Today we hear some new and encouraging news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well as a new entry into the vaccine game, Novavax. Also, information below covers the new PPP opening and a webinar opportunity, a new FedEx grant, and finally a hint that we could hear about the return of a graduated income tax proposal.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
FDA Analysis of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Finds It Safe, Effective
The Food and Drug Administration released an analysis of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday morning that supports its authorization for emergency use. On Friday, a panel of advisers to the agency will meet to evaluate the vaccine and make a recommendation about whether it should be given the OK. If the agency goes on to authorize the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it would be the third, after those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to become available in the U.S.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has some advantages. Immunization with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot, unlike the two-shot dosing for the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also doesn’t require special refrigeration for shipment and storage.
The FDA review noted that an international study of about 40,000 people, half of whom got the vaccine and half of whom got a placebo, found the company’s vaccine to be 66% effective overall in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 disease. The study was conducted in the U.S., Latin America, and South Africa.
The agency also said the vaccine has a “favorable safety profile” and that there were “no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA.” This language mirrors the assessments for vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which were authorized in December for emergency use.
The efficacy figures are lower than Pfizer’s 95% for preventing COVID-19 disease and 94% for Moderna. Over the course of the pandemic, the coronavirus has begun to change. Variants first seen in South Africa and Brazil, where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested, mutated in ways that help them evade the immune response prompted by vaccines developed against the original form of the virus. But there are more important measures, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Health told All Things Considered on Monday. “What you care about is hospitalizations and deaths,” he said. In the large clinical trial that is the centerpiece of the company’s application to the FDA, nobody who received the vaccine required hospitalization or died once the vaccine took full effect (28 days after immunization). “Johnson & Johnson appears to be just as good as Moderna and Pfizer at preventing those,” Jha said.
The most common adverse reactions among more than 6,000 study participants who were queried about their experience were injection site pain (49%), headache (39%), fatigue (38%) and muscle pain (33%). These side effects were mostly mild or moderate.
The authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine could eventually help expand the supply of COVID-19 shots for Americans. But its availability won’t make a huge difference right away. In congressional testimony Tuesday, a Johnson & Johnson executive said 4 million doses of vaccine would be available in the U.S. when the FDA grants an emergency use authorization. A total of 20 million doses would be ready by the end of March, he said, and the company would be able to deliver a total of 100 million doses by the end of June.
Novavax Nears Covid-19 Vaccine Game Changer
Novavax is advancing toward authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine. Scientists believe that, if cleared, it could be one of the more powerful weapons against the pandemic, offering key possible advantages over its competitors. Some early data suggest the Novavax shot may be one of the first shown to stem asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus and also potentially provide longer-lasting protection.
If the two-shot regimen is authorized, Novavax will still face the challenge of making and distributing it in large quantities. The firm sold some manufacturing assets in 2019 when it was desperate for cash. Investors, who left the 33-year-old company for dead last year, are betting that regulators will authorize Novavax’s vaccine in the next couple of months. They have sent shares on Nasdaq up to $229, up 106% so far this year. Late last month, Novavax released preliminary data indicating its shot was effective at protecting against Covid-19, though less so against a new strain identified in South Africa that appears to be a challenge for other shots, too. Results of the vaccine’s late-stage U.S. trial could be released late next month. Novavax now has a market value of $15.4 billion, greater than that of companies with billions of dollars of annual sales, including generic drug giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
An authorization would reinforce just how much Covid has upended the pharmaceutical world. The most advanced vaccines have been introduced by newcomers to the vaccine market using previously unproven technologies that can be designed and manufactured more quickly than conventional options. While vaccine giant Merck & Co. recently shut down its Covid-19 vaccine effort after disappointing results, upstarts like Moderna Inc. and BioNTech SE quickly developed, tested, and manufactured shots currently going into arms around the world.
