GDPNow is not an official forecast of the Atlanta Fed. Rather, it is best viewed as a running estimate of real GDP growth based on available economic data for the current measured quarter. There are no subjective adjustments made to GDPNow—the estimate is based solely on the mathematical results of the model. In particular, it does not capture the impact of COVID-19 and social mobility beyond their impact on GDP source data and relevant economic reports that have already been released. It does not anticipate their impact on forthcoming economic reports beyond the standard internal dynamics of the model.
Similarly, the West’s uncertainty and fear towards China’s rise stem from a lack of understanding and even fear of the country, and their ingrained ideology would lead to misconceptions.
China is the world’s second-largest economy. The externalities and influence of its economy on the West are obvious. Upon joining the WTO, some Chinese people also felt unsettled by the externalities of the West. Some said, “the wolf is coming.” Now it is the West that is experiencing such worries.
It is crucial to recognize the significant impact of the Western hypocritical narratives against China, even if they are based on ideology rather than facts. We must also acknowledge that ideology-based public opinion from the West can exert a powerful influence on their policies toward China.
Second, to make rational responses to the Westernideology-based criticisms, we should draw lessons from the history of the world economy, such as the lessons of the Soviet Union, as well as our practices, such as the rhetorical battle with the West in the past few years. Coming up with an externally-facing public opinion based on a different ideology is not the most effective in addressing public opinion attacks based on an ideology. Empirically, tit-for-tat is ineffective and can worsen the situation. Again, the failure of the Soviet Union is a prime example, as its battle with a Westernideology failed. When faced with China-demonizing based on ideology from the West, we need to do the simplest thing, namely resorting to facts, science, and reason.
Third, and most importantly, China needs to prioritize its sustainable development, which ultimately benefits the country itself. It is important to recognize that the foundation of the government’s governance lies in its citizens, not Western praise. The support from its people is crucial for both the nation’s longevity and stability., China’s sustainable development also benefits the world economy by boosting its growth. As mentioned above, China has been the largest contributor to the growth of the world economy since it joined the WTO.
It is crucial to prioritize the building of a knowledge system based on China’s practical experiences. Regarding global soft power, we need a knowledge system based on our experiences rather than a certain ideology. While there has been a proposal for an autonomous knowledge system, continuous effort is still required.
Fourth, given the substantial externalities of our economy, we must further communicate and coordinate with other countries on economic policies, regardless of their respective sizes. Our duty is to fulfill the responsibility as a major player in the international community, which also benefits China.
Fifth, we must be open, open, and more open. Despite China’s efforts, there remains a persistent ideological camp in the West that views China through an ideological lens, a situation made worse by the past three years of the pandemic. The pandemic was so severe that it hindered travel across borders; as a result, some Western media and scholars tend to assess China through ideology since they couldn’t come here to see the facts with their own eyes.
The assessment of China through a uniform ideological lens appears to have strengthened the original Westernideological camp. However, the United States and the West have more than one ideology, and not all people believe in the prevailing ideology in the public opinion sphere. China’s openness provides a “seeing is believing” opportunity for different groups in the West. China should increase its openness to Western groups, including businesses, investors, media, universities, and research institutions. The changes in their understanding could render those ideological-based public opinions less effective.
“We’ve had a time of red-hot housing market all over the country… Shelter inflation is going to remain high for some time. We’re looking for it to come down, but it’s not exactly clear when that will happen. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”
The rapid run-up of shelter costs—both house prices and rents—during the recovery from the pandemic has raised questions about how inflation pressures might affect housing affordability. Since March 2022, the Federal Reserve has rapidly lifted its federal funds rate target from near zero to over 4%, and policymakers have signaled that they are open to keeping the monetary policy stance sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to the longer-run goal of 2% on average. The tightened financial conditions following those policy changes, especially the surge in mortgageinterest rates, have helped cool house price growth. However, rentinflation remains elevated.
Economic theory suggests that some common forces such as changes in housing demand can drive both rents and house prices. For example, the expansion of remote work since the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for housing, raising both house prices and rents (Kmetz, Mondragon, and Wieland 2022). To the extent that the stream of current and future rents reflects the fundamental value of a house, house prices can be a leading indicator of future rentinflation (Lansing, Oliveira, and Shapiro 2022). Thus, monetary policy can affect both house prices and rents by cooling housing demand.
