The idea of waning immunity has picked up steam in recent weeks, with some countries using it to justify rolling out third-dose COVID-19 vaccine boosters to their populations. But immunologists say the concept has been largely misunderstood.
While antibodies — proteins created after infection or vaccination that help prevent future invasions from the pathogen — do level off over time, experts say that’s supposed to happen.
And it doesn’t mean we’re not protected against COVID-19.
Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist with the University of Toronto, said the term “waning immunity” has given people a false understanding of how the immune system works.
“Waning has this connotation that something’s wrong and there isn’t,” she said. “It’s very normal for the immune system to mount a response where a ton of antibodies are made and lots of immune cells expand. And for the moment, that kind of takes over.
“But it has to contract, otherwise you wouldn’t have room for subsequent immune responses.”
Antibody levels ramp up in the “primary response” phase after vaccination or infection, “when your immune system is charged up and ready to attack,” said Steven Kerfoot, an associate professor of immunology at Western University.
They then decrease from that “emergency phase,” he added. But the memory of the pathogen and the body’s ability to respond to it remains.
Kerfoot said B-cells, which make the antibodies, and T-cells, which limit the virus’s ability to cause serious damage, continue to work together to stave off severe disease long after a vaccine is administered. While T-cells can’t recognize the virus directly, they determine which cells are infected and kill them off quickly.
Recent studies have suggested the T-cell response is still robust several months following a COVID-19 vaccination.
“You might get a minor infection … (but) all of those cells are still there, which is why we’re still seeing very stable effectiveness when it comes to preventing severe disease,” Kerfoot said.
A pre-print study released this week by Public Health England suggested protection against hospitalization and death remains much higher than protection against infection, even among older adults.
So the concept of waning immunity depends on whether you’re measuring protection against infection or against severe disease, Kerfoot said.
Ontario reported 43 hospitalized breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated on Friday, compared to 256 unvaccinated hospitalized infections. There were 795 total new cases in the province that day, 582 among those who weren’t fully vaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status.
British Columbia, meanwhile, saw 53 fully vaccinated COVID-19 patients hospitalized over the last two weeks, compared to 318 unvaccinated patients.
“You’ll hear people say that vaccines aren’t designed to protect infection, they’re designed to prevent severe disease,” Kerfoot said. “I wouldn’t say necessarily it’s the vaccine that’s designed to do one or another … that’s just how the immune system works.”
Moderna released real-world data this week suggesting its vaccine was 96 per cent effective at preventing hospitalization, even amidst the more transmissible Delta variant, and 87 per cent effective at preventing infection — down from the 94 per cent efficacy seen in the clinical trials last year.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said that dip “illustrates the impact of waning immunity and supports the need for a booster to maintain high levels of protection.”
Pfizer-BioNTech has argued the same with its own data, and an advisory panel to the U.S.-based Food and Drug Administration voted Friday to endorse third doses for those aged 65 and older, or at high risk for severe disease.
However, the panel rejected boosters for the general population, saying the pharmaceutical company had provided little safety data on extra jabs.
Gommerman said the efficacy data presented by Moderna doesn’t signal the need for a third dose.
“The fact it protects 87 per cent against infection, that’s incredible,” she said. “Most vaccines can’t achieve that.”
Bancel said Moderna’s research, which has yet to be peer reviewed, suggested a booster dose could also extend the duration of the immune response by reupping neutralizing antibody levels.
But Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious physician in Mississauga, Ont., said looking solely at the antibody response is misleading, and could be falsely used as justification for an infinite number of boosters.
Israel, which has opened third doses for its citizens, recently talked about administering fourth doses in the near future.
“This idea of waning immunity is being exploited and it’s really concerning to see,” Chakrabarti said. “There’s this idea that antibodies mean immunity, and that’s true … but the background level of immunity, the durable T-cell stuff, hasn’t been stressed enough.”
While some experts maintain boosters for the general population are premature, they agree some individuals would benefit from a third jab.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended boosters for the immunocompromised, who don’t mount a robust immune response from a two-dose series.
Other experts have argued residents of long-term care, who were prioritized when the rollout began last December, may also soon need a third dose. The English study suggests immunity could be waning in older groups but not much — if at all — among those under age 65.
Chakrabarti said a decrease in protection among older populations could be due more to “overlapping factors,” including their generally weaker immune systems and congregate-living situations for those in long-term care.
“These are people at the highest risk of hospitalization,” he said. “Could (the length of time that’s passed following their doses) be playing a role? Yeah, maybe.”
While we still don’t know the duration of the immune response to COVID-19 vaccination, Gommerman said immune cells typically continue to live within bone marrow and make small amounts of antibodies for “decades.”
