US backs waiving COVID vaccine property rights

COVID vaccinator with vial
COVID vaccinator with vial

US Navy, Kyle Steckler / Flickr cc

Today the Biden administration said it supports an initiative to waive the intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

A statement from United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said, "The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines."

The statement was made during talks at the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) general council meeting. The proposal was first floated last fall, but many wealthy countries opposed it. The WTO will require unanimous agreement on the temporary waiver of property rights, and is expected to formally vote on the issue in June. Proponents of the waiver say it will be in place for a handful of years, until the pandemic is under control.

"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," Tai said. "The Administration's aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible."

Cases continue to drop

Across the United States, COVID-19 cases and fatalities continue to drop, a sign that the forthcoming summer could offer some return to normalcy for much of the country,

The US reported 40,733 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 933 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the United States has tracked 32,544,460 cases, including 579,122 deaths.

The drop in cases is due to an aggressive vaccination campaign mounted in the last 100 days. But despite a federal pipeline of vaccine made available to all states, tribes, and territories based on population, vaccination rates remain uneven across the country.

The latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that as of Apr 29, the share of adults who had received at least one vaccine dose was 55% overall, ranging from 41% in Alabama to 74% in New Hampshire.

Vaccination rates are higher in larger states, such as California and Pennsylvania, but much lower in small states. And vaccination rates across all states continue to drop: The rate of first dose administration per 100,000 in the last week dropped 27% for the country overall and for almost every state (45 of 51), Kaiser reported.

Southern states see lowest vaccination rates

Southern states have lower vaccination rates than those in the Midwest and Northeast, and are beginning to see a drop in demand for vaccines.

According to the Associated Press, Oklahoma is no longer accepting its full allocation of doses from the government. Yesterday the White House told governors that the COVID-19 vaccine doses they don't order will become available to other states, the Washington Post reports.

The doses will be steered into a federal bank available to states seeking additional supply. This is a significant change, as just weeks ago Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was refused extra doses of vaccines when her state saw a spring surge of virus activity.

In related news, both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans are easing up on mask wearing, according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll. The poll found that 57% of Americans report wearing a mask at all times when they leave the house, down slightly from a mid-April poll; 63% of vaccinated people say they wear a mask at all times, down from 74%. Among unvaccinated, mask wearing fell from 49% to 47%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said fully vaccinated Americans can safely go maskless in most outdoor settings, as well as in small indoor gatherings.

CDC identifies variants from California, New York City

Today the CDC described in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report the emergence of two variants of COVID-19 that originated in the United States, one from New York, and two from California. The data shows the importance of genomic sequencing, and provides evidence of how quickly the variants can circulate in a population.

In Colorado, state public health officials have tracked the emergence of  two variants—B.1.427/B.1.429, a lineage first identified in California—from 3% to 4% of sequenced viruses in late January to 20% to 22% in early March.

Ninety-one percent of the Colorado cases with that lineage were symptomatic, and 8 deaths have been associated with that variant in Colorado.

In New York City, variant B.1.526 emerged as a variant of interest in November of 2020. Though the possibility of that strain causing reinfections first alarmed health officials, preliminary evidence suggests that the variant does not lead to more severe disease or increased risk for infection after vaccination.

"By April 5, the B.1.526 variant accounted for 40% of all viruses sequenced by two major laboratories from a relatively representative sample of NYC COVID-19 cases," the authors wrote. "Although the proportional increase in B.1.526 infections suggests that this variant might be more transmissible than other SARS-CoV-2 variants, the secondary attack rate was not higher."

This week's top reads