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Pizza-sized boxes and paying a premium: Inside Israel's COVID-19 vaccine rollout – CTV News

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JERUSALEM —
Order early, pay a lot, digitize distribution and stretch the supply.

That is how Israel came to be a leader of the world’s COVID-19 vaccination drive, reaching nearly 15% of the country’s 9.3 million population in about two weeks.

The first big decision was paying a premium to get early vaccines.

Israeli authorities have not said publicly what they paid for the vaccine developed by U.S. company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech.

But one official said on condition of anonymity that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was “paying around $30 per vaccine dose, or around twice the price abroad.”

Pfizer said in a statement that it uses “a tiered pricing formula based on volume and delivery dates” but declined to disclose further details.

Israel also offered the pharmaceutical companies the promise of a quick rollout that could serve as a template for other places: swift results from a small country with a universal healthcare system, patient data stored centrally and the technological savvy to ensure a digitized distribution network.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said freeing Israel’s economy from a series of lockdowns justified any higher purchase cost or buying an excess of vaccines.

“What we basically said to Pfizer and Moderna and to the others was that if we will be one of the first countries to start vaccinating, very soon these companies will be able to see the results,” Edelstein told Reuters.

“It’s a kind of win-win situation,” he said. “We are a small country. And I knew for a fact that we better be one of the first on the ground because after the vaccine is developed, the companies, commercially speaking, wouldn’t even look in the direction of countries Israel’s size.”

The vaccination campaign has faced some criticism and hurdles.

Rights groups are outraged that Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip face a long wait for vaccines.

Israel’s 21% Arab minority has shown an initial wariness towards vaccination.

Netanyahu’s opponents accuse his right-wing Likud Party of using the vaccination campaign for political gain before a March 23 election, and lacking a clear long-term strategy for dealing with the impact of COVID-19 — charges the government denies.

But, while Israel is in its third lockdown and faces a recession and high unemployment, it has avoided the shortages and bottlenecks faced by other countries.

DISTRIBUTION TECHNIQUES

Israel, which has reported more than 450,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,445 deaths, cast a wide net for securing vaccines early on, and last June became one of the first countries to reach a purchase agreement with Moderna.

Moderna has said it will begin delivery of 6 million doses this month, though Edelstein said the shipment was probably two months away.

In November, Israel announced similar deals with AstraZeneca and Pfizer, and the first Pfizer shipment arrived on Dec. 9.

Israeli teams repacked the large ultra-frozen pallets into insulated boxes the size of small pizzas, allowing for distribution in smaller numbers and at more remote sites.

The technique, Israel says, got the green light from Pfizer. Other refinements included squeezing more doses out of each vial than advertised.

The vaccines are handled by SLE, the logistics unit of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, in an underground facility near Israel’s main airport. Thirty large freezers set to minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit) can hold 5 million doses.

SLE repackages them into bundles as small as 100 doses to be delivered to about 400 vaccine centers, said Adam Segal, SLE’s logistics and operations manager.

That, officials say, means wider parallel vaccination drives nationwide, allowing easier access to small clinics as well as larger centralized centers.

UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE

A universal public healthcare system, which requires every resident to be covered by a healthcare maintenance organization (HMO) and connected to a nationwide digital network, then kicks in.

Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer for HMO Clalit, said Israel has integrated infrastructures of digital data with “full coverage of the entire population, cradle to grave.”

“So it is easy both to identify the right target population and to create data-driven ‘outreach’ because this is something that is done as our everyday care routine,” said Balicer, who also chairs the government’s expert advisory coronavirus panel.

Administering about 150,000 shots a day at clinics and special facilities, Israel has prioritized over-60s, health workers and people with medical conditions. The city of Haifa offers drive-through vaccinations.

“I have been waiting to be liberated from this pressure, from the anxiety that’s there in the background all the time, to be free, to finally stop worrying,” said 76-year-old psychologist Tamar Shachnai. A week into the campaign she had already received a text message with instructions from her HMO, scheduled an appointment and got her first shot.

Shachnai was vaccinated at a center in a Jerusalem sports arena where about 500 people had passed through by lunchtime. Towards the end of the day, about 20 younger people gathered outside the arena, hoping to receive the vaccine.

Israel has also added vaccination centers in Arab towns, said Aiman Saif, the health ministry’s coronavirus coordinator for the Arab community, following concerns about the low rate of vaccination among Israeli Arabs.

He said some Israeli Arabs initially appeared reluctant to be vaccinated and may have been put off by misinformation on social media, prompting Israel to accelerate a public campaign to combat “fake news” about alleged side effects.