Housing demand responds to changes in financial conditions, such as increases in mortgageinterest rates. However, theory suggests that house prices are more sensitive than rental prices to changes in financial conditions, because home purchases typically require longer-term mortgage financing. In addition, unlike rents, house prices can be partly driven by investor sentiments or beliefs, which explains the observed larger swings in house prices than in rents over business cycles (Dong et al. 2022). Long-term rental contracts can also contribute to slow adjustments in rentinflation.
Rentinflation is an important contributor to overall inflation because housing costs are an important component of total consumption expenditures. On average, housing expenditures represent about 15% of total PCE and 25% of the services component of PCE. In CPI, shelter costs represent an even larger share, accounting for about 30% of total consumption of all urban consumers and about 40% of core consumption expenditures excluding volatile food and energy components.
The contribution of rentinflation to overall PCEinflation has increased since early 2021. As Figure 2 shows, in the first quarter of 2021, rentinflation accounted for about 22% of the four-quarter change in the PCE services price index, excluding energy: 0.5 of the 2.3 percentage points increase in service prices was attributable to rentinflation. By the third quarter of 2022, the contribution of rentinflation had climbed to about one-third, or 1.5 of the 4.7 percentage point increase in service prices.
Figure 2: Rising contribution of rent inflation to services inflation
For our analysis, we use a measure of monetary policy surprises constructed by Bauer and Swanson (2022). Their measure focuses on high-frequency changes in financial marketindicators within a short period surrounding the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) policy announcements. If the public fully anticipates a policy change, then the financial market would not react to new policy announcements. However, if the market does react to an announcement, then the policy change must contain a surprise element. Thus, changes in financial marketindicators, such as the price of Eurodollar futures, in a narrow window around an FOMC announcement can capture policy surprises. In practice, however, the data constructed this way are not complete surprises because they can be predicted by some macro and financial variables shortly before FOMC announcements. We follow the approach of Bauer and Swanson (2022) to purge the influences of those macro and financial variables from the measure of policy surprises. We use the resulting quarterly time series to measure monetary policy shocks, with a sample period from 1988 to 2019.
In the final step, we compute the responses of rentinflation relative to its preshock level over a period up to 20 quarters after the initial increase in the federal funds rate.
Gradual impact of policy tightening on rent inflation
Figure 3 shows the response of rentinflation during the first 20 quarters after an unanticipated tightening of monetary policy (solid blue line). The shaded area shows the confidence band, indicating the statistical uncertainty in estimating the responses. Under the assumption that the model is correct, the shaded area contains the actual value of the rentinflation responses to the monetary policy shock roughly two-thirds of the time. The policy shock is normalized such that it is equivalent to a 1 percentage point unanticipated increase in the federal funds rate.
Figure 3: Response of rent inflation to monetary policy tightening
The figure shows that monetary policy tightening has significant and gradual effects on rentinflation. On impact, a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate reduces rentinflation about 0.6 percentage point relative to its preshock level. Over time, rentinflation declines gradually, falling about 3.2 percentage points in the 10 quarters following the impact. The slow adjustment in rentinflation partly reflects the stickiness in nominal rents due to long-term rental contracts. Since housing expenditures account for about 15% of total PCE, this estimate translates to a reduction in headline PCEinflation of about 0.5 percentage point, stemming from the decline in rentinflation over a period of 2½ years.
The rent component of PCE is measured based on average rents, including those locked in long-term rental contracts, which are slow to adjust to changes in economic and financial conditions. Rents on new leases, however, are more flexible. For example, the 12-month growth in Zillow’s observed rent index, which measures changes in asking rents on new leases, has slowed significantly since March 2022 (see Figure 4). Asking rents are typically a leading indicator of future average rents. Thus, the slowdown in asking rent growth could portend lower future rentinflation.
Figure 4: Year-over-year observed rent growth starting to slow
Rents are an important component of consumer expenditures. Recent surges in rentinflation have led to concerns that overall inflation might stay persistently high despite tightening of monetary policy. We present evidence that monetary policy tightening is effective for reducing rentinflation, although the full impact takes time to materialize. A policy tightening equivalent to a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate can reduce rentinflation up to 3.2 percentage points over the course of 2½ years. This translates to a maximum reduction in headline PCEinflation of about 0.5 percentage point over the same time horizon. Although average rents are slow to respond to policy changes, growth of asking rents on new leases has started to slow following recent monetary policy tightening. Our finding suggests that this tightening will gradually bring rentinflation down over time, thereby helping to reduce overall inflation.
