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U.S. passes grim milestone as 1 person in every 500 has now died of COVID, as a debate about the need for booster shots heats up

The U.S. passed another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, when the number of fatalities from COVID-19 passed 666,000, meaning that about 1 in every 500 people living in America has died of the illness.

Roughly 1,900 deaths are now being recorded daily, which means the U.S. is suffering more deaths every two days than in the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.

The U.S. is recording an average of 152,605 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, and an average of 98,449 hospitalizations. Almost all of those patients are unvaccinated.

West Virginia, an early leader in vaccination, has slipped to become one of the states with the lowest rates and now leads the nation in recent cases on a per capita basis. The state is suffering more new cases — almost 2,000 a day — than at any other time during the crisis.

Just 40% of West Virginia’s population is fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two doses of the two-shot vaccines developed by Pfizer
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-1.27%

and German partner BioNTech
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+2.46%

or Moderna
MRNA,
+1.81%
,
or one of Johnson & Johnson’s
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-0.40%

one-dose regimen.

See also: Alaska joins Idaho in rationing health care as hospitals are packed with COVID patients, and WHO says Africa is being left behind in vaccine push

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 54.1% of the overall population, almost 180 million people, are fully vaccinated, while 63.4% have received at least one dose. Public health experts have lamented the preventable deaths being suffered among unvaccinated people.

The debate about whether willing Americans should now get booster shots continues ahead of the meeting Friday of a group of independent advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who will gather to review data and vote on the issue.

Dispatches from a Pandemic: COVID-19 long haulers are frustrated with unvaccinated friends, worried about reinfection, and mired in medical bills

The FDA published its own view of applications for a booster dose from Pfizer and Moderna on Wednesday, saying that all COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. continue to provide strong protection against severe disease. The companies, which stand to make billions of dollars from boosters, have said they believe that boosters are needed. Pfizer argued that the U.S. could track the experience of Israel, which has started to administer booster shots amid a delta-variant surge.

But experts are not convinced, as MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported.

“Is it necessary at this point? Does the data justify a mass rollout to 150 million [or] 200 million Americans who are younger and in good health?” asked John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “What we have got to get away from is this idea that the vaccines are failing, because they’re just not.”

The World Health Organization has pleaded for a moratorium on boosters until the rest of the world has received initial vaccine doses, and other agencies have echoed the call for greater equity in vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, public health officials in Los Angeles County will begin requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for patrons and workers at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, lounges and nightclubs in October, the Associated Press reported. By Nov. 4, proof of full vaccination will be mandatory, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. Health officials strongly recommend the same precautions for indoor restaurants but have not chosen to mandate proof of vaccination for them.

See now: Requests for religious exemptions grow after new COVID-19 vaccine mandates

The Biden administration is considering requiring vaccinations against COVID-19 and contact tracing of international visitors as the U.S. revamps current broad restrictions that bar many foreigners from traveling to the U.S., the AP said in a separate report.

Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that, because of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, current travel restrictions will remain in place until the administration rolls out a “new system” for regulating international travel. The system will include a prominent role for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elsewhere, China said it has now fully vaccinated 1 billion people, equal to 71% of its population of 1.4 billion, the Times reported. That brings it closer to its goal of fully inoculating 80% of its people by year-end.

France has suspended 3,000 healthcare workers for failing to get vaccinated against COVID by a Wednesday deadline, AFP and other news agencies reported. France’s national public health agency estimated last week that roughly 12% of hospital staff and around 6% of doctors in private practices have yet to be vaccinated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that dozens of his staff have been infected with COVID and that he will continue to isolate, ABC News reported. Putin first said he would self-isolate earlier this week after someone in his inner circle tested positive.

Separately, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations has expressed anger after the New York City government said all attendees at next week’s U.N. General Assembly must provide proof of vaccination, the Guardian reported. Vassily Nebenzia requested a meeting of the assembly to discuss the move.

Don’t miss: ‘Shoulda Got the Shot’: New PSAs employ real people rather than science and data to encourage unvaccinated Americans to change their minds

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 226.5 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose to 4.66 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 41.5 million cases and 666,630 deaths. 

India is second by cases after the U.S. at 33.3 million and has suffered 443,928 deaths.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 588,597 and has recorded 21 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has reported the most fatalities at 192,340, followed by the U.K. at 134,976.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 107,705 confirmed cases and 4,849 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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