Palestinian health official Yasser Bozyeh estimated that Palestinians would begin receiving doses in February through the World Health Organization’s vaccine scheme for poor and middle-income countries.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank and has its own health system, has also contacted private drugmakers.

Edelstein said it was in Israel’s interest to make sure the Palestinian population was also vaccinated and that he was open to discussing passing on any extra vaccines once Israel meets its own demand. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Rami Ayyub, Rami Amichay, Eli Berlzon and Douglas Busvine in Berlin, Editing by Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage

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Merck ends development of two potential COVID-19 vaccines – The Globe and Mail

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Merck said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments. Reuters

Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March.

Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States.

The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.

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In early trials, both vaccines generated immune responses that were inferior to those seen in people who had recovered from COVID-19 as well as those reported for other COVID-19 vaccines, the company said.

The announcement is a setback to the fight against the pandemic and comes a month after Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline delayed launch of their shot to late 2021, underscoring the challenges of developing vaccines at record speed.

Tens of millions of doses of vaccines from rivals Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech as well as from Moderna Inc have so far been administered globally.

Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca Plc and others are also racing to develop safe and effective vaccines to protect against the virus.

Merck said it would focus COVID-19 research and manufacturing efforts on two investigational medicines: MK-7110 and MK-4482, which it now calls molnupiravir.

Molnupiravir, which is being developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Bio, is an oral antiviral being studied in both hospital and outpatient settings.

Merck said a Phase 2/3 trial of the drug was set to finish in May, but initial efficacy results were due in the first quarter and would be made public if clinically meaningful.

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Merck said results from a Phase 3 study of MK-7110, an immune modulator being studied as a treatment for patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19, were expected in the first quarter.

Shares of Merck fell 1 per cent to $80.12 in trading before the bell.

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Canadian provinces push back vaccination plans as Pfizer deliveries grind to a halt – MSN Canada

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Some provinces were forced to push back vaccination for health-care workers and vulnerable seniors on Monday as deliveries from a major manufacturer ground to a temporary halt.



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© Provided by The Canadian Press


Canada is not due to receive any Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines this week as the company revamps its operations, and deliveries are expected to be slow for the next few weeks.

Ontario announced Monday that it was pausing COVID-19 vaccinations of long-term care staff and essential caregivers so that it can focus on giving the shots to all nursing home residents.

Premier Doug Ford said the delay has taught the province that it can’t take vaccine shipments for granted.

“I want to be clear: we’re using every single vaccine we can to protect our most vulnerable,” Ford told a news conference. “But delivery delays are forcing us to be careful and cautious as we plan, to ensure we’re able to offer second doses.”

The news came as more cases of the more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 were detected across Ontario, including in at least one long-term care home.

Some provinces have used up nearly all their vaccine supply and have been forced to push back their vaccination schedules.

Saskatchewan announced Sunday that it had exhausted all the doses it received. However, even after technically running out, the province still managed to vaccinate another 304 people as it continued to draw extra doses from the vials it received. It had administered 102 per cent of its allotted doses by Monday, and it expected the remaining excess doses to be gone this week.

Quebec has used up more than 90 per cent of its supply. It confirmed that the delivery delay would force it to postpone its vaccination rollout in private seniors’ residences, which had been scheduled to start Monday.

“Let’s be realistic: our vaccination momentum will be reduced as of this week,” Marjaurie Cote-Boileau, press secretary to Health Minister Christian Dube, said in a text message.

“Given the important reduction of Pfizer doses we’ll receive in the next two weeks, we have had to review our vaccination calendar.”

Quebec finished giving first doses to long-term care residents last week and has vaccinated some 9,000 seniors in private homes by using leftover doses. The province gave less than 2,000 shots Sunday, compared to an average of more than 9,600 a day over the previous week.

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In British Columbia, the provincial health officer said the government is extending the interval between the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Bonnie Henry said further delays in the production and delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next two weeks caused the time period between the shots to be extended from 35 days to 42.

She said about about 60 per cent of more than 119,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the province so far have gone to protecting residents of long-term care homes.

The Manitoba government also said it may soon have to put off some second-dose vaccine appointments as a result of the disruptions to the supply of the Pfizer vaccine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed that the delay is only temporary and that Canada is expected to receive 4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March.

As Parliament resumed Monday, Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from MPs of all parties as they blasted the Liberal government for what they described as a botched approach to rolling out vaccines.

Both Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand repeated the government’s promise that by the end of September, all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated will have received their shots. 

Trudeau added that the country is still receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “tremendous pressure” on the global supply chain for vaccines that the government has tried to mitigate.