While continuing to cool over the last several months, 12-month inflation remains at historically high levels. The headline personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 5.5% in November 2022 from a year earlier. This marks a decline in inflation to a level last observed in October 2021, but still well above the Fed’s longer-run goal of 2%. A portion of the inflation moderation is attributable to recent declines in energy prices. Core PCE inflation, which removes food and energy prices, has shown less easing.
Owing to fiscal relief efforts and lower household spending over the course of the pandemic, consumers accumulated over $2 trillion dollars in excess savings, based on pre-pandemic trends. Since then, consumers have drawn down over half of this excess savings which has helped support recent growth in personal consumption expenditures. A considerable amount of accumulated savings remains for some consumers to support spending in 2023.
In the wake of the pandemic, consumer spending patterns shifted away from services towards goods. While there appears to be some normalization of spending behavior, this shift has generally persisted. Real goods spending remains significantly above its pre-pandemic trend, driven by strong demand for durables such as furniture, electronics, and recreational goods. Spending on services has shown a resurgence but remains below its pre-pandemic trend.
The labor market remains tight, despite some signs of cooling. The number of available jobs remains well above the number of available workers, although vacancy postings have been trending down in recent months. The tight labor market has put continued upward pressure on wages and labor market turnover.
A decomposition of headline PCE inflation into supply– and demand-driven components shows that both supply and demand factors are responsible for the recent rise in inflation. The surge in inflation in early 2021 was mainly due to an increase in demand-driven factors. Subsequently, supply factors became more prevalent for the remainder of 2021. Supply-driven inflation has moderated significantly over recent months, while demand-driven inflation remains elevated.
Although the labor market is currently very strong, financial markets are pointing to some downside risks. Namely, the difference between longer- and shorter-term interest rates has turned negative, which historically tends to occur immediately preceding recessions. It remains unclear whether lower longer-term yields are indicative of anticipated slower growth or lower inflation.
Short-term inflation expectations remain elevated relative to their pre-pandemic levels in December 2019. Consumers are expecting prices to rise 5% this year, while professional forecasters are expecting prices to rise 3.5%. Longer-term inflation expectations remain more subdued, indicating that both consumers and professionals believe inflation pressures will eventually dissipate.
Rentinflation is expected to remain high over the next year. The prices for asking rents have grown quite substantially over the last two years. As new leases begin and existing leases are renewed, these higher asking rents will flow into the stock of rental units, putting upward pressure on rentinflation.
Over the past two weeks, Asia has played host to the most intense sequence of multilateralsummits since the pandemic began, as national leaders gathered for meetings organized by ASEAN, the G20 and APEC. Although overshadowed by geopolitical tensions, the meetings marked a welcome return to in-person summitdiplomacy, and the better-than-expected outcomes show hope yet for multilateralism.
As leaders moved on to Bali for the Group of 20summit, expectations were low after ministerial meetings in the run-up had failed to produce consensus. Earlier in the year, given fractures in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was a question mark over whether the G20 could even go ahead or survive in its existing form.
In the end, the summit surpassed expectations by producing a joint declaration after intense negotiations, with leaders finding the compromises necessary to unite in declaring that “today’s era must not be of war” and pledging to uphold the multilateral system.
Reflecting on these three summits, three takeaways give reason for cautious optimism that multilateralism can yet be revived and play a major role in solving our challenges.
First, and perhaps most obviously, the return of in-person summitdiplomacy is a welcome uplift for global cooperation. Virtual formats played a useful interim role at the height of the pandemic but were never a substitute for getting leaders in the same room. That is especially when it comes to interactions on the sidelines, often as important as the main event.
China’s return to diplomacy at the highest level was a further boost, both for the nation and the rest of the world.
Leaders got to meet their new counterparts for the first time or build on existing relationships, which can only help global cooperation.
The second takeaway is that as grave as our challenges are, the threat of escalating conflict and severe economic pressures on all nations seem to be focusing minds and increasing the willingness to engage and cooperate—out of necessity if nothing else.
The G20summit was the second major one this year to surpass expectations after the 12th World Trade OrganizationMinisterial Conference in June surprised observers by agreeing on a plan to reform the organization and its dispute settlement mechanism. The G20 statement reiterated support for this WTO reform plan, which will be critical to get the free trade agenda back on track and provide a much-needed boost for the global economy.
Third, and perhaps most significantly for the long term, the recent summits marked an acceleration of the trend towards multi-polarization in international diplomacy, and in particular, the rising influence of non-aligned “middle powers” to shape multilateral outcomes.
