New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that 50 teenagers living in the state could win a full scholarship to any state college or university if they get a first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Thursday.
The “Get a Shot to Make Your Future” prize draw would allow parents of vaccinated 12 to 17-year-olds to add their child’s names to a raffle. State officials would randomly pick ten names every week for five weeks, Cuomo said at a press conference Wednesday.
The scholarship adds to the list of incentives state officials are using to boost vaccine uptake. Last week, Cuomo unveiled a new “Vax and Scratch” program, which would give people $20 scratch-off lottery tickets for a $5 million cash prize. He announced a two-day free pass to any state park for vaccinated New Yorkers on Monday.
Winners of the prize draw would receive up to five years’ worth of funds to cover tuition, books, and room and board for those enrolling in an undergraduate or approved bachelor’s degree program, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said it was open to all vaccinated 12 to 17-year-olds.
New York state also offers the Excelsior Scholarship, which covers tuition costs for students whose parents make $125,000 or less per year.
Cuomo said the state needed to “get creative” to encourage more New Yorkers to get their shot, amid slowing demand.
“Vaccination rates across the state are beginning to slow and our greatest need is with young New Yorkers who make up a large percent of positive cases and have the lowest vaccination percentage in the state,” Cuomo said at the press conference.
As of Wednesday, 46% of New York residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 55% have received at least one dose, according to a New York Times database.
The UK has reported more than 4,000 cases of the variant, which has now spread to 49 countries including the US, according to Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in the UK, remains the most common variant in both countries.
One dose offered far less protection, the Public Health England (PHE) study showed. A single dose of either vaccine was 33% effective against COVID-19 with symptoms caused by B.1.617.2.
The study, which was posted as a preprint Saturday and is yet to be peer-reviewed by other experts, is the first in the world to show that vaccines offer some protection against B.1.617.2, which has mutations that make it highly infectious and potentially able to escape antibodies produced by vaccines.
For comparison, two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine was 93% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the most common variant in the US, B.1.1.7, and AstraZeneca’s was 66% effective. After one dose, both vaccines were 50% effective against B.1.1.7, the data showed.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s health and social care secretary, said Sunday in a press release that the findings were “groundbreaking” and showed the importance of getting a second dose to secure the “strongest possible protection” against coronavirus variants.
Second shot of Pfizer and AstraZeneca boosted protection
Adam Kucharski, associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said on Twitter Sunday that “first and foremost” the study was “another reminder that second doses matter.”
The actual amount of protection offered by the vaccines could be more than it seems from the figures, as the PHE researchers did not look at whether the vaccines protected against severe disease caused by variants. COVID-19 vaccines typically offer more protection against these outcomes.
The lower efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after two doses, compared with Pfizer’s, could be down to the fact that it was mostly given to older people, who have weaker immune responses, the study’s authors said.
Companies across the US are joining in the largest-ever vaccination effort by offering employees perks if they receive the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
Receiving the vaccine is voluntary, but most companies have strongly encouraged employees get the immunization when it’s their turn. The two-dose vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNtech and the other from Moderna, were emergency approved in the US in December. Since then, almost 34 million people have received one or more doses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many states and localities have begun moving from the first phase of vaccinating health care workers and elderly living in long-term care facilities to immunizing front-line workers. With that, some companies are giving workers two to three hours of paid time off per dose received, and others are offering a stipend for employees who voluntarily get the shots when it’s their turn.
Recently, Publix, Petco and AT&T joined the growing list. Here’s the 18 Insider knows about so far:
Know of a company not on this list that’s offering employees time off, pay, or other perks to get vaccinated? Email Natasha, the reporter of this piece, at email@example.com.
Target is offering workers up to four hours of paid time off to get both shots of the vaccine and will pay for Lyft rides up to $15 for employees needing transportation to and from their appointment.
2. Dollar General
The discount chain was the first major retailer to announce an incentive for workers to get vaccinated. Dollar General employees can earn up to four hours of pay for receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and will receive extra time off if they have an adverse reaction.
Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, and The Capital Grille, will offer workers four hours of paid time off, two hours per dose, Bloomberg reported. Employees must show proof of their vaccination to earn the time. The company doesn’t require the shots, but strongly encouraged workers to get them.
4. Shake Shack
The burger-and-shake restaurant chain will give workers 3 hours of pay per shot of the two-dose vaccine. Shake Shack didn’t mandate employees receive the vaccine but “strongly encouraged” it.
