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U.S. labor market recovery faltering; layoffs hit record in 2020 – Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly dipped last week while staying extremely high, with the labor market recovery appearing to stall as a raging COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm the country.

Layoffs announced by U.S. companies surged 18.9% in December, other data on Thursday showed. Though services industry activity accelerated last month, employment fell. The reports followed on the heels of news on Wednesday that private companies shed workers in December, heightening the risk that the economy lost jobs last month for the first time since April.

Still, the economy is unlikely to slide back into recession after the government approved additional pandemic relief in late December, with more fiscal stimulus likely. Democrats on Wednesday won two Senate seats in runoff elections in Georgia, giving the party control of the chamber and boosting the prospects for President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. Congress on Thursday formally certified Biden’s election victory hours after hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“The labor market will struggle this winter because of surging COVID-19 cases,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The good news is additional support is likely coming in the first quarter.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 787,000 for the week ended Jan. 2, compared to 790,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 800,000 applications in the latest week.

Claims were likely held down by difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations around this time of the year. Unadjusted claims jumped 77,400 to 922,072 last week. Including a government-funded program for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs, 1.08 million people filed claims last week.

(GRAPHIC: Jobless claims – )

Elevated claims are in line with other data that have suggested the economy was taking a beating from business restrictions and retrenchment in consumer spending because of the pandemic. Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s Dec. 15-16 meeting published on Wednesday showed policymakers expected soaring coronavirus cases “would be particularly challenging for the labor market in coming months.”

FILE PHOTO: People line up outside Kentucky Career Center prior to its opening to find assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S. June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

COVID-19 cases in the United States have jumped to more than 21 million, with the death toll exceeding 356,000 since the virus first emerged in China in late 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a second report on Thursday, global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said U.S. companies announced 77,030 job cuts in December, up from 64,797 in November. That brought total layoffs in 2020 to a record 2.305 million, a 289% surge compared to 2019. Nearly half of the job cuts were due to the pandemic.

(GRAPHIC: Challenger Gray – )

Separately, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of services industry employment dropped to a reading of 48.2 last month from 51.5 in November. The ISM said comments from companies included “less staff needed in restaurants due to restrictions” and “we had to reduce our workforce even further.”

U.S. stocks were trading higher as investors bet on more pandemic aid under a Democrat-controlled Congress. The dollar gained versus a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.

MILLIONS ON BENEFITS

The government is scheduled to publish its closely followed employment report for December on Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 71,000 jobs after rising by 245,000 in November.

That would be the smallest gain since the jobs recovery started in May and mean the economy recouped about 12.5 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost in March and April.

Jobless claims remain above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession, though they have dropped from a record 6.867 million in March. The government in late December approved nearly $900 billion in additional fiscal stimulus, including the renewal of a $300 unemployment supplement until March 14.

Government-funded programs for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the state unemployment programs as well as those who have exhausted their benefits were also extended in the package.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 126,000 to 5.072 million in the week ending Dec. 26. But many have exhausted their eligibility, limited to six months in most states. About 4.517 million workers filed for extended unemployment benefits in the week ending Dec. 19. Roughly 19.177 million people were receiving benefits under all programs in mid-December.

The economy plunged into recession in February. Though it is expected to have expanded at around a 5% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, the bulk of the rise in gross domestic product will likely come from the rebuilding of inventories.

A fourth report from the Commerce Department showed the trade deficit widened 8.0% to $68.1 billion in November, the highest since August 2006. The deficit was boosted by a jump in imports.

(GRAPHIC: Trade balance – )

“Growth will be very weak in early 2021, but should pick up in the spring as vaccine rollout continues, and stimulus funding supports consumer spending,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Burns and Andrea Ricci

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Quebec vaccine plan may be rethought after troubling Israeli data, says provincial advisor – CTV News Montreal

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MONTREAL —
Quebec could change its vaccine strategy based on new data out of Israel about the efficacy of the first dose, on its own, of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, says a top advisor in the province.

Israel just provided the world with its first large-scale, real-world hint of how effective the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is before the booster, and it doesn’t seem reassuring for places that have delayed the second shot, including Quebec and the United Kingdom.

