EU Sues AstraZeneca over Delayed Deliveries of COVID-19 Vaccine

AstraZeneca said in response that the legal action by the EU was without merit and pledged to defend itself strongly in court.

“AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court. We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible,” AstraZeneca said in a statement on Monday.

Under the contract, the Anglo-Swedish company had committed to making its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver 180 million vaccine doses to the EU in the second quarter of this year, for a total of 300 million in the period from December to June.

But AstraZeneca said in a statement on March 12 it would aim to deliver only one-third of that by the end of June, of which about 70 million in the second quarter. A week after that, the Commission sent a legal letter to the company in the first step of a formal procedure to resolve disputes.

“The Commission has started last Friday a legal action against AstraZeneca,” the EU spokesman told a news conference, noting all 27 EU states backed the move.

“Some terms of the contract have not been respected and the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure timely delivery of doses,” the spokesman said, explaining what triggered the move.

Under the contract, the case will need to be resolved by Belgian courts.

“We want to make sure there is a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses that European citizens are entitled to and which have been promised on the basis of the contract,” the spokesman said.

“Every vaccine dose counts,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Twitter, announcing the legal proceedings against AstraZeneca.

Germany, France and Hungary were among EU states that were initially reticent to sue the company, diplomats said, but eventually they supported the move.

The EU wants AstraZeneca to deliver the promised 300 million doses, but in a further sign of its irritation towards the company, it has already forgone another 100 million shots that it had an option to buy under the contract signed in August.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; additional reporting by Marine Strauss; Editing by Alex Richardson and Bernadette Baum)

Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Tech Maker Vaccitech Targets $613 Million Valuation in U.S. IPO

The company, which has development programs for conditions including hepatitis B, prostate cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, has raised $216 million to date from Gilead Sciences, Sequoia Capital China and Oxford Sciences Innovation among others.

The UK-based company, spun out of Jenner Institute at the Oxford University in 2016, said it plans to list its American Depositary Shares (ADS) on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “VACC”.

It said it was offering 6.5 million ADSs, each representing one ordinary share, priced between $16 and $18 each. At the top end of the range, the IPO would rake in $117 million for Vaccitech.

The company intends to use proceeds from the offering to fund its ongoing clinical programs and its early-stage research and development.

Morgan Stanley, Jefferies, Barclays, William Blair and H.C. Wainwright & Co are the underwriters for the offering.

(Reporting by Niket Nishant and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Stocks Mixed After Inflation Exceeds Analyst Expectations

Inflation Rate Increased By 2.6% In March

The U.S. has just released Inflation Rate and Core Inflation Rate reports. The reports indicated that Inflation Rate increased by 2.6% year-over-year in March compared to analyst consensus which called for growth of 2.5%. Core Inflation Rate increased by 1.6% year-over-year compared to analyst consensus of 1.5%.

Inflation is moving higher on a year-over-year basis as prices were weak during the acute phase of the coronavirus crisis a year ago. Inflation looks more calm on a month-over-month basis although it also exceeded analyst expectations. Inflation Rate grew by 0.6% month-over-month in March compared to analyst consensus of 0.5%, while Core Inflation Rate increased by 0.3%.

S&P 500 futures are swinging between gains and losses in premarket trading after the release of inflation reports. Meanwhile, Treasury yields failed to gain additional upside momentum after reports indicated that inflation exceeded analyst expectations.

U.S. Recommends Pausing The Use Of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Shares of Johnson & Johnson found themselves under pressure in premarket trading after U.S. health agencies called for a temporary pause of the use of the company’s coronavirus vaccine.

The problems of Johnson & Johnson are similar to AstraZeneca‘s problems. In rare cases, recipients of the vaccine developed blood clots.

While these cases are extremely rare, the negative headlines may decrease people’s confidence in vaccination in general, so Johnson & Johnson’s problems may serve as a bearish catalyst for the market.

Euro Area Economic Sentiment Declines

Today, EU reported that Euro Area ZEW Economic Sentiment Index decreased from 74 in March to 66.3 in April. Analysts expected that it would grow to 77. In Germany, Economic Sentiment Index declined from 76.6 to 70.7 compared to analyst consensus of 79.

The reports indicated that European businesses have started to feel the pressure from the third wave of the virus. At the same time, it should be noted that ZEW Economic Sentiment Index remains at high levels.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

What is next for US stock market and dollar?

SP500 index is now up more than +9% year-to-date, while the Dow is up +9.5% and the Nasdaq is up more than +7%. Bulls remain committed to their outlook for an economic boom, all of which is underpinned by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s continued easy monetary policies.

Fundamental analysis

Federal Reserve and monetary policy

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated last week that the Fed would continue to remain extremely accommodative until the economy has further recovered. Speaking during an IMF event, Powell pointed out that while parts of the economy are recovering strongly, “there’s a very large group of people who are not.”

The Fed Chair acknowledged the better than expected job gains in March and said the Fed would consider a string of similar monthly gains to progress. Also, Powell again pointed to the weak labor market participation rate as a disinflationary force that will keep temporary price spikes under control. What Powell seems more concerned about is the ongoing pandemic and rising infections across many parts of the world, noting that the “world economy” can’t return to normal until the virus is under control everywhere.

Vaccination

Keep in mind, many of our largest U.S. businesses get +40% or more of their revenue from the global economies. Obviously, it is going to take more widespread vaccination and better efforts in other countries to orchestrate a global recovery. The U.S. remains one of the leaders in vaccinations but there might be a little hiccup the next week or two, as Johnson & Johnson has run into some manufacturing snafus. The CDC said -85% fewer doses of the company’s vaccine will be shipped to states next week, though they did not provide a reason.

