After initially saying AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be given to people above the age of 65, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) reversed its stance on Tuesday, announcing that the vaccine was safe for seniors.
The news comes as several countries around the world have temporarily paused their rollout of AstraZeneca’s doses and the Canadian government tries to quell fears about its safety emanating from reports of blood clots and apparent confusion over the vaccine’s safety.
“People can can get confused quite easily, especially if recommendations change,” said Dr. Saverio Stranges, who chairs Western University’s department of epidemiology and biostatistics.
But “we also need to acknowledge that science evolves, especially in the midst of a pandemic where we are creating new information all the time.”
How did we get here?
The decision was a sharp reversal of guidelines made earlier this month, which advised against giving the vaccine to seniors because of “limited information on the efficacy of this vaccine in this age group” at that time.
However, now there is enough “real-world evidence” to show the vaccine is safe for seniors, Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, who chairs NACI, announced on Tuesday.
The AstraZeneca vaccine became the third COVID-19 shot authorized for use by Health Canada in anyone 18 years or older in late February, joining mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Results from AstraZeneca’s clinical trials demonstrated an average efficacy of approximately 62 per cent in participants ranging from 18 to 64 years old.
Canada has inked a deal with the Serum Institute in India to manufacture two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which have already begun to arrive. Another 20 million doses already secured with AstraZeneca will start shipping in the spring.
NACI chair explains decision to wait before reversing course on AstraZeneca vaccine
Why the change, NACI?
Those at higher risk of severe illness, death and exposure should be prioritized for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, however Quach-Thanh said AstraZeneca is on par with the mRNA vaccines when it comes to real-world effectiveness after just a first dose.
New studies from the U.K., which has administered the AstraZeneca vaccine to tens of thousands of citizens already, demonstrated the doses were safe and effective in older adults, she said, including “in adults over the age of 80 with significant medical comorbidities.”
Dr. Matthew Tunis, executive secretary to NACI, said future changes could come “days after a decision” has been announced if better evidence emerges.
“It might be that the evidence comes days after a decision. It might be weeks after a decision or months. We have no control over where the data is coming from and it’s impossible to predict the future,” he said.
In one pre-print of a study referenced by Quach-Thanh, a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine reached an effectiveness of 70 per cent in participants aged 80 years and older between 28 and 34 days before plateauing. Two weeks after receiving a second dose, researchers said the vaccine’s effectiveness rose to 89 per cent.
The study, published in medxRxiv, found similar results in participants at least 70 years old. Those who had received their first shot saw vaccine effectiveness reach 61 per cent before plateauing between 28 and 34 days after being administered the first shot. That number increased to 73 per cent 28 to 34 days after receiving their booster injection.
Director of the Bureau of Medical Science at Health Canada Dr. Marc Berthiaume also weighed in.
He said information reviewed by the agency showed the number of “thromboembolic adverse events,” which are blood clots formed due to blood changes, were lower than would be expected.
“Overall, Health Canada considers that the benefits of the vaccines, considering the risk of contracting COVID infection and its associated complications, outweigh any risk that (could) potentially be associated with the vaccine,” he said.
Coronavirus: WHO urges countries not to panic after several nations halt AstraZeneca vaccine
Addressing vaccine hesitancy
Social media like Instagram and Twitter have made it easier for officials to get their messages across, but Stranges said it has also made it easier for misinformation to filter through, and for officials’ advice to get misconstrued.
“It’s a difficult scenario because people get information from the sources they feel more comfortable with, and those sources are not necessarily official, public health sources,” he said.
Experts have expressed concerns the sudden change in guidance has only added contention to the negative image of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been mired by suspicions that it may cause blood clots.
A slew of European countries have temporarily suspended use of the vaccine after reports surfaced of people suffering from embolisms formed by blood clots who had recently received the shot.
In a review of more than 17 million people who have received the vaccine across the EU and Britain, AstraZeneca said it found 37 cases of blood clots.
“Obviously you assess that there is a correlation between that specific event and the vaccination, but the correlation does not necessarily mean that there is a causal link,” said Stranges.
According to AstraZeneca, this number is no larger than what is expected within a general population. However, Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician at Trillium Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., said facts will hold little sway with people whose hesitancy is rooted in mistrust.
He cautioned against “beat(ing) people over the head with facts.”
“Sometimes data and facts is not what people want,” Chakrabati said.
“They want the truth, of course, but they also just want the reassurance…. Sometimes it is just fear, sometimes it’s mistrust of the government, or some people in general are mistrustful of any kind of medical therapy or the medical field in general.”