“We are working on this every single day, because we know how important vaccines are to Canadians, to first and foremost the lives of Canadians and also to our economy,” she told a news conference in Ottawa by video.

Despite the vaccine delay, some provinces continued to report encouraging drops in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Ontario reported fewer than 2,000 cases, as well as fewer people in hospital. It was a similar story in Quebec, where hospitalizations dropped for a sixth straight day.

Newfoundland and Labrador also reported no new cases of COVID-19 for a third straight day.

Alberta reported only 362 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, compared with daily numbers peaking as high as 1,800 in mid-December. But the big concern for health officials was a case of the U.K. variant that could not be directly traced to international travel.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that while it is one case, the variant could quickly overwhelm hospitals if not checked.

“There’s no question that this kind of exponential growth would push our health-care system to the brink,” Shandro told a news conference. “It would significantly impact the health care and the services available to all Albertans.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2021.

— With files from Shawn Jeffords, Jordan Press, Dean Bennett and Stephanie Levitz.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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GameStop’s volatile rally smashes Wall St price targets – Aljazeera.com

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The video game retailer’s stock surged as much as 145 percent to $159.18 on Monday, triggering at least nine trading halts.

To see how far GameStop Corp. has outrun anyone’s ability to render sensible analysis, consider what its current dizzying rally has done to Wall Street’s best guesses of its value.

Now perched close to $75 a share, hoisted by a short squeeze ignited and arguably organized in chat rooms, the game retailer’s stock is about $60 above the average forecast of equity handicappers tracked by Bloomberg. The ratio between the two is by far the biggest in the Russell 3000 and jumped for a third day, as crazed trading capped a stretch in which the 37-year-old company burned bears who had shorted 139% of its shares.

It’s happening in a stock that before 2020 had fallen six straight years as earnings shrunk, and which isn’t projected to turn a profit before fiscal 2023. While fundamentals may one day matter again, GameStop has now become the latest show of force by newbie day traders in a market that seems more like their plaything each day.

The stock surged as much as 145% to $159.18 on Monday, at one point triggering at least nine trading halts. It briefly turned negative before bouncing back to trade up 22% to $79.56 at 2 p.m. in New York. The shares have advanced more than 320% since the start of the year.

“It doesn’t make business sense,” said Doug Clinton, co-founder of Loup Ventures. “It makes sense from an investor psychology standpoint. I think there’s a tendency where there is heavy retail interest for those types of traders to think about stocks differently than institutional investors in terms of what they’re willing to pay.”

Right now, they’re willing to pay 471% more than what analysts consider reasonable, on average. While perhaps fairly priced relative to its annual sales of about $5.2 billion in the 12 months through October, those sales are down 40% in just two years. The company is expected to report a per-share loss in both fiscal 2021 and 2022. To get a price-earnings multiple it’s necessary to look two years into the future, where the P/E is around 58.

Bears have seen more than $6.1 billion mark-to-market losses this year, according to financial analytics firm S3 Partners.

While Wall Street may have no clue what GameStop shares are worth, it does have ideas on what the company should do with them: sell.

“GameStop can issue equity and should sell stock to pay down debt,” said Wedbush Securities Inc. analyst Michael Pachter, who had a price target of $16 for GameStop as of Jan. 11. Doing so would involve “minimal dilution at these levels” and provide protection against an economic downturn. “They should do as much as the market will absorb,” he said.

Separately, Telsey Advisory Group analyst Joseph Feldman double-downgraded the stock to underperform from outperform on Monday, removing GameStop’s only buy-or-equivalent recommendation.

Bullish Options

Whatever the future holds, the recent past has been a bonanza for anyone who dared own the stock — or, even better, bullish options. Calls expiring Jan. 29 with a strike price of $115 were the most-traded GameStop contract early Monday. Other similar wagers had correspondingly heady gains as contracts once seen as long-shot upward bets suddenly were in the money.

At investment research firm Hedgeye, analysts advised clients to not go short the stock, despite removing it from their “best idea long list” to reanalyze fundamentals. “Wouldn’t dare do that given the positive catalysts we think will be coming down the pike as the year progresses” with a very bullish calendar on the horizon, Brian McGough and Jeremy McLean wrote.

GameStop “has become a cult stock because of Ryan Cohen’s success with Chewy,” Wedbush’s Pachter said, referring to the activist investor and co-founder of online pet retailer Chewy Inc., who joined GameStop’s board this month. “I cannot discount Mr. Cohen’s past successes and don’t know what he has in mind going forward, but I need to see their strategy before I give them credit for materially higher earnings power.”

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