Antibodies only half the story of vaccine protection: experts
Moderna’s president is warning that Canada could see a rise in so-called “breakthrough” infections of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated people by Christmas time, prompting the need for a booster shot for the broader public.
“In December and January, when flu season comes back and when respiratory viruses really take off around the holidays, it could become a very bad moment because you’ll see high forces of infection and breakthroughs,” president Stephen Hoge said in an exclusive interview with Global News’ current affairs show The New Reality.
Moderna has been studying the immune response to its vaccine since the summer of 2020, when 30,000 participants received two doses, 28 days apart. Moderna says data from that trial shows antibodies start to wane about six months after the second shot.
WATCH: Antibodies only half the story of immune protection: experts
While antibodies are expected to decrease over time, Hoge said alarm bells started going off over the summer as outbreaks fuelled by the Delta variant surged worldwide. Moderna researchers began to see a spike in breakthrough cases of symptomatic COVID-19, among those fully vaccinated clinical trial participants.
This is prompting Moderna to call for a booster for fully vaccinated adults.
“None of us want to be in a situation where we’re showing up six months or three months late … where we’re seeing breakthrough infections, severe disease, hospitalization, and even death.”
Canadian data shows vaccine effectiveness is still remarkably robust at preventing severe outcomes, like hospitalization, from COVID-19. Hoge said that could be, in part, because some Canadian provinces delayed the interval between the first and second doses by up to four months, prolonging immunity.
An exclusive look inside Moderna
The decision to stretch the interval between doses was a controversial move as health officials weighed the benefits of getting people fully vaccinated versus giving more people partial immunity with one dose.
“In retrospect, we will probably say that time between the doses extended the durability,” Hoge said.
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“The more recently you were boosted with your second dose, the less likely you’re going to need a third dose booster. And that’s good news,” he said. “The challenge for all of us is you also don’t want to wait too long.”
WATCH: Boosters could be needed annually says Moderna’s president
But fast-forward six months from summer – after many Canadians received their second doses – and the number of breakthrough infections could change, Moderna’s internal trial data suggests.
“Do we expect there to be waning immunity in populations like Canada that had separated booster doses? I think the answer is yes,” Hoge said.
“That’s the concern, that by Christmas things could look very different.”
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The concerning forecast comes as health officials in the U.S. are launching campaigns to provide booster shots for millions of vulnerable people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) formally approved plans for additional shots for people who work in high-risk jobs like teachers and health care workers, as well as anyone over 65.
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), meanwhile, has only recommended additional shots for people with compromised immune systems and those living in congregate care settings, like long-term care homes.
The booster debate has divided the international scientific community, with some saying there is no current need for additional doses for healthy adults, while others say there is mounting evidence showing immunity is declining.
Studies from Pfizer and the CDC have also suggested evidence of waning vaccine effectiveness.
One CDC study evaluated data from New York State from May 3 to July 25, when the Delta variant represented more than 80 per cent of new cases. The effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection in adults declined from 91.7 percent to 79.8 percent during that time, the study found.
During those weeks, New York recorded 9,675 breakthrough infections and 1,271 hospitalizations in vaccinated people, roughly 15 per cent of all COVID-19 hospitalizations.
However, a series of contrasting studies released by the CDC have shown the vaccines are working well at preventing severe disease.
A pair of analyses released last month showed that vaccines are still holding up in the fight against COVID-19. One study indicated unvaccinated people were about 4.5 times more likely to become infected, and were more than 10 times more likely to need hospitalization or die from COVID-19 than people who are fully vaccinated.
Canadian public health officials, meanwhile, say they are evaluating data from other countries before making any further recommendations on booster doses.
“(NACI) continues to review evidence on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in key populations and the general population, including the duration of protection that will inform decisions regarding booster doses,” a spokesperson with the Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email.
Moderna has asked regulators in the U.S. to greenlight a half-dose (50mcg) of its original vaccine for use six months after the second shot. Hoge says its data shows the booster brings antibody levels even higher than after the initial shots across all age groups.
They have yet to make a formal submission to Health Canada for approval but are planning to do so imminently, Hoge said.
