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Johnson & Johnson has told Canada many times about challenges with COVID-19 vaccine: Trudeau

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson has told Canada many times it is having challenges making its COVID-19 vaccine, which Ottawa approved only last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Trudeau spoke hours after Reuters revealed the company had informed the European Union it was facing supply issues that may complicate plans to deliver 55 million doses to the bloc in the second quarter of the year.

“We have heard in many conversations with Johnson & Johnson that there are challenges around production of … the vaccine,” Trudeau told a briefing.

“We will continue to engage with them and we look forward to receiving doses as soon as possible”.

Ottawa has pre-ordered 10 million doses of the J&J vaccine, the fourth different shot that regulators have approved, with options to order up to 28 million more.

Canada has recorded a total of 22,276 deaths from COVID-19 and 890,698 cases.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Delta variant, shortages severely restrict U.S. economic growth in third quarter

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The U.S. economy grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in the third quarter as a resurgence in COVID-19 cases further stretched global supply chains, leading to shortages of goods like automobiles that slammed the brakes on consumer spending.

The weaker-than-expected growth reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday also reflected decreasing pandemic relief money from the government to businesses, state and local governments as well as households. Hurricane Ida, which devastated U.S. offshore energy production at the end of August also restrained economic growth.

But there are signs that economic activity is already regaining momentum amid declining coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a fresh 19-month low last week. Even with the third-quarter setback, the level of gross domestic product hit a record high and the economy is now 1.4% bigger than before the pandemic.

“The growth speed bump in the third quarter is an unwelcome surprise certainly, but it will not send the economy off into the ditch because it is partly based on supply disruptions in the auto industry that has cratered sales with inventories near record lows on dealer lots,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.0% annualized rate last quarter, the government said in its advance GDP estimate. That was the slowest since the second quarter of 2020, when the economy suffered a historic contraction in the wake of stringent mandatory measures to contain the first wave of coronavirus cases. The economy grew at a 6.7% rate in the second quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 2.7% rate last quarter. The meager growth came mostly from a moderate pace of inventory drawdown. Business inventories decreased at a $77.7 billion pace compared to a $168.5 billion rate in the second quarter. As result, inventories contributed 2.07 percentage points to third-quarter GDP growth.

Inventory accumulation remains weak owing to shortages, especially of motor vehicles. Motor vehicle production fell at a 41.6% rate after declining at a 14.1% pace in the second quarter because of a global shortage of semiconductors.

Excluding inventories, the economy contracted at a 0.1% rate last quarter. The scarcity of motor vehicles hammered consumer spending, which grew at only a 1.6% rate after a robust 12% pace in the April-June quarter. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

 

(GRAPHIC: Consumer spending takes a breather – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/byvrjrwykve/chart_eikon.jpg)

 

Spending on long-lasting manufactured goods dropped at a 26.2% rate. Motor vehicles cut 2.39 percentage points from GDP growth, the biggest drag from autos since the second quarter of 1980. Excluding motor vehicle output, the economy grew at a 3.5% rate last quarter, a slowdown from the 7.4% pace in the prior quarter.

Spending on services was surprisingly strong, notching a 7.9% growth pace amid demand for air travel and car rentals. Demand for services at hospitals and restaurants rose, as did bookings for hotel, motel and university campus accommodation. Services spending accelerated at an 11.5% pace in the April-June quarter.

 

(GRAPHIC: The drag from Detroit – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/jnpwewdmepw/chart_eikon.jpg)

 

The government estimated that Hurricane Ida cost about $62 billion. Inflation remained hot, eroding spending power. The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, rose at a 4.5% rate. The core PCE price index increased at a 6.1% pace in the second quarter.

The combination of high inflation and slow growth could fan fears of stagflation, something that most economists do not believe is imminent as output is seen picking up through 2022.

“Stagflation will be the talk of the town, but we should not fall for this misleading narrative,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “Inflation dynamics are definitely moderating expansion with sticky supply-driven inflation, but the economy isn’t stagnating.”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher on upbeat earnings from Caterpillar, Merck and Ford.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies after the European Central Bank pushed back against market bets that high inflation would trigger an interest rate hike as soon as next year. U.S. Treasury yields rose.

REGAINING SPEED

Slower growth will have no impact on the Fed’s plans to start reducing as early as next month the amount of money it is pumping into the economy through monthly bond purchases.

With the summer wave of COVID-19 infections behind, cases declining significantly in recent weeks and vaccinations picking up economic activity is regaining steam. Consumer confidence rebounded this month and orders for capital goods excluding aircraft raced to a record high in September.

