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The Fed is closing in on the taper, but there's a lot the market, economy still can't know for sure – CNBC

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The taper is coming. That much is certain. Recent reporting indicates the Federal Reserve may move ahead as early as September.

“It looks like they are probably turning the corner,” said Mike Englund, principal director and chief economist for Action Economics.

Three Fed officials all over the U.S. map spoke up in recent weeks about the taper. Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan told CNBC that it’s time for the Fed to taper in the fall, starting the actual program’s end in October. Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin said “we are closing in on tapering” though he wasn’t more specific. San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly said a few weeks before her colleagues that the taper could come “later this year” or in early 2022.

Interviewed on CNBC earlier this week, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said he could be ready next month to begin.

Many market watchers feel that the Fed has been so much more communicative this time around that the taper, when it starts, will be a “ho hum” event for investors, and that is the way the market is acting so far. Stocks continue to sit near records, even though they’ve been weak in recent days, and bond yields remain depressed. But there is a lot the economy and markets still don’t know about the Fed’s taper plans, and the ripple effects. Here are a few of the major issues.

1. Consumer prices may have hit peak inflation, but that does not go for housing rentals

Last week there was a lot of focus on the Consumer Price Index coming in cooler than expected and hot areas like the used car price index declining into August. There was relief, to be sure, in the latest CPI.

“We had good news from CPI in the topping of the most volatile components,” Englund said.

But housing rentals — and the broader issue of housing affordability — remain a major pain point for the average American. It also reflects a housing market that remains majorly imbalanced between supply and demand.

“People want more residential real estate and less commercial, and you can’t just convert it. We have partially filled skyscrapers and a large number of people who now work from home, so the demand for residential has gone through roof compared to the existing stock,” Englund said. 

In July, rents nationally rose 7% year over year for one-bedroom apartments and 8.7% for two-bedroom apartments. The multifamily rental industry set a record in July, with rents rising 8.3% year over year and single family rentals up 12.8%, according to Yardi Matrix data. 

The problem in housing rentals is not one created by the pandemic, and dates back to at least the financial crisis. The U.S. housing market has been used to adding 1 million to 2 million units a year in terms of supply, and when you look at the recent housing starts numbers, the industry is struggling to get to 2 million.

“Now with supply constraints for carpenters and electricians, and everyone else, we are probably at our capacity of what we can build,” Englund said. “We have 100 million homes but you can only build 1 million to 2 million a year, and people need 10%-15% more housing.”

The National Association of Realtors estimates that it is a two-year construction shortage, and that’s why rents are being pushed up. 

The pandemic has added to pressures in the housing market. While the eviction moratorium is necessary for the hardest-hit Americans, it also has the effect of lowering the supply of available housing for rent on the market.  

But what is unaffordable to most people works to the advantage of those most financially secure. “Cash purchases of homes are going up even as we see double-digit price increases in homes,” Englund said, driven by people at the very high end of the income distribution.

“Looking at the data since the turn of the year you could have thought that maybe the Fed should have accelerated the tightening process. These policies don’t shift spending from underspent areas. People buy more of what they already have. A handful of us bidding prices of homes upwards,” he said. “It’s not clear how the problems associated with the pandemic were helped by driving up asset prices and almost everything looks like a bubble,” he added.

It is worth noting that shelter (the CPI parlance for housing) is the largest component of the index by weight, but it is equally important that it is not the inflation measure the Fed is likely to focus on in policy decisions, according to experts like Englund, especially compared to wage inflation and the labor market. And the housing market is one where no single Fed decision on the taper timeline is going to solve the supply demand challenge.

2. Inflation is still running very hot among producers

As the CPI declines, big gains continued last week in the latest Producer Price Index. Shortages in supply chains, such as the chip shortage rattling auto production, could last into the end of the year.

The latest PPI numbers show that the wholesale side of the economy continues to be under a lot of pressure with producers still facing broad price increases.