Some Quebecers refuse Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, noted that “even if all of the dust settles on all of this stuff and it’s (proven) effective in 65-year-olds and it’s actually 80 per cent effective and there’s no clot risk, you’ve already introduced three strikes that are hard to wash away from people who are already hesitant to take this vaccine over Moderna and Pfizer.”
The reports have triggered an investigation led by The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is expected to release its results on Thursday. In the meantime, the EMA has urged governments not to halt the use of the vaccine, claiming it is still “firmly convinced” that the “benefits” of the vaccine “outweigh” the risks.
The results of the investigation are expected Thursday.
Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious disease specialist teaching at the University of British Columbia, emphasized how important it is the public understand that there is no evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots, or would be harmful to seniors. He encouraged Canadians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“It’s very important that at this stage in the middle of a pandemic, everyone should take whatever is available,” he said.
“The more people (who) vaccinate, the less chance the virus (has) to find a new host, meaning a new person, (to) infect.”
— With files from the Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Tourmaline to expand in Montney with C$1.1 billion deal for Black Swan
Canada‘s Tourmaline Oil Corp said on Friday it would buy privately owned Black Swan Energy Ltd in a C$1.1 billion ($908.79 million) deal, as the oil and gas producer looks to expand in the Montney region, one of North America’s top shale plays.
Tourmaline said the deal represents a key part of its ongoing North Montney consolidation strategy and the company sees the area as a key sub-basin for supplying Canadian liquefied natural gas.
The company in April acquired 50% of Saguaro Resources Ltd’s assets in the Laprise-Conroy North Montney play for $205 million and entered into a joint-venture agreement to develop these assets.
Analysts at brokerage ATB Capital Markets called the Black Swan assets a “hand in glove” fit with its recent acquisitions.
Tourmaline stock rose 4.5% to C$32.1.
The deal value consists of 26 million Tourmaline shares and a net debt of up to $350 million, including deal costs.
Tourmaline will acquire an expected average production capacity of over 50,000 boepd when the deal closes, likely in the second half of July.
The company, which also raised its dividend by 1 Canadian cent per share, expects the Black Swan assets to generate free cash flow of $150 million to $200 million in 2022 and beyond.
The Canadian energy sector has seen a flurry of deals with companies expecting to benefit from the rebound in oil prices as global fuel demand picks up.
ARC Resources Ltd in April bought Seven Generations Energy Ltd for C$2.7 billion to create Montney’s largest oil and gas producer.
($1 = 1.2104 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)
Exxon losing veteran oil traders recruited to beef up profit
Exxon last year reversed course on a major expansion of its oil and petroleum products trading as fuel demand tumbled during the pandemic. It suffered a $22.4 billion loss in 2020 from its oil production and refining businesses, leading to deep cost cuts across the business.
Veteran oil traders Michael Paradise and Adam Buller, both of whom joined the company in 2019 after lengthy careers elsewhere, resigned last week, the people said. Paul Butcher, an Exxon trader in Britain, plans to leave in September, another person familiar with the operation said.
Butcher was recruited by Exxon in 2018 to advise it on North Sea oil markets and on accounting for trading transactions. He earlier worked for BP Plc, Glencore Plc and Vitol SA.
Exxon declined to comment on the departures, citing personnel matters.
“We’re pleased with our progress over the past couple of years to grow our team and capabilities,” said spokesman Casey Norton. Exxon’s scale and reach “give our trading teams a broad footprint and unique knowledge and insights” that can generate value for shareholders.
Paradise was a highly regarded crude oil trader who joined Exxon from Noble Group and earlier was director of crude oil trading at Citigroup Inc and BNP Paribas. Buller joined Exxon in late 2019 after trading oil for Petrolama Energy Canada and Spain’s Repsol SA. He earlier was director of international oil trading at BG Group.
Exxon recruited a cadre of experienced traders hoping to replicate rivals BP and Royal Dutch Shell in trading. Both generated enormous trading profits last year by buying oil during the downturn. They sold it at higher prices for future delivery, posting multibillion-dollar profits for the year.
In contrast, Exxon began restricting the group’s access to capital as the pandemic accelerated, laid off some staff and offered early retirement packages to others, Reuters reported. Exxon does not separately report the performance of its trading unit.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Devika Krishna Kumar in New York and Julia Payne in LondonEditing by David Evans and Matthew Lewis)
G7 global tax plan may hit corporate titans unevenly
An agreement by wealthy nations aimed at squeezing more tax out of large multinational companies could hit some firms hard while leaving others – including some of the most frequent targets of lawmakers’ ire – relatively unscathed, according to a Reuters analysis.
