Even as new infections slip to the lowest levels in three months, on Saturday, India crossed the 10 million mark of total infections since the pandemic began, second behind the U.S. mark of 17 million, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
India's falling infections, down from its record of about 100,000 new cases daily to about 25,000 cases reported Saturday, give health experts some reason to hope. India has suffered more than 145,000 deaths, Johns Hopkins says.
"If we can sustain our declining trend for the next two to three months, we should be able to start the vaccination program and start moving away from the pandemic," Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, told The Associated Press.
Some of the world’s biggest vaccine makers are located in India, and there are five vaccines in clinical trials. Two vaccines, by Oxford University-AstraZeneca and India’s Bharat Biotech, are nearing authorization for emergency use. The South Asian nation with a population of 1.3 billion people hopes to vaccinate 250 million people by July.
As India’s cases are waning, Canada was approaching 500,000 cases Saturday, an increase of 25% since two weeks ago, when the North American country surpassed 400,000 cases.
"COVID-19 is spreading among people of all ages, with high infection rates across all age groups," Canada's chief medical officer Theresa Tam said.
Cases surging in Canada
Canada is to receive 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. And about 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine should arrive soon. It is expected to receive emergency-use approval by Canadian health officials soon.
However, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand said there will not be enough shots for every Canadian who wants one until September.
Santa ‘good to go’
One person who won’t have to wait for his shot is Santa Claus, thanks to Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert.
"I took care of that for you because I was worried that you'd all be upset," he said Saturday during a CNN and "Sesame Street" coronavirus town hall for families, after worried youngsters asked whether Santa could safely enter homes on Dec. 25.
"I took a trip up there to the North Pole; I went there, and I vaccinated Santa Claus myself. I measured his level of immunity, and he is good to go," Fauci said.
"He can come down the chimney, he can leave the presents ... you have nothing to worry about," he said.
US general apologizes
Gen. Gustave Perna, the U.S. Army general in charge of distributing COVID-19 vaccine across the U.S., apologized Saturday to the governors of more than a dozen states that will be getting fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than they expected.
"I want to take personal responsibility for the miscommunication," he told reporters during a telephone briefing. "I know that's not done much these days. But I am responsible. ... This is a Herculean effort, and we are not perfect."
Perna said he mistakenly cited the number of doses he believed would be ready, not understanding the difference between manufactured doses and those ready to be released.
Between the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna Inc. vaccine, Perna said the government is expecting to deliver 20 million doses to the states by the first week of January.
Moderna and its partners have started distributing its vaccine, the second approved for emergency use in the country. Trucks will begin shipping the vaccine to more than 3,700 U.S. locations on Sunday, Perna said Saturday during the virtual news conference.
Perna said the Moderna vaccine will reach health care workers as early as Monday, but that the delivery of some of the first 20 million doses of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer Inc. could be delayed until the first week of January.
Nearly 76 million people around the world contracted the coronavirus as of midday Saturday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The U.S. tops the list as the country with the most cases, with 17.6 million; India is second, with more than 10 million, followed by Brazil, with 7.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins.
Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, said Saturday the country would focus on vaccinating high-risk groups over the next several months before beginning to vaccinate the general public.
"During the winter and spring seasons, carrying out novel coronavirus vaccination work among some key population groups is of great significance to epidemic prevention," Zeng, who also is director of State Council's vaccine R&D working group, said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it has gained access to 2 billion doses of several coronavirus vaccines.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said access to the vaccines ensures that some 190 countries will be able to inoculate their populations “during the first half of next year.”