Bivalent COVID vaccines have now been in use for a few months – here’s how they’re stacking up against omicron
Data suggests the bivalent boosters are working well against omicron.
Vaccines have played a major role in mitigating the harms of the COVID pandemic since their rollout began just over two years ago. They’re estimated to have saved tens of millions of lives across the globe.
The initial crop of COVID vaccines were designed to train our immune systems to recognise the spike protein on the surface of the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). But as we well know, since SARS-CoV-2 was first identified it has continued to mutate and evolve into a range of distinct variants.
Some of these variants carry mutations in their genomes which can increase the virus’ ability to transmit between people, evade the antibodies produced by our immune systems, or affect the severity of the disease.
Omicron, the major driver of COVID infections around the world at present, has more than 50 mutations in its genome, and is highly transmissible compared with previous variants. Some of omicron’s mutations allow it to evade antibodies induced through prior infection, vaccination and antibody therapies.
So scientists got to work designing slightly adjusted formulations of the vaccines which would not only target the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, but newer variants of the virus too – omicron in particular. These are called bivalent vaccines.
Because they were based on the same mRNA technology used in first generation COVID vaccines, they could be tested and approved quite quickly. But now we’ve been using bivalent boosters in the real world for a few months, we’re starting to gather some evidence on how well they’re working against omicron.
mRNA vaccines: an update
Both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have updated their mRNA vaccines to provide broader protection. These vaccines contain small chains of genetic material known as messenger RNA that give instructions to our cells to make copies of the coronavirus spike protein.
Once these spike proteins are made, they’re used to train our immune cells to recognise and kill SARS-CoV-2 if we’re infected. The bivalent vaccines contain two types of messenger RNA molecules that provide the instructions for two different types of the virus spike protein: one from the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and another from omicron BA.1.
A subsequent update has targeted omicron BA.4 and BA.5, seeking to help our immune systems keep up with the rapidly emerging omicron subvariants.
It was hoped that these updated bivalent vaccines would train our immune systems to produce antibodies that can protect against omicron and future variants that might emerge.
Read more: COVID vaccine: how the new 'bivalent' booster will target omicron
Results from safety trials indicated that both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s bivalent vaccines were safe. Any side effects were similar to those encountered after vaccination with the original versions of these vaccines, such as pain at the injection site and fatigue.
Laboratory tests also showed that the bivalent vaccines triggered higher levels of antibodies against omicron compared with the original shots. Based on this evidence these vaccines were given emergency approval in several regions including the US, the UK and the EU.
In the UK these bivalent vaccines began to be administered to clinically vulnerable people and adults over 50 in the autumn of 2022.
So how well are they working?
A large study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at adults with symptomatic COVID between September and November 2022. It found that use of a bivalent booster targeting the original virus plus the omicron BA.4/BA.5 variant provided additional protection against symptomatic infection compared with a monovalent booster targeting just the original strain.
Other US studies have shown the risk of hospitalisation was reduced by at least 38% in people who received a bivalent booster compared to those who had received two or more doses of the original vaccines. In adults over 65 the additional protection was as high as 73%.
Meanwhile, recent research suggests the bivalent boosters will offer protection against emerging omicron subvariants. Serum samples from people who received the BA.5-containing bivalent boosters had better neutralising activity against all omicron subvariants (especially BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1, and XBB) than those who received either one or two regular boosters.
What does the future hold?
The evidence so far suggests that a booster with an updated bivalent vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce the risk of serious illness and death from COVID.
Predicting which variant will be next, and when or whether an updated vaccine will be required in the future, is difficult.
But the mRNA vaccines are ideally suited for this as they can be adapted relatively quickly to the latest variants of concern, and can be quickly produced. Such is their flexibility that plans are underway to test their use as personalised vaccines in UK cancer patients.
Several other COVID vaccine approaches are under development to provide broader protection against current and future variants. Some are designed to stimulate our T cells, a type of immune cells. Others are made of small nanoparticles containing fragments of the spike proteins from SARS-CoV-2 and several other related viruses.
