AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 vaccine had a 76 per cent efficacy rate at preventing symptomatic illness in a new analysis of its major U.S. trial — slightly lower than the level announced earlier this week in a report that was criticized for using outdated information.
U.S. health officials had publicly rebuked the drugmaker for not using the most up-to-date information when it published an interim analysis on Monday that said the vaccine had a 79 per cent efficacy rate.
The latest data was based on 190 infections among more than 32,400 participants in the United States, Chile and Peru. The earlier interim data was based on 141 infections through Feb. 17.
“The primary analysis is consistent with our previously released interim analysis, and confirms that our COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adults,” Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said in a statement.
AstraZeneca said it plans to seek U.S. emergency use authorization in the coming weeks and the latest data has been presented to the independent trial oversight committee, the Data Safety Monitoring Board.
AstraZeneca reiterated on Thursday that the shot, developed with Oxford University, was 100 per cent effective against severe or critical forms of the disease. It also said the vaccine showed 85 per cent efficacy in adults 65 years and older.
WATCH | Fauci says AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective:
“A lot of us were waiting for this large, well-constructed and reported Phase III study,” said Paul Griffin, a professor at the University of Queensland.
Although AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been authorized for use in more than 50 countries, including Canada, it has not yet been given the green light in the U.S.
Easier and cheaper to transport
“This appears to be a very effective vaccine with no safety concerns. Hopefully, this should now give people the confidence that this vaccine is the right one to continue to use moving forward,” Griffin said, noting that he and his parents have taken the vaccine.
The updated 76 per cent efficacy rate compares with rates of about 95 per cent for vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is, however, seen as crucial in tackling the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, not just due to limited vaccine supply but also because it is easier and cheaper to transport than rival shots. It has been granted conditional marketing or emergency use authorization in more than 70 countries.
The highly unusual rebuke from U.S. health authorities had marked a fresh setback for the vaccine that was once hailed as a milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been dogged by questions over its effectiveness and possible side effects.
The shot has faced questions since late last year when the drugmaker and Oxford University published data from an earlier trial with two different efficacy readings as a result of a dosing error.
Then this month, more than a dozen countries temporarily suspended giving out the vaccine after reports linked it to a rare blood clotting disorder in a very small number of people.
The European Union’s drug regulator said last week the vaccine was clearly safe, but Europeans remain skeptical about its safety.
On Wednesday, Health Canada said it’s updating the label on the AstraZeneca-Oxford and Covishield COVID-19 vaccines to add information about “very rare reports of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets,” but says the shot remains safe and that the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh the risks.
World Bank sees ‘significant’ inflation risk from high energy prices
Energy Prices are expected to inch up in 2022 after surging more than 80% in 2021, fueling significant near-term risks to global inflation in many developing countries, the World Bank said in its latest Commodity Markets Outlook on Thursday.
The multilateral development bank said energy prices should start to decline in the second half of 2022 as supply constraints ease, with non-energy prices such as agriculture and metals also expected to ease after strong gains in 2021.
“The surge in energy prices poses significant near-term risks to global inflation and, if sustained, could also weigh on growth in energy-importing countries,” said Ayhan Kose, chief economist and director of the World Bank’s Prospects Group, which produces the Outlook report.
“The sharp rebound in commodity prices is turning out to be more pronounced than previously projected. Recent volatility in prices may complicate policy choices as countries recover from last year’s global recession.”
The International Monetary Fund, in a separate blog https://blogs.imf.org/2021/10/21/surging-energy-prices-may-not-ease-until-next-year, said it expected energy prices to revert to “more normal levels” early next year when heating demand ebbs and supplies adjust. But it warned that uncertainty remained high and small demand shocks could trigger fresh price spikes.
The World Bank noted that some commodity prices rose to or exceeded levels in 2021 not seen since a spike a decade earlier.
Natural gas and coal prices, for instance, reached record highs amid supply constraints and rebounding demand for electricity, although they are expected to decline in 2022 as demand eases and supply improves, the bank said.
It warned that further price spikes could occur in the near-term given current low inventories and persistent supply bottlenecks. Other risk factors included extreme weather events, the uneven COVID-19 recovery and the threat of more outbreaks, along with supply-chain disruptions and environmental policies.
Higher food prices were also driving up food-price inflation and raising questions about food security in several developing countries, it said.
The bank projected crude oil prices would reach $74/bbl in 2022, buoyed by strengthening demand from a projected $70/bbl in 2021, before easing to $65/bbl in 2023.
The use of crude oil as a substitute for natural gas presented a major upside risk to the demand outlook, although higher energy prices may start to weigh on global growth.