The middle powers represented at ASEAN, the G20 and APEC have huge stakes in avoiding a bifurcation of the global economy that might result from a new cold war. They don’t want to be forced to pick sides and many show a growing willingness and ability to build bridges and restore positive momentum for multilateralism.
Indonesia is a prime example. The country’s strategic heft and non-aligned credibility make it well-placed to bridge different camps. PresidentJoko Widodo made a big political bet on the success of the G20 and has won praise for the deft diplomacy that kept the organization alive and got it to a joint statement.
There is scope for this trend to continue next year as middle powers continue to rise in stature, and India and Indonesia take over the presidency of the G20 and ASEAN, respectively. Brazil will host the G20 the year after.
Over in Sharm el-Sheikh at the COP27 UN climate summit, another middle power—the host Egypt—also won praise for helping to shepherd a historic financing deal for poor countries affected by climate change. But the ultimate failure to reach a commitment to phase down fossil fuels was a sobering reminder of the huge difficulties that remain in forging the global consensus needed to overcome our shared challenges.
Astronomer Royal and best-selling science author, Martin Rees pioneering early work led to evidence to contradict the Steady State theory of the universe and confirm the Big Bang. His influence then spread to the wider public—knighted in 1992, elevated to Baron in 2005, then giving the Reith Lectures in 2010. Most recently his attention has turned from the early universe to the future of humanity. In this interview, Lord Rees discusses the ideas and experiences which led to such an illustrious career.
China is continuing with its tough zero-COVID policy. But the cracks in the economy and a discontent middle class mean that Xi’s Imperial-like governing style is under challenge, writes Kerry Brown.
China’s zero-COVID strategy operates in Chinese domestic politics a bit like Brexit does in the UK. Despite complaints from business networks and broader society about the negative impact on economic growth and citizens’ freedoms, it’s a policy commitment the government is sticking to no matter what.
Of course, no one voted for the draconian lockdowns implemented across China. And, unlike Brexit, the lockdowns are very much in line with expert advice in the country, rather than running against it. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), the main governmental body advising the government over crisis response in this area, said in a weekly update last November that without comprehensive restraints on people’s movement and quarantines on anyone testing positive for the virus, the national health system would soon be overwhelmed with cases, and find itself in the same bind as those in the US or Europe did.
That the words of the experts have been taken so much in earnest is striking for a regime that previously hasn’t been shy to dismiss them. The Xi leadership may be confident in the way it speaks to the outside world, but it seems that it has the same profound wariness in the robustness of the country’s public health as everywhere else. Things have not been helped by clinical trials showing the Chinese vaccines – the only ones accepted in China – are not as effective as foreign ones where the length of protection is in question). On top of this, vaccine take-up by the elderly, the most vulnerable group, has been poor. It is easy to see therefore why the central government might be very cautious. What is harder to understand, however, is why the cautiousness has bordered on obsessiveness.
The Xi way of governing is increasingly almost imperial in style, with broad, high-level policy announcements made in Beijing, sometimes of almost Delphic succinctness.
One scenario is simply about the structures of decision-making in China. This was an issue right from the moment the variant started to appear in late 2019, and local officials in Wuhan stood accused of trying to hush the issue up, delaying reporting to the central authorities till things had already gone on too long. As a result of this, in February 2020 key officials in the city were sacked. But this is unlikely to change the fact that provincial officials are very risk averse under Xi, and that any central direction to manage the pandemic will be interpreted in the purest terms and executed to the letter.
This explains the completeness of the Xian government’s virtual incarceration of its 8 million population after just a few COVID cases at the end of 2021, the first of the more recent lockdowns. It also explains why the traditionally more free-thinking municipal authority of Shanghai and its similarly liberal approach was fiercely knocked back by Beijing last February, to make an example for any other provinces thinking of going their own way. The absolute prohibition on people moving from their homes there, in one of the most dynamic and lively cities of modern China, was perfect proof that if the government could bring about this situation there, it could do it anywhere.
This case study also reveals some important things about the Xi way of governing. It is increasingly almost imperial in style, with broad, high-level policy announcements made in Beijing, sometimes of almost Delphic succinctness, which are then handed down to various levels of government to do as they will. Exactly how and when the discussion amongst Xi and his Politburo colleagues on the best response to COVID happened is unclear. In a world where almost every political system seems to leak incessantly, the Chinese one is unique in maintaining its opacity and secretiveness – no mean achievement in the social media era.
