The chief executive of Moderna has predicted that existing vaccines will be much less effective at tackling Omicron than earlier strains of coronavirus and warned it would take months before pharmaceutical companies could manufacture new variant-specific jabs at scale.
Stéphane Bancel said the high number of Omicron mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of the variant in South Africa suggested that the current crop of vaccines may need to be modified next year.
“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [THE]Delta [VARIANT],” Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He added: “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”
The Moderna chief executive’s comments come as public health experts and politicians have tried to strike a more upbeat tone about existing vaccines’ capacity to confer protection against Omicron.
On Monday, Scott Gottlieb, a director of Pfizer and former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC: “There’s a reasonable degree of confidence in vaccine circles that [WITH]at least three doses . . . the patient is going to have fairly good protection against this variant.”
Joe Biden, US president, subsequently said Omicron was “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” adding that the government’s medical experts “believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease”.
However, Bancel said scientists were worried because 32 of the 50 mutations in the Omicron variant are on the spike protein, which current vaccines focus on to boost the human body’s immune system to combat Covid.
Most experts thought such a highly mutated variant would not emerge for another year or two, Bancel added.
The Moderna chief’s predictions rattled investors in Asia on Tuesday, with equities and stock futures dropping and crude prices losing ground.
In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index swung to a loss of as much as 1.1 per cent following the FT’s report. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 2.3 per cent lower. S&P 500 futures erased initial gains to tip US stocks to drop almost 1 per cent, while the FTSE 100 was set to shed 1.2 per cent at the open in London.
Concerns over the variant drove traders to seek safety in bonds, pushing the yield on 10-year US Treasuries down 0.05 percentage points, while in commodities markets, Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, reversed course to be down almost 2 per cent at $72.04 a barrel.
“With [BANCEL]saying the vaccines may not be as effective, that’s caused renewed uncertainty – hence the outside market moves you’re seeing now,” said Mansoor Mohi-uddin, chief economist at the Bank of Singapore.
Mohi-uddin added that while investors were not pricing in a more serious disruption to the global economy from Omicron, it could take weeks for a clearer picture to emerge. “The view is still that it’s going to be a temporary hit, rather like [the Delta variant] turned out to be.”
Moderna and Pfizer have become the vaccine suppliers of choice for most of the developed world due to the high effectiveness of their jabs, which are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
In August, Moderna announced that people vaccinated with two doses of its jab “maintained antibodies through six months, including against variants of concern such as the Delta variant”.
But studies suggested that the company’s vaccine was less effective at preventing outbreaks of Delta than earlier strains of the virus.
A Stanford University study of a Delta outbreak at a California prison published last month found that Moderna’s jab was 56.6 per cent effective against infection – substantially lower than the level in studies conducted before the emergence of the variant, the researchers said.
Moderna and Pfizer are now working on new vaccines to target the Omicron variant, which the World Health Organization has said poses a “very high risk”.
Bancel said data indicating how existing vaccines performed against the Omicron variant, and whether it caused severe disease, should become available within two weeks.
But he said it would take several months before an Omicron-specific vaccine could be produced at scale, and suggested there might be a case for giving more potent boosters to the elderly or people with compromised immune systems in the meantime.
“[MODERNA] and Pfizer cannot get a billion doses next week. The maths doesn’t work. But could we get the billion doses out by the summer? Sure,” said Bancel, who predicted Moderna could make a total of 2 billion – 3 billion doses in 2022.
But he said it would be risky to shift Moderna’s entire production capacity to an Omicron-targeted jab at a time when other variants were still in circulation.
Bancel also hit out at critics who have accused vaccine makers of not doing enough to support rollouts in developing countries such as South Africa, where only a quarter of the population is fully inoculated, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“This was mostly a policy decision by the rich countries. In the US, we were told we had no choice but to give 60 per cent of our output to the US government. That was not a Moderna decision, that was a US government decision,” he said.
Bancel also said there was a surplus of jabs earmarked for Africa and that 70m Moderna vaccines were sitting in warehouses because Covax, an international body tasked with supplying low-income nations, or individual governments had not taken delivery of them.