That is not a surprise. Economists started the year arguing there would be bottlenecks, but even those like Englund are surprised by how deep the bottlenecks are. 

“These shortages have been maintained in doorknobs and everything else you bought on Amazon,” he said. 

Englund said when comparing the latest CPI and PPI numbers, it is the latter that are more notable. “The PPI was more significant because of the numbers, because of the sheer size of not seeing cooling at the wholesale level, but the CPI was encouraging for some topping,” he said. 

Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA, said the PPI data, which remains hotter than expected, keeps inflation concerns alive, but monthly gains are expected to start to edge lower as we head towards year-end.

3. The stock market seems okay with inflation

Stovall said the CPI number ended up being a market driving event to the upside, with inflation still high but the slight tick downwards from last month leading investors to assume that at least from the consumer inflation perspective it is manageable, and maybe the Fed has more, not less, flexibility about waiting a little longer to announce when the taper will take place.

“They are pretty certain they are going to announce and enact tapering by the end of this year and what slightly softer CPI data might allow them not to say in August or September, to delay, would just be statement rather than intent and action.”

The record stock market is saying inflation is good for stocks, according to Stovall. “It is an indication that the economic recovery is occurring and because much of the inflation is likely to be transitory, that means economic expansion and earnings improvements will outpace inflation,” he said. “In other words, you end up with more money left over at the end of the month.”

4. PPI might speak for the Fed hawks, but maybe not Powell

The continued inflation in the supply chain could lend an argument to the Fed hawks who want to pull back right away, but Powell speaks for the center and he hasn’t shown much of indication he wants to tighten, at least not yet.

“Whether these numbers change it, is unclear,” Englund said.

Englund isn’t convinced the taper timeline will begin formally in September because of the “center” that Powell represents.

“They’ve probably talked it to death, but I don’t think they want to tell us in September,” he said. And if there is not enough momentum to move the center, the Fed may stick with its “closing in on tapering,” advance the ball messaging, but not go so far as to give a timetable in September.

“If you are focusing on the economic problems of inner cities you want to delay tightening as long as possible, even if you know you will have a bigger inflation problem. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Englund said. “But the broad macroeconomy, clearly 80% is bursting at the seams,” he added. 

The Fed also has “the cover” of the delta variant, right now, as a reason to move more slowly, though so far it’s hard to see its effect on the economy, Englund said. Recent consumer sentiment and retail sales numbers did experience big declines. But once the Fed starts the conversation about the taper, it is harder to stop.  

“They may have gotten over their skis when they start signaling the timing of taper because it is hard not to progress the conversation once they start it,” Englund said. “If they can get through the September meeting without giving the market a timeline that pushes the timeline back to November, which is where they would have wanted it anyway.”

Action Economics continues to think Powell will want more evidence of “substantial further progress” beyond the recent data.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to wait any later than December. My preference would be probably for sooner rather than later,” Rosengren told CNBC this week.

The latest clue from the Fed will come on Wednesday afternoon when minutes for its July FOMC meeting are released.

5. The Fed’s trial balloons could be misinterpreted by market

Stovall sees the recent comments from regional central bank presidents as “the Fed floating trial balloons, trying to be as transparent as possible and dissipate a potential taper tantrum like we saw in 2013.”

It’s working so far, though not all investment experts are convinced there won’t be more volatility in markets ahead, with Wells Fargo Securities head of macro strategy Michael Schumacher telling CNBC on Tuesday that he remains concerned about a market that is treating the taper as a ho-hum event. He doesn’t think the taper is fully baked into bond and stock markets.

Stovall said the more the Fed talks about the possibility of tapering, the more that conversation continues into the September meeting and an announcement tapering will start by the end of this year is what Wall Street now expects, and Wall Street will not react as negatively as it might have otherwise.

“My best guess is they message it in September and announce the taper in November, but they may not even wait until 2022. It may be December,” Stovall said of when the Fed formally starts easing its bond purchasing.

