Delta Variant Has ‘Dented’ Job Market: Private Sector Added Disappointingly Low 374,000 Jobs In August

According to ADP’s monthly employment report, August employment data highlights a “downshift” in the labor market recovery marked by a decline in new hires following significant job growth from the first half of the year.

Despite the slowdown, ADP chief economist Nela Richardson says job gains are approaching 4 million this year but are still 7 million jobs lower than employment before the pandemic.

Service jobs continued to head up growth, with the leisure and hospitality sector adding 201,000 jobs, followed by the healthcare industry’s job gains of 39,000.

August job additions were in line with July gains of 326,000, but trail behind additions of more than 600,000 each month since April.

Key Background

With the unemployment rate of 5.4% still stubbornly above pre-pandemic levels below 4%, experts have cautioned that the post-Covid labor market recovery could drag on for years. Despite strong gains in past months, the Federal Reserve last week said its performance was still too “turbulent” to warrant a change in pandemic-era monetary policy, and Wednesday’s disappointing report should only bolster that argument.

Crucial Quote

“The delta variant of Covid-19 appears to have dented the job market recovery,” Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said in a statement alongside the report, adding that the labor market remains strong, but well off its performance in recent months. “Job growth remains inextricably tied to the path of the pandemic.”

The August jobs report, set to be released Friday, will give policymakers some insight into how the economy has responded to the delta surge. The U.S. added 943,000 jobs last month, according to the most recent report, but that data was compiled before the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention first raised alarms about the transmissibility of the delta variant.

Though it may still take several months to assess the total impact of the delta variant, economists expect that women and Black and Hispanic workers, who were more likely to lose their jobs amid the onset of the pandemic, will continue bearing disproportionate burdens.

What To Watch For

The onset of the pandemic wiped out roughly 8.8 percent of jobs in public education as schools were forced to shutter, but Pollak said the delta surge is unlikely to trigger deeper layoffs. Instead, she expects delays to office reopenings driven by school closures to limit the recovery of other jobs reliant on work travel and office presence.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its August jobs report on Friday. Economists expect the economy to have added 720,000 jobs last month, compared to 943,000 in July.

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I’m a reporter at Forbes focusing on markets and finance. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I double-majored in business journalism and economics while working for UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School as a marketing and communications assistant. Before Forbes, I spent a summer reporting on the L.A. private sector for Los Angeles Business Journal and wrote about publicly traded North Carolina companies for NC Business News Wire. Reach out at jponciano@forbes.com. And follow me on Twitter @Jon_Ponciano

Source: Delta Variant Has ‘Dented’ Job Market: Private Sector Added Disappointingly Low 374,000 Jobs In August

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Cryptocurrencies Are Coming Back From the Brink. Here’s Why

After months languishing in the doldrums, cryptocurrencies are surging. On Monday, Bitcoin breached the $50,000 mark for the first time since May. Other coins — including Ethereum, Cardano’s ADA and Dogecoin — also edged higher.

And it was only a few weeks ago that some strategists were eyeing a possible drop to $20,000 for Bitcoin, months after it had hit an all-time high near $65,000 in April.

Instead, sentiment is rising across the board. Crypto’s latest swings are a sign that Bitcoin miners are back in business after a recent Chinese crackdown. At the same time, there is continued evidence of more mainstream acceptance. All of this is happening as the delta variant’s surge has muddied the timeline for a normalization of interest rate policy.

“There’s been an accelerating background of accumulation of crypto assets in the past couple months,” Jonathan Cheesman, head of over-the-counter and institutional sales at crypto derivatives exchange FTX, wrote in an email Monday. “Institutional flows in Bitcoin and Ether as well as a lot of retail activity in NFTs and gaming” are likely contributing, he added.

Here is a look at what is driving the increase — and what could come next:

A Shift in Sentiment

The cryptocurrency world is populated by a cast of characters whose voices can really influence prices. Lately, bullish noises have been boosting sentiment.

