US donates 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to COVAX

The White House today confirmed the United States has donated 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses—toward a goal of 1.1 billion—to low-income countries via COVAX, the global vaccine sharing program. 

Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 pandemic response coordinator, said the United States has donated more to COVAX than any country in the world, and the latest shipments would head out tomorrow to both Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

During the press conference, Zients emphasized that vaccines and booster doses were the best tools for Americans—and the world—at this stage of the pandemic. He said as of today, 70% of eligible US seniors (65 and older) are boosted, and half of all eligible adults were now boosted.

Boosters offer a significant bump in protection against the dominant Omicron variant, which has caused an unprecedented surge of cases in the last month. Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared new research showing Omicron caused less severe disease than the original wild strain of COVID-19 or the Delta variant. 

Death rates rise across US

But today at the press briefing CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, warned Omicron was still dangerous to the unvaccinated. "Importantly, milder does not mean mild," Walensky said. 

Walensky said data were showing the Omicron surge was receding across most of the country, but noted daily death counts had risen 21% over the previous week, to 2,200 deaths per day. The 7-day daily average of new cases was 692,400 cases per day, a decrease of 6% from the prior week. The 7-day average hospital admissions was 19,800 per day, a decrease of 8%.

The United States reported 429,510 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 2,911 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

No vaccine mandates for big companies

Following a decisive blow earlier this month from the US Supreme Court, President Joe Biden has dropped a push for vaccine mandates for businesses with more than 100 employees. 

"The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is withdrawing the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard issued on Nov. 5, 2021, to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers with 100 or more employees from workplace exposure to coronavirus," the agency said in a press release yesterday. The withdrawal is effective today.

Meanwhile, the American public is growing increasingly disenchanted with the Biden administration's response to the pandemic. Only 21% of Americans say they are currently satisfied with how the pandemic is being handled in the United States. 

In the latest Pew Center Research Poll, 44% of Americans said they are very or somewhat confident in President Biden's handling of the coronavirus, a drop of 21 percentage points since last March. Fifty percent said they believe the worst is yet to come, while 49% say the worst of the pandemic is over. 

In related news, the number of Americans getting a booster dose of vaccine is dropping, from a peak of 1 million shots per day in early December to about 490,000 as of last week, the Associated Press reports. 

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 63.5% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 75.7% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 40.3% of vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.

Other US developments

  • New York's indoor mask mandate will remain in effect after an appeals court judge granted a stay, overruling a lower court judge who had struck down the mandate on Monday, the New York Times reports.

  • Some patients with weakened immune systems say pharmacies are turning them away when they seek a fourth vaccine dose, despite CDC guidance that allows immunocompromised people to receive a fourth shot as a booster, Kaiser Health News reports.

  • KN95 masks will be handed out to spectators attending the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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