Pfizer tests vaccine to fend off spread of tick-borne Lyme disease | Big Indy News
Connect with us

Business

Pfizer tests vaccine to fend off spread of tick-borne Lyme disease

Published

on

Pfizer and French partner Valneva have begun a late-stage trial of a Lyme disease vaccine as evidence mounts that the tick-borne illness is rapidly spreading across the US and Europe.

The companies said on Monday they were recruiting 6,000 people aged five years and older for the phase 3 trial of the co-developed vaccine, the only Lyme disease jab undergoing tests on humans.

Almost half a million people every year are being diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease in the US, where it was first diagnosed in 1975, according to a study of insurance claims published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected deer ticks. It typically causes a red rash and fever in its early stages but, if left untreated, the disease can cause serious complications including arthritis, heart problems and brain inflammation.

US health officials say new tools for preventing tick-borne illnesses are “urgently needed” following a tripling of reported cases in the US — most of which were Lyme disease — between 2004 and 2016.

A review of existing research published by the BMJ Global Journal in June concluded that more than 14 per cent of the world’s population has, or has had, Lyme disease, as indicated by the presence of antibodies in blood. Men aged 50 years and older who live in rural areas are most at risk, according to the study by Chinese researchers.

Peter Krause, a senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, said the proliferation of wild deer that carry ticks across North America is thought to be the main reason for the disease’s increasing prevalence. But global warming may be helping to spread the bacteria to previously untouched areas by creating climatic conditions favoured by ticks, he added.

Pfizer and Valneva are betting they can tap into public concern over Lyme disease among people who are involved in outdoor pursuits to generate commercial return from a vaccine. The jab would be administered as a three-dose primary regimen and a follow-up booster.

A previous Lyme disease vaccine developed by GSK was withdrawn from the market in 2002, amid legal claims by some patients that it caused side effects such as the onset of arthritis. GSK denied the claims but withdrew the vaccine, citing poor market performance.

Pfizer said data from its phase 2 study showed the Lyme disease vaccine continued to demonstrate a strong immune response among participants and acceptable safety and tolerability profiles in adults and children. Pending the results of the phase 3 trial, both companies could file for regulatory approval for the vaccine in the US and Europe in 2025, it said.

Annaliesa Anderson, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, said it was more important than ever to provide new options to people to protect themselves in the face of rising global rates of Lyme disease.

In June Pfizer announced it would spend €90.5mn to acquire an 8 per cent stake in Valneva, as both companies seek to develop the Lyme disease vaccine. Pfizer said it would make a $25mn milestone payment to Valneva on initiation of the phase 3 clinical study.

Read the full article here

Business

Defaults Loom as Poor Countries Face an Economic Storm

Published

on

WASHINGTON — Developing nations are facing a catastrophic debt crisis in the coming months as rapid inflation, slowing growth, rising interest rates and a strengthening dollar coalesce into a perfect storm that could set off a wave of messy defaults that inflict economic pain on the world’s most vulnerable people.

Poor countries owe, by some calculations, as much as $200 billion to wealthy nations, multilateral development banks and private creditors. Rising interest rates have increased the value of the dollar, making it harder for foreign borrowers with debt denominated in U.S. currency to repay their loans.

Defaulting on a huge swath of loans would send borrowing costs for vulnerable nations even higher and could spawn financial crises when nearly 100 million people have already been pushed into poverty this year by the combined effects of the pandemic, inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The danger poses another headwind for a world economy that has been sputtering toward a recession. The leaders of the world’s advanced economies have been grappling privately in recent weeks with how to avert financial crises in emerging markets such as Zambia, Sri Lanka and Ghana, but they have struggled to develop a plan to accelerate debt relief as they confront their own economic woes.

As rich countries brace for a global recession and try to cope with high food and energy prices, investment flows to the developing world have been abating and big creditors, particularly China, have been slow to restructure loans.

Mass defaults in low-income countries are unlikely to spur a global financial crisis given the relatively small size of their economies. But the potential is causing policymakers to rethink debt sustainability in an era of rising interest rates and increasingly opaque loan transactions. In part, that’s because defaults can make it harder for countries like the United States to export goods to indebted nations, further slowing the world economy and possibly leading to widespread hunger and social unrest. As Sri Lanka drew closer to its default this year, its central bank was forced to arrange a barter agreement to pay for Iranian oil with tea leaves.

“Finding ways to reduce the debt is important for these countries to get to the light at the end of the tunnel,” said David Malpass, the World Bank president, in an interview at the summit for the Group of 20 nations last month in Bali, Indonesia. “This burden on the developing countries is heavy, and if it goes on, they continue to get worse, which then has impacts on advanced economies in terms of increased migration flows and lost markets.”

