On a fund-raising conference call organized by the European Union (EU) today that include leaders from around the world over $8 billion was raised to help fund research for developing a vaccine for COVID-19. The call lasted over three hours and countries provided whatever they could to the fund. The biggest contributors were the European Union and Norway, with each pledging $1.1 billion. The executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, led the initiative. The goal is to provide deliver universal and affordable access to medication to fight the virus. They said the money would be spent over the next two years to support initiatives around the globe, but the details still need to be figured out. It’s not just countries who pledged money. Individuals, such as Madonna, and organizations, like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also donated to the fund.
The United States declined to contribute to the fund stating that the US is already spending billions of dollars on its own research. Chinese officials were present for the call, but didn’t contribute any funds either and Russia didn’t participate at all. In response to the United States’ absence, President Emmanuel Macron of France said, “in no way does that hamper or slow our initiative.” Unfortunately, many international officials just view it as another step toward not being able to depend on the US now or in the future.
Here at home, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement today saying that any company selling COVID-19 antibody tests has to submit data proving accuracy within the next 10 days or it will potentially be removed from the market. The agency had been allowing manufactures to sell tests without offering evidence that they’re accurate since mid-March. This change comes after a report from 50 scientists pointed out that only three out of 14 tests they looked at actually produce dependable results. In addition to the report, the National Institutes of Health discovered that antibody tests have been performing poorly. As a result of these findings, several Congressional members have been questioning the soundness of the tests.
Only 12 companies have FDA clearance to sell antibody tests, but many other products are being sold and used. Critics say this is due to the lack of regulation by the agency. Some feel that the lack of regulation was in an effort to compensate for the slow availability of diagnostic tests since the agency came under scrutiny for taking too long to permit private companies from assisting in getting these tests to market.
As we still struggle to get testing right, President Trump is moving forward with, and encouraging states to, reopen the economy. As a result, models are now predicting that there will be a steady rise in the number of cases between now and June 1st. According to an internal White House document that was obtained by The New York Times, the number of daily deaths is currently around 1,750, but is expected to increase to close to 3,000 per day by the end of the month. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), indicates that the number of new cases per day will rise from the current 25,000 to almost 200,000.
Experts point out that the numbers clearly show the social distancing measures have been working and, as locations remove them, there will be increases in cases and deaths. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, their model is now approximating that there will be almost 135,000 deaths in the US by the beginning of August. This is over double what they forecast on April 17th, which was a death toll around 60,308 in the same time frame. Officials from the institute state that the increase in numbers is directly related to the “easing of social distancing measures expected to in 31 by May 11th.” Many public health experts are concerned that reopening the economy will put the country back where it was in mid-March as far as the rapid increases that we saw.