Around 15 million J&J doses had to be destroyed because of an ingredient mix up at a factory late last month. Traders are also keeping an eye on developments surrounding AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine which has been suspended in several country’s due to a possible link to blood clots. Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca drug is the dominant vaccine in use across the globe because of its lower cost and easier distribution. Most advanced economy countries that are using AstraZeneca’s drug also have vaccine supplies from other drug makers but the suspension will still mean a slowdown for vaccine rollouts in many parts of Europe and Asia.

AstraZeneca’s safety issues could mean no vaccine supplies at all for some developing countries where it’s the only option. An underlying concern is that these compounding safety issues, shot suspensions, and other hiccups could lead to an overall “crisis of confidence” in vaccine campaigns, meaning fewer people getting inoculated and delaying the global end to the pandemic.

News and data to watch

Next week brings the Consumer Price Index on Tuesday; Import/Export Prices and the Fed’s Beige Book on Wednesday; Empire State Manufacturing, Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Business Inventories, and the NAHB Housing Market Index on Thursday; and Housing Starts on Friday.

The main focus next week will likely be on Q1 earnings, with the season “unofficially” kicking off with results from big Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo on Wednesday, followed by Bank of America, Citigroup, and U.S. Bancorp on Thursday.

SP500 technical analysis

sp500 technical analysis

So far SP500 futures still didn’t break above Gann’s resistance. Yet the weekly closing looks very strong. But we can consider longs at this stage only if this resistance turns into support. In that case, 4250 is the natural magnet. However, I am a bit skeptical it may happen.

I like to trade SP500 when Advance Decline Line and cycles give the same signal. At the moment, it is better to pay attention to commodities. There are few markets ready for big moves. At the same time, SP500 cycles turned to the downside, while ADL is very bullish. If we will see a divergence in ADL in coming week or two, I will look for a sell signal. But at the moment, nothing is clear yet.

Dollar Index (DXY) technical analysis

dollar forecast

Overall, the Federal Reserve policy remains bearish for American currency in the long run. But we don’t have a strong fundamental setup to establish swing trades. So, I want you to pay attention to the smaller time frame. The dollar index (DXY) respects 4h MA50 and MA200 quite well. So, we can take advantage of that.

If the price breaks and sustains under 91.90, the price will reach 91.5 and 91 in extension. On the other hand, breaching the 4h MA50, the dollar will target the 93 – 93.5 zone.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

Sterling Stems Losses Versus Dollar, After Hard Profit-Taking Knock

By Tom Wilson

The pound slumped 0.6% to a one-week low against the dollar and around 1% against the euro on Wednesday as investors took cash off the table after a strong first quarter for the British currency.

But by 0847 GMT on Thursday, sterling was flat against the dollar at $1.3725, according to Yahoo! Finance, having touched its lowest this month a day earlier.

Against the euro, it traded down slightly at 86.42 pence per euro, according to Yahoo! Finance, after its worst day against the single currency in five weeks.

ING analysts wrote that sterling’s pullback was “exaggerated,” adding that they “remain constructive on the currency”, citing Britain’s relatively fast coronavirus vaccine programme.

Expectations of an economic rebound in Britain, spurred by rapid COVID-19 vaccinations, helped sterling to record its best quarter since 2015 versus the euro.

Diminishing expectations that the Bank of England will push interest rates to negative territory have also helped.

Britain has surged ahead of the rest of Europe in the race to inoculate its population, with almost half of its citizens receiving a first dose. But supply issues from its main Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have slowed progress in recent days.

(Reporting by Tom Wilson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Germany to Discuss AstraZeneca COVID Shots After Blood Clot Reports

By Patricia Weiss and Caroline Copley

Health Minister Jens Spahn will talk with his regional counterparts at 1800 CET (1600 GMT), a ministry spokesman said.

The meeting follows further reports by Germany’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), of cases of blood clots known as cerebral sinus vein thrombosis (CSVT).

Germany’s vaccine committee, known as STIKO, will recommend using the Anglo-Swedish shot only in people over 60, the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper reported citing a draft decision by STIKO.

PEI said it had registered 31 cases of CSVT, which resulted in nine deaths, out of some 2.7 million people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. With the exception of two cases, all reports involved women aged between 20 and 63.

It did not comment on the possible consequences and only said it was actively working with the European Medicines Agency (EMA). EU regulators plan to issue an updated recommendation on the AstraZeneca shot next week.

Several German states, including Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as the city of Munich, said they would stop giving the shot to people under 60.

State hospital groups Charite and Vivantes suspended vaccinations in female staff aged under 55, citing further cases of CSVT.

“Although no complications have occurred at the Charite after vaccinations with AstraZeneca, the Charite wants to take precautionary action here and wait for final assessments,” a spokeswoman said.

Because use of the vaccine in Germany was initially limited to those under 65, the shot has been administered among younger women, particularly medical staff and teachers.

Many European countries briefly stopped using the Anglo-Swedish firm’s vaccine earlier this month while investigating rare cases of blood clots.

Both the EMA and the World Health Organization said this month the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweighed the risks.

An EMA review covering 20 million people who took the AstraZeneca shot in Britain and the European Economic Area found seven cases of blood clots in multiple blood vessels and 18 cases of CVST.

AstraZeneca says its vaccine is safe and effective, citing extensive trial data. Millions of doses have been safely administered around the world.