“Our clinical trials – which are the longest exposures to the vaccine and the virus that we have – are starting to suggest to us that it’s time to get concerned and get ready,” he said.
“We’ll present that data to Health Canada and to recommending bodies globally, but they then need to decide ‘OK, does that cause them to take action for their people?’”
The dollar was heading for a second week of declines on Friday as sentiment stayed tilted towards riskier assets, while an intervention by the Australian central bank put a halt to the Aussie dollar’s recent surge.
The dollar index was last at 93.733, little changed in Asian hours but off 0.24% on the week, as it continues its fall from a 12-month high of 94.565 hit in earlier this month.
It had managed to stem losses on Thursday, bouncing on better U.S. jobs and housing data, but the rally petered out on Friday morning in Asia, where risk sentiment was boosted news that beleaguered developer China Evergrande Group has supplied funds to pay interest on a U.S. dollar bond, averting a default.
But traders are still trying to assess whether the dollar has scope to fall further, or if this is a temporary blip on a march higher.
“People are wondering whether we are at an inflection point, as the dollar has been weakening and that doesn’t really fit with the broader narrative that global growth is cooling and the Fed is on the path to tapering, which should be supportive for the dollar,” said Paul Mackel, global head of FX research at HSBC.
On Friday, benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields were at 1.6872%, slightly off from Thursday’s multi-month high of 1.7%, as markets continue to prepare themselves for an announcement by the Federal Reserve that it will start to wind down its massive bond buying programme, which is widely expected for November.
Mackel said part of the reason for the dollar’s weakness had been strong performances by currencies from most commodity exporting countries.
These were quieter on Friday, however, as traders took profits, analysts said, and energy prices softened.
Brent crude, which had risen above $86 dollars a barrel on Thursday, continued its tumble and was last at $84.10.
The Australian dollar was at $0.7475, off Thursday’s three-month top, as the boost to the China-exposed currency from Evergrande’s news was outweighed by action from the Reserve Bank of Australia to stem a bond sell off, as well as the pause in energy price rises.
The RBA said on Friday it had stepped in to defend its yield target for the first time in eight months, spending A$1 billion ($750 million) to dampen an aggressive bonds sell-off as traders have bet on inflation pulling forward rate hikes.
Also affected by energy prices, the Canadian dollar slipped to C$1.2352 per U.S. dollar, off Thursday’s C$1.2287, a level last seen in June.
The British pound paused for breath at $1.3798, off a month peak hit earlier in the week, to which it had been carried by growing expectations of an interest rate hike to combat rising inflationary pressures.
The euro was little changed at $1.1627, while the yen wobbled within sight of its multi-year lows, with one dollar worth 114.01 yen, compared with 114.69 earlier in the week, a four-year low.
China’s yuan eased against the dollar on Friday after the FX regulator warned of possible action if the currency market is hit by greater volatility following its recent rally. But the yuan still looked set for the biggest weekly gain since May.
Bitcoin was at $63,928, a little off Wednesday’s all-time high of $67,016
(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Sam Holmes and Kim Coghill)
The Covid-19 pandemic has unexpectedly helped Japan’s nursing homes and Information Technology companies overcome years of labour shortages, as job cuts at restaurants and hotels have prompted workers to look for new careers.
This newfound job mobility marks a shift in a country whose rigid labour practices are partially blamed for a long term decline in productivity.
But it is too soon to say whether the change will ultimately lead to higher wages, which are desperately needed to revive demand and growth in an economy that is still struggling to break free from decades of deflation.
For now, the job-hoppers tend to trade one low-paying career for another.
Toshiki Kurimata, who used to make 2.8 million yen ($25,000) a year as a masseur, quit after 12 years as the pandemic caused a sharp drop in customers. Now he works at a nursing care centre and is taking classes to become a registered caregiver.
With that qualification, he expects to earn around 3.3 million yen – an increase of about 18%. The even bigger attraction, he says, is job stability.
“I like working in nursing care and it’s stable,” Kurimata said. “There aren’t age limits on the work and you can find work even if, like me, you are inexperienced.”