The Communist Party is very aware of how relatively small incidents can mount up and then generate overwhelming force. It itself coined the Chinese phrase ‘a single spark can start a prairie fire.’
Rumors of clashes between Xi and his premierLi Keqiang on the effectiveness of the current response remain just that – rumors, with precious little hard evidence to back them up. Who in the current imperial system might dare to speak from the ranks and say that policy must change is unclear. Scientists should deal in hard facts – but we all know that science is susceptible to politicization. Experts in China have to offer their expertise in a highly political context. A declaration that the current approach is not fit for purpose can easily be reinterpreted as an attempt to launch an indirect attack on the core leader. With an important Congress coming up later this year, at which Xi is expected to be appointed for another five years in power, sensitivities are even more intense than normal. It is little wonder that the COVID strategy status quo settled on last year has not shifted.
Things, however, may well change, and change quickly. China is moving into tricky economic territory. The impact of the pandemic on global supply chains, along with the various stresses domestically on the housing market, and productivity, have shrunk expectations for growth. A predicted 6% in the earlier part of the year now looks overly ambitious. There is a real possibility China might experience a recession. At a moment like this, the government, which after all operates as a constant crisis and risk management entity, might do what it does best and prompt rapid, and dramatic, changes.
This doesn’t mean that China’s COVID-19 bind gets any easier. Like the country’s serious demographic challenges, with a rapidly aging population, the only thing the government will be picking an argument with is reality as it proceeds into the future. As with Europe and the US, being more liberal about facing COVID-19 will involve accepting some of the harsh consequences – rising fatalities, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable, and health systems put under enormous stress. In such a huge, complex country, and of enormous geopolitically importance, a misstep could easily lead to huge and unwanted consequences, generating discontent and triggering mass protests in a way reminiscent of 1989. The Communist Party is very aware of how relatively small incidents can mount up and then generate overwhelming force. It itself coined the Chinese phrase ‘a single spark can start a prairie fire.’ One such spark – the introduction of Marxism into China in the 1910s – led to its gaining of power three decades later.
Faced with a potentially life-threatening infectious disease, the Party can throw out injunctions and claim it has been the victim of bad luck. But an ailing economy and no clear signs of the government knowing how to manage this will prove a toxic mixture for it. Xi and his third term in office will be all about delivery. The question is whether, even with the formidable suite of powers he has, he can do this. Governing China has always been the ultimate political challenge. COVID-19 has made that even harder.
Dr. Kuppalli was previously awarded the NIH Fogarty International Clinical Research Fellowship and conducted research in Southern India to understand barriers to care and how emerging infections impacted persons living with HIV/AIDS. She was the medical director of a large Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone during the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, helped lead the development and implementation of pandemic response preparedness activities in resource limited settings, and has consulted on the development of therapeutics for emerging pathogens. Her clinical and research interests focus on health systems strengthening in resource limited settings, research and clinical care for emerging infections, outbreak preparedness and response, and policy. She has worked in numerous countries including Ethiopia, India, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Haiti.
Transfer learning refers to a collection of techniques that apply knowledge from one prediction problem to solve another, often using machine learning and with many recent applications in domains such as computer vision and natural language processing. Transfer learning leverages a model trained to execute a particular task in a particular domain, in order to perform a different task or extrapolate to a different domain. This allows the model to learn the new task with less data than would normally be required, and is therefore well-suited to data-scarce prediction problems. The underlying idea is that skills developed in one task, for example the features that are relevant to recognize human faces in images, may be useful in other situations, such as classification of emotions from facial expressions. Similarly, there may be shared features in the patterns of observed cases among similar diseases.
For each of these disease pairs, we collect time series data from Brazilian cities. Data on the target disease from half the cities is retained for testing. To ensure comparability, the test set is the same for all models. Using this empirical data, as well as the simulated time series, we implement the following transfer models to make predictions.
Neural network with re-training and fine-tuning: We then retrain only the last layer of the neural network using data from the new disease and make predictions on the test set. Finally, we fine-tune all the layers’ parameters using a small learning rate and low number of epochs. These models are examples of parameter-based transfer methods, since they leverage the weights generated by the source disease model to accelerate and improve learning in the target disease model.