Take Elon Musk. Earlier this year, the billionaire caused heads to spin — and helped prices to boost and then plummet — when he said in March that Tesla Inc. would accept payment for its electric vehicles in Bitcoin but backtracked in May. He made his reversal on environmental grounds, expressing concern about the use of fossil fuels for cryptocurrency mining. Following those comments, Bitcoin lost about a quarter of its value in a week.

But here’s the latest twist: Over the past few weeks, Musk has been striking a more supportive tone. In late July he said he personally owns Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin and would like to see crypto succeed.

Superstar investment manager Cathie Wood is another influential voice in this space. A noted crypto bull, she told Bloomberg TV in May that she could see Bitcoin reaching a price of $500,000. More recently, she said she thinks corporations should consider adding Bitcoin to their balance sheets.

Hash Rate Signals

About a month ago, all the talk in the cryptocurrency world was of a Chinese crackdown. A ban on Bitcoin mining meant the abrupt shuttering of millions of computers that had been processing the transactions necessary to keep the crypto currency humming. Before the ban, around 65% of the world’s Bitcoin mining took place in China.

As computers went offline, the hash rate — a measure of the computing power used in mining and processing — halved in just two and half weeks.

As well as the practical implications, the aggressive moves by China laid bare the fact that the decentralized currency is still at the mercy of governments, which hit sentiment. Bobby Lee, one of the country’s first Bitcoin moguls, even said that China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies will probably intensify and may even lead to an outright ban on holding the tokens. And in the U.S., a recent congressional debate over crypto rules added to the uncertainty.

However, the hash rate has rebounded and is up from its July nadir, according to data from Blockchain.com.

That recovery has helped restore confidence in the market that cryptocurrencies can flourish even in the face of opposition from legislators around the world.

Keep Your Eye on Jackson Hole

Prices of cryptocurrencies, like gold, tend to suffer when there is the prospect of interest rate hikes. The emergence of Covid’s delta variant may scramble plans to remove crisis-level monetary policy.

If Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell were to strike a dovish note in his speech at the Jackson Hole conference this Friday, that could boost the currency, Oanda analyst Edward Moya said in a note.

The Kansas City Federal Reserve’s annual event, being held virtually again, is traditionally scrutinized for hints on upcoming changes in stance. Some Fed leaders have used it as a platform to explain new initiatives, as Powell did last year in unveiling a new monetary policy framework.

Even More Mainstream — and Main Street — Interest

Huge financial and consumer firms over the past year have increasingly been embracing crypto, giving the asset more legitimacy and driving up the price. Banks, brokerages and securities exchanges have been gearing up to meet demand. A watershed moment came in April with the U.S. stock market debut of Coinbase Global Inc., a crypto trading venue that’s shooting to establish a digital-money ecosystem.

This summer, there has been growing speculation that Amazon.com Inc. may become involved in the cryptocurrency sector. An Amazon job posting published online in July said the firm was seeking a “Digital Currency and Blockchain Product Lead.” After people found out about the post, Bitcoin surged to about $40,000. Amazon shares gained about 1% in New York. The company went on to say that the “speculation” about its “specific plan for cryptocurrencies is not true,” but the fact that the world’s largest retailer is exploring crypto has big implications for the shadowy and often hard-to-access market.

Walmart Inc. revealed it, too, was looking for some crypto help, with a job posting on Aug. 15 with responsibilities that would include “developing the digital currency strategy and product roadmap” and identifying “crypto-related investment and partnerships.” (As of Monday morning, visitors to the website were given a 404 error message.)

So… Where to From Here?

In these final days of summer, it’s now back in vogue to make $100,000 predictions.

As with any investment — or anything, really — it’s impossible to predict the future. But analysts do have a few estimations on how breaching $50,000 has changed Bitcoin’s prospects, at least in the short term.

Bitcoin is “getting nearer the higher end of what I expect as a new trading range in the low-$40,000s to low-$50,000s,” said Rick Bensignor, chief executive officer at Bensignor Investment Strategies.

Daniela Hathorn, an analyst at DailyFx.com, thinks that it may be a while before we see any further bullish momentum because $50,000 is a key psychological level for the currency.