“We are running out of space,” he said. “It’s because either they don’t have customs documents, or they don’t have fridge space, or because the ability to get doses in arms is a challenge.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021
Beattie faces long road to redemption after offensive tweets emerge
In The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic tale, the civilised Jekyll, fascinated by the duality of his personality, manages to embody his evil side in the depraved Hyde, then finds he cannot control the transition between the two. Hyde runs amok. That’s Doug Beattie’s twitter account, firing out messages full of attitudes and prejudices that the Jekyll side of Beattie, the man attempting to modernise the Ulster Unionist Party, claims he never had.
Last Saturday, Beattie was all over the front pages with a beaming photo, the only party leader to get a good rating in the new opinion poll. He was in soaring form. “They couldn’t have picked a smugger picture,” he tweeted, with laugh-till-you-cry emojis. That night, still buoyant, he tweeted the now infamous joke that has led to him being sued by the Democratic Unionist Party’s former leader, Edwin Poots. It involved the wives of unionist party leaders, brothels and bodily odours, and many who read it recoiled, then told him it was awful.
Jekyll Beattie responded: ‘Awful, just awful… I’m ashamed… I can’t justify that… horrendous, horrific… I’ve no excuse…’
Beattie took it down, apologised, said he had not meant to cause offence. But the truffle hunters of twitter had a scent. Soon they had snuffled out a haul of Beattie tweets that paraded every offensive stereotype in the charge book. Most dated back to the years 2011-2014, when he was a British army captain in his 40s.
Most were meant to be funny but could only have amused sexists, racists or those indifferent to people not exactly like them. Some were salacious, though more 1960s Benny Hill creepy than 2018 Belfast rape trial nasty. They featured schoolgirls’ skirts, “hookers”, randy, drunken Gurkhas, and humourless feminists with hairy chins. Other tweets held forth on the inability of women, foreigners and people from minority ethnic groups to do things properly. Leave it to the white man.
The next photos of Beattie to appear were of a man humiliated and almost broken. In a statement, now pinned to his twitter feed, he acknowledged and apologised for misogyny, said he was ashamed and embarrassed, and vowed to do better. He embarked on a series of media interviews. He was alone. No press officers, no advisors. He told BBC Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan, “My confidence is gone.” But there was something strange about his penance. He was contrite, though he did keep trying to consign Hyde Beattie to history, even though he had sallied forth just last weekend. Nolan read out the tweets. Jekyll Beattie responded: “Awful, just awful… I’m ashamed… I can’t justify that… horrendous, horrific… I’ve no excuse…” But he also professed bewilderment: “I am not the person who was portrayed in those tweets… it’s not me… even ten years ago it is not who I was.” He was adamant that he was “no racist”.
Offence is not the worst outcome of misogyny and racism. These prejudices inform behaviours that cause real and profound harm
When Nolan offered his distraught interviewee the option of pleading post-traumatic stress given his military postings to war zones in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Beattie allowed that on returning from environments in which there was “toxic testosterone”, “you decompress, you desensitise”. He spoke of using “dark humour” which was not, he said, meant to cause offence. But offence is not the worst outcome of misogyny and racism. These prejudices inform behaviours that cause real and profound harm. A climate is created, and denied. It is disempowering. People have to waste energy fighting it, energy that others use to thrive.
Put Captain Beattie’s jokes in context. In 2009 a young black man joined the British army. He was awarded best recruit in his year and had high ambitions. But in 2013, after serving four years in Afghanistan, he quit. He had put up with a lot of “dark humour”, he said, but what started as banter had intensified into outright racism. Raising it with a superior officer made matters worse. “If you talked,” he said, “your career was screwed.” He was persuaded not to cite racial discrimination as his reason for leaving, and put down health reasons instead. In 2015 a young woman in the British navy reported a more senior officer for repeatedly groping her. She was ostracised and nothing was done. Another discovered in the course of leadership training that a male armoured commander would not take orders from her on the radio, “because I am a girl”. Women and black and minority ethnic personnel are under-represented in the British forces, and are repeatedly found to have been subjected to more bullying and harassment at work than white men.