“We not only monitor the data that comes from Quebec but also what is observed around the world,” said Dr. Gaston De Serres, a chief advisor on Quebec’s vaccine strategy,

“Yes, we are looking at the data from Israel and the [Quebec immunization committee] could make recommendations based on this data if necessary,” he said.

Data on 200,000 elderly Israelis suggests that the first shot alone only lowered infections by 33 per cent—about a third of the roughly 90-per-cent rate that many experts around the world have predicted.

It’s “concerning in terms of the single-dose policy decision,” said a U.K. scientist, John Robertson, who had previously written about his concerns about the U.K.’s decision, like Quebec’s, to delay booster shots.

Importantly, Israel is not delaying boosters. It’s following the timeline set out by Pfizer and giving the second, or “booster,” shot 21 days after the first. 

The data doesn’t call into question how well the two doses together work. The trial data showed that together, both doses are 95 per cent effective.

But the Pfizer trial wasn’t meant to prove the efficacy of the first dose alone, so the estimates on how well it works without the booster have all been just that—estimates—with scientists looking back at the data and trying to gauge whether delaying the second shots will work.

Delaying the boosters, as Quebec is doing for up to 90 days, is meant to give more people a first shot and some heightened, if imperfect, immunity.

Israel’s new numbers suggest that even when giving the shots on schedule, the elderly people in question didn’t have nearly the protection that was predicted in the short time before they got the booster.

The data doesn’t help with a bigger uncertainty in places like Quebec: whether, and how much, that first-dose protection could last after the 21-day mark if the booster isn’t given. Pfizer says its trial provided no data on this, and the Israel numbers don’t fill that gap either.

ISRAEL’S FINDINGS SO FAR

Israel has moved very quickly on vaccination, inoculating 2.2 million Israelis over the last month. It made an agreement to get rapid delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in return for tracking the effects and sending the manufacturer detailed data.

Two Israeli experts have spoken about the results in recent days.

According to Israeli news channel i24 News, the leader of the country’s vaccine drive, Nachman Ash, told Israeli Hebrew-language outlet Army Radio that “many people have been infected between the first and second injections of the vaccine,” and that it was “less effective than we thought.”

Ran Balicer, an Israeli doctor and epidemiologist, and an adviser to the World Health Organization, spoke to the UK outlet Sky News, explaining more about what was found.

“We compared 200,000 people above the age of 60 that were vaccinated,” the outlet quoted Balicer as saying.

“We took a comparison group of 200,000 people, same age, not vaccinated, that were matched to this group on various variables,” he said. 

Scientists then compared the daily rate of positive COVID-19 cases between the two groups. They found at first, unsurprisingly, there was no difference in the first two weeks after the shot—the vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in.

After that, starting at 14 days post-vaccination, “a drop of 33 per cent in [positive cases] was witnessed in the vaccinated group and not in the unvaccinated,” Balicer told Sky News.

He called it “really good news,” considering the group did have much more protection than their unvaccinated peers. 

SHORT OF ESTIMATES, THOUGH MANY QUESTIONS

However, that number fell far short of the estimate in recent weeks: Dr. De Serres in Quebec, as well as the UK vaccine advisory committee and many other experts, had all said they believed the first shot would be about 90 per cent effective, at least for several weeks, allowing them to delay the booster.

Pfizer has maintained that its trial data only showed a rate of 52.4 per cent efficacity before the second shot and that it knows nothing about what would happen past 21 days.

One question remains around how well the single dose worked to help people fight off serious infections, even if they tested positive for the virus—a key measure. On Wednesday afternoon, Israel’s Minister of Health said Ash’s comments had been taken “out of context” on this.

The minister clarified that Ash had been discussing how Israel “[has] yet to see a decrease in the number of severely ill patients,” not infections, according to the BBC.

And Balicer suggested the surprise in Israel’s data may have come partly from the fact that those studied so far have all been elderly, whereas Pfizer’s trial subjects were a mix of ages. The immune systems of the elderly aren’t as strong as those of younger people.

Balicer said he expects the Israeli numbers to rise once more young people are included in the group studied.  

He also said that real-world data is not the same as trial data—and on the upside, Israel’s data proves beyond a doubt that the vaccine does work, and on the same kind of timeline the Pfizer trial showed.

“This is not the ideal setting of a randomized controlled trial where everything from coaching maintenance to selection of the population of interest is done in a very meticulous way,” he said.

