Coronavirus Update: Novavax’s protein-based vaccine approval fails to boost stock as demand in U.S. for shots and boosters remains low

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U.S. health regulators authorized the use of Novavax Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine, providing a new option that works differently than the two leading vaccines based on mRNA technology, but the move comes at a time when uptake of shots and boosters is low.

The Food and Drug Administration said adults 18 and older may receive Novavax’s
NVAX,
-16.94%

vaccine, once the shots have been approved by the CDC, a decision expected in the coming days, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Novavax vaccine is protein-based and comprises two shots taken just three weeks apart. There are hopes it may appeal to some vaccine-hesitant people, as it uses more conventional technology than the shots developed by Moderna
MRNA,
-3.78%

and Pfizer
PFE,
-1.26%

and BioNTech
BNTX,
-3.37%
.

However, the U.S. vaccine program has slowed to a crawl with the numbers getting either primary shots or booster doses remaining static for weeks, based on data from the CDC (see below). The shot is also aimed at the original strain of the virus, which has quickly been replaced by newer variants, including omicron and its many subvariants, which are now dominant. Moderna and Pfizer are working to develop vaccines specifically targeting omicron.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that BA.5, an omicron subvariant that is understood to be more infectious than other subvariants, accounted for 50% of new cases sequenced in the month through July 10 and has been detected in 89 countries.

In its weekly epidemiological update, the agency said cases rose for a fifth straight week in the week through July 10 with more than 5.7 million being reported. The number of fatalities was flat at more than 9,800.

The WHO again warned that all trends should be “interpreted with caution,” given that many countries have greatly reduced surveillance and testing, meaning lower numbers of cases are being detected.

See now: Pandemic is still a public health emergency, warns WHO, urging greater surveillance including testing and sequencing

In the U.S., the daily average for new cases is ticking higher and stood at 130,511 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 16% from two weeks ago.

The daily average for hospitalizations rose to 38,971, up 19% in two weeks. And the positivity rate on COVID tests stands at 18%, the highest since Feb. 1. The daily average for deaths is up 11% to 430. 

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• A labor shortage in the U.K. has been exacerbated by the number of people who are laid low after getting COVID, according to a new report. The report, published on the Taylor & Francis Online site, looked at the impact of long COVID on the workforce. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, economic inactivity due to long-term sickness has risen by 120,900 among the working-age population, fueling the UK’s current labor shortage,” the authors wrote. “An estimated 80,000 people have left employment due to Long COVID.”

• Los Angeles County, home to 10 million residents, is facing a return to a broad indoor mask mandate later this month if current trends in hospital admissions continue, county health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week, the Associated Press reported. With the new omicron variants again pushing hospitalizations and deaths higher in recent weeks, states and cities are rethinking their responses and the White House is stepping up efforts to alert the public.

• A compound in Beijing faced a public backlash after staff imposed the use of electronic monitoring wristbands for residents who were in COVID-19 home quarantine after recently returning from other provinces, the South China Morning Post reported. The wristband has to be worn 24 hours a day for seven days, until a final nucleic acid testing result is done. Residents are complaining that the band is an “electronic shackle,” that can also track their movements.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the scientific understanding of its transmission and prevention has evolved. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains what strategies have worked for stemming the spread of the virus and which are outdated in 2022. Illustration: Adele Morgan

• Bill Gates, concerned about the “significant suffering” caused by global setbacks including the COVID-19 pandemic, announced Wednesday that he will donate $20 billion to his foundation so it can increase its annual spending, the AP reported. The donation will be combined with Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett’s $3.1 billion gift last month, brings The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s endowment to approximately $70 billion, making it one of the largest, if not the largest in the world, depending on daily stock valuations. 

Read also: COVID patients with weak immune systems should get priority care to avoid new variants emerging, experts say

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 559.6 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.36 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 89.2 million cases and 1,023,635 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 222.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 67% of the total population. But just 106.6 million have had a first booster, equal to 47.9% of the vaccinated population.

Just 17.7 million of the people 50 years old and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 27.7% of those who had a first booster.

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