5. Noodles & Company
Workers will earn up to four hours of paid time off for receiving the vaccine, the company said in a Feb. 10 statement to Insider. The restaurant strongly recommended employees receive the vaccine but did not require it.
The grocer is giving employees a one-time $100 payment for getting the vaccine. On top of that, Kroger said it would give associates an added bonus of a $100 store card and 1,000 fuel points to “thank and reward” workers during the pandemic.
7. Trader Joe’s
The grocery retailer will offer all 50,000 employees two hours of pay per dose and allow for flexible scheduling so workers can make it to appointments.
The app will offer its US and Canada shoppers, who deliver groceries to customers, a $25 stipend to get vaccinated.
The German grocery chain is encouraging workers to get vaccinated by offering its US workers $200 in extra pay if they receive the immunization.
The fast food chain is giving workers four hours of pay for receiving the vaccine. Though getting the shots is not required, the company said it will connect employees with groups that can answer questions on the vaccination, Restaurant Business reported.
The coffee chain is offering workers two hours of pay per dose of the COVID-19 vaccine they receive.
Amtrak is allowing employees to get vaccinated during work hours, and will pay for two hours off if employees provide proof they received the shot. Workers will also be excused with pay for up to 48 hours if they have side effects.
15. JBS USA and Pilgrim’s
The meat-packing company is offering employees a $100 bonus incentive if they receive the vaccine voluntarily.
The pet-supply retailer told Insider it would offer employees a one-time payment of $75 for getting vaccinated. Plus, it will give a $25 donation to the Petco Partner Assistance Fund for each person who receives their shots.
AT&T is giving employees up to four hours of paid time off per dose, adding up to eight hours total for anyone who needs the hours to get the vaccine, a spokesperson said in an email to Insider. The company is also giving workers access to Castlight, a tool to help them find available vaccines in their area based on eligibility.
Publix will give associates a $125 gift card to the store after they get both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Workers aren’t required to get the shots at Publix, but they will need to show proof of vaccination. The vaccine is optional, though encouraged, the company said.
19. Walmart and Sam’s Club
Beginning May 18, Walmart and Sam’s Club will give its associates below the store manager level $75 for being fully vaccinated, the companies announced on May 14. Workers are required to show their vaccine card in order to receive this bonus.
In January, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general at the World Health Organization (WHO), warned that the world was on the “brink of a catastrophic moral failure” by not giving enough vaccines to poorer countries. “It is not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries,” he said.
Meanwhile, vaccines remain scarce in low- and middle-income countries and many of the most vulnerable people in those nations haven’t yet received a shot, a WHO spokesperson told Insider. In India, where millions are dying and the virus has mutated, less than 10% of people have had at least one vaccine dose, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.
Some experts see this disparity as a moral dilemma. “You don’t need to vaccinate all the way down, say, to your teen population … before you send out vaccine doses to COVAX,” Melinda French Gates, co-chair at the Gates Foundation, said May 9. COVAX is the WHO-backed initiative that aims to get more vaccines to low and middle-income countries.
To get itself – and the world – back to normal, the US needs to both vaccinate its young people and send more shots abroad, some experts told Insider. Others went further, and said that it doesn’t make sense to vaccinate low-risk populations, such as kids, when vulnerable people abroad are at risk abroad.
Fauci: We need to do both
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor, has said that immunizing young people is essential to achieve herd immunity, which is when enough people are vaccinated that the virus can no longer spread from person to person.
But Fauci has also advocated sending doses abroad to curb the virus’ spread.
“[India has] got to get their resources, not only from within, but also from without, and that’s the reason why other countries need to chip in to be able to get either supplies for the Indians to make their own vaccines or to get vaccines donated,” Fauci told ABC News Sunday.
A spokesperson from US President Joe Biden’s administration told Insider that it had committed 60 million AstraZeneca doses to countries in need, once cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Kathleen Neuzil, professor in vaccinology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told Insider that vaccinating teens and sending doses abroad via COVAX were not “necessarily mutually exclusive.”
Neuzil said that she’d witnessed more younger people from ethnic minorities and with chronic conditions getting sick with COVID-19 in the US, who needed access to vaccines. But she said a coordinated response was required between nations. “No single country alone can beat this pandemic.”
Dr. Erlinda Ulloa, a pediatrician studying the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in kids at the University of California, told Insider that fair vaccine distribution and immunizing teens in the US were separate issues.