“This is the real world. And so by seeing the real-world impact so early on in the same direction and in the same timing as we’ve seen in the clinical trials is something that makes us very hopeful.”

According to the BBC, Balicer also said that after the first 33-per-cent drop in infections, the rate of cases continued to drop—meaning immunity appeared to keep growing stronger, in those vaccinated with the first dose—but it was too soon to know more.

QUEBEC URGED TO TAKE A SECOND LOOK

Robertson, a professor of surgery at the University of Nottingham, said Wednesday that he thinks the Israeli results provide strong evidence for Quebec and similar jurisdictions to change course if they’ve delayed second doses.

Earlier this month, Robertson co-published an opinion piece for the BMJ British medical journal arguing that delaying the second dose wasn’t based in firm science.

“The personal and population risks have even greater relevance and urgency for Quebec given the real-life data reported from Israel,” he said Wednesday.

“The second dose should be given on Day 22 as in the Phase 3 trials and approved by regulatory agencies worldwide.”

Pfizer said it has no comment yet on the new data and can only speak about the results of its Phase 3 trial.

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Hinshaw assures vaccine safety as frustrations mount amid Alberta's shrinking supply – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

During a job interview with a private company Tuesday, Jeffries said she was asked if she had received the vaccine and was denied immediate employment when she said she hadn’t.

“I can’t compete in a job right now because their preference is for people who have had at least the first dose, so that’s upsetting, and to be told that there’s no estimated date for first doses to be supplied . . . it’s all starting to feel a little heavy,” Jeffries said.

“Not knowing when I’m going to get the first dose, I feel like I’m not only at health risk, I’m at job risk.”

Hinshaw said she understood the frustrations from health-care workers, especially in the wake of a public call-out for staff to sign up for open vaccination spots less than a week earlier, before the Pfizer delay was announced.

She said there’s no timeline for when first doses may resume, saying there is not enough vaccine in stock to do so while covering off second doses.

“I would ask health-care workers and others to be patient and to assure them that we are doing everything we can to plan forward, to ensure that when we do have enough supply, hopefully the experience of booking and receiving vaccine will be as smooth as possible for them.”

The 95,243 vaccinations administered in Alberta break down to 88,240 first doses and 7,003 second doses. On a per-capita basis, Alberta outpaces all provinces except for Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan for vaccinations.

Also Wednesday, Alberta reported 669 new cases of COVID-19 from 14,888 tests, about a 4.5 per cent positivity rate. It’s the lowest positivity rate logged in Alberta since Oct. 31, but still far exceeds the one-to-three per cent rate seen during the summer and through early fall.

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Quebec vaccine plan may be rethought after troubling Israeli data, says provincial advisor – CTV News Montreal

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MONTREAL —
Quebec could change its vaccine strategy based on new data out of Israel about the efficacy of the first dose, on its own, of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, says a top advisor in the province.

Israel just provided the world with its first large-scale, real-world hint of how effective the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is before the booster, and it doesn’t seem reassuring for places that have delayed the second shot, including Quebec and the United Kingdom.

“We not only monitor the data that comes from Quebec but also what is observed around the world,” said Dr. Gaston De Serres, a chief advisor on Quebec’s vaccine strategy,

“Yes, we are looking at the data from Israel and the [Quebec immunization committee] could make recommendations based on this data if necessary,” he said.

Data on 200,000 elderly Israelis suggests that the first shot alone only lowered infections by 33 per cent—about a third of the roughly 90-per-cent rate that many experts around the world have predicted.

It’s “concerning in terms of the single-dose policy decision,” said a U.K. scientist, John Robertson, who had previously written about his concerns about the U.K.’s decision, like Quebec’s, to delay booster shots.

Importantly, Israel is not delaying boosters. It’s following the timeline set out by Pfizer and giving the second, or “booster,” shot 21 days after the first. 

The data doesn’t call into question how well the two doses together work. The trial data showed that together, both doses are 95 per cent effective.

But the Pfizer trial wasn’t meant to prove the efficacy of the first dose alone, so the estimates on how well it works without the booster have all been just that—estimates—with scientists looking back at the data and trying to gauge whether delaying the second shots will work.

Delaying the boosters, as Quebec is doing for up to 90 days, is meant to give more people a first shot and some heightened, if imperfect, immunity.

