Coronavirus Update: Alaska joins Idaho in rationing health care as hospitals are packed with COVID patients, and WHO says Africa is being left behind in vaccine push

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The biggest hospital in Alaska has joined hospitals in Northern Idaho in starting to ration care, as it has become overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, forcing people with other medical issues to wait for hours for treatment.

Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage is now operating under “crisis standards of care,” the New York Times reported, meaning it is carefully allocating resources that may cause some patients to receive substandard care.

Hospitals in Idaho were forced to do the same thing last week after their ICU beds were rushed by COVID patients. Both states have lower-than-average vaccination rates. Idaho has fully vaccinated just 40% of its population, according to USA Facts.org, while Alaska has inoculated just 48% of its population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker shows that 54% of the overall population is fully vaccinated, meaning they have had two doses of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
PFE,
+0.38%

and German partner BioNTech
BNTX,
+3.62%

and Moderna
MRNA,
+1.74%
,
or one of Johnson & Johnson’s
JNJ,
+0.27%

one-shot regimen. Some 63.2% of the population has received at least one dose.

SOURCE: CDC

The U.S. is averaging 152,177 new cases a day, 99,275 hospitalizations and 1,888 deaths, according to a Times tracker. That means the nation is suffering more deaths than people died in the attacks of 9/11, 2001 every two days.

The vast majority of deaths and cases are in unvaccinated people, to the chagrin of health experts who are pushing hard for people to get their shots and avoid dying a preventable death. The numbers are currently tracking close to where they were last winter.

See also: Number of children and teens with COVID-19 exceeds 250,000 for first time since start of pandemic, as mask and vaccination fights continue

While almost 30% of Americans refuse vaccination, other parts of the world are crying out for supply, including Africa, where several countries have so far vaccinated less than 1% of their populations.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that Africa has been left behind by the rest of the world.

“More than 5.7 million doses have been administered globally but only 2% of those have been administered in Africa,” Tedros said at a press briefing. “This leaves people at high risk of disease and death, exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection.”

Dispatches from a Pandemic: COVID-19 long haulers are frustrated with unvaccinated friends, worried about reinfection, and mired in medical bills

That’s bad news for Africa, but also for the entire world he said, reiterating his message that as long as major swaths of the world are unvaccinated, the virus can keep adapting and changing and eventually produce a variant that may prove entirely resistant to vaccines.

Africa has a population of 1.3 billion and is targeting 60% vaccination, equal to just under 800 million.

Tedros has called for a moratorium on boosters until the whole world has received initial vaccine doses, but countries including Israel, France and Germany have started to offer them, mostly to people with compromised immune systems.

See: Long COVID risks halved by dual vaccination, study finds

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet on Friday to discuss data provided by Pfizer on boosters. Data released by Pfizer ahead of the meeting suggested that people who are at least 16 years old should get a booster shot after six months.

In a document published Wednesday, Pfizer said its Phase 3 substudy examined 306 people between the ages of 18 and 55 years old who got a third dose. It found that an extra dose is considered safe and increased neutralizing antibody titers against the original strain of the virus, as well as the beta and delta variants to a higher rate than what was reported after two doses in the clinical trials last year.

For more, see: Pfizer cites ‘totality’ of clinical data in bid for COVID-19 booster approval

Separately, Pfizer executives said at a conference that they expect to share data on the safety and efficacy of their vaccine in children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old by the end of September, with plans to file for emergency authorization in the U.S. in early October. Clinical data for children 6 months old to 5 years old is expected shortly after.

“All of that depends on having a positive outcome on the data, right? I’m assuming that in terms of all the dates I’m giving you,” Pfizer CFO Frank D’Amelio told investors Tuesday at the Morgan Stanley Global Healthcare Conference, according to a FactSet transcript of the presentation.

Recent studies have shown that the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines is decreasing, though experts say the shots still work well. WSJ explains what the numbers mean and why they don’t tell the full story. Photo illustration: Jacob Reynolds/WSJ

In other medical news, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.
REGN,
+1.10%

said the U.S. government had purchased an additional 1.4 million doses of its monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 for $2.9 billion. The treatment, which costs $2,100 per dose, is free to Americans at high risk of hospitalization and death who have tested positive or have been exposed to the virus.

Eli Lilly
LLY,
+1.11%

said the government has ordered 388,000 doses of etesevimab, which has been authorized for emergency use as a COVID-19 treatment, for $330 million. As part of the deal, about 200,000 doses of etesevimab, which complements doses of bamlanivimab previously purchased by the U.S. government, are expected to ship in the third quarter of 2021, with the remaining doses to be shipped in the fourth quarter.

Overseas, the European Union will donate 200 million doses of vaccine by the middle of next year, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said in her annual address.

In France, thousands of unvaccinated healthcare workers are facing suspension without pay from Wednesday, the Guardian reported. President Emmanuel Macron gave workers including staff at hospitals, retirement home workers and the fire service – 2.7 million people—an ultimatum injury to get at least one shot by Sept. 15 or resign.

There was disappointing news from Singapore where new cases totaled 837 on Tuesday, the most in more than a year, also from the Guardian. Singapore has vaccinated about 80% of its population, but is being hit by the delta variant. Vaccinated people have been proven to be far less likely to develop severe illness or die of it.

See also: When can kids under 12 get a COVID-19 vaccine? CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has an answer.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 225.9 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose to 4.65 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 41.4 million cases and 663,970 deaths. 

India is second by cases after the U.S. at 33.3 million and has suffered 443,497 deaths.

Brazil has second highest death toll at 587,797 and 21 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has most fatalities at 191,566, followed by the U.K. at 134,774.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 107,625 confirmed cases and 4,849 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.