On a BBC NI discussion last week the People Before Profit MLA Fiona Ferguson said that misogyny was institutionalised in Northern Ireland. It was rampant and faced by women on a daily basis. She mentioned bodily autonomy – the Ulster Unionist Party’s health minister continues to thwart implementation of the abortion law. She asked why women were consistently responsible for most caring roles, why they received lower pay than men. UUP veteran Chris McGimpsey said she was exaggerating. She accused him of mansplaining.
With 90 per cent of its MLAs men, it is no exaggeration to say the UUP is a male-dominated party. Beattie pointed to the work he has done to bring in progressive young women. In truth, he needs them to grow his party among those unionists who reject the hopelessly sexist and homophobic fundamentalism of the DUP. These women stood by him last week with more than the grim, stoical smiles of wives of public men who have done them wrong and been found out. But Beattie’s commitment to equality is also undermined on another front. He claims he supports the Belfast Agreement but refuses to declare whether or not he would work in an executive with a Sinn Féin first minister. Dr Jekyll has a lot of work to do.
Latina singers: From flamenco to Spanglish: Why Rosalía’s latest album is causing a stir | USA
When Spanish singer Rosalía appeared live on Spain’s Cadena SER radio network to present her album El mal querer in November 2018, everyone wanted to see what she had to say. Even the crew of the radio program La Ventana were eagerly awaiting the interview, something that, according to radio presenter Carles Francino, had never happened before, not even with such distinguished guests as Spanish prime ministers, Nobel prize winners or the actor Richard Gere. Rosalía was 25 years old at the time and had two albums to her name. Her responses captivated the interviewers who praised her in hyperbolic terms, comparing the Barcelona-born artist to legendary Spanish copla singer Miguel de Molina. Francino said she had triumphed because she was “very good and very different” – paraphrasing the iconic Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma.
And Francino wasn’t the only one to sing Rosalía’s praises. In a pre-recording, Martín Guerrero, the managing director of Casa Patas, a seminal flamenco venue in Madrid, said that Rosalía was “electrifying, thrilling and unique.” The comments section below the YouTube video of the interview, which has more than 500,000 views, is also filled with messages extolling the singer. “From her vocabulary and her way of thinking, I thought she was a very poised woman, who knows what she is saying when it comes to music and music history and knowledge. She is not your average girl. She is a genius,” one YouTube user wrote.
Francino, perhaps sensing what was about to happen to the pop star, brought the interview to an end with a request: “We are just asking you one thing, Rosalía: don’t change.” He could not have asked anything more difficult of her.
A little over three years later, the public is eagerly awaiting her third album, Motomami, which will be released sometime in 2022. Rosalía has given a preview of what’s to come, sharing snippets of songs such as Candy and Saoko on social media. But the single that has caught the most attention is Hentai, a slow ballad accompanied by piano whose lyrics have triggered bafflement and disbelief. The sexually explicit nature of the song and Rosalía’s use of Spanglish quickly became fodder for internet memes and jokes. In the 20-second clip of the track, Rosalía sings “Te quiero ride como a mi bike” or “I want to ride you like my bike.” The educated and cultured singer, who used to cite centuries-old poetry, sounded like someone completely different.
“It’s as if the person who does the songs for [children’s band] CantaJuegos had come home drunk and horny and had opened a notepad,” wrote one Twitter user. “Rosalía is now making music by taking random words from the dictionary,” read another message. The backlash was so great that, a few hours later, Rosalía herself even tweeted about it. “The people who are upset about the lyrics in Hentai, are you okay?”