Nearly all countries have since resumed use of the vaccine. But France broke with guidance from the EMA and said on March 19 it should only be given to people aged 55 or older. France said the decision was based on evidence that the clotting affected younger people.

Canadian Health Officials said on Monday they would stop offering AstraZeneca’s shot to people under 55 and require a new analysis of the shot’s benefits and risks based on age and gender.

Some 19,000 people work at the Charite hospitals and 17,000 at Vivantes, which operates clinics as well as care homes.

Tagesspiegel, which first reported the decision, said that around two thirds of staff at Charite have been vaccinated so far, and 70% of those workers have received one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder criticised the “back and forth” around the vaccine, saying all recommendations showed that the danger of severe illness from the coronavirus outweighed any side-effects linked to the shot.

“At some point we have to be able to administer it freely and say, ‘he who wants it and he who dares should be able to get it’,” he said.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Oil Bears Reign Despite Blockage at Suez Canal

At press time, the British-based contract Brent crude futures lost over 1% to trade at $63 a barrel after jumping substantially yesterday.

Sequel to the Suez Canal blockage, oil prices had lately been under immense selling pressures as the black viscous hydrocarbon lost about 5% in value, breaching below $65 a barrel on fears about tighter COVID-19 curbs in key emerged markets and of late the suspension of vaccine usage in Western Europe.

Also recent revelation from a U.S health regulator points that AstraZeneca vaccine could have included outdated information in its data, stunned oil traders in staying long relatively.

Such macros altered the bulls’ run momentarily and sharply reversed yesterday’s gain on news of the blockage in the Suez Canal, potentially obstructing oil tankers carrying about 13 million barrels of oil.

Consequently, recent price actions reveal oil traders are reacting more to demand risks rather than supply dynamics even as oil vessels carrying Russian, Saudi, Omani and US crude wait on, meaning it could be just a matter of few weeks for Brent crude bears to test the $60 support levels.

The soaring value in the U.S dollar in recent times further compounds the precarious situation oil bulls are currently in, as recent data from the U.S dollar index reveal investors presently prefer to hold the safe-haven currency, rather than holding riskier assets like commodities.

In line with broader market sentiments, oil bulls are under siege as Covid-19 concerns batter hard on oil prices, OPEC+ April 1 meeting might see a rollover of their current supply curbs into May.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

Science vs Skeptics: Some in France Struggle to Trust in AstraZeneca Shot

By Caroline Pailliez

“Some say the vaccine leads to thrombosis, that it’s rare but that it can happen,” the 59-year-old nursery minder said. “I’d rather hold out.”

Millions of doses of the AstraZeneca shot have been safely administered around the world and the EU’s medicines watchdog has reaffirmed it safe for all ages, prompting most of the states which briefly halted it to resume giving the jab.

Breaking from this guidance however, France’s health regulator said only those over 55 should for now receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Becker said she would not hesitate to get vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech shot or Moderna’s vaccine. But France is not offering either to her age group.

Those in France who do not trust the Anglo-Swedish shot cite concerns about the speed of development and possible side effects. Remarks by President Emmanuel Macron in early February that it was “quasi-ineffective” for people of retirement age did little to reassure.

Macron later said he would have the AstraZeneca jab himself if offered it.

Regulators around the world have repeatedly said speed will not compromise safety and vaccine developers have said they will not cut corners in testing for safety and efficacy.

The quicker results have stemmed from conducting parallel trials that are usually done in sequence and can take years.

Trials for Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots have shown only temporary side-effects.

“We’re completely lost. We don’t know who to believe,” said Becker.

CORNERSTONE OF VACCINE STRATEGY

AstraZeneca says its vaccine is safe and effective. Citing phase 3 U.S. trial data on Monday, it said no increased risk of thrombosis had been identified.

Like other wealthy countries, France has made the AstraZeneca shot a pillar of its vaccine rollout. But its faltering campaign has been slowed by bureaucracy, public mistrust and Europe-wide supply delays.

With all the big vaccine makers experiencing production problems, France cannot afford for people to snub the AstraZeneca shot.

A government spokesman said on Tuesday the COVID-19 situation was worsening across the country. The number of patients in intensive care with the virus has risen to its highest this year.

New restrictions closing non-essential retail and limiting how far people can travel came into effect in Paris and some other regions last week and could be introduced elsewhere.

A YouGov poll published this week showed the suspensions had damaged confidence in the vaccine’s safety in France and elsewhere in Europe. In France, 61% of respondents considered the AstraZeneca shot unsafe compared with 43% in late February.

A French health ministry official said more time was needed to tell if the suspension had really hurt public confidence.

Doubts still linger in the mind of Chrystel Geoffrey, an administrative clerk in the town hall of Rueil Malmaison, a Paris suburb. Aged 41 and in good health, her turn for the vaccine won’t come until the summer.

“I still don’t know if I will accept AstraZeneca or not,” she said, adding that she would have not qualms receiving the Pfizer vaccine. “There hasn’t been the same negative or anxiety-inducing feedback surrounding that vaccine.”

General practitioner Anne Pailliez said she had not received any cancellations for the AstraZeneca shot, though limited supplies meant those who had come forward so far tended to be keen to get inoculated.

However, difficulties might arise when the target groups were widened further, she said.

“I see some patients grimace when we tell them they’ll have to have AstraZeneca,” she said. “Persuading them might be tricky.”

