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COVID-19 vaccines have saved more than 39,000 lives in Medicare population, government study concludes, while WHO warns that ‘we are not out of the woods yet’

The vaccines developed to protect against the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 have helped keep more than 100,000 enrollees in Medicare out of hospitals and reduced the number of cases in that population by about 265,000, according to a new study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The study found vaccination also reduced the number of deaths in the Medicare population of 62.7 million people by at least 39,000. The authors reached those findings after analyzing individual-level health data and county-level vaccination rates among Medicare beneficiaries between January and May of this year.

“The difference in vaccination rates for those age 65 and older between the lowest (34%) and highest (85%) counties and states by the end of May highlights the continued opportunity to leverage COVID-19 vaccinations to prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” the authors wrote.

The study comes as the U.S. continues to average more than 1,800 COVID-19 deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, even as that represents an improvement from the more than 2,000 daily fatalities being recorded in recent weeks.

Cases and hospitalizations have also come down as the surge seen in the summer caused by the highly infectious delta variant of the virus ebbs, although pockets of the country are still suffering high caseloads and overwhelmed hospitals.

As almost all of those are in unvaccinated people, it remains crucial to persuade the roughly 68 million people living in the U.S. that are eligible for vaccination to get their shots, and health experts are cautioning that the pandemic is still far from over.

Read: U.S. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, but experts lament preventable deaths that have pushed toll above 700,000

Related: Are you allowed to ask your doctors and nurses if they’re vaccinated? And do they have to answer?

The World Health Organization official responsible for managing the COVID-19 response warned on Tuesday that “we’re not out of the woods,” even as, in many places, public safety measures like social distancing and face masks are being abandoned.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO’s COVID effort, said in a briefing on Tuesday that 3.1 million new cases and just over 54 000 new deaths were reported in the week through Oct. 3, and those numbers are likely undercounted.

“We’re not out of the woods. We’re very much in the middle of this pandemic. But where in the middle … we’re not quite sure yet because, frankly, we’re not using the tools we have right now to get us closer to the end.”

“What I really struggle with is in some cities we see ICUs and hospitals full and people dying — yet on the streets people are acting like it’s completely over. You can’t have it both ways.”

Van Kerkhove also criticized the misinformation being spread through social media, describing is as effectively lethal: “It is resulting in people dying. There is no way to sugarcoat that.”

The WHO’s weekly epidemiological update shows that the delta variant is now in 192 countries, seven more than last week.

Elsewhere, New Zealand is planning to vaccinate up to 350,000 people in a single day next week as its program kicks into high gear, the Times reported. The country of about 5 million is on pace to fully vaccinate about 90% of eligible people by the end of November.

Russia set yet another record daily death toll on Wednesday, when it climbed above 900 for the first time since the start of the outbreak, Euronews reported. Russia counted 929 fatalities amid the country’s low vaccination rate and the government’s reluctance to tighten restrictions. The previous record, of 895 deaths, was registered on Tuesday.

See: Positive news on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in the U.S. weighs against Russia’s latest record one-day death toll

Sweden has suspended use of the Moderna
MRNA,
-5.06%

vaccine for people 30 and younger, Medical Xpress.com reported. The reason cited by Sweden’s Public Health Agency was “signals of an increased risk of side effects such as inflammation of the heart muscle or the pericardium” — the double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the main vessels.

Spain is the latest country to approve booster shots of the Pfizer
PFE,
-0.87%

and Moderna vaccines for people 70 and older, Reuters reported. Spain has fully vaccinated around 78% of its population, and authorized the booster shot from six months after people receive their second jab, the health ministry said in a statement.

A study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday has highlighted the impact of health inequity on communities of color. Blacks, Latinos and indigenous people suffered a disproportionate number of the half-million excess deaths estimated for the U.S. in 2020, the study found. It looked at deaths caused directly and indirectly by COVID.

“There were profound racial/ethnic disparities in excess deaths in the United States in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in rapid increases in racial/ethnic disparities in all-cause mortality between 2019 and 2020,” the authors concluded.

Flu season is approaching and health experts expect it to be worse than last year. WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz explains why this could be an earlier and more severe season and what precautions people can take during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Read also: Nearly 70% of big U.S. companies are adopting a flexible work model, says Morgan Stanley

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 235.9 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 4.81 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 43.9 million cases and 705,383 deaths.

 India is second by cases after the U.S. at 33.8 million and has suffered 449,438 deaths. Brazil has the second highest death toll at 598,829 and 21.5 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has reported the most fatalities at 208,842, followed by the U.K. at 137,544.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 108,621 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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