Signs of hope emerge, with vaccines rising and infections falling in California

Even as California inched closer to the sobering milestone of 40,000 deaths from COVID-19, signs of hope continued to emerge.

Case rates, positive test rates and hospitalizations continued to drop or hold across the state on Friday. Over the past seven days, the state has averaged 22,200 cases per day, roughly half the number from two weeks ago.

Nationwide, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 fell to their lowest level since Dec. 7.

“We are clearly on a downslope,” said Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert with UCSF, speaking during a forum hosted by the school on Thursday.

Despite the promising trends, Santa Clara County hit a grim marker with more than 100,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases and more than 1,300 deaths since the first Bay Area case of the illness was discovered on Jan. 31 in a Santa Clara resident who flew in from Wuhan, China, a week earlier.

Deaths, which remain a lagging indicator of where the pandemic is headed, remained high.

Across California, more than one-third of deaths throughout the entire pandemic were reported in January — and the 13,594 deaths recorded statewide in January are twice as many as the 6,772 reported in December.

“I think it’s plausible that the virus has done what it can do,” said Shane Crotty, a scientist with the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, at the UCSF forum.

More vaccine doses are on the way, albeit far more slowly than health officials would like as the federal government and the state move to iron out distribution problems.

California says that nearly two-thirds of the vaccine doses shipped have been administered. Some providers held back doses for second shots, accounting for part of the one-third not yet administered.

“With vaccinations, we will hopefully see an end to this pandemic soon,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Officer, during a news briefing on Friday.

At least three more vaccine contenders likely will be authorized for use in the U.S. this summer, including products from AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson, Rutherford said.

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday its single-dose coronavirus vaccine proved 66% effective in trials. The company is seeking emergency-use authorization from the FDA.

European regulators on Friday also approved AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 18 after it demonstrated efficacy of around 60% in the trials.

Both vaccines are cheaper and easier to store than the currently available vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, but fall well below the 94-95% rate of efficacy of those two vaccines, which are already approved for use in the U.S.

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