA technology that until now hadn’t made it out of testing. Multi-country collaborations accelerated R&D and the release of funds, and papers were published online, in real time, without paywalls, so that the best research paths could be pursued and no one would waste time stumbling down blind alleys that had already been shown to be dead ends. All of this could be repurposed in developing future vaccines against diseases including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Then too there has been the global adoption of telemedicine. One U.S. study found a 50% increase in telehealth visits in the first three months of 2020 compared with the same time period in 2019. Not only has that benefited wealthy countries in the developed world, it has also been a boon in low and middle income countries where populations living in remote areas often have little to no access to health care.

At the same time, Yamey and Pai explain, rich countries have learned a little humility. Around six weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began, a survey was released ranking nations on how well prepared they were to handle a pandemic. Out of 195 countries, the U.S. was ranked first and the U.K. second—both of which ended up bungling their COVID-19 responses, recording two of the highest death rates in the world. Poorer countries, which did a better job of engaging communities in COVID-19 testing and prevention and in clear public messaging—without the politicization of the pandemic that was pervasive in the U.S.—have a lot to teach us.

We’ve learned something as well about how to battle the so-called infodemic—nonsense and conspiracy theories about, for example, microchips being injected along with COVID-19 vaccines. New hubs for debunking misinformation, like the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public and Britain’s Science Media Centre have emerged to replace lies with truth.

Science may have made many of these advances eventually, even without the pandemic. But COVID-19 accelerated our learning curve and made us smarter for the experience. The pandemic cannot end too soon—but here’s hoping the learning lingers.

Read more here.


VACCINE TRACKER

About 367 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of this afternoon, of which approximately 297 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME's vaccine tracker. About 41% of Americans have been completely vaccinated.

After a relatively slow start, China is now administering vaccines at a staggering pace, according to seven-day rolling averages reported by Our World in Data. From April to June, shots have jumped from roughly 5 million per day to 19 million—the equivalent of vaccinating the entire population of Chile every 24 hours. The government announced a new target of vaccinating 80% of its 1.4-billion-person population by the end of the year and is well on the way to reaching that goal. The 704 million doses it has administered so far—nearly half of those in May alone—represent over one third of the 1.9 billion doses administered worldwide.

Even with three different vaccines available—AstraZeneca’s, the domestically produced Covaxin, and Russia’s Sputnik V—India is still falling behind in its efforts to get its 1.3-billion-person population inoculated. As Reuters reports, the government has thus decided to roll the dice on a fourth vaccine, ordering 300 million doses of the two-dose shot from domestic firm Biological-E, at a cost of $205.6 million. The catch: the vaccine is still undergoing Phase 3 trials and has not yet been approved for use. The move could prove an expensive embarrassment if the vaccine fails its trials, but the government may have no choice but to take the chance: currently, only 4.7% of the country’s 950 million adults have been fully vaccinated.

Relief is coming to Southeast Asia as Siam Bioscience, AstraZeneca’s partner in Thailand, began the first deliveries of locally manufactured AstraZeneca shots, according to the Associated Press. The move comes just days ahead of a planned June 7 vaccine rollout across Thailand, with distribution scheduled to be extended to other nations in the region in July. AstraZeneca is also providing Siam with 21 million doses to supplement the ones manufactured locally.

The outlook is getting brighter for underserved countries struggling to get their hands on vaccines. At a virtual summit yesterday hosted by Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the Japanese government, nearly 40 governments pledged a total of $2.4 billion to boost vaccine distribution to low-income countries, according to The New York Times. In addition, Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Spain and Sweden announced plans to distribute 54 million doses from their own domestic supplies. And finally, earlier today, the Biden Administration announced an initial donation of 19 million doses to COVAX, the global vaccine distribution network, as well as an additional 6 million doses to be sent to various countries that the White House will designate. Moving forward, Biden said, the U.S. will donate 75% of its unused COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX.


TODAY'S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK

The Global Situation

More than 171.6 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 1 a.m. E.T. today, and nearly 3.7 million people have died. On June 2, there were 487,430 new cases and 126,439 new deaths confirmed globally.