6. Once the taper is set, it’s onto rate hike timeline and the impact on stocks

Once the taper timeline is clear, there’s the next big Fed watch to move onto, which is the first rate increase. Stovall said investors may not need to worry as much as they would think. 

Historically, going back to 1945, in the six months after the Fed starts raising rates, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell, but only by an average of 0.2%. Over 12 months after a first rate hike, the average gain in the Dow is 2.5%. There is no doubt, though, that a cutting cycle is better for stocks than rate hikes. In the first six months after a rate cut, the average gain in the Dow since 1945 is 11%, and 17% over a full year.

There is reason to believe a more communicative Fed, if it can taper without causing a market selloff, can also lower the risk of a major market surprise when it raises rates. 

Stovall said the current stock market reminds him of the late 90s, in that the market “just does not want to go down,” driven by large-cap tech and consumer discretionary giants.

That means the Fed timing on the taper and hikes, and the pace of those policy shifts once started, will loom large for the markets.

“Between now and December it will be tapering along with inflation and employment, and as we go into 2022, it’s the speed of the tapering and the timing of the first rate increase, and then the number and magnitude of those rate increases,” Stovall said.

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Through good and bad, John Manconi has stood by OC Transpo — but the ride's about to end – CBC.ca

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Today’s transit commission meeting was already shaping up to be a testy one.

Six weeks ago, an LRT train derailed at Tunney’s Pasture station due to an axle bearing problem. The Confederation Line shut down for an entire work week, and more than a quarter of OC Transpo’s fleet of 39 light rail vehicles ended up needing repairs.

So when John Manconi takes the virtual stage Monday morning at his last transit commission meeting — and one of the final public appearances in his 30-year career at the city — he’s already expecting to be in the hot seat.

And then, less than 24 hours before Monday’s meeting, another train derailed just west of Tremblay station. No one was hurt, thankfully, but the pictures of a rail car off the tracks, smashing through a fence and hitting a switch box, are shocking.

It can’t be the note on which Manconi wanted to depart.

Three-decade career

Manconi is one of a dying breed.

Born and raised in Ottawa, he’s spent his entire 32-year professional career with the municipality, starting in 1989 inspecting backyard drainage systems in the pre-amalgamation city of Nepean.

Even in that junior job, Manconi says he picked up skills on “creating win-win environments” and dealing with parties in conflict.

“Because where there’s a drainage dispute between two neighbours, it can get very ugly,” he said in an interview last week, before the most recent derailment.

Manconi rose through the ranks over three decades, overseeing road maintenance and snow removal. In 2007, he was named the general manager of public works, where he was successful and well-liked. In 2012, the year council finally decided to move ahead with LRT, he became head of OC Transpo.

John Manconi speaks to reporters in 2014, long before he would become the public face of the city’s LRT network and its many missteps. (CBC)

Face of LRT problems

When a bureaucrat becomes a household name, it’s almost never for good reason.

Manconi managed to sail along for a few years without too much controversy as OC Transpo boss. He even emerged generally unscathed from the Rideau Street sinkhole incident where, miraculously, no one was hurt and most people blamed LRT contractor Rideau Transit Group for tunneling under the road.

But in mid-2017, as it was becoming clear that the LRT wouldn’t meet its contractual due date of May 2018 — it would end up being 465 days late — Manconi started to come under pressure, even though the line was being built by a private consortium. 

The LRT contract gave all communications power about the project to the city, presumably so it could control the messaging. But it also made Manconi the face of both the delays and a seemingly endless list of problems that cropped up after it opened in September 2019.

People have called for his resignation — including a citizen transit commissioner. He’s been verbally abused when he’s been out with his kids.

Asked if he thought it was fair to have been the bearer of repeatedly bad news, Manconi said it goes with the job. 

“I’m pretty recognizable wherever I go,” said Manconi, who’s well over six feet.