“A pullback towards the $48,000 area would be the first sign of trouble,” she wrote in a note on Monday. “But the positive trend isn’t in any trouble as long as Bitcoin stays above its 200-day moving average at $45,750. Looking ahead, the key challenge for buyers will be to cement further gains towards $55,000 without losing momentum along the way.”

By: Emily Cadman / Charlie Wells / Joanna Ossinger

Source: https://www.bloombergquint.com/wealth/bitcoin-price-surge-reasons-why-ethereum-cryptocurrencies-are-rising
Copyright © BloombergQuint

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What It’s Like To Have Breakthrough COVID

The contagious nature of the Delta variant has meant breakthrough COVID cases are on the rise. Seven people tell us what it was like to have one.

In case you hadn’t already heard, COVID-19 numbers are ticking up again, even among people who are vaccinated. While unvaccinated people in the U.S. are contracting COVID at a much, much higher rate than those who’ve gotten the vaccine, the contagious nature of the Delta variant has meant breakthrough cases are on the rise, too.

Cities like Los Angeles have already reinstated mask mandates in response, while New York City has begun imposing vaccine mandates for people who wish to visit bars, restaurants, and gyms. Meanwhile, case numbers continue to climb. We spoke to seven people from around the United States about their breakthrough COVID experiences—the symptoms, the testing process, and how they’re feeling post-quarantine.

Do you know how you were exposed to COVID?

Brian Morgan, 48, Los Angeles, CA: I got my first dose of Moderna in January 2021 and my second February 2021. COVID symptoms started July 20th. I have an idea of where I think I may have gotten it, but it was definitely during the time where California’s government said it was safe to gather indoors without masks. I was at a few large indoor gatherings without a mask a week before the new mask mandates went into place.

Kyle O’Flaherty, 29, Brooklyn, NY: The weekend before I got sick, full admission, I had a bunch of social engagements kind of all stacked together: two birthday parties on Friday, a wedding on Saturday, and then like a day party on Sunday outdoors. Most of the things were in big spaces, I wouldn’t call anything necessarily “enclosed.” But they also kept me up late. I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

Daniel Merchant, 25, Brooklyn, NY/Portland, OR: I got vaccinated on April 7th at a public vaccination drive in Co-Op City, Bronx, right when the vaccine was made available to 18+ people. I got the J&J vaccine. I knew that I’d been exposed because three to four days before I started showing symptoms I was at a funeral, and then right after I started showing symptoms, I found out that my grandpa’s wife, who was there, tested positive (she’s a breakthrough case as well). Really unfortunate timing, because I went to another funeral the day before I found out I was exposed, so I had to text a ton of people that they’d been exposed too. Only one other person got it (also a breakthrough case!) which is a huge relief, but still a nightmare.

Jacob Hill, 42, Gonzales, LA: I was in meetings with one of the only other people who is vaccinated in my workplace, my boss. He got Johnson and Johnson, I had the Pfizer vaccine. We were in his office Tuesday and Wednesday, less than six feet apart and no masks;  he calls me Thursday morning and says, ‘Hey, man, I’m running a fever.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, like, all right, I’ll kind of start watching myself for symptoms.’ Then he went to get a COVID test and he was like, ‘Look, I’m positive, you’re gonna have to isolate.’ The next day is when the headache started.

Marc Dweck, 30, Brooklyn, NY/Jersey Shore, NJ: For the summer, we live with family in New Jersey—there’s 16 of us in the house. We’re not sure who got it first. I was the first one to test positive, but a few people in the house weren’t feeling well before me. So who knows?

Silena Palazzola, 25, Los Angeles, CA: The first time I heard about a friend getting it was this last month—and I couldn’t tell you which one of my friends gave it to me, because two of them independently got it, and then I was exposed to both of them. They made the calls, that awkward, ‘Hey, she had a great time seeing you this weekend, but also you might want to go get tested and give people a wide berth for a few days.’