Whatever the future brings, data continues to show that irrespective of the type of booster used, vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce disease transmissison and protect against serious disease, hospitalisation and death.
Neil Mabbott does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.disease control pandemic coronavirus covid-19 vaccine genetic antibodies rna uk eu
“We Are Headed For Another Train Wreck”: Bill Ackman Blames Janet Yellen For Restarting The Bank Run
"We Are Headed For Another Train Wreck": Bill Ackman Blames Janet Yellen For Restarting The Bank Run
Yesterday morning we joked that every…
Yesterday morning we joked that every time Janet Yellen opens her mouth, stocks dump.
Yellen opens mouth and stocks dump— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 21, 2023
Well, it wasn't a joke, and as we repeatedly noted today, while Jerome Powell was busting his ass to prevent a violent market reaction - in either direction - to his "most important Fed decision and presser of 2023", the Treasury Secretary, with all the grace of a senile 76-year-old elephant in a China market, uttered the phrase...
- YELLEN: NOT CONSIDERING BROAD INCREASE IN DEPOSIT INSURANCE
... and the rest was silence... or rather selling.
Commenting on our chart, Bloomberg's Mark Cudmore noted it was Yellen who was "to blame for the stock slump", pointing out that "the pessimistic turn in US stocks began within a minute of Janet Yellen starting to speak."
The S&P 500 rose almost 1% in the first 47 minutes after the Fed decision. Powell wasn’t the problem either: the index was 0.6% higher in the first 17 minutes after his press conference started.
Why am I picking that exact timing of 2:47pm NY time? Because that is the minute Yellen started speaking at the Senate panel hearing. The high for the S&P 500 was 2:48pm NY time and it fell more than 2.5% over the subsequent 72 minutes. Good effort.
Picking up on this, Bloomberg's Mark Cranfield writes that banking stocks globally are set to underperform for longer after Janet Yellen pushed back against giving deposit insurance without working with lawmakers. He adds that "to an aggressive trader this sounds like an invitation to keep shorting bank stocks -- at least until the tone changes into broader support and is less focused on specific bank situations." Earlier, we addressed that too:
*YELLEN: NOT CONSIDERING BROAD INCREASE IN DEPOSIT INSURANCE— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 22, 2023
At least until spoos drop below 4K again
Looking ahead, Cranfield warns that US financials are likely to be the most vulnerable as they are the epicenter of the debate. Although European or Asian banking names may outperform US peers, that won’t be much consolation for investors as most financial sector indexes may be on a downward path.
The KBW bank index has tumbled from its highs seen in early February, but still has a way to go before it reaches the pandemic-nadir in 2020. Traders smell an opening for a big trade and that will fuel more downside. Probably until Yellen blinks.
And if Bill Ackman is right, she will be doing a whole lot of blinking in days if not hours.
While we generally make fun of Ackman's self-serving hot takes on twitter, today he was right when he accused Yellen of effectively restarting the small bank depositor run which according to JPMorgan has already seen $1.1 trillion in assets withdrawn from "vulnerable" banks. This is what Ackman tweeted:
Yesterday, @SecYellen made reassuring comments that led the market and depositors to believe that all deposits were now implicitly guaranteed. That coupled with a leak suggesting that @USTreasury, @FDICgov and @SecYellen were looking for a way to guarantee all deposits reassured the banking sector and depositors.
This afternoon, @SecYellen walked back yesterday’s implicit support for small banks and depositors, while making it explicit that systemwide deposit guarantees were not being considered.
We have gone from implicit support for depositors to @SecYellen explicit statement today that no guarantee is being considered with rates now being raised to 5%. 5% is a threshold that makes bank deposits that much less attractive. I would be surprised if deposit outflows don’t accelerate effective immediately.
Ackman concluded by repeating his ask: a comprehensive deposit guarantee on America's $18 trillion in assets...
A temporary systemwide deposit guarantee is needed to stop the bleeding. The longer the uncertainty continues, the more permanent the damage is to the smaller banks, and the more difficult it will be to bring their customers back.
