Saturday, August 21, 2021

Pfizer effectiveness declines faster than AZ, new study suggests

The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 declines faster than that of the AstraZeneca jab, according to a new study published on Thursday.

“Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech have greater initial effectiveness against new Covid-19 infections, but this declines faster compared with two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca,” researchers at Oxford University said.

The study, which has not been peer reviewed, is based on the results of a survey by Britain’s Office for National Statistics that carried out PCR tests from December last year to this month on randomly selected households.

It found that “the dynamics of immunity following second doses differed significantly” between Pfizer and AstraZeneca, according to the university’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.

Pfizer had “greater initial effectiveness” but saw “faster declines in protection against high viral burden and symptomatic infection”, when looking at a period of several months after full vaccination, although rates remained low for both jabs.

“Results suggest that after four to five months effectiveness of these two vaccines would be similar,” the scientists added, while stressing that long-term effects need to be studied.

The study’s findings come as Israel is administering booster shots, after giving 58 per cent of the population two shots of the Pfizer jab.

The United States is also set to offer booster vaccines to boost antibody levels following concerns over declining effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The Oxford research also found that protection was higher among those who had already been infected with the virus.

The study examined two groups of more than 300,000 people over 18, first during the period dominated by the Alpha variant, which emerged in Kent, southeast England, and secondly from May 2021 onwards, when the Delta variant has been dominant.

It confirmed that vaccines are less effective against Delta, which was first seen in India.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is the most widely offered in the UK, while those under 40 are offered Pfizer or Moderna due to blood clotting concerns.


Evidence mounts that people with breakthrough infections can spread Delta easily

A preliminary study has shown that in the case of a breakthrough infection, the Delta variant is able to grow in the noses of vaccinated people to the same degree as if they were not vaccinated at all. The virus that grows is just as infectious as that in unvaccinated people, meaning vaccinated people can transmit the virus and infect others.

Previous studies in hospitals in India; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and Finland have also shown that after vaccine breakthrough infections with Delta, there can be high levels of virus in people’s nose whether they are vaccinated or not. The next logical step was to determine whether vaccinated people could shed infectious virus. Many experts suspected they did, but until this study it hadn’t been proven in the lab.

“We're the first to demonstrate, as far as I'm aware, that infectious virus can be cultured from the fully vaccinated infections,” says Kasen Riemersma, a virologist at University of Wisconsin who is one of the authors of the study.

“Delta is breaking through more preferentially after vaccines as compared to the non-Delta variants” because it’s extremely infectious and evades the immune response, says Ravindra Gupta, a microbiologist at University of Cambridge. Gupta’s lab was one of the first to document that fully vaccinated healthcare workers could get infected with Delta and had high levels of virus in their noses.

If the Wisconsin study finding holds up, then people with breakthrough infections—many of whom do not develop COVID symptoms—can unknowingly spread the virus. “It [is] an alarming finding,” explains Katarina Grande, a public health supervisor and the COVID-19 Data Team Lead of Madison & Dane County, who led the study.

What concerns Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, is that fully vaccinated individuals who are infected with the Delta variant can transmit the virus and this can happen at a higher rate than previous strains in the days before symptoms, or in the absence of symptoms. “Which is why masks and mitigation measures are important, even for people [who are] vaccinated,” he says.

Studies like these highlight that transmission of the Delta variant can be much higher that currently estimated, according to Ethan Berke, chief public health officer of the UnitedHealth Group. Berke’s research has shown that frequent testing with rapid results, even if preliminary, can be very effective in curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic. Berke was not involved in the Wisconsin study.

“Even though the study was based on one region, it offers important insight into how people can spread the virus to others whether they’re fully vaccinated or not. This sort of insight, especially as it’s tested and refined, is incredibly helpful as organizations develop policies around testing, social distancing, and vaccinations,” Berke says.

How do we know the virus in the sample is infectious?
To test for SARS-CoV-2, the scientists employed a measurement called threshold cycle (Ct) that uses glowing dyes to reveal the quantity of viral RNA in the nose.