Israel’s new numbers suggest that even when giving the shots on schedule, the elderly people in question didn’t have nearly the protection that was predicted in the short time before they got the booster.

The data doesn’t help with a bigger uncertainty in places like Quebec: whether, and how much, that first-dose protection could last after the 21-day mark if the booster isn’t given. Pfizer says its trial provided no data on this, and the Israel numbers don’t fill that gap either.

ISRAEL’S FINDINGS SO FAR

Israel has moved very quickly on vaccination, inoculating 2.2 million Israelis over the last month. It made an agreement to get rapid delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in return for tracking the effects and sending the manufacturer detailed data.

Two Israeli experts have spoken about the results in recent days.

According to Israeli news channel i24 News, the leader of the country’s vaccine drive, Nachman Ash, told Israeli Hebrew-language outlet Army Radio that “many people have been infected between the first and second injections of the vaccine,” and that it was “less effective than we thought.”

Ran Balicer, an Israeli doctor and epidemiologist, and an adviser to the World Health Organization, spoke to the UK outlet Sky News, explaining more about what was found.

“We compared 200,000 people above the age of 60 that were vaccinated,” the outlet quoted Balicer as saying.

“We took a comparison group of 200,000 people, same age, not vaccinated, that were matched to this group on various variables,” he said. 

Scientists then compared the daily rate of positive COVID-19 cases between the two groups. They found at first, unsurprisingly, there was no difference in the first two weeks after the shot—the vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in.

After that, starting at 14 days post-vaccination, “a drop of 33 per cent in [positive cases] was witnessed in the vaccinated group and not in the unvaccinated,” Balicer told Sky News.

He called it “really good news,” considering the group did have much more protection than their unvaccinated peers. 

SHORT OF ESTIMATES, THOUGH MANY QUESTIONS

However, that number fell far short of the estimate in recent weeks: Dr. De Serres in Quebec, as well as the UK vaccine advisory committee and many other experts, had all said they believed the first shot would be about 90 per cent effective, at least for several weeks, allowing them to delay the booster.

Pfizer has maintained that its trial data only showed a rate of 52.4 per cent efficacity before the second shot and that it knows nothing about what would happen past 21 days.

One question remains around how well the single dose worked to help people fight off serious infections, even if they tested positive for the virus—a key measure. On Wednesday afternoon, Israel’s Minister of Health said Ash’s comments had been taken “out of context” on this.

The minister clarified that Ash had been discussing how Israel “[has] yet to see a decrease in the number of severely ill patients,” not infections, according to the BBC.

And Balicer suggested the surprise in Israel’s data may have come partly from the fact that those studied so far have all been elderly, whereas Pfizer’s trial subjects were a mix of ages. The immune systems of the elderly aren’t as strong as those of younger people.

Balicer said he expects the Israeli numbers to rise once more young people are included in the group studied.  

He also said that real-world data is not the same as trial data—and on the upside, Israel’s data proves beyond a doubt that the vaccine does work, and on the same kind of timeline the Pfizer trial showed.

“This is not the ideal setting of a randomized controlled trial where everything from coaching maintenance to selection of the population of interest is done in a very meticulous way,” he said.

“This is the real world. And so by seeing the real-world impact so early on in the same direction and in the same timing as we’ve seen in the clinical trials is something that makes us very hopeful.”

According to the BBC, Balicer also said that after the first 33-per-cent drop in infections, the rate of cases continued to drop—meaning immunity appeared to keep growing stronger, in those vaccinated with the first dose—but it was too soon to know more.

QUEBEC URGED TO TAKE A SECOND LOOK

Robertson, a professor of surgery at the University of Nottingham, said Wednesday that he thinks the Israeli results provide strong evidence for Quebec and similar jurisdictions to change course if they’ve delayed second doses.

Earlier this month, Robertson co-published an opinion piece for the BMJ British medical journal arguing that delaying the second dose wasn’t based in firm science.

“The personal and population risks have even greater relevance and urgency for Quebec given the real-life data reported from Israel,” he said Wednesday.

“The second dose should be given on Day 22 as in the Phase 3 trials and approved by regulatory agencies worldwide.”

Pfizer said it has no comment yet on the new data and can only speak about the results of its Phase 3 trial.

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