Here's how the world as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

And here is every country with over 3 million confirmed cases:

A new mutation of SARS-CoV-2 detected in Vietnam is worrisome because of its ease of transmissibility and the speed with which it replicates, but it does not meet the World Health Organization’s criteria for a new variant, according to The Washington Post. The WHO said the virus is instead a variation of the B.1.617.2 strain, first detected in India.

With cases of COVID-19 surging in Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy there issued a warning today urging all Americans in the country to leave as soon as possible. “Hospitals are reporting shortages of supplies, oxygen, and beds for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients. U.S. citizens have reported being denied admittance to hospitals due to lack of space,” the order read in part. The Washington Post reports that Afghanistan is in a third wave of infection, driven by the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K. Only 1.3% of the Afghan population has received even a single dose of vaccine.

The Situation in the U.S.

The U.S. had recorded more than 33.3 million coronavirus cases as of 1 a.m. E.T. today. More than 595,800 people have died. On June 2, there were 16,913 new cases and 610 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.

Here's how the country as a whole is currently trending:

Here's where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

AstraZeneca is in talks with the U.S. government to relocate its COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing facility in the U.S., after 15 million doses were contaminated at Emergent Biosolutions in Baltimore more than six weeks ago, reports the New York Times. AstraZeneca has proposed to retrofit a production line at a plant owned by the pharmaceutical company Catalent, in Harmans, Md., to produce its COVID-19 vaccine for the U.S. government, which would use the doses strictly for export, since the vaccine has not been approved for use in the U.S.

The economy continues to rebound as restrictions are lifted and vaccination rates climb, reports Bloomberg. Applications for unemployment benefits dipped below 400,000 last week for the first time since the pandemic began, according to Labor Department data released today. In addition, U.S. companies added 978,000 private payroll jobs in May—not including government jobs—the most in nearly a year. Texas and Florida, once viral hot spots, led the nation with the biggest drop in unemployment claims.

In a conversation with CNN this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he is “cautiously optimistic” that children under 12 will be eligible to be vaccinated by Thanksgiving. Fauci explained that current studies are looking at “age de-escalation,” testing the safety and efficacy of vaccines in children aged 12 to nine, then nine to six, then six to two and finally six months to two years.

Vaccine inequity remains a persistent problem in the U.S. As my colleague Tara Law reports, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published May 28 found that people who live in counties considered the most socially vulnerable are only 42% vaccinated, compared to 60.1% among residents of the least vulnerable counties. The researchers based their work on the CDC’s social vulnerability index (SVI), which ranks U.S. counties by socioeconomic status, household composition, racial and ethnic makeup, transportation access and more.

All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of June 4, 1 a.m. E.T. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.


WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Be Careful What You Wish For

You may have longed for the great reopening of society but returning to pre-pandemic life can lead to low-grade anxiety about something as minor as a trip to the grocery store, or even to full-blown social withdrawal, writes Anna Russell in the New Yorker. The phenomenon even has a name: cave syndrome.

Read more here.

Let Visitations Resume

Even as the pandemic recedes, there are still many COVID-19 patients in critical care, isolated from family and other visitors. But keeping loved ones out of the room may actually be hurting the patients’ recovery, argues Dr. Daniela Lamas in the New York Times. If masked and gowned doctors are permitted to see the patients, so should the people who love them.

Read more here.

The Pandemic and the Arts

Plenty of businesses may recover after the pandemic ends, but the arts may have sustained a mortal wound, writes William Deresiewicz in Harpers, with many venues never to open again.

Read more here.


Thanks for reading. We hope you find the Coronavirus Brief newsletter to be a helpful tool to navigate this very complex situation, and welcome feedback at coronavirus.brief@time.com. If you have specific questions you'd like us to answer, please send them to covidquestions@time.com.

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Today's newsletter was written by Jamie Ducharme and edited by Alex Fitzpatrick.

 
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