Global COVID-19 death toll surpasses 5 million, but it’s likely an undercount
The global death toll from COVID-19 topped five million on Monday, less than two years into a crisis that has not only devastated poor countries but also humbled wealthy ones with first-rate health-care systems.
The death toll, as tallied by Johns Hopkins University, rivals the number of people killed in battles among countries since 1950, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Globally, COVID-19 is now the third-leading cause of death, after heart disease and stroke.
The staggering figure is almost certainly an undercount because of limited testing and people dying at home without medical attention, especially in poor parts of the world.
“This is a defining moment in our lifetime,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health. “What do we have to do to protect ourselves so we don’t get to another five million?”
Africa remains the world’s least-vaccinated region, with just five per cent of the population of 1.3 billion people — or about 17.5 per cent of the global population — fully vaccinated. The vaccine inequity has been condemned by World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“This devastating milestone reminds us that we are failing much of the world,” Guterres said in a written statement. “This is a global shame.”
Nigeria and Kenya, which account for a quarter of a billion people, have improbably recorded slightly more than 8,000 official COVID-19 deaths between them.
South Africa, arguably the most technologically advanced of Africa’s countries, perhaps provides a better clue as to the extent of the damage. The sub-Saharan country has endured a couple of brutal COVID-19 waves to result in a total of 89,177 deaths, but even there it has been suggested through an examination of excess deaths that the coronavirus is responsible for many more deaths.
In Asia, the ramifications of a horrific coronavirus wave in India earlier this year are still being felt. While many Asian countries were able to manage the coronavirus relatively well in 2020, this year has seen outbreaks in key production hubs, affecting the global supply-chain.
In Europe, Italy and France saw devastating outbreaks in 2020, with the United Kingdom soon to follow. The U.K. at this date still sees high case counts — while vaccination numbers have been high, there were few restrictions on activity during the summer, with music festivals and major sporting events taking place.
The European struggle is now playing out most concerningly in the east, where low vaccination numbers have meant significant summer and full outbreaks in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Latvia, Czech Republic and Russia, which straddles both Europe and Asia.
Australia and New Zealand have instituted some of the most stringent lockdowns as well as the longest-lasting travel restrictions in the developed world. With low-density populations, favourable outdoor climate and relative isolation from the rest of the world, 1,743 people have died from COVID-19 in Australia, and 28 in New Zealand.
To contrast, South America has arguably endured the worst of all possible worlds. The continent’s death toll hovers near 1.2 million, with Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru all ranking among the 20 countries with the highest per capita death counts globally, while Venezuela, given its humanitarian situation in recent years, figures to have lost more than the official 4,891 COVID-19 deaths its government has reported.
In addition, like Africa, many of the continent’s workers toil in informal economies and markets where working from home is not an option. Several South American and African countries also have needed financial assistance and loans from the IMF and World Bank even before the pandemic.
In North America, there have been more than 1.1 million official deaths due to COVID-19, a total dominated by suffering in the U.S. and Mexico. The virus and its vaccines have been politicized in the U.S., and the country saw a pronounced wave even after COVID-19 shots were abundantly available, particularly in the southeast.
Canada has not seen the politicization to the extent of its southern neighbour. While an extended land border closure has vexed many Canadians, the country has also benefited from its giant neighbour, whose two pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer have contributed overwhelmingly to Canada’s robust inoculation rates.
Canada has been hit by distressing outbreaks in long-term care facilities that have resulted in the significant majority of the 28,717 COVID-19 deaths, per Health Canada tracking. While governments have floundered at times in their pandemic response, measures such as lockdowns have been hotly debated, and the country’s relatively low number of beds as an OECD country have led to heath-care stress, the country has witnessed fewer than 5,000 official coronavirus-related deaths (4,834 to be exact) of Canadians 69 years of age and younger.