The labor market is tightening, though pandemic-related worker shortages could keep employment growth moderate this month. A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 last week, the lowest level since mid-March 2020. It was the third straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold.

The number of people continuing to receive benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 237,000 to 2.243 million in the week ended Oct. 16. That was also the lowest level in 19 months.

“Given the massive number of job openings, look for claims to continue declining for some time and look for the labor market to remain drum tight,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economics in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Though wages are rising, inflation is reducing consumers’ purchasing power. Income at the disposal of households after adjusting for inflation decreased at a 5.6% rate last quarter. The saving rate fell to 8.9% from 10.5% in the second quarter.

High prices and lack of trucks as well as communication equipment cut into business spending on equipment, which fell at a 3.2% rate after three straight quarters of double-digit growth. Trade was a drag on GDP growth for a fifth straight quarter following a drop in exports.

Shortages and expensive building materials weighed on home building and remodeling, leading to residential investment contracting for a second straight quarter. Government spending rebounded on state and local government investment.

 

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

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Premier of Canada’s British Columbia to have throat surgery

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John Horgan, premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia, on Thursday said he would have surgery on Friday to deal with a lump in his throat and intended to remain in his job.

Horgan, 62, became premier in 2017, leading a minority left-leaning New Democrat government for more than three years before winning a majority in September 2020.

“After noticing a lump in my neck, I went to the doctor to get a number of tests over the past few weeks. Those tests have revealed a growth in my throat that requires surgery tomorrow,” he said in a statement. “Any further treatment will be determined after the surgery.”

Horgan, who was operated on for bladder cancer in 2008, said he would stay in his job but had appointed public safety minister Mike Farnworth to be deputy premier “out of an abundance of caution”.

British Columbia’s economy – the fourth largest among the 10 Canadian provinces – accounts for around 13% of national gross domestic product.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Grant McCool)

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Contracting COVID-19 may provide some immunity. But still get vaccinated, scientists say – CBC.ca

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When it comes to acquired immunity against COVID-19, also known as natural immunity, scientists agree that people looking for protection against the coronavirus certainly shouldn’t be running out to get intentionally infected.

Yet a number of recent studies — some that suggest prior COVID-19 infection can provide significant immunity and others that suggest vaccination is much more effective — have triggered discussion within the scientific community about the strength of natural immunity.

Many scientists say vaccination is still essential for those who have contracted COVID-19, and that the combination of previous infection and vaccination may actually offer the best level of protection.

Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, is among the experts who believe one dose of vaccine after prior infection offers the best protection. She says the extent of immunity after infection is a very legitimate scientific debate.

“And the problem with this current debate,” she said, “is that to ignore natural immunity and say it isn’t a thing is leading to a lot of distrust of public health officials.”

‘Strongly disagree’ natural immunity better than vaccination

What goes beyond the bounds of legitimate debate, say many scientists, is the idea being suggested by some other scientists that acquired immunity from infection should be considered as effective or better than vaccination.

“I strongly disagree with that assessment,” said Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

Acquired immunity is the protection that a person develops to a disease after being infected. In Canada and the U.S., a previous infection is not counted as part of an individual’s vaccination status. A person who has had COVID-19 still requires two doses of an approved vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated.

But citizens in many European countries who have had the illness and received a single dose of vaccine are considered fully vaccinated. And in Israel, a person who has recovered from COVID-19 is considered fully vaccinated without having received a shot of vaccine.

In Canada and the U.S., a previous COVID-19 infection is not counted as part of an individual’s vaccination status. But citizens in many European countries who have had the illness and received a single dose of vaccine are considered fully vaccinated. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

From a purely medical perspective, if someone has had a prior infection, they of course should be able to mount an immune response that can protect them for a certain amount of time, said Matthew Miller, an associate professor in the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Diseases at McMaster University in Hamilton.

However, most of the studies that have compared the immunity resulting from infection with that of vaccination have found that two doses of vaccine, especially mRNA vaccines, provide higher levels of antibodies than a prior infection, he said.

Dawn Bowdish, Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity and a professor at McMaster University, said she’s been working with people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and found they “tend to have pretty robust immune responses because they had quite a bit of time with the virus.”

She said immunity from previous infection may be enough for “some of the people, some of the time,” but it’s “quite proportionate to how sick you got, and there’s a lot of variability in people who had low-level infections.”