(Editing by Richard Lough and Alexandra Hudson)

AstraZeneca Says 29 Million COVID-19 Doses in Italy are for EU, Poorer Countries

By Michel Rose, Francesco Guarascio and Emilio Parodi

At the request of the European Commission, Italian security forces inspected a Catalent factory in Anagni, near Rome, at the weekend and found the store of vaccine doses, according to Italian newspaper La Stampa. An Italian official later confirmed the report of the inspection and said the doses were to be sent to Belgium.

A flurry of reactions to the report reflected the level of mistrust in the EU towards the Anglo-Swedish firm, which slashed its supply target to the EU by the end of June to 100 million from 300 million envisaged in its contract with the 27-nation bloc. The 29 million doses found would be enough to vaccinate 14.5 million people.

“A stock of almost 30 million doses has been identified near Rome during an inspection we put in place. It has now been seized,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a cabinet meeting. “The EU won’t be the fall guy of vaccinations.”

EU lawmaker Peter Liese, from the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the report left him speechless, and he urged AstraZeneca to clarify the situation.

Later on Wednesday, AstraZeneca said that most of the doses in the Catalent plant were for the EU, and the rest were for poorer countries supplied by the COVAX scheme co-led by the World Health Organization.

“There are no exports currently planned other than to COVAX countries. There are 13 million doses of vaccine waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to COVAX,” the company said.

The remaining 16 million will be shipped to Europe this month and in April, it said.

Mario Gargiulo, Regional Biologics President for Europe at Catalent, told Reuters that having 29 million doses in the Anagni factory was in line with normal procedure and that the company often had more there.

The European Commission declined to comment on the doses at the Anagni factory.

Earlier on Wednesday, UNICEF said on behalf of the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility that the projected deliveries of vaccines to all countries, including Vietnam, had to be delayed due to production delays.

HALIX

An EU official said some of the doses at the Catalent plant might come from a vaccine factory in the Netherlands run by AstraZeneca’s subcontractor Halix.

The Anagni plant is in charge of bottling AstraZeneca vaccines produced at the Halix factory and also at a plant in Belgium run by subcontractor Thermo Fisher Scientific.

AstraZeneca said that the factory also bottles doses received from outside the EU and to be shipped to COVAX countries.

Both vaccine-making factories in Belgium and the Netherlands are listed in the contract AstraZeneca signed with the EU in August as suppliers to the EU.

However, the Halix factory has not yet been approved in the EU, as AstraZeneca did not submit sufficient data to the EU drugs regulator. It has also not been approved in Britain.

Vaccines produced there cannot be used in the EU until that approval is received, which AstraZeneca and EU officials said they expected in the coming days.

It is unclear why AstraZeneca did not seek earlier approval for the factory. The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker declined to comment on that point.

Halix is also listed as a supplier for Britain, which is urging the EU to allow the shipment of doses produced there. Britain has so far exported no AstraZeneca vaccines to the EU, despite two UK plants being listed in the EU contract as suppliers for the bloc.

Halix said it started producing vaccines for the EU in December and has a capacity to produce about 5 million doses per month. The company declined to comment on how many vaccines it had already produced or on their destination.

(Reporting by Michel Rose in Paris, Emilio Parodi in Milan and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni in Rome, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Alistair Smout in London; editing by Louise Heavens and Hugh Lawson)

Why Shares Of AstraZeneca Are Down By 3% Today?

AstraZeneca Video 23.03.21.

AstraZeneca Stock Moves Lower As U.S. Health Officials Seek More Data On Its COVID-19 Vaccine

Shares of AstraZeneca found themselves under strong pressure after U.S. health officials criticised trial data that was published on Monday. The main concern of health officials was that the data was outdated.

According to AstraZeneca’s response, its press release used the data avalable through February 17. The company promised to work with U.S. health officials to address their concerns.

Previously, European countries paused the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on concerns about serious side effects which included blood clots. The World Health Organization stated that the benefits of the vaccine outweighted its risks and that it recommended that vaccinations continued. However, it is clear that public confidence in the vaccine has declined. In addition, problems of AstraZeneca vaccine may have hurt confidence in vaccination in general.

What’s Next For AstraZeneca?

AstraZeneca shares have been trending down since July 2020 when the stock reached its high at $64.94 on vaccine enthusiasm. The rollout of the vaccine was followed by various problems, and the latest criticism from U.S. health officials is just another problem for the company.

At current levels, AstraZeneca stock is trading at 15 forward P/E which is not cheap compared to the peer group. The company’s problems with the vaccine add to the pressure as they create negative headlines.

While AstraZeneca is a huge drug manufacturer whose sales are not limited to coronavirus vaccine, investors and traders should not understimate the impact of negative headlines on the price of the company’s shares.

Most likely, the stock will need an upside trend in company’s earnings estimates to move higher. At this point, nobody knows whether revenue from COVID-19 vaccines will be recurring, but AstraZeneca must solve existing problems before the market will start to evaluate the longer-term revenue potential of its coronavirus vaccine.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

Stocks Retreat Amid Concerns About The Third Wave Of The Virus In Europe

Stocks And Commodities Are Under Pressure Amid Virus Fears

S&P 500 futures are losing ground in premarket trading amid concerns about new lockdowns in Europe and continued deterioration of relations between China and Western countries.

Germany announced that it will have to impose virus containment measures until April 18 as the country had to deal with the British variant of the virus which is more contagious. Europe’s problems with coronavirus will likely put pressure on the EU economy in the second quarter of 2021 which is bearish for global markets.

