• U.S. sets another record for COVID-19 hospitalizations
• U.K. grants emergency-use authorization to Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate, but many hurdles remain
• Dr. Fauci named one of People magazine’s people of the year
The U.S. set a fresh record for hospitalizations with the coronavirus illness COVID-19 on Wednesday, and the death toll climbed above 270,000, as the nation’s main public health agency pushed ahead with planning for an expected vaccine rollout.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 in favor of putting health-care workers and nursing-home residents first in line for COVID-19 vaccine shots, to maximize the public health benefit and mitigate inequities that have put some communities — notably Black and Latino people — at greater risk than others.
Dr. Beth Bell, one of the committee’s members and a clinical professor of global health at the University of Washington, said it’s come to a point that a person dies of COVID-19 every minute.
“We are acting none too soon,” she said at the start of the panel’s meeting on Tuesday and later voted “yes” on the recommendation.
Hopes that a vaccine will be available sooner rather than later were bolstered Wednesday by the news that the U.K. government has granted emergency-use authorization to the vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer Inc. PFE, +3.21% and German partner BioNTech SE BNTX, +5.40% and plans to start inoculating people as soon as next week. That vaccine is still being investigated as part of a Phase 3 trial.
The companies have said early data from the trial has found the vaccine to be 95% effective and shows signs of being safe. The initial data covered just 170 adult volunteers in the trial involving nearly 44,000 people, and just eight of the 170 had gotten the vaccine.
Frontline workers in the U.K. are expected to be the first to receive the vaccine, which offers challenges in that it needs to be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. A vaccine candidate being developed by Moderna Inc. MRNA, +1.27% requires storage temperatures of minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Pfizer said shippers can maintain the temperature for 10 days unopened, which allows for transportation to markets globally.
Initially, the U.K. will have just 800,000 doses, enough for half that number of people as it requires two doses. The country’s National Health Service employs more than 1.4 million people. It has secured 40 million doses in total and expects to have about 10 million doses soon.
Analysts said the news, while positive, doesn’t mean the pandemic will be over any time soon.
“Ultimately even if a vaccination program was to start this month, the fact that two jabs are required means that it’s likely to be several months before we start to see a possible economic benefit in terms of an easing of restrictions, given that medical staff, along with more vulnerable people, are likely to be the first to benefit, with the general population at the back of the queue,” said MC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to meet on Dec. 10 to review the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine candidate and could also issue an emergency-use authorization. Moncef Slaoui, head of the “Operation Warp Speed” program aimed at accelerating development of a safe and effective vaccine, told ABC News he expects the FDA to reach the same conclusion as its U.K. counterpart.
The U.S. recorded at least 183,831 new infections on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 2,604 people died. The U.S. has averaged 161,179 cases a day in the past week, and that number is expected to rise in the next 10 days after millions of Americans traveled for Thanksgiving.
There are currently a record 98,691 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking a record set a day ago. The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 13.7 million, and deaths at 272,009, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, or about a fifth of the global tallies for each.
In other news:
• German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the U.K.’s emergency-use go-ahead for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, far from being a benefit of Brexit, is an example of international cooperation at its best, the Guardian reported. Spahn told journalists that while the U.K. is the first to grant an authorization of the vaccine’s use, he was optimistic that the European Medicines Agency would soon follow. The time difference was due to Britain and the U.S.’s having conducted an emergency approval process, while the EU was using its regular process. “But a few remarks on Brexit to my British friends: BioNTech is a European development, from the EU. The fact that this EU product is so good that Britain approved it so quickly shows that in this crisis European and international cooperation are best.” BioNTech is based in Mainz, Germany, and was founded by a husband-and-wife team of scientists from the country’s Turkish immigrant community.
• Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian authorities to start large-scale COVID-19 vaccinations next week, according to AFP. Russia registered its own experimental vaccine in the summer, dubbing it Sputnik V, and created controversy as it was still in Phase 3 trials at the time. Last week, it said the vaccine proved to be 95% effective in clinical trials. Putin said teachers and medics will be first to get the vaccine.
• The World Health Organization is recommending wearing face masks indoors with other people, if ventilation is not adequate, in an update on its guidance. The new recommendations apply in areas of known or suspected community transmission. “Make wearing a mask a normal part of being around other people,” advises the guidance. “The appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal of masks are essential to make them as effective as possible.”