Experts aren’t sure whether the job-switching will remain limited to certain industries or become a broader trend.
It is also uncertain whether job switching will continue once the pandemic dies down, although anecdotal evidence suggests people will keep leaving food-service jobs for nursing and IT.
Japan expects to have a shortage of 690,000 care workers by 2040, a tough gap to fill given the rapidly ageing population.
OECD data put Japan’s hourly labour productivity at $47.9, making it about 60% of the United States’ level, the worst among the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies, and 21st
among the 37 OECD members as of 2019.
And the prospect of people being stuck in low income jobs poses a big challenge for Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has pledged to bring more wealth to households via higher wages.
“COVID-19 fallouts are pushing low-paid workers into even harder situations with little, or no, increase in pay,” said Hisashi Yamada, senior economist at Japan Research Institute.
Hospitality businesses have laid off workers, with the number of employees falling to 3.9 million in 2020 from the prior year’s 4.2 million, labour ministry data shows.
By contrast, the medical and health industry saw employees hitting 8.6 million, up 200,000 from 2019. The IT sector hired 2.4 million employees, up 100,000 from 2019.
Vocational training schools have benefited.
SAMURAI, which offers IT training, had 1.7 times more students enrolled as of April 2021 compared with a year earlier, as employees retrenched during the pandemic rushed to retrain.
Most IT jobs on offer for inexperienced workers are for programmers, on the lowest rung of the IT ladder, but they generally still pay more than can be earned in hospitality.
The average annual salary for employees at restaurants and nursing homes amounts to roughly 3 million yen, 30% less than an average Japanese workers’ salary, government data shows. IT programmers earn close to the national average.
“I saw how popular the IT sector was and thought I may land a stable job,” said Koki Shimizu, a 22-year-student at SAMURAI who lost his job as a chef and now is learning to program.
At Crie, which offers training in nursing care, classes that were only two-thirds full before the pandemic are now packed out.
The company’s head Takayuki Nakayama expects the uptrend to continue given steady job offers in the nursing care industry.
“It’s true wages are relatively low in the nursing-care industry. But many job-seekers want stability after seeing the damage inflicted on eateries and other service-sector firms.”
Retailers are also becoming alarmed over losing staff, as they are counting on a rebound in activity as Japan gradually eases COVID-19 restrictions.
Major Japanese pub chain operator Watami is scrambling to hire 100 mid-career staff this year – something it has not done for three years – and it reckons that eventually it may have to pay more.
“1,000 yen per hour may not be enough, 1,500 yen may be needed to attract workers in the future,” said the company’s chief executive Miki Watanabe.
For now, firms are wary of raising pay as the economy is still struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
($1 = 114.0100 yen)
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Leika Kihara, David Dolan & Simon Cameron-Moore)
The companies say phase III trial data show booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine was 95.6 percent effective against the disease.
American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have said data from a Phase III trial demonstrated high efficacy of a booster dose of their COVID-19 vaccine against the coronavirus, including the Delta variant.
They said a trial of 10,000 participants aged 16 or older showed 95.6 percent effectiveness against the disease, during a period when the Delta strain was prevalent.
The study also found that the booster shot had a favourable safety profile.
Pfizer had said its two-shot vaccine’s efficacy drops over time, citing a study that showed 84 percent effectiveness from a peak of 96 percent four months after a second dose. Some countries had already gone ahead with plans to give booster doses.
The drugmakers said the median time between the second dose and the booster shot or the placebo in the study was about 11 months, adding that there were only five cases of COVID-19 in the booster group, compared with 109 cases in the group which received the placebo shot.
“These results provide further evidence of the benefits of boosters as we aim to keep people well-protected against this disease,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
The median age of the participants was 53 years, with 55.5 percent of participants between 16 and 55 years, and 23.3 percent at 65 years or older.
The companies said they would submit detailed results of the trial for peer-reviewed publication to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency, and other regulatory agencies as soon as possible.
The US and European regulators have already authorised a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc for patients with compromised immune systems who are likely to have weaker protection from the two-dose regimens.
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