Chantal Smith, 38, Brooklyn, NY: I got vaccinated in April and I actually got Johnson&Johnson. My boyfriend was vaccinated in April, and he got Moderna. In mid July, I went to the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. You had to show a PCR test before you flew, and they had a mask mandate there. Flying back, we had an incident on the plane where someone wasn’t wearing a mask correctly and was sort of being belligerent. They actually got kicked off the plane—the police had to come on, and it was just a big pain in the ass. Two days later, my boyfriend started to complain that he felt like he had a summer cold.

What were your initial symptoms?

Smith: First, I had itchy eyes. The next night, I started to feel really sick—I had body aches and was feeling like I had a fever. I was like, this feels exactly what I felt like after I got vaccinated. I woke up the next day and said to my boyfriend, ‘Look, I think we should both go get tested.’

O’Flaherty: On the first day, I woke up tired and was tired at work. I had an ear infection and post-nasal drip on the left side, both of which are common for me. But later that night, my throat felt a little… interesting. The next day, I woke up tired again, but I still went into work. In the middle of the day, I started getting a headache and feeling that kind of hot, cold sensation. As soon as that happened, I just cancelled the rest of my day.

Merchant: I first started experiencing symptoms at the very end of July, maybe July 31st? I had a bit of a runny nose, some sneezing, and it felt like I had a minor sinus infection or allergies (not unusual when you’re in Oregon in the summertime). I realized I was fucked when I was making dinner with my mom, cooking something that involved garlic, lime, jalapeños and chili paste and I couldn’t smell a thing. Stuck my face in a bag of coffee, nada. Right after that, I told my parents to stay away from me.

Morgan: Mostly body aches, but later light sniffles and sore throat. After a week or so, I started developing a lack of smell and taste. I can taste basic sweet/sour/salty sensations now, but nuances of flavor are still diminished. Sense of smell is starting to come back, but still diminished.

Palazzola: I started feeling a tickle in my throat and then after three days of that, I was like, oh no, it’s getting worse.

What kind of test did you get, and where did you do it?

Merchant: I’ve had a few PCR tests post-vaccination. Another friend of mine was a super super early breakthrough case (like late April) so I got one at CityMD on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint. My most recent PCR test (which confirmed that I had it) was OHSU in Portland.

Palazzola: I went into a Carbon Health urgent care center and did a rapid and it came back positive within an hour.

Dweck: I work in the wholesale industry; two weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling well, so I decided not to go to the office. I went to the doctor, the doctor said it was most likely an upper respiratory infection so there was no need to get tested, but if I wanted to, sure. So I got tested. The following morning, as I was waiting for results, I lost taste and smell. Then I knew that it was going to be a positive.

Morgan: Test was super easy here in LA. I got a nasal PCR test at a public testing site. Almost no wait on a Thursday morning.

Smith: I went to a CityMD urgent care in Williamsburg. There were a bunch of people outside.

O’Flaherty: I rode a bicycle to get tested at my doctor’s office, so it wasn’t like I was doing that badly. The irony is, I did have an ear infection. That’s one of the first things they found. It just happened to coincide with positive COVID.

Hill: We have a hospital here called Our Lady of the Lake Ascension. I called them, told them what my symptoms were, and they scheduled a test for me in the parking lot. I went there and I was like… number 170 in line. There were so many people there. And we’re not in a city—this is a small town.

What were your symptoms and how long did they last?

Morgan: All symptoms were pretty mild. In general, it felt like a very minor cold or flu. Body aches lasted maybe 4-5 days total. Sniffles and sore throat started a little later and lasted about 3-5 days. Lack of smell and taste is slowly coming back.

Palazzola: My symptoms got progressively worse for the next three or four days. I had a really bad sore throat—like, where swallowing anything hurts—and crazy fatigue. Then I got a little bit of congestion, but not much.

O’Flaherty: I was laid out for a bit. I quarantined for 10 days, but I was in a place where I would have called out sick from working for at least three if not four of those days, even in a world where there was no COVID. I was sweating through four or five t-shirts in a night,  massive headaches, massive sinus pressure, not really a cough but lots of post-nasal drip. There were a couple days when I got back to work after I was negative and everything was fine, but I was just working half days, and then I’d come home and take a nap. I required tons of sleep.

