Coronavirus update: Delta variant cases are rising, U.S. to send vaccine doses to other nations

Photo (c) Eugene Mymrin - Getty Images

A Texas hospital suspended employees for refusing vaccinations

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 33,415,911 (33,394,843)

Total U.S. deaths: 598,342 (598,102)

Total global cases: 174,496,166 (174,082,010) 

Total global deaths: 3,759,196 (3,749,754)

An increase in Delta variant cases causes official concern

The COVID-19 variant first identified in India, codenamed Delta, is beginning to spread in the U.S., health officials warn. The variant is more contagious than the original virus.

"For those who are unvaccinated, they are increasingly at risk as more and more variants develop," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN.

Murthy and other health experts say the news underscores the need to get a vaccination since all of the vaccines in use in the U.S. have been shown to be highly effective in blocking the variant.

U.S. will donate 500 million vaccine doses to other countries

The U.S. government, working with Pfizer and BioNTech, will donate 500 million doses of the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine to countries with high percentages of low-income populations. The companies said they will provide the vaccine to the U.S. government at a “not for profit” price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. “COVID-19 has impacted everyone, everywhere, and to win the battle against this pandemic, we must ensure expedited access to vaccines for all.”

Half the vaccine doses will be supplied to the U.S. government for shipment to other countries before the end of the year. The rest will be provided in the first half of 2022.

Houston hospital suspends 178 unvaccinated employees

Houston Methodist Hospital has suspended 178 nurses and other employees who have refused to get a vaccination. Hospital policy requires a vaccination unless the employee receives an exemption on religious or medical grounds.

"The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19," said Dr. Mac Boom, the hospital’s president. "The mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines isn't new or experimental. It's been around for many years."

The hospital is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by 117 Houston Methodist nurses who seek to overturn the facility’s vaccination mandate. The suit claims the vaccines are all “experimental” because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not granted final approval.

New unemployment claims keep falling

As businesses reopen and search for employees, it’s chipping away at the near-record unemployment rate caused by the pandemic. Fewer people are lining up for unemployment benefits.

The Labor Department reports that initial claims for unemployment benefits fell again last week, dropping to 376,000 -- 9,000 fewer than the week before. This is the lowest level for initial claims since March 14, 2020, when it was 256,000.

The number of Americans still drawing benefits also continued to fall last week. The total number of continuing claims for benefits in all programs for the week ending May 22 was 15,349,465, a decrease of 95,099 from the previous week. 

Moderna seeks clearance for vaccinating adolescents

There could soon be more vaccines available to innoculate adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. Moderna has asked the FDA for emergency use authorization (EUA) for its vaccine to be used with that age group.

Currently, the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech is the only one being used to innoculate 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S.

In May, Moderna said that the Phase 2/3 TeenCOVE study of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents met its primary immunogenicity endpoint. In the study, no cases of COVID-19 were observed in participants who had received two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Around the nation

  • Georgia: Nearly 20 known cases of a COVID-19 variant first found in India have been detected across the state, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. "It's more contagious, probably about 40-50% more likely to spread from one person to the next," said Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins.

  • Washington: Amid all the incentives for people to get vaccinated, Washington health officials are raising eyebrows with the state’s “Joints for Jabs,” program, which offers a free marijuana cigarette to those who get vaccinated at clinics set up in marijuana retailers. The retailers are reportedly less than enthusiastic about the program.

  • Michigan: New cases of the coronavirus fell to a multi-month low of 257 on Wednesday, showing major progress in a state that has been ravaged by the virus. At the same time, health officials expressed concerns about the slowing pace of vaccinations across the state.

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