“SARS-CoV-2 virus infects nose and upper airway. It is very difficult to get a very high level of antibodies for long periods of time in that area. The immune system is not really designed to put high levels of antibodies at those sites,” Gupta says.

Ct values correlate with the viral load, which is the number of viral particles present in the body. When the quantity of virus passes a certain threshold, researchers expect an infected person to shed SARS-CoV-2 and potentially infect others. The Wisconsin study analyzed the nasal swabs from 719 cases of unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people who had all tested positive and found that 68 percent of the studied breakthrough patients had very high viral loads. High viral load is a sign that the virus is replicating, Gupta says.

To discover whether the nasal swabs had infectious virus, the Wisconsin researchers grew virus from 55 patient samples (from both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who tested positive) in special cells prone to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Grande’s team detected infectious virus in nearly everyone: from 88 percent of unvaccinated individuals and 95 percent of vaccinated people.

“We put the samples onto cells, and the cells died when they got infected. And so that clearly demonstrates that there is virus there, and that it's infectious,” Riemersma explains.

If vaccinated people can still produce a lot of infectious viruses, it means they can spread the virus as easily as those who are not vaccinated.


July inflation report is bad news for consumers — again

And it's even worse for savers. Inflation can reduce your savings to worthlessness. And the main cause is excessive government spending

Since President Joe Biden entered the Oval Office, inflation in America has become a persistent problem. In fact, inflation has steadily risen from 1.7% in January to 5.4% in both June and July.

Sadly, this is bad news for consumers, who are more than aware that their money isn’t going as far as it did just a few months ago.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics , “The all items index rose 5.4 percent for the 12 months ending July, the same increase as the period ending June. The index for all items less food and energy rose 4.3 percent over the last 12 months, while the energy index rose 23.8 percent. The food index increased 3.4 percent for the 12 months ending July, compared to a 2.4-percent rise for the period ending June.”

Yet, most significantly, “The energy index increased 1.6 percent in July after rising 1.5 percent in June. All the major energy component indexes increased over the month. … The energy index rose 23.8 percent over the past 12 months. The gasoline index rose 41.8 percent since July 2020. The index for natural gas rose 19.0 percent over the last 12 months, while the index for electricity increased 4.0 percent.”

Those are some startling statistics, especially if you are on a fixed income (like most seniors) or a family in the working class just trying to make ends meet.

As the data show, the cost of almost everything is increasing rapidly. Yet, wages remain basically stagnant. In June , hourly wages increased by a microscopic 0.3%.

Inflation, by and large, is much more of a problem for those in the working class because a high proportion of their income is spent on the basics, such as gasoline, food, and home energy costs.

When the prices of these staple items increase substantially (as they have over the past seven months) and wages remain relatively stagnant (as they have for many months), those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder pay the highest price — no pun intended.

Yet, this seems lost on the Biden administration, which seems oblivious to the fact that its reckless spending bills (and COVID-19 policies) are the primary reasons for the spike in inflation.

Since Biden took office, his administration has passed the American Rescue Plan ($1.9 trillion), has supported the bipartisan “infrastructure” plan ($1.2 trillion and pending in the House), and is on the brink of passing a behemoth budget reconciliation package that would cost a whopping $3.5 trillion.

This amount of reckless spending over such a short period is absolutely unprecedented in U.S. history. And lest we forget, this comes on top of the $2.6 trillion the government allocated in COVID-19 relief funds.

As any economist, or anyone with common sense, knows, when the government showers the economy with trillions of dollars over a short window of time, the value of the dollar declines.

And when this colossal spending comes after an 18-month economic shutdown, in which the production of goods and availability of services declined due to government decree, you now have more dollars chasing fewer goods and services.

No wonder inflation is out of control.

Over the past few months, the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress (with the help of some Republicans) have embraced modern monetary theory, which basically says that debt and deficits don’t matter. According to MMT, the government can spend and print as much money as it deems necessary, without any repercussions.

However, we are witnessing the abject failure of MMT in real-time. Hopefully, some semblance of fiscal sanity will prevail sooner rather than later.




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