Merchant: I couldn’t smell a goddamn thing. Strangely enough, I didn’t lose my sense of taste at all. Fair amount of sneezing, and a runny nose + sinus pressure. A few times I felt a little out of breath, but I didn’t have any crazy coughing fits. A little bit achy here and there. I felt absolutely exhausted for a while. I slept like 12-14 hours for like 4 days straight, which is really unusual for me. I’d say I had symptoms for a week.

Smith: It was maybe five or six days of just feeling that achy, tired, fevery sort of feeling and then a cough and a runny nose—but it was more of a body thing.

Hill: The day after my boss called is when the headache started. It’s funny because like, on a scale of one to 10, it was probably a three—nothing too punishing, just nagging.  I think I ran a fever overnight once, because I woke up and I was sweating, but after that zero fever. Then I started getting a little bit stuffy in the nose, but that’s as far as it ever went with me. The stuffiness started to subside about four days into it, and that’s when I lost my taste and smell. That stayed gone for about another six days and then that came back. Nothing else for the entire duration.

Dweck: The first night I saw symptoms before I got tested, I had the chills, fevers, night sweats—exactly how I felt when I got vaccinated, which was sort of a red flag for me. And then I continued to have that and I wasn’t able to sleep for like four days in a row. I had body aches, congestion, fever throughout, just felt like garbage. As soon as I was able to sleep on the fourth night, I started to feel a little bit better and continually got better.

How are you feeling now?

Hill: I still feel a little bit foggy sometimes and I still feel pretty fatigued in the mornings—like my batteries are still a little bit lower than they should be. That’s got to be an after effect of COVID because I’m a real morning person.

Merchant: I’m finishing my isolation period today, and I feel pretty much completely normal, minus my smell, which has recovered maybe 20 percent? I can smell really strong odors, but it’s definitely not where it used to be. My guess is that it will come back with time (I really, really hope so).

Dweck: I still feel kind of weak and lethargic sometimes. My whole family got it, and we were all vaccinated, and our kids got it, who weren’t vaccinated unfortunately, because you can’t vaccinate babies. It’s annoying, but everyone’s doing good. Thank God.

Smith: For all intents and purposes, I’m better but I still feel kind of like shit. Every morning I wake up and I feel like I’m hungover even though I haven’t even had a drink. I’m coming into the third week of feeling like that—my boyfriend said he feels like he’s 60 percent better, and I’m maybe 80 to 90 percent better. We’re hoping that the next few days or the next couple of weeks, it’s going to go away, because it’s just been going off forever.

Morgan: Other than the lack of smell, I feel 100 percent recovered. Maybe even a little extra energy than before contracting COVID? I’ve heard of this effect with others, as well… increased energy post-recovery.

Any advice for people worried about breakthrough COVID?

Smith: If you have a scratchy throat or something that you’re not sure about, get tested. It is a pain but it’s free.

Morgan: On a spiritual level, just allow it and don’t resist that you have it. Don’t dwell on fear or negative effects. Have compassion for yourself and others during this challenging time. We’ve been given an opportunity to come together in a time when many forces are trying to divide us. Choose love and understanding and try to see yourself reflected in the people you encounter.

Hill: Wear the mask, take your precautions. But then again, if you’ve had the vaccine, go out and live your life. Take all the safety precautions, but if you’ve been vaccinated, you’re in pretty good shape. It’s just gonna take 10 days out of your life, that’s all.

Dweck: Trust the medical professionals that are recommending whatever care or procedures they’re recommending, for sure. And I’d definitely recommend getting vaccinated, because who knows—I could have been the person who ended up having to go to the hospital, instead of just being at home and not feeling well.

Merchant: I think it’s totally reasonable to reconsider how much we’ve been socializing, and that we’ve got a long way to go before things truly get back to normal, but I don’t think it’s helpful to freak out about it. The data shows that the vaccines are crazy effective at preventing serious illness, and we should rely on that rather than random anecdotes about people who got sick.

O’Flaherty: I have my own physical therapy practice, so I’m super active, and pretty fit. And I’m glad I had the vaccine—that was my biggest surprise, was being like, Oh, OK. This is what it’s like having it even with the vaccine.