It’s with whoever sits in this chair. And you need to be prepared to do that.”– John Manconi on accountability

He says can take it, but wonders how many others are willing to put up with the constant criticism and pressure.

“The phone never stops ringing,” he said. “I don’t think everybody wants that lifestyle because it can be hard on you.”

Still, Manconi says, “you can’t contract out accountability.”

Rideau Transit may have built the Confederation Line, and its maintenance arm is supposed to keep the line in good shape for the next 30 years, but the OC Transpo brand belongs to the city.

“The responsibility and the accountability to the customers, the taxpayers, council, the media, is not with a private consortium,” he said.

“It’s with whoever sits in this chair. And you need to be prepared to do that.”

John Manconi addresses reporters on Sept. 16, 2019, at Blair Station after the first weekday commute on the Confederation LRT line. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

On accountability

Many people don’t directly blame the city for the LRT being late, or even breaking down. But they do blame them — and Manconi as the head of OC Transpo — for not being more upfront about what was happening and not overseeing RTG’s work.

Take September 2018. Councillors running for re-election that fall had been telling their constituents over the summer that the LRT would be launching in November. An August memo from OC Transpo updating the project raised no red flags.

In fact, bus drivers were issued pink slips, buses were taken off the road, routes were redirected, all with the understanding that the LRT was opening imminently.

So imagine the outrage from both councillors and the public when they learned LRT wouldn’t be opening until the following year.

There was one big question on everyone’s mind: how could the city not know the Confederation Line wouldn’t be ready? 

We still don’t have an answer to that, and it’s not clear that the fault lies solely with Manconi. But the fact the city, to this day, still appears to be caught unaware when it comes to issues with the train is a serious problem.

Asked how the city can have better oversight with these sorts of undertakings, Manconi said that “this obsession with when’s it opening has to stop.” Most people “can’t even predict when their kitchen renovations are going to get done,” he said, let alone a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project.

Perhaps. But there are still dates written into those contracts, and the public should be told when those deadlines won’t be met. 

OC Transpo general manager John Manconi speaks at a transit commission meeting at Ottawa city hall Dec. 18, 2019. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Taking the long view

Asked if it was disappointing to be leaving a long career with the city on a down note, Manconi — whose last day is Sept. 30 — said that until the August derailment, the Confederation Line had been working well for the last year.

Anyway, these days, he’s taking the long view.

Sitting in the concourse at Pimisi station, Manconi said he’s proud of the natural space, public art and involvement of the local Indigenous community there — a first for the city.

He points out that the new central library will be close by, and maybe even one day, an NHL hockey arena. 

The Leitrim station being built as part of the Trillium Line extension is located in an open field, Manconi added, but in a few years it will be “surrounded by houses and a community, and those people are going to be using transit forever.”

That’s city building. It’s messy and there are some pretty big bumps along the way. And Manconi insists that if people just give it time, the Confederation Line will hold up to comparisons with transit networks in places like Toronto, Boston and New York.

“You know, you have to have some glitches, but it’s a phenomenal system,” said Manconi. “And in a few years, people [will] look back and say, ‘Thank goodness we did that.'”

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Stock market news live updates: Stock futures sink amid China's Evergrande default risk, debt ceiling debates – Yahoo Canada Finance

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U.S. stock futures sold off Monday morning, tracking declines in overseas equities as investors nervously eyed the potential ripple effects of the default of a major Chinese real estate company and ongoing debates over the debt limit in Washington. 

Dow futures sank by more than 500 points, or 1.6%, in early trading. S&P 500 futures also dropped by more than 1%, adding to losses from last week. The CBOE Volatility Index, or Vix (^VIX), jumped by more than 30% as a confluence of concerns roiled markets.  

Shares of China Evergrande Group (3333.HK) plunged by more than 10% on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange as fears mounted that the Chinese real estate juggernaut would collapse under a major debt burden, impacting shareholders, bondholders and potentially triggering turmoil elsewhere across global markets. The specter of a broader crackdown by the Chinese government on Hong Kong’s real estate sector further added to concerns. 

