Bearish and Bullish COVID Developments: WHO Doubts Vaccines Alone Can Achieve Herd Immunity


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By Marshall L. Stocker, Ph.D., CFACo-Director, Portfolio Manager Emerging Markets Team, Eaton Vance Management

Boston - According to a CDC study, unvaccinated Americans are 11 times more likely to die of COVID. Yet among the 29% of U.S. voters who are unvaccinated, 83% told a CNBC survey they do not plan to get the lifesaving shots. Here are this week's health policy responses to the pandemic and other bearish or bullish developments.

Health Policy Responses

  • President Biden announced broad vaccine mandates affecting 100 million employees, saying that "we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers." Air travelers refusing to wear masks now face up to $3,000 in fines.
  • Russia's Vladimir Putin is in self-isolation after his inner circle was breached by COVID-19.
  • In Thailand, plans to reopen for tourism were delayed until October 15. Vaccinated tourists do not need to quarantine, but must stay in the Bangkok area for seven days first.
  • Singapore has recommended that individuals over age 60 receive a third vaccine dose six to nine months after the second dose.
  • For all vulnerable people and anyone over 50, British officials recommend COVID-19 boosters six months after their second dose. The preference is to use the Pfizer vaccine as the booster dose, or alternatively a half dose of a Moderna shot.
  • Vaccinated travelers entering England will be subjected to lighter testing requirements, and those who have had two jabs will no longer need to take a COVID test before entering the country.
  • France has banned unvaccinated American travelers.
  • In the two weeks since Delta Air Lines announced a $200 monthly health insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees, 20% of them got their shots. United Airlines staff granted religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate will be put on unpaid leave.
  • The FDA again warned parents not to get children under 12 vaccinated yet, noting that "children are not small adults."

Bearish Virus Developments

  • The WHO is more doubtful that vaccines alone can end the pandemic by allowing us to reach herd immunity.
  • One in 500 U.S. residents has died of COVID-19 — a total of 663,913 Americans through September 14.
  • In southern U.S. states, one in four hospitals reports that more than 95% of I.C.U. beds are now occupied.
  • China's Fujian Province reported 22 Delta cases, the country's largest outbreak in a month.
  • Breakthrough infections account for one-third of new infections in Massachusetts and 25% of hospitalizations. While the commonwealth's breakthrough hospitalization rate has been higher than elsewhere, only 1.6% of these cases resulted in hospitalization last week.

Bullish Virus Developments

  • In an Israeli study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the rate of confirmed infection at least 12 days after the booster dose was lower in the booster group than in the non-booster control group by a factor of 11.3 — that is, more than 90% lower.
  • Infectious disease experts estimated that the Provincetown outbreak would have been roughly five times larger if no one was vaccinated.
  • A large-scale study showed that mental health scores of participants improved after receiving a single COVID-19 vaccine dose.
  • Pfizer expects to apply in November for U.S. authorization of a less potent dose of its COVID-19 vaccine for children six months to five years old.
  • China has reached a two-dose vaccination rate of 70% — roughly one billion people — and fully vaccinated 91% of students aged 12 to 17 against COVID-19.
  • Crude case fatality ratio in England demonstrates that vaccination dramatically reduces the chance of dying from COVID-19.
  • San Francisco schools — where about 90% of children aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated — report no COVID outbreaks, despite Delta overwhelming districts elsewhere.
  • The Delta variant appears to be maintaining dominance over new variants such as Lambda and Mu, virologists say. "With Delta's spread, we're building up more and more immunity," said Dr. Trevor Bedford.

Economic and Other Developments

  • Australian employment data showed that 146,000 jobs were lost in August, amid lockdowns in the country's two most populous cities, while lockdown-free Western Australia actually created jobs.
  • The Massachusetts National Guard has been activated to help with the commonwealth's shortage of school bus drivers. The federal government will pay the bill, citing COVID-related labor shortages.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that mass transit is making some employees reluctant to return to work, with employees slowest to come back to offices in regions that are most dependent on buses and trains.
  • A Penn State study found that residential ventilation techniques may make COVID-19 more transmissible in the home than in the office, all else being equal, and that physical distance indoors may not protect from aerosol transmission.
  • CDC data indicate that Moderna's vaccine is significantly more effective against the Delta variant than Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer says the decrease in effectiveness is "primarily due to waning of vaccine immune responses over time," rather than the Delta variant.
  • More than a dozen gorillas have tested positive for COVID-19 at Zoo Atlanta. Officials believe a vaccinated member of the animal care team, who was wearing personal protective equipment and asymptomatic when she came to work, probably transmitted the virus.
  • NIH documents have provided new evidence that the U.S. was funding 'gain-of-function' research in Wuhan. The NIH is headed by Dr. Fauci.

Source of all data: Eaton Vance Research as of September 16, 2021 unless otherwise specified.