The urgency follows lockdowns to contain the coronavirus in China and Russia’s war in Ukraine, which have stunted global output and sent food and energy prices soaring. The Federal Reserve has been rapidly raising interest rates in the United States, bolstering the strength of the dollar and making it more expensive for developing countries to import necessities for populations already struggling with rising prices.

Economists and global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been raising alarm about the gravity of the crisis. The World Bank projected this year that about a dozen countries could face default in the next year, and the I.M.F. calculated that 60 percent of low-income developing countries were in debt distress or at high risk of it.

Since then, the finances of developing countries have continued to deteriorate. The Council on Foreign Relations said this past week that 12 countries now had its highest default rating, up from three 18 months ago.

Brad Setser, a senior fellow at council, estimates that $200 billion of sovereign debt in emerging markets needs to be restructured.

“It is certainly a systemic problem for the countries that are affected,” Mr. Setser said. “Because an unusually large number of countries borrowed from the market and borrowed from China between 2012 and 2020, there’s an unusually large number of countries that are in default or at risk of default.”

Restructuring debt can include providing grace periods for repayment, lowering interest rates and forgiving some of the principal amount that is owed. The United States has traditionally led broad debt-relief initiatives such as the “Brady Bond” plan for Latin America in the 1990s. However, the emergence of commercial creditors that lend at high rates and prolific loans from China — which has been loath to take losses — has complicated international debt relief efforts.

Fitch, the credit rating firm, warned in a report last month that “more defaults are probable” in emerging markets next year and lamented that the so-called Common Framework that the Group of 20 established in 2020 to facilitate debt restructuring “is not proving effective in resolving crises quickly.”

Since the framework was established, only Zambia, Chad and Ethiopia have sought debt relief. It has been a grinding process, involving creditor committees, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, all of which must negotiate and agree upon how to restructure loans that the countries owe. After two years, Zambia is finally on the verge of restructuring its debts to China’s state banks, and Chad reached an agreement last month with private creditors, including Glencore, to restructure its debt.

Bruno LeMaire, the French finance minister, said that the progress with Zambia and Chad was a positive step, but that there was much more work to be done with other countries.

“Now we should accelerate,” Mr. Le Maire said on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit.

China, which has become one of the world’s largest creditors, remains an obstacle to relief. Development experts have accused it of setting “debt traps” for developing countries with its lending program of more than $500 billion, which has been described as predatory.

“This is really about China being unwilling to admit its lending has been unsustainable and China dragging its feet in getting to deals,” said Mark Sobel, a former Treasury Department official and the U.S. chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum.

The United States has regularly urged China to be more accommodating and complained that Chinese loans are difficult to restructure because of the opaque terms of the contracts. It has described China’s lending practices as “unconventional.”

“China is not the only creditor holding back quick and effective implementation of the typical playbook,” said Brent Neiman, a counselor to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, in a speech in Washington in September. “But across the international lending landscape, China’s lack of participation in coordinated debt relief is the most common and the most consequential.”

China has accused Western commercial creditors and multilateral institutions of failing to do enough to restructure debts and denied that it has engaged in predatory lending.

“These are not ‘debt traps,’ but monuments of cooperation,” Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said this year.

China’s own economy is slowing because of its strick “zero Covid” policy, which has included mass testing, quarantines and lockdowns of its population. A domestic real estate crisis has also made it more difficult for China to accept losses on loans that it has made to other countries.

I.M.F. officials will travel to Beijing this coming week for a “1+6” roundtable with the leaders of major international economic institutions. During those meetings, they will help China better understand the process of debt restructuring through the common framework.

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, the director of the strategy, policy and review department at the I.M.F., acknowledged that agreeing to terms on debt relief could take time, but said she would convey the urgency to Chinese officials

“The problem we have is that we don’t have the time right now because countries are very fragile in dealing with debt vulnerability,” Ms. Pazarbasioglu, who will travel to China, told reporters at the I.M.F. this past week.

At the annual meetings of the I.M.F. and World Bank in Washington in October, policymakers said the pace of debt restructuring was too slow and called for coordinated action among creditors and borrowers to find solutions before it was too late.

During a panel discussion about debt restructuring, Gita Gopinath, the first deputy managing director of the I.M.F., said countries and creditors needed to avoid the kind of wishful thinking that led to defaults.

“There is very much the tendency to gamble for redemption,” Ms. Gopinath said. “There’s very much a tendency for creditors to hope there will be gambling for redemption, and then nothing gets solved.”