Ulloa said that 12 to 15 year-olds should get vaccines if and when it’s recommended. “It’s remarkably safe and effective in this age group,” she said. But from an ethical perspective, if there’s opportunity to support vaccination efforts abroad then the US should do it, Ulloa said.
Getting back to normal
Janet Englund, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told Insider that if US teens weren’t immunized the virus would continue to spread in younger age groups. “To get back to ‘normal,’ we need to immunize our younger people,” she said.
“But if we don’t take care of the rest of the world, it’s going to be a temporary fix,” she added. “All these variants will eventually escape our vaccine and the best way to handle that is to vaccinate [the US and the rest of the world].”
Englund said the coronavirus vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech – the shot that has been authorized for US teens – might be technically difficult to use in low and middle income countries right now as it requires very cold storage temperatures, although the groups are working on a vaccine that can be stored in a normal fridge. Other vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) could be more useful as they can be stored at normal temperatures already, and J&J’s shot is just one dose, she said.
Prioritize vulnerable adults abroad, two experts say
Russell Viner, professor of adolescent health at University College London, told Insider in a statement that the “key risk” for society was the “diversion of vaccines” to low risk groups while vulnerable adults in other countries remain unvaccinated.
Viner said very few children and teenagers ended up in intensive care with COVID-19 disease, and almost all of these were the same children that are vulnerable to winter viruses every year. It’s difficult to argue that vaccination benefits healthy teens, given our current knowledge, he said.
Viner said there was undoubtedly a very small group of teenagers who were clinically extremely vulnerable and should be vaccinated. Teenagers also play a role in transmission so if they remain unvaccinated they could act as a reservoir of infection, he said.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, told Insider in a statement that giving vaccines to adolescents wasn’t a priority, at least for now.
Finn explained that most children who catch coronavirus don’t get seriously ill. “Indeed, most don’t get sick at all,” he said.
Finn said that at this point in the pandemic, when there are global shortages of vaccines, and lots of vulnerable people who haven’t got a shot, the priority was to prevent large epidemic waves, like the one in India.
“Those outbreaks pose a global threat as they drive the evolution of vaccine-resistant variants and their dissemination around the world,” he said.
Teenagers in the US are now eligible for a leading coronavirus vaccine, as the Food and Drug Administration on Monday expanded the authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 shot to include 12- to 15-year-olds.
Expanding eligibility to include the younger age group could give the immunization campaign a boost. The US has seen the daily rate of people getting their first dose plummet since early April, from a peak of 1.9 million people a day to about 830,000 a day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A major driver for that decline has been that a majority of adults in the US have already received at least one dose. About 58% of US adults have received at least the first dose of a vaccine, according to CDC data.
“Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from COVID-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the FDA, said in a statement. “Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations.”
Pfizer tested the vaccine in a clinical study that enrolled 2,260 children ages 12 to 15. Half of the volunteers received Pfizer’s shot, while the other half got a placebo injection. Overall, the trial recorded 18 COVID-19 cases, all in the placebo group. Side effects of the shot were in line with those observed in people 16 to 25 years old, Pfizer said.
Pfizer and other vaccine developers are also testing COVID-19 shots in younger populations down to 6-month-olds
In September, Pfizer anticipates study results showing whether the shot works in children ages 2 to 11.
The final step down for kids – from 6-month-old babies to 2-year-olds – should produce data in November, according to Pfizer’s projections.
Other leading vaccine developers are also testing their shots in younger populations.
On May 6, Moderna said its vaccine was highly effective in an initial review of a clinical trial enrolling more than 3,000 teenagers. The Massachusetts biotech said it was “in discussions with regulators about a potential amendment to its regulatory filings” after those early results. Moderna is also enrolling volunteers for a study testing the vaccine in kids 11 years old all the way down to 6 months old.
Both vaccines are authorized to be given as two injections, spaced weeks apart, but this data again shows how effective the vaccines are overall.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Twitter Tuesday that one dose of the vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was 89.7% effective at preventing COVID-19 in South Koreans aged over 60. The vaccine co-developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was 86% effective at preventing COVID-19 after one dose, it said.
The KDCA analysis included more than 520,000 people who had been vaccinated with a single dose of either vaccine.
The agency didn’t provide a breakdown of how many people received each shot or the severity of illness – COVID-19 vaccines are generally more effective at preventing COVID-19 infections that cause hospitalization or death.
The KDCA said the vaccines’ protective effect was higher when the second vaccination was completed, so a second shot within the recommended period was “absolutely necessary”.