Meanwhile, China imposed sanctions on individuals and entities from the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed on China’s officials for the situation in Xinjiang. These sanctions were the first ones imposed on China by EU in thirty years, so it’s a major development on the political front. It remains to be seen whether recent developments will have any practical implications but markets are concerned about worsening ties between China and the West.

Oil Dives Below The $60 Level On Concerns About Demand In Europe

WTI oil declined below the psychologically important $60 level and tested the support at $58.50 as traders reacted to Germany’s decision to extend lockdown measures until April 18.

At this point, it looks like recovery of international travel is still far away despite mass vaccination programs in developed countries which is bearish for oil.

Oil-related equities will find themselves under significant pressure at the start of today’s trading session as traders remain worried about Europe’s problems with coronavirus.

U.S. Says That AstraZeneca May Have Provided Outdated Data

Shares of AstraZeneca are down by more than 2% in premarket trading as U.S. stated that it was concerned that the company included outdated data in the information from its COVID-19 vaccine trial.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has recently suffered a PR blow as European countries paused its use on concerns about its safety. New concerns from the U.S. may further undermine public confidence in the vaccine and slow down mass vaccination programs which is bearish for markets.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

AstraZeneca U.S. Trial Data a Confidence Booster for COVID-19 Shot

By Josephine Mason and Ben Blanchard

The drugmaker said on Monday that trials in Chile, Peru and the United States found the vaccine, developed in conjunction with Oxford University, was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and, crucially, posed no increased risk of blood clots. It intends to request U.S. emergency authorization in coming weeks.

More than a dozen European countries, including Germany and France, had halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month after some reports linked it to blood clots in a very small number of people. They have since resumed inoculation after a regional regulator said it was safe, but an opinion poll on Monday showed Europeans remained sceptical over its safety.

Hailed as a milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic when it first emerged as a vaccine contender last year, the AstraZeneca shot has since been dogged by confusion over its efficacy, dosing regimen and possible side-effects as well as supply setbacks in Europe, where the company has been at the centre of a growing conflict between Brussels and London over so-called ‘vaccine nationalism’.

The latest data should help address some of those concerns, analysts said. Based on more than 32,000 people, the trial was larger and elderly volunteers featured more prominently than in previous trial results from the UK which had prompted some European countries to initially hold back using the AstraZeneca shot on older people.

“It is clear this vaccine has very good efficacy (remember that 60% was, prior to any trials being started, regarded as a good target), and that this efficacy does not show a notable decline at older ages,” said Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

AstraZeneca shares were up over 1% in early London trading.

U.S. trials of rival vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which are already being deployed in the United States, have showed efficacy rates of around 95%.

But the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already widely used outside the United States, is seen as crucial to tackling the spread of COVID-19 across the globe because it is easier and cheaper to transport than rival shots.

“I have just finished getting the (AstraZeneca) injection, there is no pain at the injection site, and there is no soreness of the body,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters as the island launched its inoculation campaign on Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson received his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, saying he “did not feel a thing.”

And French President Emmanuel Macron has said he would take the AstraZeneca vaccine if that’s what was offered after previously being quoted as saying the shot was “quasi-ineffective”.

HEADWINDS

The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been granted a conditional marketing authorisation or emergency use in more than 50 countries, spanning four continents.

But it has yet to be approved in the United States, where President Joe Biden is stepping up the federal response to the pandemic by expanding testing, ramping up vaccinations and boosting production.

University of Oxford professor Sarah Gilbert told BBC radio that work to prepare a submission for Emergency Use Authorization in the United States will take a few weeks. A company spokesman said the filing would likely be in the first half of April.

The American trial results have not yet been reviewed by independent researchers.

If the AstraZeneca vaccine gets U.S. approval, it would be the fourth after Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

It uses a modified version of a chimpanzee common cold virus to teach the human body to make proteins from the novel coronavirus to generate an immune response and prevent infection.

Scepticism over the shot started last year when the British drugmaker and Oxford University published data with different efficacy readings due to a dosing measurement error. Later analysis suggested the dosing interval rather than the amount of dose administers was responsible for the difference.

Many Asian countries heavily rely on the AstraZeneca vaccine to end the pandemic, as the shot is being used in inoculation programmes in Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.

Some states in India, which has the highest coronavirus caseload after the United States and Brazil, are seeking to accelerate the vaccination drive, as the country reported its most COVID-19 cases and deaths in months on Monday.

As vaccine demand rises at home, top producer the Serum Institute of India has delayed further shipments of the AstraZeneca shot to Brazil, Britain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia..

In Europe, meanwhile, the European Union has threatened to block exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens, with Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen saying the epidemiological situation was worsening. [L1N2LJ0I4]

(Additional reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Muvija M in Bengaluru, Ludwig Berger in Frankfurt, Krishna Das in New Delhi, Colin Packham in Canberra, Stanley Widianto in Jakarta, Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Miyoung Kim and Barbara Lewis; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Carmel Crimmins)

 

Keep Using AstraZeneca COVID Shots to Save Lives, WHO Tells Europe

Hans Kluge noted that Europe’s medicines regulators are investigating a small number of cases of blood clots in the region that have prompted around a dozen EU governments to suspend us of the AstraZeneca shot.

“As of now, we do not know whether some or all of the conditions have been caused by the vaccine or by other coincidental factors,” he said, adding: “At this point in time, however, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks – and its use should continue, to save lives.”

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said so far said it has found no causal link between the vaccine and any clotting or blood coagulation reports.