Source: What It’s Like to Have Breakthrough COVID

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I’m Worried About the Delta Variant—Should I Get a COVID Booster?

Essential Tools & ResourcesFeatured updates: COVID-19 resource center

U.S. Set To Recommend Booster Covid-19 Vaccine Dose For Most People, Reports Say

U.S health officials are expected to recommend Covid-19 vaccine booster doses for Americans across all eligible age groups eight months after they received their second vaccine dose, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus as the more infectious delta variant spreads across the country partially blunting the efficacy of existing vaccine regimens.

According to the Associated Press, health officials could announce the booster recommendation as soon as this week, just a few days after an additional vaccine dose was recommended for people with weakened immune systems.

The Biden administration could then begin rolling out the third shots as early as mid-to-late September, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed officials.

The first booster shots will likely be administered to nursing home residents, health care workers and elderly Americans who were among the first people in the country to be inoculated.

The Associated Press notes that the formal deployment of the booster doses can only take place after the vaccines have been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration—an action that is expected for the Pfizer jab in the next few weeks.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to fully approve the Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks which will formally open the door for it to be offered as a booster to millions of Americans who have already received two vaccine doses.

Big Number

59.4%. That’s the percentage of the eligible U.S. popuplation (12 years of age and older) that has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with 70% receiving at least one dose, according to the CDC’s tracker.

Surprising Fact

An estimated 1.1 million people have already received an unauthorized booster dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, ABC News reported last week, citing an internal CDC document reviewed by the broadcaster. The number is likely an undercount as it only accounts for people who received a third dose of an mRNA vaccine but does not count those who may have received a dose of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and then received a second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Key Background

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna for people with compromised immune systems. The targeted move was aimed at providing better protection for people who have undergone solid organ transplants or those diagnosed with conditions that are considered to be immunocompromised.

Unlike the eight-month gap being proposed for booster doses for the general population, immunocompromised patients can receive their third dose as early as 28 days after their second shot. The FDA’s decision followed similar moves undertaken by Israel, France and Germany who began administering an additional dose to vulnerable populations amid the threat of the more infectious delta variant of the virus.

Contra

As the more infectious delta variant of the coronavirus takes hold across the U.S. questions about the effectiveness or even the necessity of a booster dose remain unanswered. While some vaccines are slightly less effective against the variant, it is still unclear if protection against more severe disease and hospitalizations have been impacted significantly as well.

This makes any decision to authorize booster doses remains a controversial one in the global context as critics decry the fact that developed nations are administering an additional dose at a time when several poorer nations have limited access to vaccines. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September.

Further Reading

U.S. to Advise Boosters for Most Americans 8 Months After Vaccination (New York Times)

US to recommend COVID vaccine boosters at 8 months (Associated Press)

More Than 1 Million Have Received Unauthorized Third Dose (WebMD)

FDA Authorizes Extra Covid-19 Vaccine Dose For Those With Weakened Immune Systems (Forbes)

How Good Are Covid-19 Vaccines At Protecting Against The Delta Variant? (Forbes)

I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an MA in Business and Economics Journalism in 2019. Worked as a journalist in New Delhi, India from 2014 to 2018. Have a news tip? DMs are open on Twitter @SiladityaRay or drop me an email at siladitya@protonmail.com.

Source: U.S. Set To Recommend Booster Covid-19 Vaccine Dose For Most People, Reports Say

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More Contents:

Covid Clusters Among The Vaccinated Point To Rise of Delta

They were gold miners in French Guiana, revelers in Cape Cod, and Indian health-care workers. Even though they inhabit worlds apart, they ended up having two things in common. All were vaccinated against covid-19. And they all became part of infection clusters.

In recent weeks, cases like these are proving that covid-19 transmission chains and superspreading events can occur even in groups where nearly everyone is vaccinated, setting off alarms among health officials and torpedoing hopes of a quick return to business as usual in the US.

In May 2021, the CDC had told vaccinated Americans they could safety go unmasked, but on Tuesday the agency reversed course, saying vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public settings.

