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Antibodies from Sinovac’s COVID-19 shot fade after about 6 months, booster helps: Study
12 August 2021, 10:13 AM

Antibodies triggered by Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine declined below a key threshold from around six months after a second dose for most recipients, but a third shot had a strong booster effect, a lab study showed.

Chinese researchers reported the findings from a study of blood samples from healthy adults aged between 18-59 in a paper published on Sunday, which has not been peer reviewed.

Among participants who received two doses, two or four weeks apart, only 16.9% and 35.2% respectively still had neutralising antibodies above a threshold set by researchers, below which the antibody level is considered low or undetectable, six months after the second shot, the paper said.

Those readings were based on data from two cohorts involving more than 50 participants each, while the study gave third doses of the vaccine or placebo to a total of 540 participants.

Researchers said it was unclear how the decrease in antibodies would affect the shot’s effectiveness, since scientists have yet to figure out precisely the threshold of antibody levels for a vaccine to be able to prevent the disease.

Apart from durable antibodies, other components in humans immune systems such as T cells and B cell memory elicited by the vaccine may also contribute to the protection, researchers involved in the study said, although the study did not provide data on those factors. “In the short-to-medium term, ensuring more people complete the current two-dose schedule of CoronaVac (Sinovac’s vaccine) should be the priority,” the paper said.

Participants in some cohorts who received a third dose of the Sinovac shot about six months after the second showed around a 3-5 fold increase in antibody levels after a further 28 days, compared with the levels seen four weeks after the second shot.

As of end-June, Sinovac has delivered more than 1 billion doses of the vaccine, a major vaccination tool in China, Brazil, Indonesia and Chile.

Other COVID-19 vaccine makers are seeking to get authorisation for booster shots. Pfizer and partner BioNTech said earlier this month they had planned to ask US and European regulators within weeks to authorise a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, based on evidence of greater risk of infection six months after inoculation and the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a senior health ministry official in Indonesia, told Reuters on Tuesday that clinical data from the country showed the reduced antibody level is still enough to provide protection, without providing details.

She said the immunisation advisory board recommends a booster vaccination 12 months after the second dose.

Indonesia has started giving booster shots produced by Moderna to medical workers this month, including those who had received Sinovac doses.

Philippines’ Health Secretary Francisco Duque said on Tuesday there is no recommendation yet from the country’s vaccine expert panel on giving a booster shot but experts are discussing the possibility.

Turkey has already started offering a third dose from either Sinovac or Pfizer to some people who have got Sinovac shots.

The research paper on Sinovac’s vaccine said that the study did not test the antibodies’ effect against more transmissible variants, and that further research was needed to assess antibody duration after a third shot.

The study was conducted by researchers at disease control authorities in Jiangsu province, Sinovac, and other Chinese institutions.

Messi’s Paris St Germain package includes crypto fan tokens
12 August 2021, 10:05 AM

Soccer star Lionel Messi’s financial package in his move to French club Paris St Germain includes a payment in cryptocurrency fan tokens, a source close to the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

Argentine soccer star’s transfer to French club Paris St Germain included a payment in cryptocurrency fan tokens, a source close to the matter said, providing another big name endorsement for new digital assets.

Messi, 34, left Spanish side Barcelona and signed a two-year contract with Paris St Germain (PSG), with an option for a third year, on Tuesday.

Paris St Germain (PSG) said in a statement the tokens included in his “welcome package”, or signing on fee, had been provided by Socios.com who are the club’s fan token provider.

The club did not state what percentage of the deal comprised the tokens but said he had received a “large number”. It has also not disclosed the overall financial package.

Fan tokens are a type of cryptocurrency that allows holders to vote on mostly minor decisions related to their clubs. Among the clubs to launch tokens this year are English Premier League champions Manchester City and Italy’s AC Milan.

Like bitcoin and other digital currencies, fan tokens can be traded on exchanges. They also share in common with other cryptocurrencies a tendency for wild price swings, leading some financial regulators to issue warnings to investors.

PSG said there had been high volume of trading of its fan tokens after reports of Messi’s move to the club emerged.

“The hype surrounding the latest signings in the club’s busy summer transfer window created a huge surge of interest in $PSG Fan Tokens, with trading volumes exceeding $1.2 billion in the days preceding the move,” it said.

The fan tokens’ price moves can have little connection to on-field performance or results.

PSG’s token, which has a market capitalisation of about $52 million, soared over 130% in just five days amid speculation over Messi’s arrival to an all-time high of over $60 on Tuesday. They were last down 10% at about $40, according to the CoinMarketCap website.

Messi gets hero’s welcome in France after agreeing to join PSG
10 August 2021, 6:57 PM

Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi received a hero’s welcome after flying to France on Tuesday to join Paris Saint Germain (PSG) following his shock departure from Barcelona.

The agreement to sign the 34-year-old Argentine is a major coup for wealthy PSG, who will add one of the best soccer players of all time to an already formidable front line that includes Brazil’s Neymar and young Frenchman Kylian Mbappe.

Wearing a T-shirt that read “This is Paris,” Messi beamed and waved at scores of fans who had come to greet him at Le Bourget airport on the outskirts of the French capital after his flight from Barcelona.

Chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi,” the fans cheered and let off firecrackers.

“It’s going to be mad. After all, it’s a legend who is arriving,” said Florent Chauveau, a PSG fan who has been back and forth to the airport every day since Sunday in the hope of seeing Messi arrive.

Messi gave no details of the deal, which was reached days after Barcelona said it could not afford to keep the midfielder because of Spain’s La Liga’s fair play rules.

But his father, speaking to reporters at Barcelona’s airport, confirmed reports by French newspaper L’Equipe and Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo that Messi had reached an agreement with PSG, which is owned by Qatar Sports Investment.

L’Equipe said the deal would be for two years. It also said Messi would have medical tests on Tuesday, and that a news conference to mark his arrival was likely on Wednesday.

PSG did not comment on the reports but released a short video showing scenes of Paris, a plane landing and a close-up of someone putting pen to paper. In the background, upbeat music can heard and the words “new diamond in Paris” and “mercato update” appear.

The video, seen on Twitter, does not show Messi but depicts an image of six Ballons d’Or – an annual award given to the player deemed the best in the world – by the Eiffel Tower.

Many Barcelona fans were distraught at the end of Messi’s glittering, trophy-laden career at the club he joined as a schoolboy.

But the arrival of Barcelona’s all-time record scorer with 682 goals will boost PSG’s ambitions to win the Champions League for the first time. Messi won four Champions League titles while at Barcelona, as well as 10 La Liga titles.

PSG AMBITIONS

Messi is the latest big-name arrival at PSG on a free transfer this summer after coach Mauricio Pochettino’s side snapped up Spanish defender Sergio Ramos after he left Real Madrid. Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum also joined after running down his contract with Liverpool.

Italy’s Euro 2020-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has also joined after his contract with AC Milan ran out, while Moroccan fullback Achraf Hakimi joined from Inter Milan for a reported 60 million euros ($70 million).

The arrival of Messi, whose last contract with Barcelona was worth a total of 555 million euros and reported to be the most lucrative in world sport, is also set to provoke a renewed new debate about UEFA’s financial fair play rules.

The rules were first introduced in 2009 to restrict some of the worst excesses of the game but have been criticised by some leading figures for being ineffective.

The arrival of Messi, who has 245 million followers on Instagram and is Barcelona’s most decorated player of all time, is also welcome news for France’s Ligue 1, embroiled in a crisis over TV rights.

Ethiopia urges citizens to join armed forces as conflict spreads
10 August 2021, 5:04 PM

Ethiopia’s government on Tuesday urged citizens to join the fight against resurgent Tigrayan forces now pushing beyond their own region in a nine-month-old war that has sparked a major refugee crisis.

The call to arms came in a statement from the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed: “Now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the Defence Forces, Special Forces and militias to show your patriotism.”

The statement came six weeks after the government declared a unilateral ceasefire in the northern region of Tigray on the day Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital Mekelle, in a sharp reversal after eight months of conflict.

War broke out in November between federal troops and forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which ruled Ethiopia for three decades and now controls Tigray. Fighting has forced more than two million people from their homes, and more than 50 000 people have fled into neighbouring Sudan.

The statement did not mention the ceasefire, which the Tigrayan forces have dismissed, arguing the government should agree to its conditions for a truce. Spokespeople for the Tigrayan forces and for Abiy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After retaking control of most of Tigray in late June and early July, Tigrayan forces have pushed into the adjoining Afar and Amhara regions, capturing the United Nations World Heritage site of Lalibela last week.

This new fighting has displaced more than 250 000 people in Afar and Amhara, the U.N. aid chief said last week.

In an attack in the Afar region on Thursday, 12 people who had been forced from their homes by violence were killed, said Mohammed Yesuf, head of the Dubti Hospital.

An additional 46 people were treated for injuries at the hospital, he told Reuters by phone. It appeared they had been injured in an explosion, he said, citing burns on some of the injured.

Those who were killed and injured had been sheltering at a school and health clinic, he said.

It was not possible to verify the claims. The Afar region’s government said on Friday that Tigrayan forces were responsible for the attack in the Galikoma area.

Moderna to start local production of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine in Canada
10 August 2021, 4:29 PM

Moderna Inc said on Tuesday it had agreed with the Canadian government to start domestic production of mRNA vaccines as the country looks to boost supplies to fight respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.

Under the memorandum of understanding, Moderna will set up an mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Canada and also give access to its mRNA development engine.

The COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna, based on mRNA technology, is already being used in the United States, the European Union, and Canada.

Scientists believe mRNA has the potential to target diseases that cannot be reached by conventional drugs. Such vaccines, which have shown high efficacy in preventing COVID-19 disease, contain no actual virus, instead of providing instructions for human cells to make proteins that mimic part of the coronavirus.

Last week, Moderna said its COVID-19 shot was about 93% effective through six months after the second dose, showing hardly any change from the 94% efficacy reported in its original clinical trial.

Canada has reported 1.4 million infections and 26 678 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to Reuters tally.

The manufacturing facility is expected to be activated on an urgent basis to support Canada with direct access to rapid pandemic response capabilities, Moderna said on Tuesday, adding that it is in talks with other governments about potential collaborations.

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