Despite these reassurances, at least 13 EU member states, including Germany, France and Italy, have suspended use of the shot pending the outcome a fuller EMA investigation – expected to be completed on Thursday.

Kluge said gaining and maintaining public trust was “crucial”.

“We need to renew confidence, if it’s lost, to restore it – especially for AstraZeneca,” he said.

“Basically we do this by transparency, so communication from day one is very important,” he added. “Number two is showing empathy with the people. And number three is to be competent.”

AstraZeneca said on Sunday a review of safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and European Union with its vaccine had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland and Ludwig Burger, editing by Nick Macfie)

Political Role Under Fire in European AstraZeneca Vaccine Suspensions

By Douglas Busvine and Ludwig Burger

The role of Germany, and in particular Health Minister Jens Spahn, is in the spotlight after a chaotic round of telephone diplomacy at the start of the week ended with the EU’s biggest states agreeing to put AstraZeneca on hold.

Spahn says he acted on expert advice after Germany’s vaccine watchdog reported on what it described as a statistically significant number of cases of a rare brain blood clot.

AstraZeneca says it has found no evidence that the blood clots were caused by the vaccine. The World Health Organization called on countries not to delay lifesaving vaccine programmes.

Germany’s actions have been interpreted as political both at home and abroad, with opposition leaders calling on Chancellor Angela Merkel to sack Spahn. Officials in major European capitals have given mixed accounts over how the joint move to halt AstraZeneca came about.

The stop on AstraZeneca threatens to hobble Europe’s vaccination campaign just as a third wave of infection breaks over the continent, accelerated by more infectious variants.

The bloc has already lagged far behind the United States and former EU member Britain in vaccinating citizens. Hospitals are filling up again, and politicians in several European countries have been forced to consider fresh lockdowns, even as comparable rich countries prepare for normal life to return.

“We need this vaccine,” said Germany’s best-known virologist Christian Drosten, whose regular podcast is widely followed. He cited forecasts of a resurgence in infection by Easter that could endanger Germans over the age of 60 who are next in line for a shot.

Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Britian’s Reading University, said the blood clot issue had “been picked up by politicians who don’t know one side of a virus from another”.

“It’s like falling dominoes. You just need one or two (countries) to state there’s a problem and suspend use, and then a whole lot of others will fall in place. I don’t think there have been any independent decisions,” he told Reuters.

A MATTER OF TRUST

Germany acted after its vaccine oversight body, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, found seven cases of a very rare cerebral vein clot among 1.6 million people given the AstraZeneca shot in the country, including three cases that were fatal.

The EU drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is investigating reports of around 30 cases of blood clots, bleeding and low platelet counts among the 5 million people in the EU that have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It will present its findings on Thursday, but meanwhile it has found no causal link to the vaccine, and says the shot’s benefits clearly outweigh any risks.

“We are worried that there may be an effect on the trust of the vaccines,” EMA head Emer Cooke told reporters. “But our job is to make sure that the products that we authorise are safe and can be trusted.”

AstraZeneca Plc said it had conducted a review covering more than 17 million people who had received its shots in the EU and Britain, and had found no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

Yet a narrow majority of Germans believe it was right for the government to suspend AstraZeneca, a Forsa opinion poll showed on Wednesday, with 54% backing Spahn’s decision and 39% saying it was excessive.

The willingness of Germans to be vaccinated against COVID, at 71%, meanwhile, has fallen by two percentage points since Forsa’s last poll on March 3. Were AstraZeneca to be reinstated, 63% would be willing to take it.

NO PRESSURE

Officials in European capitals gave conflicting accounts of a round of whirlwind diplomacy on Monday that led Italy, France and Spain to follow Germany in suspending the shot.

Sources said Merkel telephoned Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to brief him. One top Italian health official called Italy’s suspension a political decision not to part ways with Germany.

Italian sources said Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed by phone that the measure was temporary and precautionary.

A senior German government source denied that Berlin had exerted any pressure, noting that smaller EU member states such as Austria and Belgium had already raised the alarm.

“Nobody is being forced to do anything,” said the German source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That’s not how the EU works.”

Amid the European controversy, frustration over Spahn’s pandemic management has boiled over among Germany’s ruling conservatives, who have just suffered defeats in two regional elections. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are languishing at one-year lows in polls ahead of a general election in September in which she will not seek a record fifth term.

Her successor as CDU chairman, Armin Laschet, a contender to run for chancellor, has criticised the AstraZeneca delay as “bad news”. Rival Markus Soeder, the governor of Bavaria, has called for the shot to be made available to anyone who wants it.

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in BERLIN, Giselda Vagnoni in ROME, Michel Rose in PARIS, Nathan Allen and Belen Carreno in MADRID and Kate Kelland in LONDON; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Peter Graff)

India Backs AstraZeneca shot as COVID-19 Cases Hit Three-Month High

By Neha Arora and Rama Venkat

The European Medicines Agency is investigating reports of 30 cases of unusual blood disorders out of 5 million recipients of the vaccine in the region.

Since starting the drive in mid-January, India has administered 36 million vaccine doses, which are mostly the AstraZeneca shots developed with Oxford University and locally known as Covishield.

“We have no signal of concern in this regard,” Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference, adding that experts in India had looked into the issue.

“Covishield vaccination in the country will go on with full rigour.”