Meanwhile, heated debates in Washington over increasing the government’s borrowing limit built on the risk-off tone in markets. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called for Congress to raise the U.S. debt ceiling again in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, and suggested that to do otherwise would risk leaving the government to default on payments and generate “widespread economic catastrophe.” The U.S. House is set to vote this week on the debt ceiling and a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating past the end of the fiscal year at the end of September. 

Even heading into Monday’s session, the three major U.S. stock indexes had dipped so far in September amid escalating concerns over the Delta variant, pace of the economic recovery, inflation and path forward for monetary and fiscal policy. Retail sales data last week suggested the consumer was turning back towards goods rather than services spending amid the latest wave of the coronavirus, and still-weak consumer sentiment data suggested many individuals were becoming increasingly concerned about inflationary pressures.

And on the monetary policy front, the prospects of a near-term shift to present ultra-accommodative policy posturing from the Fed has also injected additional uncertainty into markets. The Federal Open Market Committee is slated to hold its two-day policy-setting meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, with the event culminating in a new monetary policy statement, update economic projections, and press conference from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

One of the major focuses at this week’s meeting will be about whether the Federal Reserve ramps up its signaling around when it will begin to taper its crisis-era asset purchase program. The central bank has suggested this quantitative easing — which currently comprises purchases of $120 billion monthly in Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities — would begin once the economy made “substantial further progress” toward the Fed’s goals on inflation and employment. 

“While we readily admit that the Committee could make changes to the September statement to signal that tapering is drawing closer, we believe the soft August hiring print and recent surge in COVID cases added enough uncertainty to the economic outlook that would refrain officials from making substantive changes to the wording,” Sam Bullard, senior economist for Wells Fargo, wrote in a note on Sunday. 

“If the economic data improves sufficiently over the coming weeks, then Fed officials could use public comments throughout October to signal that tapering will commence in November,” he added. 

For investors, the Fed’s move on tapering will be closely watched given that the asset purchases were one major tool the central bank used to bolster liquidity and support the economic recovery during the pandemic, and had by extension helped underpin stocks’ rise to record highs. 

Though stocks have lost some of their momentum in September so far, some strategists believe the move may be temporary. 

“You have to look at where the crowding is, and right now, there’s so much negative sentiment with regard to the market. It’s why we have been buying this dip this week and telling our clients that we think the market setup is perfect for a pretty big rally for the rest of September and possibly the beginning of October,” Eddie Ghabour, Key Advisors managing partner, told Yahoo Finance on Friday. “The next big hurdle we have to get through is the Fed meeting on Wednesday. If the Fed doesn’t disappoint, I think it’s a risk-on rally … right now everyone is so pessimistic about the market, and in our opinion markets don’t crash when everyone is positioned for it.” 

6:57 a.m. ET Monday: Stock futures plunge, Dow drops 500+ points

Here were the main moves in markets as of Monday morning: 

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): -56.75 points (-1.28%) at 4,365.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -541 points (-1.57%) to 34,921.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -152.25 points (-0.99%) to 15,173.75

  • Crude (CL=F): -$1.43 (-1.99%) to $70.54 per barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$8.20 (+0.47%) to $1,759.60 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -3.9 bp to yield 1.331%