But at the conclusion of the Group of 20 meeting in November, it appeared that little progress had been made. In a joint declaration, the leaders expressed their concern about the “deteriorating debt situation” in some vulnerable middle-income countries. However, they offered few concrete solutions.

“We reaffirm the importance of joint efforts by all actors, including private creditors, to continue working toward enhancing debt transparency,” the statement read.

The statement included a footnote saying that “one member has divergent views on debt issues.” That country, according to people familiar with the matter, was China.

In the interview, Mr. Malpass said that China had been willing to discuss debt relief, but that the “devil is in the details” when it comes to restructuring loans to reduce debt burdens.

The World Bank president predicted that the fiscal problems facing developing countries were unlikely to become a global debt crisis of the kind that occurred in the 1980s when many Latin American countries could not service their foreign debt. He suggested, however, that there was a moral imperative to do more to help poor countries and populations that had been pushed deeper into poverty during the pandemic.

“There would be continued reversals in development in terms of poverty, in terms of hunger and malnutrition, which are already going up,” Mr. Malpass said. “And it’s coming at a time when countries need more resources, not less.”

Read the full article here

Continue Reading

Business

Russia’s deportations of Ukrainian children stir accusations of genocide

Published

on

This article is an onsite version of our Europe Express newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every weekday and Saturday morning

Welcome back. The Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, on Wednesday recognised the Holodomor — the deaths of millions of Ukrainians in a 1932-1933 famine induced by the Soviet collectivisation of farms — as an act of genocide. Now Russia’s abductions and deportations of Ukrainian civilians, including thousands of children, raise the question of whether a new form of genocide is unfolding in Europe. I’m at tony.barber@ft.com.

For many Ukrainians, the Holodomor is the most horrific national tragedy of a 20th century scarred by war, state violence and mass repressions. Most of this happened after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and, in particular, under Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the authorities in Kyiv, along with western governments, human rights groups and the UN, have drawn attention to another ugly phenomenon: the “disappearance” of numerous Ukrainians in Russian-occupied areas and their transfer to Russia proper. I will focus on Ukrainian children who have suffered this fate. Is it a war crime? Is it genocide?

The Ukrainian government has a website, Children of War, on which it regularly updates the number of children killed, wounded, missing and deported to Russia. As of yesterday, it estimated those deported at 12,572.

To judge from some Russian reports, the number of child evacuees — a different measure, covering those supposedly moved for their own safety from war zones — may be far higher, at about 200,000.

Investigative news organisations have done some fine work on this topic. One of the best pieces, in my view, is this in-depth report by the Associated Press.

As the AP points out, officials in Moscow defend the transfer of children to Russia on the grounds that they don’t have parents or guardians. Some were moved from orphanages in the Russian-backed separatist area of Donbas, and others from war-ruined, captured cities such as Mariupol.

However, the AP’s reporters also discovered that “officials have deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent, lied to them that they weren’t wanted by their parents, used them for propaganda and given them Russian families and citizenship”.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reached much the same conclusion. In September it reported: “There have been credible allegations of forced transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian occupied territory, or to the Russian Federation itself.

“We are concerned that the Russian authorities have adopted a simplified procedure to grant Russian citizenship to children without parental care, and that these children would be eligible for adoption by Russian families.”

Indeed, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in May that simplified the procedure for turning Ukrainian orphans into Russian citizens. Among those who have adopted a Ukrainian teenager is none other than Maria Lvova-Belova, Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights.

In September the US Treasury placed sanctions on Lvova-Belova, saying her efforts “specifically include the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, the so-called ‘patriotic education’ of Ukrainian children, legislative changes to expedite the provision of Russian Federation citizenship to Ukrainian children, and the deliberate removal of Ukrainian children by Russia’s forces”.

Does all this amount to genocide under international law? Timothy Snyder, an eminent American historian of eastern Europe, thinks so. He and others cite the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Article II of this convention is unambiguous on the subject. Section (e) defines one type of genocide against a national, racial, ethnic, racial or religious group as “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.

But what precisely is the purpose of the Russian authorities in moving children from Ukraine and, in some cases, giving them Russian citizenship? A recent New York Times article made the point that the authorities are hardly concealing their actions. On the contrary, their actions are broadcast on state television “with patriotic fanfare”.

The aim, it appears to me, is partly to demoralise and intimidate the people of Ukraine, and partly to put on a propaganda show to the people of Russia. The message to Russians is: see, our “special military operation” is not a war at all, it’s bursting with humanitarian goodness.

All that said, it’s necessary to keep in mind that mass deportations have a long history in Russia, both in Soviet and in tsarist times.