“And they can be quickly mobilized if they encounter a pathogen,” she said.
Annual inflation rate hits 4.4 per cent in September, Statistics Canada says – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 20, 2021 8:48AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 20, 2021 3:37PM EDT
OTTAWA – The cost to put food on the table and gasoline in the car pushed up the cost of living in September, lifting the annual pace of price increases to a near two-decade high with no clear end in sight to the elevated readings.
Overall, headline inflation last month was 4.4 per cent – the fastest annual pace since February 2003. Statistics Canada said the annual inflation rate would have been 3.5 per cent had it excluded gasoline prices from its calculation.
Economists warned Wednesday that inflation readings could hover around four per cent until the end of the year.
Driving much of the overall rise in the consumer price index were prices at the pumps, as consumers paid 32.8 per cent more last month for gasoline than in September 2020.
Food prices overall rose 3.9 per cent year-over-year, compared to the 2.7 per cent recorded in August, mostly because of higher prices for food at stores.
Meat prices rose at their fastest annual pace since April 2015, pushed higher by double-digit increases in chicken and beef. Bacon prices were up 20 per cent.
Even the smallest creatures had an outsized effect: prices for shrimp and prawns lifted seafood prices because of supply chain issues among major exporters.
Garima Talwar Kapoor, director of policy and research at Maytree, an anti-poverty think-tank, said people with higher disposable income may simply forgo some restaurant outings if inflation remains high.
The choices would be more severe for those with low or fixed incomes whose earnings have stayed stagnant, she said, meaning their purchasing power is diminished as prices rise faster than wages.
“Their ability to be able to manage their disposable income becomes tighter and tighter, and you’re not foregoing a nice dinner out, but you’re actually forgoing a meal, you’re foregoing prescription medication and necessities like that,” Talwar Kapoor said.
September marked the sixth consecutive month that headline inflation has clocked in above the Bank of Canada’s target range of between one- and three-per-cent, something that hasn’t happened since a six-month stretch that ended in March 2003.
CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said a silver lining is that consumers collectively are sitting on piles of savings that should help them and businesses weather the inflationary storm.
“That’s the only bit of good news that we can say about the inflation this time around is that the economy might be able to handle it a little bit better than it would have in previous decades,” he said.
Boosting prices has been global supply-chain bottlenecks that have driven up transport costs, which are being passed on to buyers.
Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem said last week bottlenecks have proven more persistent than first believed, but recent inflation readings are “transitory,” or a temporary issue.
BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said he expects inflation to average 3.3 per cent this year and next because of the broad nature of price pressures, such as for new vehicles or new homes.
“Suffice it to say,” he wrote, “that strains the definition of transitory.”
Statistics Canada said the average of the three measures for core inflation, which are considered better gauges of underlying price pressures and closely tracked by the Bank of Canada, was 2.67 per cent for September, up from 2.6 per cent in August. September’s average was the highest since December 2008.
Mackelm has said the bank would act if the current bout of price increases looks to become more than one-off pressure points.
Measures it could take include raising the key interest rate or further rollbacks in its stimulus-measure bond purchases. Higher rates would push up interest rates on mortgages, car and business loans, which usually cools consumer demand.
The Bank of Canada is scheduled to make its next interest-rate announcement on Oct. 27.
Macklem has said a rate hike wouldn’t happen until later next year, but there are growing expectations the central bank won’t wait that long, said TD senior economist James Marple.
“Lift off may not come as early as markets are currently pricing, but the risks are certainly moving to sooner rather than later,” Marple wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.
China Evergrande shares fall in resumed trade after $2.6 billion deal collapses
Shares of China’s Evergrande Group slid as much as 14% on Thursday after a deal to sell a $2.6 billion stake in its property services unit fell through, in the latest blow to the developer whose massive debt woes have rattled global markets.
Evergrande said on Wednesday it had scrapped a deal to sell a 50.1% stake in Evergrande Property Services Group Ltd to Hopson Development Holdings Ltd as the smaller rival had not met the “prerequisite to make a general offer”.
Both sides appeared to trade blame for the setback, with Hopson saying it does not accept “there is any substance whatsoever” to Evergrande’s termination of the sales agreement, and it is exploring options to protect its legitimate interests.
The deal is the developer’s second to collapse amid its scramble to raise cash in recent weeks. Two sources told Reuters last week the $1.7 billion sale of its Hong Kong headquarters had failed amid buyer worries over Evergrande’s dire financial situation.