‘The durability of the response’

For example, Bowdish recently had someone give blood who had previously been infected with COVID-19 but only with very mild symptoms.

“We struggled to find any evidence that she had any immunity whatsoever,” Bowdish said of the test results.

When asked about natural immunity on CNN last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S, said he couldn’t provide a firm answer on the subject. 

“That’s something that we’re going to have to discuss regarding the durability of the response,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

It’s an issue many people opposed to vaccines have seized upon, particularly the comments of some scientists who have gone so far as to advocate natural immunity as equal to or perhaps better than double-dose vaccination.

The problem with that, says Hatziioannou, and what many scientists will point out, is that the level of natural immunity is quite varied between different people, and that protection varies depending on the severity of their prior illness.

As public officials continue to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, plans are underway in many jurisdictions to expand the rollout of booster shots. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC/Radio-Canada)

Based on her own data, she estimates very few of those previously infected with COVID-19, around 10 per cent, mount a “really significantly high neutralizing antibody response.” 

The rest, she said, develop a medium to low response, with the majority pretty low.

“It appears the more sick you are, the higher the levels of your antibodies, generally speaking. But overall, the majority of infections are either asymptomatic or very, very mild to moderate. So I would not expect the majority of these people will have really high neutralizing antibodies.”

Impact on variants

As well, the particular coronavirus variant that infected the individual will inevitably have some degree of impact on how well it protects them from infection with a different variant, Miller said, which adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

“I think that the scientific issue of whether symptomatic infection can protect you from a future infection — I think that’s clear,” he said. “Is it clear exactly how well and to what extent and for what period of time? No, it’s not.”

Other scientists, meanwhile, suggest the case is pretty clear that natural immunity may provide more protection than previously thought.

Matthew Memoli, director of NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Clinical Studies Unit, told the BMJ, a U.K.-based peer-reviewed medical journal, that there probably isn’t much difference between natural immunity and vaccination in terms of resistance to the spike protein — a crucial feature on the surface of the coronavirus that allows it to gain access to our cells.

Vaccines, he said, are focused only on that tiny portion of immunity that can be induced by neutralizing the spike, while someone who has had COVID-19 was exposed to the whole virus, “which would likely offer a broader based immunity” that would be more protective against variants.

Experts make case for natural immunity

Jeffrey D. Klausner, a professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California published a study that suggests there is “consistent epidemiological evidence” that prior infection provides “substantial immunity” to repeat infection and provides similar protection when compared to vaccination.

Marty Makary, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., has been very vocal in making his case that policy-makers need to consider natural immunity as equal to or better than vaccination.

Ideas53:58Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Problem with Science Skepticism

For over four decades, Dr. Anthony Fauci has served as medical advisor to seven U.S. presidents. With the COVID-19 death toll in the United States having surpassed 730,000, Dr. Anthony Fauci tells IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed that he finds it “mind-boggling” that partisanship and skepticism of science continue to fuel the pandemic. 53:58

In a Washington Post column last month, Makary, a surgical oncologist, wrote that for far too long, public health officials have dismissed natural immunity as unreliable protection against COVID-19 — “a contention that is being rapidly debunked by science.”

Makary pointed to some recent studies, including one in Israel that found people who were double vaccinated were six times more likely to get infected with the delta variant compared to those who had been previously infected with COVID-19 but not vaccinated.

But Fauci, during his appearance on CNN last month, said the Israeli study did not address the durability of immunity from infection compared to that which results from vaccination. 

“So you may be protected, but you may not be protected for an indefinite period of time,” he said.

Meanwhile, other studies have suggested limits to natural immunity. A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published last month found unvaccinated people previously infected with COVID-19 were twice as likely to be reinfected than those who were fully vaccinated after previously contracting the virus.

When asked about natural immunity on CNN last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S, said one of the relatively unknown factors is how long it lasts. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Still, the efficacy of natural immunity could have potential policy implications, particularly in countries where vaccines are in short supply. 

And researchers are finding that the combination of prior COVID-19 infection and vaccination, so-called hybrid immunity, may offer the best protection. 

Bowdish said McMaster University is currently conducting a study in long-term care with 60 COVID-19 survivors. 

“And we definitely found that after they got their vaccine, they seem to be the ones that are having really robust, long immune responses,” she said.

Hatziioannou agreed that the research suggests people who were previously infected, even if their initial immune responses were not great, that once they get vaccinated, even with just with a single dose, their immunity “became remarkable.”

“It really is really great immunity,” she said. “It makes no sense to say that immunity from infections is sufficient.”

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