• The CDC has shortened its recommended quarantine period to seven to 10 days, down from 14 days previously. “Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring,” says the updated guidance. Quarantine can end after day seven if a person teste negative and has no symptoms.
• People magazine has named Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of its people of the year and has given him its front cover. Fauci was selected along with George Clooney, Selena Gomez and Regina King. “Dr. Anthony Fauci stepped up to be the doctor America needed in 2020, providing steady guidance during the pandemic,” the magazine wrote. “Even though he and his family were getting death threats, he continued to be out front, reassuring us during turbulent times with his devoted public service, unflappable common sense, and life-saving leadership.”
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The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 64 million on Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.48 million. At least 41 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll after the U.S. at 173,817 and is third by cases at 6.4 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 9.49 million, and third in deaths at 138,122.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 106,765 and 11th highest case tally at 1.12 million.
The U.K has had 59,796 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.66 million cases, or seventh highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 93,096 confirmed cases and 4,744 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
U.S. businesses created 307,000 private-sector jobs in November, ADP said Wednesday, marking the smallest increase in four months and suggesting a record increase in coronavirus cases has hurt hiring, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The increase in hiring last month fell well short of the 440,000 forecast of economists surveyed by Econoday. Automatic Data Processing is the nation’s largest processor of payrolls for business.
Midsize companies added 139,000 jobs to their payrolls in November, ADP said, while small businesses created 110,000 jobs.
Large companies, with 500 employees or more, generated just 58,000 jobs last month, ADP said. That’s the smallest increase since the economy reopened last May.
Hotels, restaurants and health-care providers created the most new jobs in November. Hiring also increased modestly in construction and manufacturing.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is slated to report Friday its official estimate of how many total government and private-sector jobs were created in November. Economists polled by MarketWatch predict a 466,000 increase.
The economy continues to add jobs but at a slower pace than in the summer, chief economist Scott Brown of Raymond James said. “The ADP payrolls estimate is not a good predictor of the monthly change in the official BLS payrolls. The two generally trend together over time, but the recovery in BLS jobs has been somewhat stronger in recent months.”
What are companies saying?
• Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. HPE, +2.18% reported fourth-fiscal-quarter results, and disclosed it is moving its corporate headquarters to Houston from San Jose, Calif. Non-GAAP profit was 37 cents a share, ahead of the Wall Street consensus of 34 cents a share. Net earnings were $157 million, or 12 cents a share, compared with net earnings of $9 million, or a penny a share, a year ago. Revenue was flat at $7.21 billion a year ago. “We’ve returned to pre-pandemic revenue, which makes this a fantastic quarter,” Chief Financial Officer Tarek Robbiati told MarketWatch. He said the move to Texas would be gradual, with HPE maintaining a strategic hub in Silicon Valley. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had expected earnings of 45 cents a share on revenue of $6.98 billion.
• Lyft Inc. LYFT, +10.12% tempered its fourth-quarter revenue outlook, following a big drop in rides in November. The company said ride shares were down about 50% from the same period a year ago, due primarily to rising COVID-19 case counts, which has led to the reintroduction of restrictive measures. As a result, the company now expects fourth-quarter revenue growth to be at the “lower end” of the previously provided guidance range on Nov. 10 of 11%-to-15% sequential growth. Meanwhile, the company said it can manage its adjusted Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) loss “to be better than $185 million,” compared with previously provided loss guidance of “roughly $200 million at the midpoint and $190 million at the high end.”
• Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. NCLH, +1.41% announced another extension of its suspension of voyages given safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this time for a further two months. The suspension applies to all cruises scheduled to embark through Feb. 28 and to select cruises through March 31. A month ago, Norwegian had extended the suspension of all cruises to Dec. 31 from Nov. 30, after announcing on Oct. 5 and extension of the suspension to Nov. 30 from Oct. 31.
• Seagate HDD Cayman, a unit of Seagate Technology PLC STX, +1.57%, is planning to offer $1 billion in senor notes that mature in 2029, joining the many companies issuing record levels of debt during the pandemic. Proceeds are to be used to repurchase stock and for general corporate purposes, including the repayment of debt, capital spending and other investments in its business.
Additional reporting by Lina Saigol, Callum McKeown, Andrew Keshner and Tomi Kilgore.