From The National
Novavax COVID-19 vaccine officially up for authorization in Canada as it gets its first green light, in Indonesia
As a coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020 and companies mobilized to produce a vaccine to help prevent catastrophe, it was a reasonable assumption that Novavax would be part of that fight.
That’s because it was one of the companies the Donald Trump administration placed an early bet on to produce vaccines, to the tune of a federal contract awarded in July 2020 that has been estimated at being worth $1.6-1.75 billion.
Then in the spring of 2021, the company announced positive results of a massive worldwide clinic trial. Now as the calendar page flips to November, the Maryland-based company has yet to apply for authorization in the U.S., the result of problems mass manufacturing its doses and fulfilling regulatory requests.
However, the company has ramped up its regulatory submission in recent days, including to Canada, Australia, the European Union, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. It says requests for authorization in the U.S. and Japan are coming soon.
And on Monday, it scored its first COVID-19 vaccine approval anywhere, in the world’s fourth-most populous country. Indonesia, which has fully vaccinated about 27 per cent of its citizens, hopes to boost its inoculation campaign with doses of Covavax, a joint effort between Novavax and India’s Serum Institute.
Novavax’s product requires two doses and works differently than those that have dominated the North American vaccination campaign. Read more about how it works here, as well as on the hunt for a combo influenza-COVID-19 vaccine, something Novavax is pursuing.
It’s not clear how Novavax’s shot would be utilized in Canada, where 84 per cent of those ages 12 and over have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As it did with several other companies, the federal government struck a deal with Novavax early in the pandemic, with Canada agreeing early this year to purchase 52 million doses.
The plan was that Novavax doses would be produced in Montreal at the National Research Council (NRC), and in mid-October the NRC said in a statement that “the work with Novavax is proceeding as planned.”
It is possible that if authorized Novavax could be put to use as Canada’s booster-shot plans spread more widely to the general population, or that it will help the federal government aid the global vaccination campaign by sending doses to low- and middle-income countries. (See next entry on that topic.)
Canada’s newest global vaccine pledge promises equivalent of 73 million more doses
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister, said on the sidelines of this weekend’s G20 summit in Rome that the country is increasing its contribution to COVAX, a vaccine distribution program co-ordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups to get shots to more countries.
The federal government will immediately contribute 10 million doses of Moderna to the vaccine-sharing alliance — product previously allocated to Canada that will now be redistributed to other countries in need. Canada will then supply cash to COVAX so it can procure 63 million more doses by the end of 2022 — a total commitment of up to 200 million doses.
“Canada’s commitment is very significant because of our size and given we don’t have domestic capacity,” said Freeland.
But it remains to be seen how quickly those shots can get into arms.
Earlier this year, Canada promised 40 million doses to COVAX, including some of the product it agreed to buy from companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The government has also earmarked more than $500 million in cash to help COVAX buy 87 million doses and improve its delivery process.
However, according to government data, fewer than three million of the shots Canada has donated have actually made it into the arms of people elsewhere, which has included deliveries to Trinidad and Tobago and Kenya. It’s not entirely clear the reasons for the discrepancy, although organizing shipments and ensuring they can be administered in a timely fashion in countries with less sophisticated medical and transportation infrastructure has proven challenging at the best of times in the global COVID-19 fight.
According to former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who is now leading a coalition of former world leaders advocating for the better distribution of shots, Canada, the United States, the European Union and Britain have a combined total of more than 240 million unused vaccines on hand. At the same time, fewer than four per cent of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated.
Dr. Zain Chagla, a professor of infectious diseases at McMaster University in Hamilton, has been following the global scramble to procure vaccines and its impact on developing countries and worries that, while a positive step on the surface, it may not be timely enough.
“The reality is it’s 2021 and the next few months, with delta circulating, are going to be of much more consequence,” he told CBC News. “There’s even more of a need for global doses today than there will be in a year.”
With Canada currently awash in shots, Chagla said the federal government should consider deferring any new deliveries, allowing companies to redistribute doses to other countries in need.
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