The latest setback also comes just ahead of the expiry of a 30-day grace period for Evergrande to pay $83.5 million in coupon payments for an offshore bond, at which time China’s most indebted developer would be considered in default.
Evergrande in an exchange filing on Wednesday said the grace periods for the payment of the interest on its U.S. dollar-denominated bonds that had become due in September and October had not expired. It did not elaborate.
“The scrapped transaction has made it even more unlikely for it (Evergrande) to pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute,” said a lawyer representing some creditors, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“Given where things are with the missed payments and the grace period running out soon, people are bracing for a hard default. We’ll see how the company addresses this in its negotiations with creditors.”
Trading in the Hong Kong-listed shares of China Evergrande, its property services unit and Hopson all resumed on Thursday after a more than two-week suspension. Evergrande trimmed opening losses and was down 9.8% in early trade. Its property services unit dropped 5%, while its electric vehicle arm plunged as much as 10.3%. Shares of Hopson rose 5.6%.
Mainland China’s property index gained nearly 2%.
Evergrande was once China’s top-selling developer yet is now reeling under more than $300 billion of debt, prompting government officials to come out in force in recent days to say the firm’s problems will not spin out of control and trigger a broader financial crisis.
The string of official reassurances are likely aimed at soothing investor fear that the developer’s debt crisis could ripple through China’s broader property sector, which contributes around a quarter to the country’s economic growth.
Since the government started clamping down on corporate debt in 2017, many real estate developers have turned to off-balance-sheet vehicles to borrow money and skirt regulatory scrutiny, analysts and lawyers said.
Statements from other property developers on Thursday exacerbated investor concern of contagion.
Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd said it would book a loss of $29 million in its current fiscal year from the sale of bonds issued by property developer Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd.
Modern Land (China) Co Ltd said it had ceased to seek consent from investors to extend the maturity date of a dollar bond due on Oct. 25. Its shares were suspended from trading on Thursday.
While Chinese high-yield spreads, as indicated in an index of Chinese corporate high-yield issuers, continued to narrow as of Wednesday evening U.S. time, Modern Land’s decision weighed on investors’ mood, said Clarence Tam, fixed income portfolio manager at Avenue Asset Management in Hong Kong.
“The market is worried all single-B companies will choose not to pay,” he said.
(Reporting by Clare Jim in HONG KONG and Andrew Galbraith in SHANGHAI, additional reporting by Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Christopher Cushing)
Tesla says new factories will need time to ramp up, posts record revenue
Tesla Inc said on Wednesday its upcoming factories and supply-chain headwinds would put pressure on its margins after it beat Wall Street expectations for third-quarter revenue on the back of record deliveries.
The world’s most valuable automaker has weathered the pandemic and the global supply-chain crisis better than rivals, posting record revenue for the fifth consecutive quarter in the July-to-September period, fueled by a production build-up at its Chinese factory.
But the company led by billionaire Elon Musk faces challenges growing earnings in coming quarters due to supply chain disruptions and the time required to ramp up production at new factories in Berlin and Texas.
“There’s quite an execution journey ahead of us,” Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said, referring to the new factories.
Price fluctuations of raw materials such as nickel and aluminum had created an “uncertain environment with respect to cost structure”, he added.
Even so, he said Tesla was “quite a bit ahead” of its plan to increase deliveries by 50% this year.
“Q4 production will depend heavily on availability of parts, but we are driving for continued growth,” he said.
Tesla shares, up about 23% this year, were down about 0.6% in extended trade late on Wednesday.
Musk himself was not present on the quarterly earnings call for the first time, a development that may have disappointed those investors keen to hear the celebrity CEO’s latest thoughts.
Third-quarter revenue rose to $13.76 billion from $8.77 billion a year earlier, slightly beating analyst expectations according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Tesla’s automotive gross margin, excluding environmental credits, rose to 28.8%, from 25.8% the previous quarter.
Tesla’s overall average price fell as it sold more lower-priced Model 3 and Model Y cars, but it raised prices in the United States.
The company posted robust sales in China, where its low-cost Shanghai factory has surpassed the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in terms of production.
Tesla also said it intended to use lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, which is cheaper than traditional batteries but offers lower range, in entry-level models sold outside China. Analysts said this would help keep costs down and address shortages.
It expected the first vehicles equipped with its own 4680, bigger battery cells to be delivered early next year, although it did not say which model would be fitted with them. Musk said in September last year that using its own cells would let Tesla offer a $25,000 car in three years.
In the third quarter, Tesla posted $279 million in revenue from sales of environmental credits, the lowest level in nearly two years. The company sells its excess environmental credits to other automakers that are trying to comply with regulations in California and elsewhere.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)
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