Moderna is the first vaccine maker to produce a shot targeted at the South African virus variant. But there is more to this story.
The company is taking a three-pronged strategy. It wants to address concerns that its vaccine is less effective against the 501.V2 strain.
First, it has begun giving previous trial participants a half-dose booster of the existing shot to top up their immune response.
Second, the company created that vaccine booster targeted to the variant, also at half a dose. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s team at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) will begin testing it in phase 1 trial participants within weeks.
Finally, Moderna is also creating the first multivalent vaccine.
This vaccine includes the genetic code for the spike protein of both the original strain of the virus and the 501.V2 variant. Moderna hopes that it will make it effective against both variants.
The company’s technology has previously been used to combine up to six genetic sequences in a shot.
The coronavirus is mutating rapidly. So, I suspect we will need a vaccine effective against many variants very soon.
The Big News
Nursing Home Covid Deaths Decline
Nursing home deaths are way down. They have plummeted, falling by more than 60% between late December and early February. The main reason is straightforward: Nursing home residents have been among the first people to be vaccinated. This is another sign of how well the vaccines work. The decline in deaths happened even though most nursing home residents and employees had not yet received both of their vaccine shots.
New NYC Covid Variant Emerges
A new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in New York City. And the NYC Covid variant carries a worrisome mutation that may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines. This is according to two teams of researchers. The NYC covid variant, called B.1.526, first appeared in samples collected in the city in November. By the middle of this month, theNYC Covid variant accounted for about one in four viral sequences appearing in a database shared by scientists.
Real-World Vaccine Success
The first big real-world study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing Covid-19. The research in Israel showed two doses of the Pfizer shot reduced symptomatic Covid-19 cases by 94% across all age groups. And it reduced severe illnesses by nearly as much. The study of about 1.2 million people also showed a single shot was 57% effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks. The data was published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.
Novavax Vaccine Getting Close
Novavax is moving toward authorization of its two-shot Covid-19 vaccine. Scientists believe that, if cleared, it could be one of the more powerful weapons against the pandemic. Some early data suggest the shot may be one of the first shown to stem asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus and also potentially provide longer-lasting protection.
A Positive Covid Side Effect in Japan
Deaths in Japan fell last year for the first time in more than a decade. This is a sharp contrast to the huge death tolls suffered in the U.S.. As of Tuesday, Japan had recorded just under 7,600 deaths from the virus. The drop in deaths in Japan was spurred by a drastic decline in respiratory illnesses. This was a likely side effect of the country’s almost complete adoption of mask-wearing and social distancing by its population.
The Coronavirus Numbers
Here are the numbers from Thursday at 8 a.m. ET from Johns Hopkins University:
- 112,646,459 Infected Worldwide
- 216,168,699 Vaccines Given Globally
- 2,499,419 Deaths
- 28,336,203 Infected in the U.S.
- 66,464,947 U.S. Vaccine Doses Administered
- 505,899 Deaths in the U.S.
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Yields continued to rise, with U.S. 10-year Treasury notes north of 1.4% at a fresh year high.
This failed to worry the market yesterday. Fed chair Jay Powell gave more soothing words on inflation. The Dow Jones rallied 1.35% to a record high. The S&P 500 rose over 1%, the Nasdaq recovered 1% and the Russell 2000 small-cap index rose by more than 2.3%.
Apparently, the Reddit/wallstreetbets crowd has not had their wallets affected by the pandemic . . . because they are throwing money away . . . .again . . . on “meme stocks.”
GameStop’s stock is soaring again. The video game retailer’s share price more than doubled yesterday, an echo of the meme-stock mania of last month (pre-market trading implies that shares could soar again today). The shares were halted twice.
Other stocks popular among online traders, like the theater chain AMC, also jumped for no discernible reason other than the unbowed enthusiasm of traders who gather on Reddit. Reddit briefly crashed yesterday.
Warren Buffett’s long-time business partner is Charlie Munger. He spoke about the craziness.
Munger said that the recent meme-stock mania was “fed by people getting commissions and other revenues out of this new bunch of gamblers.” He added, “It’s really stupid to have a culture which encourages as much gambling in stocks by people who have the mind-set of racetrack bettors.”
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Yours in Health & Wealth,