The World Health Organization has said it is assessing whether medical events such as blood clots are related to the vaccination and urged anyone offered a vaccine to take one. AstraZeneca has said a review of safety data has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

Paul said as infections had risen in the country since early February, hitting a three-month high on Wednesday, the government was looking at accelerating the vaccination drive that also uses a homegrown shot created by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

The federal health ministry has so far distributed to states 75.4 million vaccine doses, less than half of which have been given to frontline workers, the elderly and people above 45 with health conditions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said quick action was needed to contain the surge, as the country’s infections tally hit 11.44 million, the third behind the United States and Brazil.

“We need to soon stop the emerging second peak of corona,” he said in a virtual meeting with state leaders, urging them to increase testing and strictly monitor mask-wearing. “We need to take quick, decisive steps.”

India’s cases jumped by 28,903 on Wednesday, the highest increase since Dec. 13. Deaths increased by 188, the highest in two months, to stand at 159,044.

Modi said states needed to proactively ensure infections did not increase in the countryside, where healthcare facilities would fall short. Rural India is home to two-thirds of the country’s 1.35 billion people.

The federal government has blamed crowding and a reluctance to wear masks for the spike, ruling out the virus mutations that have been a factor in Western countries.

The recent increase has been led by the western state of Maharashtra, home to India’s commercial capital of Mumbai.

Nearly 62% of infections in the past 24 hours and 46% of the deaths were reported by Maharashtra, which has ordered a lockdown in some districts and put curbs on cinemas, hotels and restaurants until end of the month.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Reporting by Neha Arora in NEW DELHI and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Sethuraman N R, Sachin Ravikumar, Chandini Monnappa, Nigam Prusty and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Krishna N. Das)

Oil Bears Stage a Comeback Over Resurging COVID-19

Oil traders arbitrarily suspended their bullish bets on macros showing many European countries suspending the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines due to fears of possible side effects weighed heavily on crude oil prices at Wednesday’s trading session.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy is currently experiencing new COVID-19 caseloads while Italy another key Western European country, has imposed a nationwide Easter lockdown.

At the time of drafting this report, the British based oil contract, Brent crude had lost more than 1% to trade at $67.7 a barrel, also the U.S. West Texas Intermediate was down by 0.7%, to trade at $64.3 a barrel.

Though the energy market seems bearish in the near term, oil traders haven’t changed their bullish outlook for the long term yet after US oil stockpiles unexpectedly dropped last week as a narrower weekly draw in gasoline inventories meant that downstream production capacity was normalizing after a big freeze in Texas, a key energy hub.

In addition, oil traders are currently focusing on the outcome of the all-important meeting, knowing fully well the U.S Fed Reserve Bank has limited options in convincing global financial markets that rising inflation rates are not a cause for concern, meaning there are strong indicators that points to a change in narrative amid rising U.S Treasury yields,

Many market experts are however praying that the world’s most powerful central bank will print a clear signal that rates will not increase anytime soon, thereby giving crude oil bulls possible room to break above $70 a barrel as such a move might tame the dollar’s upside at least for the near term.

That being said, the Fed chair faces another tough task of reassuring financial markets.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

Stocks Set To Test New Highs As Rally Continues

S&P 500 Is Moving Closer To The 4000 Level

S&P 500 futures are gaining some ground in premarket trading as the market looks ready to test new highs.

Traders remain focused on the upcoming Fed Interest Rate Decision and the subsequent commentary which will be released on Wednesday. In addition, the market is evaluating the potential infrastructure plan of U.S. President Joe Biden, which is expected to be financed by raising taxes on companies and wealthy individuals.

While markets are often worried about higher taxes, the major economic stimulus which could come on top of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package seems to be bullish for stocks. However, it should be noted that the plan is still being discussed and that it would need to get sufficient political support.

European Countries Suspend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Germany, Italy, France and other European countries have decided to suspend AstraZeneca‘s coronavirus vaccine on fears about serious side effects which include blood clots.

The World Health Organization stated that countries should avoid panic, but the political decision to suspend the vaccine has already been made. The decision to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine will further complicate the vaccination program in Europe and may lead to more economic harm.

At this point, the markets do not look worried about additional problems in Europe, but the situation may change quickly in case the temporary suspension turns into a permanent one, and Europe has to search for other vaccines for its mass vaccination program. This scenario will likely put some pressure on global markets.

Retail Sales Declined By 3% In February

The U.S. has just released Retail Sales report for February which indicated that Retail Sales declined by 3% month-over-month compared to analyst consensus which called for a decline of 0.5%.

It should be noted that January’s growth estimate was revised from 5.3% to 7.6% which explains the surprising decrease of Retail Sales in February.

It remains to be seen whether traders will react to the headline number as the new stimulus package is on the way, and it could provide significant support to Retail Sales in the upcoming months.

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

France Seeks Quick Resumption of AstraZeneca Shots Suspended Over Safety Fears

By Giulia Segreti and Caroline Copley

In a coordinated step, the European Union’s largest members – Germany, France and Italy – suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Monday pending the outcome of an investigation by the bloc’s medicines regulator into isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts.

They were joined by Sweden and Latvia on Tuesday, bringing to more than a dozen the number of EU countries that have acted since reports first emerged of thromboembolisms affecting people after they got the AstraZeneca shot.

The World Health Organization and European Medicines Agency have joined AstraZeneca in saying there is no proven link.

“The choice is a political one,” Nicola Magrini, the director general of Italy’s medicines authority AIFA told daily la Repubblica in an interview.

Magrini called the AstraZeneca vaccine safe and said its benefit to risk ratio was “widely positive”. There have been eight deaths and four cases of serious side-effects following vaccinations in Italy, he added.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran also told reporters that the risk-reward ratio for the vaccine remained positive.

