J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate sparks hopes for faster recovery, just as daily deaths spike above 5,000 in the U.S.

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Hopes for a quicker recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic got a boost Friday, after the Food and Drug Administration said it would review Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate before the end of the month.

But that good news was tempered by a dose of reality, as data from the New York Times tracker showed that daily death toll from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 jumped above the 5,000 threshold for the first time.

J&J said late Thursday that it submitted to the Food and Drug Administration an application for an emergency use authorization (EUA) for its “single-dose” COVID-19 vaccine candidate. That vaccine was 72% effective at preventing symptomatic disease in the U.S.

The FDA responded by saying it scheduled an advisory committee meeting on Feb. 26 to discuss J&J’s vaccine candidate. If the committee backs the vaccine, the FDA could grant the EUA within days after the committee meeting, if they see reason to do so.

J&J Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said if the EUA is granted, “we are ready to begin shipping.”

The U.S. government has purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine from J&J, with expectations that the amount will be supplied by midyear.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 35,203,710 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S., or about 61% of the 57,489,675 total doses that have been distributed.

Now back to the bad news. The U.S. recorded at least 5,116 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, up from 3,843 deaths on Wednesday, and smashing the previous record of 4,402 deaths on Jan. 12, the New York Times data show. Read more Coronavirus Update columns.

If there’s a silver lining, the spike in deaths comes after Indiana health officials identified and additional 1,507 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, new daily cases in the U.S. rose to 126,842 from 119,014 on Wednesday, but that was below the daily average of 130,953 cases over the past week, which in turn was down 30% from the average two weeks earlier.

And hospitalizations fell to 88,668 on Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That’s the 23rd straight day of declines, and marked the lowest total since Nov. 24.

In other vaccine news:

• The United Kingdom drug regulator said on Friday that based on data from the first weeks of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccines are safe and any side effects are mild and short lasting. The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) evaluated doses of the vaccines developed by either AstraZeneca PLC AZN or the one developed by Pfizer Inc. PFE and partner BioNTech SE BNTX.

• CureVac N.V. said Friday it plans to develop COVID-19 vaccine candidates that can prevent infection with new variants, as part of an agreement with the U.K.

• The U.S. government said Friday it plans to provide additional guidance about new strains of SARS-CoV-2 to companies that have developed or are developing new tests, treatments and vaccines. The FDA said on Thursday that it was already discussing with companies how the new variants may affect the efficacy of their vaccines and vaccine candidates.

Latest tallies

There have been 105,142,821 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally as of Friday afternoon, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and at least 2,291,061 people have died. About 58.5 million people have recovered.

The U.S. has the highest case tally in the world at 26,716,484, or about one-quarter of the world’s total, and the highest death toll at 456,900, or about 20% of the global total.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 228,795 and is third by cases at 9.4 million.

India is second worldwide
in cases with 10.8 million, and now fourth in deaths at 154,823, after being surpassed by Mexico late last week.

Mexico has the third highest death toll at 162,922 and 13th highest case tally at 1.9 million.

The U.K. has 3.9 million cases and 111,477 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 100,305 confirmed cases and 4,822 deaths, according to its official numbers

Lina Saigol and Jaimy Lee contributed to this report.

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