It has not been a sudden change. Since her debut album Los ángeles, in which the singer made reference to flamenco singers La Niña de los Peines and Enrique Morente, as well as the poet Federico García Lorca, to the explicit and visceral Hentai, five years have passed. In that period, Rosalía has gone from being 24 to 28 years old, and she has experienced a global pandemic that kept her in Miami and away from her family for the first time. She has traveled across Latin America and rubbed elbows with the leading figures of the international music scene. A few months ago, she released a collaboration called Linda with the Dominican rapper Tokischa. The lyrics of the feminist tune – “nos besamos pero somos homies” or “we kiss but we’re homies” – surprised her fans for its simplistic nature. “It’s true that there wasn’t a bad rhyme in her first two albums, her lyrics were excellent. In contrast, in her latest songs there are terrible rhymes,” says Jorge Carrión, the coordinator of the book La Rosalía, ensayos sobre el buen querer (or, Rosalía, essays on ‘el buen querer’).
It’s impossible to separate Rosalía’s new music from her travels across the Americas, which she herself has documented in great detail. Like many other stars of today, she has opted to overshare on social media, where she uploads posts on every step she takes without any apparent communication strategy. Her surprising friendship with US personality Kylie Jenner and the rest of the Kardashian family, which appears to be very close, was one of the first shocks. We have seen her surrounded by entrepreneurs such as Dave Grutman and Jonathan Cheban, living an opulent lifestyle (Spain’s far-right Vox party accused her of being a millionaire and having a private plane) and alongside celebrities such as Christina Aguilera, Drake, Naomi Campbell and Hunter Schafer from the US hit series Euphoria.
Living in Miami, Rosalía has started to express herself like other Spanish singers who emigrated to the US before her, such as Julio Iglesias and Alejandro Sanz. The Argentinian newspaper Clarín described her accent as “indecipherable, a mix of Spanish, Catalan, Andalusian and Caribbean, riddled with words in English.” In an interview with a Dominican newspaper, Rosalía explained that her friendship with the Kardashians began when she started to hang out with Kendall in Los Angeles, which she named using the English acronym LA instead of the city’s full name as you do in Spanish.
Rosalía’s constant use of social media clashes with her previous image as an avant-garde artist who had released two albums exploring issues such as grief and gender violence. In her Instagram and TikTok accounts we see a cheerful, exhibitionist and sexual young woman, who often shares photos of herself half-naked and is seen with impossibly long fake nails and heavy makeup. She is obsessed with her pet chihuahua and loves cars and motorbikes – to such a degree that she bought a €60,000 pink-upholstered Ford Ranger Raptor with “La Rosalía” embossed in the headrests. Sometimes she takes on a certain childish attitude as if she were a character of one of the anime series she loves. On TikTok, she shared a photo with the message: “POV: When you steal Raul’s phone and it has FaceID.” The message, written in Spanish and containing spelling mistakes, was difficult to make sense of for those unaware of her relationship with singer Rauw Alejandro, which became public at the end of 2021.
This free-spirited image has left its mark on her music, both in her collaborations and what has been heard of Motomami. Even the name of the album appears to announce a new era that is lighter and fresher. In the video to announce the album launch, Rosalía can be seen covered in red glitter in a jeweled bikini, motorbike helmet and stilettos. The music in the clip is more reminiscent of other contemporary pop artists such as Charli XCX, SOPHIE, Arca or Grimes than of the flamenco which launched her career.
The debate around Rosalía’s transformation is not new. The jump from Los ángeles to El mal querer had already raised questions about whether the move from music that paid homage to traditional flamenco to music that was an explosive mix of genres with global reach was part of a sincere and organic transformation, or whether it hid a premeditated and commercial strategy. Rosalía has behind her a team of women, including her sister Pili, who is the artist’s stylist, her mother Pilar, the administrator of the company Motomami S.L., which manages the financial side of her career, and her manager Rebeca León, who is a superstar herself within the Latin music industry. But Rosalía has always defined herself as a controlling and detail-oriented artist who devises far-reaching projects. She even studied sound engineering in order to have greater control over the creative process. “I’m not doing it for mere strategic reasons, but rather taking into account the reason why I make music: to share it. The priority is to be connected to each moment that I am living and for this to be a means of communication, not a monologue,” she said in an interview with Spanish magazine MondoSonoro in 2018.