The reason was what investigators learned from an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a seaside town on Cape Cod, which in early July hosted a rowdy parade and crowded weeks of pool parties. Since then, Massachusetts health investigators say, there have been more than 500 cases of covid-19 linked to those events in state residents, 73% of which are in people who were vaccinated. Including people from other states, the infection cluster involves over 900 people.

The Provincetown outbreak was caused by the so-called delta variant, which now accounts for most cases in the US.  In a statement released today, Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, said the “pivotal discovery” was that vaccinated people infected with delta in Provincetown appear to have just as much virus in their systems as those who are unvaccinated.

“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with delta can transmit the virus,” she said.

The recommendation suggests a rapid return to a layered approach of countermeasures, including masks and social distancing, which could also complicate school reopenings starting next month in the US.

Infection at a gold mine

Investigations around the world have been building evidence of outbreaks among the vaccinated for weeks. For instance, a scientific team in Paris and French Guiana recently described how covid-19 tore through a South American gold mine in May, even though nearly all the miners had received Pfizer’s vaccine.

Despite being inoculated, 60% became infected by a variant called gamma. That surprised the scientists so much that they checked to see if the vaccines had been damaged in shipping, but they weren’t.

The initial studies of Pfizer’s vaccine, the mostly widely used in the US, showed it was more than 90% effective in preventing symptomatic disease. But that’s not what was seen in the gold miners; half ended up with symptoms like a fever. The vaccines may still have helped, though. None of the miners became seriously ill, even though most were older than 50 and some had risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes.

More evidence comes from India, where health-care workers were eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine starting in early 2021. But when a team from the UK and India looked at covid-19 cases in these workers, they found “significant numbers of vaccine breakthrough infections” at three Delhi hospitals, including a superspreading event that infected 30 people.

The breakthrough infections were much more likely to be caused by the delta variant, they say, than any of the older strains. The older variants were never able to cause a cluster of more than two linked cases among the health-care workers. But the researchers found 10 delta outbreaks that did so.

The reason the delta variant is different is that it transmits more easily; one reason is that the strain may be “evading” prior immunity, say researchers. That could help explain outbreaks among vaccinated people, and it also means that if you’ve already had covid-19, you could more easily get it again. The UK-India team estimated that natural protection against infection dropped by as much as half when people were exposed to delta.

Covid on Cape Cod

In the US, the Provincetown outbreak may have taken hold during the July 4 “Independence Week,” when the town hosts thousands of visitors. As July wore on, investigators learned of hundreds of covid-19 cases, and sequencing labs in Boston determined they were caused by delta.

The Provincetown outbreak set off alarm bells at the CDC because vaccines didn’t seem to prevent the virus from spreading person to person, even though most were vaccinated, according to the Washington Post, which obtained an internal CDC presentation that described delta as being as contagious as chicken pox.

Another key clue came from PCR tests run on about 200 people in the Provincetown cluster. Researchers found that the amount of virus in someone’s airway—and hence what the person might launch into the word with every cough and sneeze—was roughly the same, no matter whether people were vaccinated or not.

That doesn’t prove that vaccinated people transmit just as much, says Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. She says that PCR tests detect virus fragments as well as live germs, so vaccinated people might be shedding less live virus or be infectious for less time. Gandhi adds that even with variants circulating, vaccines are still effective so far at preventing most major illness.

Nevertheless, “we are seeing more mild, symptomatic cases,” she says, as well as transmission among the vaccinated.

For the CDC, the new information posed a difficult communication problem: how to tell everyone the vaccine party might be over. In May, it had said that fully vaccinated Americans could dispense with masks and social distancing in most circumstances.

But by July 25, local officials in Provincetown had reintroduced an indoor mask mandate for the town, covering indoor restaurants, offices, bars, and dance floors, and said they would begin testing wastewater. Two days later, the CDC followed suit, recommending that in high-transmission areas everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings.

Because of the delta variant, much of the US may soon qualify as being a high-risk area. Since a low in June, covid-19 cases have risen more than sixfold.

Source: Covid clusters among the vaccinated point to rise of delta | MIT Technology Review

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