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Scientist who helped develop Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine agrees third shot is needed as immunity wanes

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The chief medical officer of BioNTech told CNBC on Wednesday that people will likely need a third shot of its two-dose Covid-19 vaccine as immunity against the virus wanes, agreeing with previous comments made by Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Dr. Ozlem Tureci, the co-founder and CMO of BioNTech, which developed a Covid vaccine with Pfizer, said she also expects people will need to get vaccinated against the coronavirus annually, like for the seasonal flu. That’s because, she said, scientists expect vaccine-induced immunity against the virus will decrease over time.

“We see indications for this also in the induced, but also the natural immune response against SARS-COV-2,” she said during an interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans on “The Exchange.” “We see this waning of immune responses also in people who were just infected and therefore [it’s] also expected with the vaccines.”

Tureci’s comments come after Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in an interview aired April 15 that people will likely need a booster shot, or third dose, of the Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated. He also said it’s possible people will need to get additional shots each year.

Pfizer said earlier this month that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the virus and more than 95% effective against severe disease up to six months after the second dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to remain highly effective at six months.

Researchers say they still don’t know how long protection against the virus lasts after six months of being fully vaccinated, though public health officials and health experts expect protection to wane after some time.

Should Americans require booster shots, the U.S. government would likely need to make arrangements with the drugmakers to supply additional doses and make plans for vaccine distribution.

On Friday, Andy Slavitt, senior advisor to President Joe Biden’s Covid response team, said the Biden administration is preparing for the potential need for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots. He said the administration has thought about the need to secure additional doses.

“I can assure you that when we do our planning, when the president orders purchases of additional vaccines as he has done and when we focus on all the production expansion opportunities that we talk about in here we very much have scenarios like that in mind,” he said.

Last week, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, said Americans should expect to receive booster shots to protect against coronavirus variants. He told U.S. lawmakers that currently authorized vaccines are highly protective but noted new variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment,” he told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

“We are studying the durability of the antibody response,” he said. “It seems strong, but there is some waning of that, and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC last week that the company hopes to have a booster shot for its two-dose vaccine available in the fall.

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Singapore Press Holdings to transfer media business into not-for-profit entity

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Logo of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore Press Holdings, a newspaper publisher and real estate company, said Thursday it will transfer its troubled media business into a not-for-profit entity.

The company’s media business — which includes English broadsheets The Straits Times and The Business Times, as well as Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao — have struggled with falling advertising revenues in recent years.

The troubles at SPH caused its market capitalization to shrink, and the company’s shares on the Singapore Exchange were dropped from the benchmark Straits Times Index last year. The STI is made up of the 30 listed companies with the largest market capitalization.

Trading of SPH shares were halted on Thursday, pending the announcement. As of Wednesday’s close, the company’s shares have risen roughly 58% this year.

In a statement, SPH said all media-related assets will be transferred into a new wholly-owned subsidiary named SPH Media Holdings, with an initial funding that includes a cash injection of 80 million Singapore dollars ($59.81 million) and 30 million Singapore dollars worth of SPH shares.

The new subsidiary will eventually be transferred to a not-for-profit entity for “a nominal sum,” said the company.

SPH cited The Guardian in the U.K. and the Tampa Bay Times in the U.S. as examples of media businesses that employ the not-for-profit model.

In addition to media, SPH is also in the property business. It owns 66% of a real estate investment trust called SPH REIT, with properties in Singapore and Australia making up its portfolio.

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India’s worsening Covid crisis could spiral into a problem for the world

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A woman wearing mask as a precaution against Covid-19 stands in a crowded area near India Gate, in New Delhi on March 19, 2021 as coronavirus cases continue to increase across India.

Money Sharma | AFP | Getty Images

India’s Covid-19 cases spiked in April to daily record highs, and experts warn the country’s worsening health crisis could scuttle efforts to end the global pandemic.

The South Asian country — home to around 1.4 billion people or 18% of the world’s population — accounted for 46% of new Covid cases globally, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. One in every four deaths in the past week came from India, the UN health agency said.

India has reported more than 300,000 new cases daily in the last two weeks, and overtook Brazil in April to become the second-worst infected country in the world. Cumulatively, coronavirus infections in India reached around 20.67 million with more than 226,000 deaths, according to health ministry data on Wednesday. Several studies of India’s data, however, found that cases were likely severely underreported.

There are already signs that India’s outbreak is spilling over to other countries. Its neighbors Nepal and Sri Lanka have also reported increases in infections, while other regional economies including Hong Kong and Singapore have seen imported Covid cases from India.

Here’s how India’s coronavirus crisis could spiral into a wider global problem.

Potential new Covid variants

WHO has classified the B.1.617 as a variant of interest, which suggests the mutated strain could be more contagious, more deadly, as well as more resistant to current vaccines and treatments. The organization said more studies are needed to understand the significance of the variant.

Global vaccine supply at risk

India is a major vaccine manufacturer, but the health crisis at home has led authorities to halt exports of Covid-19 vaccines as the country prioritizes its domestic needs.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) — the country’s main producer — has the rights to produce the Covid vaccine co-developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Some of its production is slated for Covax, the global initiative to supply poor countries with Covid vaccines.   