In 2007 Sciences Po, the Paris-based university, compiled a chronology of deportations under Stalin from the mid-1930s onwards. Finns, Poles, Koreans, Balts, the peoples of the north Caucasus, Crimean Tatars, Germans, Greeks, Armenians, Moldovans — on and on the list goes.

In the tsarist era, one of the largest deportations occurred in 1864: the ethnic cleansing of Circassians in the north Caucasus.

On several occasions in the 18th and 19th centuries, Poles were deported en masse to Siberia. They suffered a similar fate, in even larger numbers, after Stalin’s invasion of Poland in 1939. The definitive study is the late British historian Keith Sword’s Deportation and Exile: Poles in the Soviet Union 1939-1948.

In our times, Russia’s 1999-2000 war in Chechnya led to the “enforced disappearance” of thousands of Chechens, according to Human Rights Watch. Similar actions against Crimean Tatars followed Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In other words, Russia’s deportations of Ukrainians, including children, fit a well-established historical pattern of behaviour. It is another question whether the Russian authorities will ever be held to account.

What do you think? Does Russia’s treatment of Ukrainian children qualify as genocide? Vote here.

More on this topic

Vladimir Putin’s Telegram hawks — Andrey Pertsev explains on the Riddle website how a messenger app became a platform for pro-war Russian nationalists.

Notable, quotable

“This case reaffirms the strength of our democracy and the institutions that protect and preserve it, including our criminal justice system” — Matthew Graves, US attorney for the District of Columbia, speaks after Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, a rightwing militia, was convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 2021 assault on the US Capitol

Tony’s picks of the week

  • Youth unemployment in China is stoking student protests against the Communist party’s zero-Covid policies, the FT’s Thomas Hale in Shanghai and Arjun Neil Alim in London report.

  • Ten years after the EU embarked on the project of a banking union to complement its single currency, the task remains unfulfilled in important respects, but there are opportunities for progress. The Brussels-based Bruegel think-tank analyses what needs to be done.

In case you missed it, for the FT’s Best Books of the Year series, I selected 10 history books which stand out from 2022 — you can read my list here, and see the rest of the annual round-up here.

Britain after Brexit — Keep up to date with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign up here

Working it — Discover the big ideas shaping today’s workplaces with a weekly newsletter from work & careers editor Isabel Berwick. Sign up here

Are you enjoying Europe Express? Sign up here to have it delivered straight to your inbox every workday at 7am CET and on Saturdays at noon CET. Do tell us what you think, we love to hear from you: europe.express@ft.com. Keep up with the latest European stories @FT Europe



Read the full article here

Continue Reading

Business

After Fanning Covid Fears, China Must Now Try to Allay Them

Published

on

For nearly three years, the Chinese government deployed its considerable propaganda apparatus to fan fears about Covid to justify large-scale quarantines, frequent mass testing and the tracking of more than a billion people. As the authorities now shift their approach to the pandemic, they face the task of downplaying those fears.

Until the past week, during which there were rallies voicing extraordinary public opposition to the stringent “zero Covid” rules, government officials and state media were still emphasizing the most ominous medical news about the pandemic. There were countless stories about the high death toll suffered elsewhere — especially in the United States — and about the months of respiratory problems, cognitive impairment and other difficulties associated with long Covid.

The official newspaper of the Communist Party, People’s Daily, warned on Nov. 15 that any loosening of Covid measures would endanger the lives and health of the Chinese people: “The relaxation of prevention and control will inevitably increase the risk of infection of susceptible groups.”

Just a week and a half ago, the vice premier overseeing the government’s Covid responses, Sun Chunlan, said that “anyone who should be tested must be tested, and no one should be left behind.”

But as local governments now hurry to dismantle testing requirements and start hauling away curbside test booths, Ms. Sun changed tack on Wednesday. “China’s pandemic prevention faces a new situation and new tasks, given the weakening severity of the Omicron variant,” she said.

China faces a challenging moment in its pandemic response, experts say, in large part because of muddled messaging. The government has failed to take many proven public health measures, such as aggressive campaigns for full vaccination, leaving many citizens of the world’s most populous nation at risk.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, had personally affirmed that sacrifices were needed to stop the spread of Covid. “It would be better to temporarily affect a little the development of the economy than to let the people’s life, safety and health be harmed,” he said in June.

Beijing is now rapidly moving to lighten the burden of Covid restrictions. Some neighborhood committees are beginning to let residents stay home if they or their family members are infected, instead of transporting them to makeshift hospitals, vast stadiums or long rows of shipping containers, standard procedure since the early months of the pandemic. Chengdu, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Beijing, Chongqing and Shenzhen have all lifted requirements in the past several days for residents to show negative Covid tests before taking the subway or entering other public places.