The bank forecast a 5% drop in metals prices in 2022 after a 48% increase in 2021. It said agricultural prices were expected to decline modestly next year after jumping 22% this year.
It warned that changing weather patterns due to climate change also posed a growing risk to energy markets, potentially affecting both demand and supply.
It said countries could benefit by accelerating installation of renewable energy sources and by cutting their dependency on fossil fuels.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Diane Craft)
U.S. FAA seeks new minimum rest periods for flight attendants between shifts
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing to require flight attendants receive at least 10 hours of rest time between shifts after Congress had directed the action in 2018, according to a document released on Thursday.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing major carriers including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others, had previously estimated the rule would cost its members $786 million over 10 years for the 66% of U.S. flight attendants its members employ, resulting from things like unpaid idle time away from home and schedule disruptions.
Aviation unions told the FAA the majority of U.S. flight attendants typically do receive 10 hours of rest from airlines but urged the rule’s quick adoption for safety and security reasons.
Under existing rules, flight attendants get at least 9 hours of rest time but it can be as little as 8 hours in certain circumstances.
“Flight attendants serve hundreds of millions of passengers on close to 10 million flights annually in the United States,” the FAA said, adding that they “perform safety and security functions while on duty in addition to serving customers.”
It cited reports about the “potential for fatigue to be associated with poor performance of safety and security related tasks,” including in 2017, when a flight attendant reported almost causing the gate agent to deploy an emergency exit slide, which was attributed to fatigue and other issues.
The FAA estimated the regulation could prompt the industry to hire another 1,042 flight attendants and cost $118 million annually. If hiring assumptions were cut in half, it said, that would cut estimated costs by over 30%.
After the FAA published an advance notice of the planned rules in 2019, Delta announce it would mandate the 10-hour rest requirement by February 2020.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is testifying at a U.S. House Transportation subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
House Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio said on Wednesday that it was “unacceptable” to delay the FAA adopting the flight attendant rest rule and mandating secondary flight deck barriers to better protect the cockpits on all newly manufactured airliners.
Attorneys at the FAA “need a little poke” to move faster on rules when ordered by Congress, DeFazio said on Thursday at the hearing. “Do not screw around with it for three years… you just do it.”
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants representing 50,000 workers at 17 airlines, said the rule was critical.
“Flight attendant fatigue is real. COVID has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short night, and combative conditions on planes,” she said. “Congress mandated 10 hours irreducible rest in October 2018, but the prior administration put the rule on a process to kill it.”
During the pandemic, flight attendants have dealt with records numbers of disruptive, occasionally violent passenger incidents, with the FAA citing 4,837 unruly passenger reports, including 3,511 for refusing to wear a mask since Jan. 1.
The FAA proposes to make the new flight attendant rest rules final 30 days after it publishes its final rules.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jason Neely and Bill Berkrot)
Bitcoin price hits all-time high, one day after U.S. ETF debut – Global News
The world’s leading cryptocurrency was up 3.30 per cent, trading at US$66,364.72, after reaching a record of US$67,016.50, topping the US$64,895.22 hit on April 14 this year.
Tuesday was the first day of trading for the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF — a development market participants say is likely to drive investment into the digital asset.
The ETF closed up 2.59 per cent at US$41.94 from its opening price of US$40.88 on Tuesday and continued its ascent on Wednesday, last up 3.76 per cent at US$43.52.
The Valkyrie Bitcoin Strategy ETF, expected to debut on the Nasdaq Wednesday, appeared to be delayed after its prospectus was amended in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A person familiar with the matter said the Nasdaq expects the ETF to launch on Thursday, but that has not been confirmed yet.
El Salvador becomes 1st country to adapt Bitcoin as legal tender
Trading appeared to be dominated by smaller investors and high-frequency trading firms, analysts said, noting the absence of large block trades indicated that institutions were likely staying on the sidelines.
James Quinn, managing partner at Q9 Capital, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency private wealth manager, said the launch of the new product was “meaningful” for bitcoin.
Theoretically, any licensed brokerage firm in the United States which wants to take on this ETF can do so as easily as any other ETF, which “should make it available to a lot of folks,” said Quinn.
While the ETF is based on bitcoin futures, Quinn said the trades and hedges underpinning the ETF means activity will flow into the spot market and the bitcoin price.
Crypto ETFs have launched this year in Canada and Europe amid surging interest in digital assets. VanEck is also among fund managers pursuing U.S.-listed ETF products, although Invesco on Monday dropped its plans for a futures-based ETF.
Ether, the world’s No. 2 cryptocurrency, was up 3.63 per cent on the day at US$4,018.75, after hitting a high of US$4,080, nearing its record high of US$4,380 reached on May 12.
© 2021 Reuters
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