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading nations on Saturday agreed on proposals aimed at ensuring that companies pay tax in each country in which they operate rather than shifting profits to low-tax havens elsewhere.
One proposed measure would allow countries where customers are based to tax a greater share of a multinational company’s profits above a certain threshold. The ministers also agreed to a second proposal, which would levy a minimum tax rate of 15% of profits in each overseas country where companies operate, regardless of profit margin.
The Reuters review of corporate filings by Google-owner Alphabet Inc suggests the company could see its taxes increase by less than $600 million, or about 7% more than its $7.8 billion global tax bill in 2020, if both proposed measures were applied. Google is among the companies that some lawmakers have criticized as paying too little tax.
Meanwhile, medical group Johnson & Johnson, which is also U.S.-based, could see its tax bill jump by $1 billion, a more than 50% rise over its $1.78 billion global tax expense last year, according to Reuters’ calculations.
Both Google and J&J declined to comment on the calculations.
In a statement Saturday following the G7’s agreement, Google spokesman José Castañeda said: “We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules. We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”
Determining the exact impact the new rules will have on companies is difficult, in part because companies don’t typically disclose their revenues and tax payments by country. And key details about how the rules would be implemented are still pending, tax specialists say, including to which countries profits would be reallocated and to what degree taxes generated by the new measures would offset taxes owed under the current system.
The proposed rules themselves also face hurdles. In the United States, several top Republican politicians have voiced opposition to the deal. Details of the agreement are also due to be discussed by the wider Group of 20 countries next month.
Four tax specialists concurred with Reuters’ methodology but noted that there is still uncertainty about how the measures would be applied, including which tax breaks are included in the 15% minimum overseas tax.
The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The deal makes sure that the system is fair, so that the right companies pay the right tax in the right places,” said a spokesperson for the UK Treasury, which hosted the G7 meeting. “The final design details and parameters of the rules still need to be worked through.”
The first proposed measure focuses on large global firms that report at least a 10% profit margin globally. Countries in which the companies operate would have the right to tax 20% of global profits above that threshold in an effort to stop companies reporting profits in tax havens where they do little business.
Applying that formula to Google could result in as much as $540 million in additional taxes, according to the Reuters analysis.
Based on Google’s 2020 global profits of $48 billion, Reuters calculated what portion of that income could be reallocated based on the G7’s proposed formula. Reuters then calculated how much more the company would pay if tax was levied on that portion of income at the rate of 23% – which is the average tax rate for developed nations as identified by Paris-based research body the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – rather than the average overseas tax rate of 14% that Google said it paid last year.
Applying the same methodology to J&J, and its 2020 global profits of $16.5 billion, the healthcare company would see its global tax bill rise by about $270 million as a result of the first measure.
The exact impact on each company’s tax bill would depend on how much income is actually reallocated. Also at issue is which country the profit is moved from and to – and therefore what the increase in tax rate is. If all the reallocated profit comes out of zero-tax jurisdictions, the impact could be greater.
MINIMUM TAX OVERSEAS
U.S. and UK officials say the other measure, involving a 15% global minimum tax, will have a bigger total impact on how much in taxes governments collect. But its effect on companies will vary widely. In recent years, Google-parent Alphabet, like some other targets of tax campaigners, has reorganized its international tax structures and last year reported over three-quarters of its global income in the United States compared to less than half in each of the previous three years, according to its corporate filings.
Google reported $10.5 billion of dollars of earnings from outside the United States last year and an average overseas tax rate of 14%, which is one percentage point below the G7’s proposed minimum tax.
If Google’s overseas earnings were all taxed at 15%, the additional tax due would be $100 million. The impact could be higher if a large proportion of the money is earned in zero-tax jurisdictions like Bermuda, where Google used to report over $10 billion a year in income. Conversely, the impact of the minimum tax would be reduced if the first measure prompted Google to reallocate some of its non-U.S. earnings out of tax havens.
Excluding the impact of the first proposed measure, increasing the tax rate on overseas income to 15% would mean $45 million of additional tax.
The situation for J&J would be very different. It earned 76% of its 2020 income outside of the United States and paid 7% tax on average on that overseas profit. Applying a 15% tax rate to that overseas income figure would result in $990 million in additional taxes, according to Reuters’ calculations.
While the reallocation of profit under the first measure would reduce this impact, the combined result of the two measures would be more than $1 billion.
Academics say businesses are adept at mitigating the impact of measures that are designed to reduce tax avoidance and therefore could re-organize in order to limit the impact of the proposed measures. And, in reality, tax incentives offered by governments mean companies may end up paying less in practice.
(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)
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