... but as we noted previously pointing out, you know, the math...
Math: $18 trillion in deposits, $125 billion in the deposit insurance fund. https://t.co/Zsu2RsJk41 pic.twitter.com/nb3Ypnt1gd— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 21, 2023
... absent bipartisan Congressional intervention - which is very much unlikely until the bank crisis gets much, much worse - this won't happen and instead the Fed will continue putting out bank fire after bank fire - even as it keeps hiking to overcompensate for its "transitory inflation" idiocy from 2021, until the entire system burns down, something which Ackman's follow-up tweet was also right about:
Consider recent events impact on the long-term cost of equity capital for non-systemically important banks where you can wake up one day as a shareholder or bondholder and your investment instantly goes to zero. When combined with the higher cost of debt and deposits due to rising rates, consider what the impact will be on lending rates and our economy.
The longer this banking crisis is allowed to continue, the greater the damage to smaller banks and their ability to access low-cost capital.
Trust and confidence are earned over many years, but can be wiped out in a few days. I fear we are heading for another a train wreck. Hopefully, our regulators will get this right.
Narrator: no, they won't.
China’s Auto Industry Association Urges “Cooling” Of Price War, As Major Manufacturers Slash Prices
China’s Auto Industry Association Urges "Cooling" Of Price War, As Major Manufacturers Slash Prices
Just hours after we wrote about maniacal…
Just hours after we wrote about maniacal price cutting in the automotive industry in China, China's auto industry association is urging automakers to "cool" the hype behind price cuts.
The statement was made in order to "ensure the stable development of the industry", Automotive News Europe reported on Tuesday.
The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers even went so far as to put out a message on its official WeChat account, stating that "A price war is not a long-term solution". Instead "automakers should work harder on technology and branding," it said.
The consumer disagrees...
Recall we wrote earlier this week that most major automakers were slashing prices in China. The move is coming after lifting pandemic controls failed to spur significant demand in China, the Wall Street Journal reported this week. Ford and GM will be joined by BMW and Volkswagen in offering the discounts and promotions on EVs, the report says.
Retail auto sales plunged the first two months of the year and automakers are facing additional challenges in trying to transition their business models to prioritize EVs over conventional internal combustion engine vehicles.
Ford is offering $6,000 off its Mustang Mach-E, putting the standard version of its EV at just $31,000. Last month, only 84 of the vehicles were sold, compared to 1,500 sales in December. There was some pulling forward of demand due to the phasing out of subsidies heading into the new year, and Ford had also cut prices by about 9% in December.
A spokesperson for Ford called it a "stock clearance".
Discounts at Volkswagen are ranging from around $2,200 to $7,300 a car. The cuts will affect 20 gas powered and electric models. Its electric ID series is seeing price cuts of almost $6,000. The company called the cuts "temporary promotions due to general reluctance among car buyers, the new emissions rule and discounts offered by competitors."
Even more shocking is Citroën-maker Dongfeng Motor Group, who is offering a 40% discount on its C6 gas-powered sedan, now priced at $18,000.
Kelvin Lau, an analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets, told the Journal that automakers are also trying to get rid of 500,000 vehicles collectively stored in their inventory, most of which are older vehicles that won't meet new emissions standards.
David Zhang, a Shanghai-based independent automobile analyst, added: “Some car makers have been seeing very few sales. At this rate, the manufacturers’ production and dealership networks will collapse.”
COVID origins debate: what to make of new findings linking the virus to raccoon dogs
New reports suggest the pandemic’s origins may be linked to raccoon dogs sold at Wuhan’s Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market. A virologist explains.
The origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has long been a topic of heated debate. While many believe SARS-CoV-2 spread to humans from an animal at Wuhan’s Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, others have argued the virus was accidentally leaked from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Over the past week there has been intense activity surrounding the emergence of new data relevant to this question. In particular, reports emerged that the pandemic’s origins may be linked to raccoon dogs which were being sold illegally at the market.