Aspirational baseline: We compare these transfer methods to a model trained only on the target disease (Zika/COVID-19) without any data on the source disease. Specifically, we use half the cities in the target dataset for training and the other half for testing. This gives a benchmark of the performance in a large-data scenario, which would occur after a longer period of disease surveillance.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. The models are described in more technical detail in Section 2. Section 3 shows the results of the synthetic and empirical predictions. Finally, Section 4 discusses practical implications of the analyses.
This issue deals with dysfunctionalities in the Russian economy. The first three contributions look at the direct impact of sanctions. Ilya Matveev provides an overview, while Andrei Yakovlev compares the government’s anti-sanctions measures to its reaction to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Janis Kluge offers a more detailed picture of the short- and long-term effects of the unfolding sanction regime. Michael Rochlitz then goes on to explain the lack of strategic planning in the country’s economic policy. Finally, Olga Masyutina and Ekaterina Paustyan provide a case study of inefficient governance mechanisms looking at waste management.
The shots still largely protect people from developing severe symptoms, but there has been an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths among older age groups, Heather Scobie, deputy team lead of the CDC’s Surveillance and Analytics Epidemiology Task Force said at the meeting. And while it’s impossible to predict the future, we could be in for a tough fall and winter, epidemiologist Justin Lessler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said at the meeting. From March 2022 to March 2023, simulations project that deaths from COVID-19 in the United States might number in the tens to hundreds of thousands.
A switch to omicron-containing jabs may give people an extra layer of protection for the upcoming winter. Pfizer–BioNTech presented data at the meeting showing that updated versions of its mRNA shot gave clinical trial participants a boost of antibodies that recognize omicron. One version included omicron alone, while the other is a twofer, or bivalent, jab that mixes the original formulation with omicron. Moderna’s bivalent shot boosted antibodies too. Novavax, which developed a protein-based vaccine that the FDA is still mulling whether to authorize for emergency use, doesn’t have an omicron-based vaccine yet, though the company said its original shot gives people broad protection, generating antibodies that probably will recognize omicron.
Now, omicron subvariants BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 are the dominant versions in the United States and other countries. The CDC estimates that roughly half of new U.S.infections the week ending June 25 were caused by either BA.4 or BA.5. By the time the fall rolls around, yet another new version of omicron—or a different variant entirely—may join their ranks. The big question is which of these subvariants to include in the vaccines to give people the best protection possible.
BA.1, the version already in the updated vaccines, may be the right choice, virologist Kanta Subbarao said at the FDA meeting. An advisory committee to the World Health Organization, which Subbarao chairs, recommended on June 17 that vaccines may need to be tweaked to include omicron, likely BA.1. “We’re not trying to match [what variants] may circulate,” Subbarao said. Instead, the goal is to make sure that the immune system is as prepared as possible to recognize a wide variety of variants, not just specific ones. The hope is that the broader the immune response, the better our bodies will be at fighting the virus off even as it evolves.
Some members of the FDA advisory committee disagreed with choosing BA.1, instead saying that they’d prefer vaccines that include a portion of BA.4 or BA.5. With BA.1 largely gone, it may be better to follow the proverbial hockey puck where it’s going rather than where it’s been, said Bruce Gellin, chief of Global Public Health Strategy with the Rockefeller Foundation in Washington, D.C. Plus, BA.4 and BA.5 are also vastly different from the original variant. Both BA.4 and BA.5 have identical spike proteins, which the virus uses to break into cells and the vaccines use to teach our bodies to recognize an infection. So when it comes to making vaccines, the two are somewhat interchangeable.
There are some real-world data suggesting that current vaccines offer the least amount of protection from BA.4 and BA.5 compared with other omicron subvariants, Marks said. Pfizer also presented data showing results from a test in mice of a bivalent jab with the original coronavirus strain plus BA.4/BA.5. The shot sparked a broad immune response that boosted antibodies against four omicron subvariants. It’s unclear what that means for people.
Plenty of other open questions remain too. The FDA could authorize either a vaccine that contains omicron alone or a bivalent shot, although some data hinted that a bivalent dose might spark immunity that could be more durable. Pfizer and Moderna tested their updated shots in adults. It’s unclear what the results mean for kids. Also unknown is whether people who have never been vaccinated against COVID-19 could eventually start with such an omicron-based vaccine instead of the original two doses.
Maybe researchers will get some answers before boosters start in the fall. But health agencies need to make decisions now so vaccine developers have a chance to make the shots in the first place. Unfortunately, we’re always lagging behind the virus, said pediatrician Hayley Gans of Stanford University. “We can’t always wait for the data to catch up.”