South Korea’s findings adds to a growing body of real-world data suggesting that a single shot of a COVID-19 vaccine protects against COVID-19, but it’s still not clear how long protection from a single dose may last.
Real-world data from the UK, posted as a pre-print study on April 23, found that either Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s vaccine cut COVID-19 infections with symptoms by 72%. Protection from a single dose probably holds up for at least 10 weeks, based on measurements of antibody levels, the study, which wasn’t peer-reviewed, said.
Another real-world study from Scotland published in the Lancet on April 23 found that a single dose of Pfizer’s vaccine was 91% effective against hospitalization at 28 to 34 days following vaccination. One dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine was 88% effective against hospital admissions after the same time period, the study found.
A single dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine cut the spread of coronavirus within a household by up to 50% in a new study.
People who had one dose of either vaccine were between 40% and 50% less likely to pass on the virus to people in their household, 21 days after the shot, compared to those who weren’t vaccinated at all, the study authors from Public Health England said in a preprint paper posted Wednesday.
Both vaccines – one made by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, the other by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford – are two-dose vaccines.
The virus is highly likely to spread from person to person within a household. PHE said it expected similar results in other high-risk settings, such as shared accommodations and prisons.
“Not only do vaccines reduce the severity of illness and prevent hundreds of deaths every day, we now see they also have an additional impact on reducing the chance of passing COVID-19 on to others,” Mary Ramsay, head of PHE, said in a statement.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed by experts.
The researchers looked at 57,000 contacts of people who had a COVID-19 vaccine, and compared them to a group of nearly 1 million contacts for unvaccinated people.
Given the researchers looked at lab-confirmed cases only, it was not possible to conclude from the research how well vaccines stop people spreading asymptomatic COVID-19.
Dr. Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, said in a statement that the authors may have actually underestimated the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing transmission, because the vaccinated person’s contacts could have caught COVID-19 from someone else.
“This study shows that even if people who are vaccinated do become infected, they are considerably less likely to be infectious, and to pass the infection on to others,” he said.
A UK-based study reported by Insider Thursday showed a single dose of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s vaccine reduced symptomatic and asymptomatic coronavirus infections overall by more than 65%.
Deborah Dunn-Walters, British Society for Immunology COVID-19 Taskforce chair and professor of immunology at the University of Surrey, said in a statement that the study was welcomed, but there was still much to learn about how COVID-19 vaccines affect transmission.
“It is still very important for us all to get two doses of the COVID vaccine to ensure we receive the optimal and longest lasting protection, both for ourselves and our communities,” she said.
There was a 65% reduction in COVID-19 infections overall after one dose of either the AstraZeneca-Oxford University or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, study authors from Oxford said in a press briefing on Thursday. Protection from a single dose probably holds up for at least 10 weeks, based on measurements of antibody levels.
The vaccines are intended to be given as two injections, spaced several weeks apart. But the UK has pursued a strategy of delaying the second vaccine dose for up to 12 weeks to give more people a first injection. The study provides evidence supporting that strategy, said Sarah Walker, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford who led the survey.
“But people must get their second dose,” she added.
Getting a second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine boosted people’s protection. Researchers found that in people who’d had both doses, the vaccine reduced the number of overall infections by 90%. There’s not enough data yet to draw any conclusions on AstraZeneca’s shot. Doses of Pfizer’s shot are supposed to be given three weeks apart, while AstraZeneca jabs can be given four to 12 weeks apart.
The studies provide more evidence that COVID-19 vaccines work
The data provide the latest real-world evidence that coronavirus vaccines are highly effective at halting the virus. Another real-world study from Israel published in February showed Pfizer’s vaccine was 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 with symptoms when two doses were given 21 days apart.
The UK results come from the National COVID-19 Infection Survey conducted by Oxford University, the Office of National Statistics and the Department of Health and Social Care. The Oxford researchers who led the study were not involved in the coronavirus vaccine work with AstraZeneca.
The researchers collected 3.9 million random nasal coronavirus swabs from more than 218,000 UK households between December 2020 and April. They then looked at how many people got infected with the coronavirus, and checked whether or not those people were immunized.
“The benefit of this study is learning real world effectiveness,” said Sarah Walker, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford who led the survey. “The scale of the study is helpful here in determining what is going on in a range of different ages and groups.”
The results were released as two studies posted as pre-prints on Friday, and have not yet been scrutinized by other experts in a peer review.