“We expect some kind of verdict from the European scientific community by Thursday afternoon, allowing us to resume the campaign,” Veran said. France’s vaccination chief Alain Fischer said he expected the suspension to be temporary.

Governments say they acted out of an abundance of caution, with German Health Minister Jens Spahn stating on Monday that the decision to suspend AstraZeneca was not political but based on expert advice.

He acted after Germany’s vaccine watchdog identified a unusual number of cases of a rare cerebral vein thrombosis. Out of 1.6 million people in Germany who had got the AstraZeneca, seven fell ill and three died.

The risk of dying of COVID is still orders of magnitude greater, especially among those most vulnerable such as the elderly, said Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious diseases.

“In the risk groups the risk of dying of COVID is much, much higher. That means one is probably 100,000 times more likely to die of COVID than because of an AstraZeneca vaccine,” Brockmann told ARD public television.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Matthieu Protard in PARIS; writing by Douglas Busvine; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

WHO Urges World not to Halt Vaccinations as AstraZeneca Shot Divides Europe

By Stephanie Nebehay and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

Thailand announced plans on Monday to go ahead with the Anglo-Swedish firm’s shot but Indonesia said it would wait after Ireland and the Netherlands announced suspensions on Sunday.

Denmark and Norway have reported isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count after the AstraZeneca vaccine. Iceland and Bulgaria had earlier suspended its use while Austria and Italy have stopped using particular batches.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom say they have no concerns.

The WHO said its advisory panel was reviewing reports related to the shot and would release its findings as soon as possible. But it said it was unlikely to change its recommendations, issued last month, for widespread use, including in countries where the South African variant of the virus may reduce its efficacy.

“As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

AstraZeneca’s shot was among the first and cheapest to be developed and launched at volume since the coronavirus was first identified in central China at the end of 2019 and is set to be the mainstay of vaccination programmes in much of the developing world. The virus has killed more than 2.7 million people.

Thailand became the first country outside Europe to delay rolling out the vaccine on Friday, when its political leaders were due to have the first shots, but the government said on Monday they would receive the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday.

Indonesia, however, said it would delay administering the shot due to the reports of blood clots among some recipients in Europe and would await a review from the WHO.

The WHO had already said there was no indication the events were caused by the vaccination, a view also expressed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which said the number of reported blood clots was no higher than seen in the general population.

The handful of reported side-effects in Europe have upset vaccination programmes already under pressure over slow rollouts and vaccine scepticism in some countries.

The Netherlands said on Monday it had seen 10 cases of possible noteworthy adverse side-effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine, hours after the government put its vaccination programme on hold following reports of potential side-effects in other countries.

Denmark reported “highly unusual” symptoms in a 60-year-old citizen who died from a blood clot after receiving the vaccine, the same phrase used on Saturday by Norway about three people under the age of 50 it said were being treated in hospital.

“It was an unusual course of illness around the death that made the Danish Medicines Agency react,” the agency said in a statement late on Sunday.

AstraZeneca Plc said earlier it had conducted a review covering more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and the UK which had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

POLITICAL ROW

In Germany, the question marks over the vaccine caused a political row, with the leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), Markus Soeder, saying the country needed clear guidance from its own experts.

Noting that some other EU countries had stopped using the vaccine, Soeder told a news conference: “That’s why there has to be an extra clear statement in Germany: is the vaccine good or bad?”

The health ministry said the country was continuing to use the vaccine according to EMA guidelines.

The reports of potential safety risks are taken seriously and data is examined constantly, a ministry spokesman told Reuters. Further proceedings would be discussed with the European and the national vaccine regulators this week, he said.

Investigations into potential side-effects are complicated as the history of each case and circumstances surrounding a death or illness are examined. The Austrian authorities have said their review of the AstraZeneca batch will take about two weeks.

The EMA has said that as of March 10, a total of 30 cases of blood clotting had been reported among close to 5 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot in the European Economic Area, which links 30 European countries.

The WHO said that as of March 12, more than 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered around the world with no cases of death found to have been caused by any of them.

 

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANKOK and Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel in BERLIN, Toby Sterling in AMSTERDAM, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in COPENHAGEN and Stanley Widianto in JAKARTA; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Nick Macfie)

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EU’s Breton says Pfizer can Help Offset AstraZeneca Vaccine Delays

AstraZeneca said on Friday it would try to deliver 30 million doses to the EU by the end of March, down from a contractual obligation of 90 million and a previous pledge made last month to deliver 40 million doses.

Breton told France’s Europe 1 radio that the delay was unacceptable, but that for now there were no plans to sue the company.

“The good news is that even though there are delays with AstraZeneca we won’t be late with our vaccination programme in the first quarter,” Breton said.

“Pfizer is producing more, much more than planned and is going to deliver more to us,” he added.

EU leaders have come under criticism for a slower rollout of vaccinations than in other countries such as Britain or the United States due to a longer approval and purchasing process and repeated delivery delays.

AstraZeneca’s new lower supply target hinges on the bloc’s drug regulator approving supplies from a factory in the Netherlands, an internal document showed, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Breton said that AstraZeneca had issues with testing, which were a sign of logistics problems, and urged its board of directors to take action.

He also criticized its French-born chief executive Pascal Soriot for remaining in Australia despite the problems, which he said meant he was able to visit the companies’ plants when Soriot could not.

“I won’t say that I know their factories better than them, but I’m on site,” Breton said.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas, editing by Louise Heavens)