The excitement stemmed from a re-analysis of raw data generated as part of official investigations into the role of the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in the outbreak.
The team of international scientists working on this re-analysis (from North America, Europe and Australia) alerted the World Health Organization and discussed the topic in an article published in The Atlantic. And the scientists themselves have now released a report on the issue, providing greater detail.
So what can we make of their findings? Will this development shift the course of the ongoing debate? Let’s take a look.
The Huanan market
In January 2020, writing about the emergence of what we now call SARS-CoV-2, I stated the importance of understanding how this pandemic began. It remains important to determine the virus’s origins because this knowledge may help us stop the next pandemic occurring.
Even very early in 2020, it was clear that the central Chinese city of Wuhan (a major metropolis and travel hub) was the epicentre of the outbreak. Within Wuhan, the Huanan seafood market stood out as it was associated with many – but not all – of the earliest cases. Indeed, the market was closed on January 1 2020, animals were culled, and the site was disinfected.
Suspicions arose given the role that animal trade and markets had played in the emergence of the closely related SARS-CoV-1 virus (which caused SARS, a widespread outbreak of viral respiratory disease) nearly two decades earlier. Evidence emerged that the Huanan seafood market also sold live mammals, including a fox-like mammal known as a raccoon dog, that we now know are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
Later epidemiological and genetic analyses further focused in on the market, and even specific stalls within it, as being the origin of the pandemic.
Read more: The original Sars virus disappeared – here's why coronavirus won’t do the same
The new data
As part of the official investigations into the market, swabs were collected from various parts of the market in the two months after it shut down at the start of 2020. The scientists who undertook this research, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, posted their analysis as a pre-print (a study yet to be peer-reviewed) in February 2022.
In this, the team concluded that the market likely played a significant role in SARS-CoV-2’s early spread, but that they couldn’t detect the virus in samples taken directly from animals. They reported that all the virus evidence found was associated with humans, and it was therefore likely the virus had been brought into the market by humans, not animals, and so perhaps the pandemic began elsewhere.
However, prior to any official peer-reviewed publication, the raw data from this work was released on an open scientific database called Gisaid. And the group of scientists who re-analysed this data did actually find an association between SARS-CoV-2 and animals, in particular raccoon dogs in the market.
They found DNA from animals mixed in with SARS-CoV-2 in a number of samples from the market. Some positive samples contained no human DNA and mostly raccoon dog DNA. This mix of virus and animal material is consistent with an infected animal – not a human – shedding virus, which is what you might expect if SARS-CoV-2 originated from animals brought into the market. Unfortunately, samples from a living raccoon dog were either not taken or not reported, and the official investigation makes no mention of raccoon dogs.
Where to from here?
While this latest data is one additional piece of the puzzle that supports an origin of the pandemic linked to Wuhan’s animal trade, it is unlikely to provide irrefutable evidence. It’s important to note it’s also a pre-print.
Ideally, we would like animal samples from early December 2019, and to compare animal virus genomes with human ones. It will also be crucial to follow events backwards through the animal trade and farming systems to work out where the animals got the virus from in the first instance.
Further, we must bear in mind that the virus could have easily been given to a raccoon dog by an infected human, or that the association between raccoon dog DNA and SARS-CoV-2 may be coincidental.
Read more: We want to know where COVID came from. But it’s too soon to expect miracles
However, evidence is accumulating that official investigations have left a gap in their research – particularly around the role that animals like raccoon dogs and the wildlife trade played in the origins of the pandemic.
While it may be unlikely that we will ever get concrete evidence as to how SARS-CoV-2 entered the human population, we can still think pragmatically and seek to alter behaviour and practices to reduce the chance of a new pandemic. One immediate target would be food systems (encompassing farm to fork), and how to make farming and the wildlife trade safer for all, potentially by enhancing virus surveillance in animals.
Connor Bamford receives funding from Wellcome Trust, UKRI, SFI and BMA Foundation.disease control center for disease control pandemic coronavirus genetic dna spread wuhan europe world health organization
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