Developing countries are lagging advanced nations in securing vaccine supplies in what the WHO has described as a “shocking imbalance” in distribution.

A delay in vaccine exports by India could therefore leave lower-income countries vulnerable to fresh outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Threat to global economy

India is the world’s sixth largest economy and a major contributor to global growth.

Some economists have downgraded their growth forecasts for India. But they remained optimistic about the economy’s outlook for the year given that restrictions to curb the virus spread have been more targeted compared to the strict nationwide lockdown last year.

The International Monetary Fund last month said it expects India’s economy to grow 12.5% in the fiscal year ending March 2022, after shrinking 8% in the prior fiscal year.

Still, the renewed outbreak in India has led several countries to tighten travel restrictions — and that’s bad news for airlines, airports as well as other businesses that depend on the travel industry, said Uma Kambhampati, an economics professor at the University of Reading in the U.K.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned that the health crisis in India could drag down the U.S. economy, reported Reuters. That’s because many U.S. companies hire millions of Indian workers to run their back-office operations, according to the report.

“Given all these issues, and the humanitarian crisis unfolding, it has become imperative for the world to act quickly to help India – whether such help is requested or not,” Kambhampati said in a report published on The Conversation, a not-for-profit website that carries commentaries by academics and researchers.

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Bitcoin is coming to hundreds of US banks, says crypto firm NYDIG

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Bitcoin may be taking another step toward mainstream adoption, CNBC has learned.

For the first time, customers of some U.S. banks will soon be able to buy, hold and sell bitcoin through their existing accounts, according to crypto custody firm NYDIG.

The company, a subsidiary of $10 billion New York-based asset manager Stone Ridge, has partnered with fintech giant Fidelity National Information Services to enable U.S. banks to offer bitcoin in coming months, according to the two firms.

Hundreds of banks are already enrolled in the program, according to Patrick Sells, head of bank solutions at NYDIG. While the firm is in discussions with some of the biggest U.S. banks, many of the lenders that have agreed to participate are smaller institutions like Suncrest, a California-based community bank with seven branches.

“What we’re doing is making it simple for everyday Americans and corporations to be able to buy bitcoin through their existing bank relationships,” Sells said. “If I’m using my mobile application to do all of my banking, now I have the ability to buy, sell and hold bitcoin.”

Until now, bitcoin adopters have relied on apps from a new generation of fintech players like free trading brokerage Robinhood, payments giants PayPal and Square, or crypto-centric firms like Coinbase. Banks, on the other hand, have steered clear of bitcoin for retail customers, only recently announcing plans to allow rich wealth management clients to be able to wager on the cryptocurrency.

But banks are now asking for bitcoin because they can see their customers sending dollars to Coinbase, Kraken and other crypto exchanges, according to Yan Zhao, president of NYDIG.

“This is not just the banks thinking that their clients want bitcoin, they’re saying `We need to do this, because we see the data,'” Zhao said. “They’re seeing deposits going to the Coinbases and Galaxies and Krakens of the world.”

Peer pressure

As hundreds of smaller banks sign on, giants like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America could face pressure to offer crypto to their retail banking customers, according to Rob Lee, head of digital banking at Fidelity National Information.

In March, Morgan Stanley was first among banks to offer bitcoin funds to its clients, CNBC reported last month. Goldman Sachs quickly followed with an announcement of its own, and JPMorgan is reportedly looking at its own product in conjunction with NYDIG.

But in those cases, banks have relegated bitcoin to ultra-high net worth individuals and family offices with tens of millions of dollars.

“Most people can’t invest in things that institutional investors get to invest in,” Zhao said. “With bitcoin available through your bank to be purchased with as little as $1, now you have an attractive asset that’s available to be owned by anyone in any amount. We think that’s huge for economic empowerment.”

Yan Zhao of crypto custody firm NYDIG

Source: NYDIG

While Fidelity National Information, which is a vendor to banks with nearly 300 million checking accounts, will handle the link to lenders, NYDIG will take care of bitcoin custody and trade execution. Disclosures will make it clear that it is NYDIG, and not the banks, that handles the bitcoin, and the cryptocurrency won’t be FDIC-insured, according to Zhao.

Fidelity National Information, based in Jacksonville, Florida, caters to banks, providing access to services like chatbots or Apple Pay. It’s also a heavyweight in the payments industry, and two years ago bought processor Worldpay for $35 billion in the sector’s biggest acquisition to date.

Banks will determine how much to charge their customers for bitcoin trades and will retain most of that fee revenue, according to Sells. After rolling out the initial bitcoin product, NYDIG plans on other services, including debit card rewards paid in bitcoin, and a new type of bank account that is FDIC insured, but pays interest in bitcoin, he said.

More people would own bitcoin if they could do so through their existing banks, according to a survey commissioned by NYDIG. That allows them a single view of their financial assets and avoids the need to sign up with another institution and fund the account with a money transfer that typically takes three to five business days.

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