Despite his reservations, book coordinator Carrión is still interested in Rosalía’s latest project, which he describes as daring. “I sense that she has both discovered so many new popular genres in Latin America and what it means to be a global artist. She has begun to collaborate with the leading figures in reggaeton, trap and other urban music genres and that has led to a fusion [of styles],” he says. He agrees with Sara García, a comedian and the creator of the stand-up show Riot Comedy, who has been closely following Rosalía, her music and her relationship with Madrid-born singer C. Tangana for years. “She has pulled a ‘Miley Cyrus’ and is making songs that have nothing to do with the aesthetic, rhythms or soul of El mal querer. She is sending us signals that Motomami is not going to have anything to do with what we have seen before.”
These signs were always there. Rosalía may be multifaceted and unable to be pigeon-holed, but if there is something that defines her it is the way she incorporates everything she knows into her music. Her first album was marked by her studies in flamenco, while the second mixed this knowledge with personal elements such as the R&B music she listened to as a teen and the sound of motorbikes, which her parents have always owned. When she reached success, she wrote Milionària in her native language, Catalan, and now she is writing about the volatility of fame and sexual pleasure with her partner. She also speaks of her own chameleon-like nature in Saoko (”A butterfly, I transform / Drag queen make-up, I transform”).
It’s likely that the reservations about her public image on social media, the people around her and the lyrics of her new songs are no more than a manifestation of prejudices, a generational gap and a certain amount of sexism. We are simply not used to seeing a genius being happy, naïve, sexual and exhibitionist and blowing kisses in photos next to Kylie Jenner. Rosalía’s greatest talent is in breaking the mold.
Plan to cut hospital waiting lists as Covid eases being finalised by HSE
The Health Service Executive is finalising a multi-annual plan to cut hospital waiting lists, as Covid-19 pressures ease.
Chief executive Paul Reid said the plan will build on previous work done within the Slaintecare process and be ready “within weeks”.
The lifting of most restrictions earlier this month had given a great lift to health staff and the situation in hospitals and other services was now much better, Mr Reid told a media briefing on Thursday.
There were 711 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Thursday, including 74 in ICU.
Some 53 per cent of patients with the virus were there because of Covid, while 47 per cent had been admitted for a different illness but were subsequently diagnosed with Covid, he said.
While this group is asymptomatic, the patients are also infectious, Mr Reid pointed out, and so require infection control measures.
About 4,800 HSE staff are off work due to Covid-19 infection or being a close contact, down 3,000 on two weeks ago.
Chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said hospitals are very busy, with attendances up 41 per cent last week on the same week last year, and 14 per cent on two years ago.
The use of surge capacity has increased and there were 571 delayed transfers of care last week.
Mr Reid enumerated the “learnings” made by the HSE over the period of the pandemic, which can now be built on for the future of the health service. There is greater integration between different services in acute public hospitals, the community and among GPs, pharmacies and private hospitals, he said.
In addition, the key role of public health teams came to the fore during the pandemic. Much had also been learned through the agility demonstrated by the health service during the pandemic, and there is now greater clarity on the role of the centre within the HSE as well as greater access for GPs to diagnostics.
Mr Reid said his priorities for the future were to build capability within the pandemic workforce and to prioritise waiting lists.
The multi-annual plan to improve access to care and reduce waiting lists will go to Government and the HSE board shortly, he said.
Other priorities include the further enhancement of community health networks, the consolidation of a single health service that includes the private sector as waiting lists are being addressed, and improved cybersecurity.
More than 200,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have expired as demand dropped and many people were unable to receive them due to recent infection, the briefing heard.
Asked whether he thought the pandemic was at an end, Mr Reid said no-one in healthcare was saying it was over. Yet the need for people to get back to normality was recognised, and there was never a more appropriate time for this than now.
Covid-19 might yet force a “recalibration” in the future but for now there was every reason to celebrate the lifting of restrictions.
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