Traders work on the floor at the closing bell of the Dow Industrial Average at the New York Stock Exchange on March 11, 2020 in New York. - Wall Street stocks dove deeper into the red in afternoon trading on March 11, 2020, with losses accelerating after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Near 1710 GMT, the Dow Jones Industrial was down more than 1,200 points, or 5.0 percent, at 23,777.17. The broad-based S&P 500 slumped 4.6 percent to 2,749.88, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 4.4 percent to 7,979.15. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)Traders work on the floor at the closing bell of the Dow Industrial Average at the New York Stock Exchange on March 11, 2020 in New York. - Wall Street stocks dove deeper into the red in afternoon trading on March 11, 2020, with losses accelerating after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Near 1710 GMT, the Dow Jones Industrial was down more than 1,200 points, or 5.0 percent, at 23,777.17. The broad-based S&P 500 slumped 4.6 percent to 2,749.88, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 4.4 percent to 7,979.15. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Traders work on the floor at the closing bell of the Dow Industrial Average at the New York Stock Exchange on March 11, 2020 in New York. – Wall Street stocks dove deeper into the red in afternoon trading on March 11, 2020, with losses accelerating after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Near 1710 GMT, the Dow Jones Industrial was down more than 1,200 points, or 5.0 percent, at 23,777.17. The broad-based S&P 500 slumped 4.6 percent to 2,749.88, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 4.4 percent to 7,979.15. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine works in kids ages 5 to 11 – CTV News

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Pfizer said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will seek U.S. authorization for this age group soon — a key step toward beginning vaccinations for youngsters.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech already is available for anyone 12 and older. But with kids now back in school and the extra-contagious delta variant causing a huge jump in pediatric infections, many parents are anxiously awaiting vaccinations for their younger children.

For elementary school-aged kids, Pfizer tested a much lower dose — a third of the amount that’s in each shot given now. Yet after their second dose, children ages 5 to 11 developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president, told The Associated Press.

The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience, he said.

“I think we really hit the sweet spot,” said Gruber, who’s also a pediatrician.

Gruber said the companies aim to apply to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for emergency use in this age group, followed shortly afterward with applications to European and British regulators.

Earlier this month, FDA chief Dr. Peter Marks told the AP that once Pfizer turns over its study results, his agency would evaluate the data “hopefully in a matter of weeks” to decide if the shots are safe and effective enough for younger kids.

Many Western countries so far have vaccinated no younger than age 12, awaiting evidence of what’s the right dose and that it works safely in smaller tots. But Cuba last week began immunizing children as young as 2 with its homegrown vaccines and Chinese regulators have cleared two of its brands down to age 3.

While kids are at lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, more than 5 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and at least 460 have died, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Cases in children have risen dramatically as the delta variant swept through the country.

“I feel a great sense of urgency” in making the vaccine available to children under 12, Gruber said. “There’s pent-up demand for parents to be able to have their children returned to a normal life.”

In New Jersey, 10-year-old Maya Huber asked why she couldn’t get vaccinated like her parents and both teen brothers have. Her mother, Dr. Nisha Gandhi, a critical care physician at Englewood Hospital, enrolled Maya in the Pfizer study at Rutgers University. But the family hasn’t eased up on their masking and other virus precautions until they learn if Maya received the real vaccine or a dummy shot.

Once she knows she’s protected, Maya’s first goal: “a huge sleepover with all my friends.”

Maya said it was exciting to be part of the study even though she was “super scared” about getting jabbed. But “after you get it, at least you feel like happy that you did it and relieved that it didn’t hurt,” she told the AP.

Pfizer said it studied the lower dose in 2,268 kindergarteners and elementary school-aged kids. The FDA required what is called an immune “bridging” study: evidence that the younger children developed antibody levels already proven to be protective in teens and adults. That’s what Pfizer reported Monday in a press release, not a scientific publication. The study still is ongoing, and there haven’t yet been enough COVID-19 cases to compare rates between the vaccinated and those given a placebo — something that might offer additional evidence.

The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that sometimes occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men. The FDA’s Marks said the pediatric studies should be large enough to rule out any higher risk to young children. Pfizer’s Gruber said once the vaccine is authorized for younger children, they’ll be carefully monitored for rare risks just like everyone else.

A second U.S. vaccine maker, Moderna, also is studying its shots in elementary school-aged children. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger tots as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.

——

AP journalist Emma Tobin contributed to this report.

——

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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