Yet allaying Covid worries bordering on terror among millions of people, particularly older residents, is proving a challenge for the Communist Party and state media. Further complicating matters is that China’s leaders have a long history of not wanting to look as though they are reversing policies because of public anger.

Throughout the government’s unbending response, the country has struggled to adequately vaccinate some of its most vulnerable: Of people ages 80 and older, two-thirds have done the initial course of vaccinations, usually two doses, but only 40 percent have received a booster dose.

International scientists say that three of China’s vaccines are needed to achieve protection comparable to two mRNA vaccines in the West.

Missing from the state media’s new reporting about Covid has been any mention of the recent days’ protests. The coverage has shifted to research by Chinese scientists that the Omicron variant may not be as dangerous as earlier versions of the virus.

Southern Daily, a state-controlled newspaper in Guangzhou, published on Saturday a report emphasizing a municipal estimate that 90 percent of Omicron infections were asymptomatic. Citing interviews with seven leading Guangzhou doctors, the newspaper also reassured readers that symptomatic cases were seldom serious, except among elderly, unvaccinated residents.

Many other countries have found Omicron to be less deadly but more infectious. There have been nearly 7 million confirmed deaths of Covid worldwide, while China says that it has suffered just over 5,000 deaths.

On Thursday, Global Times, another Communist Party publication, quoted a doctor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou who questioned the existence of long Covid, a complex cluster of post-infection symptoms, sometimes debilitating, that has been chronicled extensively by U.S. government epidemiologists.

“There are no confirmed sequelae of Covid-19,” said Dr. Chong Yutian, using a medical term for lingering consequences after an infection or injury. Dr. Chong did not respond to a request for comment.

Guiding public opinion in a new direction will not be easy for China, because state media had effectively suppressed any suggestion that Covid might be manageable.

“Until recently the experts were all geared to supporting the policy against Covid,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. “The media is suddenly going all the way in the direction that the virus has mutated and is less pathogenic.”

Better communication, including on the importance of vaccination, is essential for China to manage its emergence from Covid restrictions, said Jin Dongyan, a Hong Kong University virologist. Many in China are still so afraid of the virus that they may stay home from even grocery stores as the country begins to open up, which could cause further economic harm, he warned.

“To educate the general public is really important, and that’s what they need to strengthen, because right now the public is confused and divided,” he said.

Jiang Sigui, 60, a corn farmer in Guangxi, an impoverished region in southernmost China, said that he worried that the easing of “zero Covid” restrictions would lead to a wave of infections that could overwhelm rural villages like his, with limited health care facilities. He fears for his ability to continue raising his grandchildren if he falls ill.

“I support the fight against Covid,” he said. “Right now, I’m at home, raising children. I definitely worry about the virus — who doesn’t?”

Yet many young and middle-aged residents of China do appear to be less afraid of Covid than they are troubled by the restrictions that China has imposed to control its spread. That sentiment became apparent in the recent protests.

China has halted almost all international travel during the pandemic and wields ever stricter censorship of the internet, including an almost complete block on access to foreign websites. Many of the protests took place in coastal provinces where residents often have the internet tools to see overseas websites that show them how the rest of the world has adjusted to life with Covid.

Yet interviews with people in Lanzhou, a provincial capital in western China, indicate that a desire for a shift in Covid policy has reached China’s huge interior as well.

Zhang Zechen, a 20-year-old university student, said that she had been confined to her dorm under lockdown for much of the past semester. The university required her to have a PCR test every fourth day. When the university offered students the chance to leave a month early for Lunar New Year celebrations, to reduce the risk of transmission, she jumped at the chance.

“I felt tired of PCR testing,” Ms. Zhang said. “Everyone feels stir crazy.”

A 24-year-old migrant worker said that he was infected with Covid last September while working in Tibet, but found that the only symptoms of his illness were a few days of coughing. He was critical of policies like locking residents in their homes for weeks, sometimes corralling more than a million people, after even a handful of cases.

“A lockdown should never be expanded to a whole district, affecting people’s normal travel and work,” said the worker, who gave only his family name, Ma, in discussing his personal health.

Yet even as China adopts a more reassuring stance about the dangers of Covid, many experts urge caution. They contend that the government has not yet done enough to vaccinate the elderly, prepare hospitals and educate the public.

“If they unroll all the restrictions too quickly, it’s probably going to lead to a large number of cases and economic disruptions,” said Andy Chen, a public health analyst in the Shanghai office of Trivium China, a consulting firm.

Li You contributed research.

Read the full article here

Continue Reading

Trending