March 14, 2021
Here is the weekly update again. We are now at about 120 million officially registered SARS-CoV-2 infections and 2,661,000 official COVID-19 deaths worldwide. The number of cases per day is on the rise again globally. 354 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far.
Problems in Europe
Europe looks very problematic at the moment.
Most of the European countries are at the beginning of a new wave (Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia etc.) or already in the middle of it (Italy, Czechia, Hungary, Serbia etc.).
A few other countries are either holding up well at the moment or at least don’t see an upward trend in cases (Portugal, Spain, UK, Switzerland, Slovenia, Belgium, Denmark, etc.). Norway and Finland are also struggling with a wave, though in both countries we are talking about well under 1,000 new cases per day.
Better Situation in North America, Hard Times in Brazil
The situation in North America is somewhat better. In Canada, case numbers are stable, at a high level but well below the peak of early January. In the US, a slight downward trend in cases continues, we are now back to the October/November level.
In Mexico, the downward trend is also holding at the moment. In Brazil, unfortunately, it looks quite different, new records are being set, they have already had a few times over 2,000 deaths per day. The rest of Latin America is mixed. Some countries look quite OK, others have settled at a very high level, Chile has seen a strong increase in cases.
Small Waves in Asia, Increases in the Middle East
Asia looks good, for the most part.
The Philippines are in a new wave and it looks like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are also seeing a wave, at least there are increases in cases again.
In the Middle East and in the Maghreb it looks partly quite good, but there are also strong increases in some countries (e.g. Jordan, Iraq) and I don’t think that we have reliable figures e.g. from Yemen or Syria. Israel looks good. Africa is basically looking pretty good, including South Africa. Ethiopia and Kenya are seeing strong increases in cases, otherwise it’s pretty quiet.
What About AstraZeneca?
So, what’s going on with AstraZeneca now?
Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Ireland are not using the vaccine at the moment, until it has been clarified whether there is a link between pulmonary embolism and thrombosis after vaccination.
Of course, what you read in the media can seem frightening. A nurse died several days after the vaccination in Austria and two others got pulmonary embolisms. Then you find the same thing in Denmark and Norway. It all sounds like there is a huge problem – at least according to media reports.
But you have to be very careful. First of all, such incidents always have to be investigated, of course, and you have to be very transparent. What the media then do with this transparency is another story.
And then, of course, you have to know that pulmonary embolisms and thromboses generally occur frequently. The rate of pulmonary embolism in Europe is about 60-70 per year per 100,000 inhabitants, for thrombosis, the rate is about 120 per 100,000 inhabitants per year (basically, the rates are higher in old people, but these problems also occur in younger people).
This is quite high in both cases, and one would expect that if very many people are vaccinated, there would be such cases after vaccination.
Not because they were caused by the vaccination, but because they would have occurred anyway.
What you have to do now is look to see if that occurs more often among the vaccinated than among the non-vaccinated.
In the clinical studies, this was not the case.
I don’t think there is a correlation, but as I said, it has to be investigated. If there is a correlation, we have to find out what the biological mechanism is and what the rate is. After the vaccine has been used millions of times in Europe, the rate – if there is a connection – would be very low. By the way, thrombosis is very common in SARS-CoV-2 infections.
For all these reasons, I still recommend getting vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine if you have the option.
Good News From Novavax & Austria’s Vaccination Campaign
Now for some more good news: Novavax has released new data on their phase II and phase III vaccine trials. The efficacy data looks about as good as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, but it’s a fairly classic recombinant protein vaccine with an adjuvant derived from a tree. I assume they’ll be applying for approval in the EU soon.
Austria set a vaccination record this week and I hope the numbers will continue to rise, despite the supply problems with AstraZeneca and J&J. The US also set a vaccination record yesterday, we vaccinated 4.6 million doses in one day (the average is just about 2.5 million per day). Many places are now vaccinating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Stay Safe, Stay Healthy
So, be careful, especially because of the rising case numbers. But also despite the rising numbers: It won’t last forever. The number of vaccinated people is increasing and hopefully the weather will get warmer soon.
And one thing to keep in mind: Pandemics with respiratory viruses do not last forever but usually about 1.5 to 2 years. I am still convinced that the whole thing will largely end in summer.
PS: If you are interested in how vaccinated people should behave, the CDC has issued new guidelines. You can trust the US CDC again, since there is a new, competent leadership (replaced after Trump’s departure). I will write something about it next week.