To figure out how long protection may last, the authors also looked at the antibodies the body creates in response to being vaccinated. Antibodies are one part of the natural defenses against infection that vaccines are intended to stimulate.
Antibodies from the vaccines lasted for at least 10 weeks
They found that after one dose of either vaccine, antibodies persisted for at least 10 weeks, across all age groups. A second dose of Pfizer’s shot boosted antibody levels. Results aren’t provided for a time period longer than 10 weeks.
The UK study didn’t look at whether the vaccines prevented hospitalization or death. Another pre-print study from Scotland posted on February 22 suggested that one vaccine dose helps protect against hospitalizations, but effectiveness waned after five weeks.
The Oxford scientists cautioned that immunized individuals can still get COVID-19 and transmit the virus, even if at a lower rate than those who have not had a COVID-19 shot at all.
They did find that a single dose of either vaccine provided more protection against infections associated with a high level of virus particles, known as a viral load. People with a higher level of the virus may be more likely to transmit the virus to others.
The vaccines also worked well at preventing symptomatic cases of coronavirus. There was a 72% reduction in symptomatic infections, but just a 57% reduction in infections that didn’t cause symptoms after one dose.
“The people with symptoms are those who could potentially end up in hospital,” Walker said.
Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of German pharma group BioNTech, is one of two scientists whose efforts helped develop the first coronavirus vaccine authorized in the US.
Sahin and his wife, Ozlem Tureci, are the “dream team” couple whose company partnered with Pfizer to develop and supply three billion vaccine doses worldwide by the end of 2021.
The race among pharmaceutical companies to create and distribute their vaccine candidates was intense last year, with many seeing their stocks impacted by developments in clinical trials. Company insiders rushed to sell their shares, aiming to make profits off of their booming stocks.
But Sahin hasn’t sold a single share in BioNTech since February 13, 2020, according to a recent Forbes report.
Sahin, the son of Turkish immigrants who moved to Germany in the late 1960s, is among the richest people in Germany. But his family lives in a modest apartment near his office and doesn’t own a car. His lifestyle is said to reflect a simple approach to life, and he’s known for cycling to the office. His company is currently valued at $36 billion.
He grew convinced that COVID-19 would have a deadly effect worldwide as early as January 2020, Forbes said. His years of experience with the mRNA method, a safety mechanism that protects against infectious diseases, came in handy when he decided BioNTech would pivot to finding a coronavirus vaccine.
Pfizer CEO Bourla has previously described Sahin as a “very, very unique individual.”
“He cares only about science. Discussing business is not his cup of tea,” Bourla told The New York Times in November last year. “He doesn’t like it at all. He’s a scientist and a man of principles. I trust him 100 percent.”
With the development of BioNTech’s vaccine, the company’s stock has surged 900% from its 2019 IPO price. Sahin’s stake in the company is worth $6.1 billion, according to Forbes.
SEC filings show Sahin holds a 17% stake in BioNTech through a limited liability company called Medine. Amid a stock transfer by Medine to other beneficiaries, a filing in February showed neither the company, nor Sahin, had sold any ordinary shares since February 13, 2020, around the time the pandemic was just beginning to spread globally.
Coronavirus variants first found in South Africa and the UK are able to partially “breakthrough” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to an Israeli study that studied real-world infection data. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The study, released on Saturday, compared the incidences of both variants between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The study, conducted by Tel Aviv University and Israeli healthcare provider Clalit tracked almost 400 people, and counted both partially vaccinated (one dose) and fully vaccinated (two dose) patients.
The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to be eight times more prevalent among vaccinated patients while the UK strain, B.1.1.7, was more prevalent among partially vaccinated patients, though the fully-vaccinated showed increased protection against the UK strain.
The study suggests that the Pfizer vaccine provides less protection against the South African variant than the original coronavirus, but it is not able to actually conclude that because it is focused on those who have already tested positive for the virus, not total infection rates.
Roughly 80% of Israel’s population is vaccinated, with almost 53% of the population having received both Pfizer doses. The study found that only 1% of total cases in the study were the South African variant, a promising sign for Israel, the most vaccinated country.
Earlier this month, a Palestinian student studying at Tel Aviv University in Israel won the right to be vaccinated after being turned away from a school vaccination site and then suing. Israel has just recently begun to vaccinate Palestinians.
In data released on April 1, Pfizer and Biotech found that their shot was 91% effective at preventing COVID-19 and showed early signs of preventing the spread of the B.1.351 strain as well. Earlier lab trials had suggested that the vaccine provides some protection against the strain, but not full protection.