Novavax’s vaccine “looks as strong as any vaccine, and it may have better durability,” says John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Initially skeptical of Novavax and its shot, Dr. Moore said he grew so encouraged by early study data last year that he volunteered to be a study subject and purchased some shares in the company, which he has since sold.
Novavax says it could produce a couple billion doses over the next year, beginning around April, equal to or more than those expected from other companies. Last week, Novavax announced a deal with Geneva-based public-health institution GAVI to allocate doses around the globe.
“I admire their tenacity, their persistence, their never-say-die approach,” says Roger Pomerantz, an infectious-disease and vaccine veteran who is chief executive of biotech ContraFect Corp. and a former executive at Merck, which several years ago passed on working with Novavax. “But at the end of the day, you need to see vaccines.”
Unlike shots from Pfizer and Moderna, the two authorized in the U.S., Novavax’s vaccine doesn’t need to be kept at freezing temperatures. That’s an advantage for hospitals, clinics and pharmacies lacking freezer capacity.
While Novavax has developed some proprietary methods, its vaccine approach is similar to those of proven vaccines, such as those for shingles and hepatitis B—one reason why some scientists are fans.
Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch Floats Trying Graduated Income Tax Again
Illinois lawmakers probably ought to take another whack as passing a graduated income tax amendment but should specifically tie much of the proceeds to paying off old pension debt. That was the suggestion today from the new speaker of the Illinois House, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, as he came under strong questioning about how the state should handle $144 billion in unfunded pension liability for state workers and educators.
In a webcast event hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago, the Hillside Democrat seemed to reject raising the retirement age, cutting benefits, or otherwise reducing the payout to Tier One workers, those hired before 2011. They’re the source of the bulk of the $144 billion in unfunded liability
The Legislature passed a measure several years ago to do just that, but it was ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court. “I voted for it,” Welch said. “But, the court ruled ‘You can’t do that. It’s wrong,'” Welch said.
Given that, the state must find the revenue to pay its debts, he argued. But voters clearly weren’t inclined to go along in November because they didn’t trust Springfield with a blank check, Welch said.
That could change if the Legislature again sent to voters, perhaps in time for the 2022 elections, a new proposed Constitutional amendment to allow a graduated tax that earmarked the money, Welch said, specifically referring to pensions.
Under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan, only $200 million a year out of $3 billion in proceeds had been promised to pensions, though the governor said that figure could go up. Welch did not say what share of a new amendment should be promised to pensions. But he did predict that given the state’s fiscal problems, the income tax issue isn’t going to disappear.
“If we don’t change (the current flat tax) . . . we’re going to be talking about this in another five years,” Welch said. Adopting a graduated tax like most other states have is “one of the structural changes we need.”
Welch also expressed general support for Pritzker’s proposal to close $932 million in “corporate tax loopholes.” After helping defeat the graduated tax amendment in November, the business community “needs to come to the table,” he said. But he stopped short of endorsing the entire package.
Reminder: Today Begins PPP Special Two-Week Application Period for Small Businesses
The smallest businesses that have had the most trouble accessing forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program will soon get extra help. As a reminder, the Biden administration on Monday announced changes for the pandemic aid program focused on helping small and minority owned firms as well as sole proprietors.
For two weeks, starting TODAY, the Small Business Administration will only accept applications for PPP loans from firms with fewer than 20 employees. The administration is also making several changes to the program, including increasing loan amounts for sole proprietors and individual contractors, eliminating restrictions around delinquent student loan debt and non-fraud felony convictions as well as allowing some non-citizen business owners to apply.
The changes will help even the playing field for firms that make up most of the small business community – 98% of small businesses employ fewer than 20 people but have received only 45% of PPP funding thus far, according to the SBA. They also aim to address racial disparities that have been seen in loans as earlier iterations of the program left out many minority-owned businesses.
PPP Update Webinar – What do the latest changes to PPP loans mean for you?
New updates to PPP loans were announced this week that predominantly affect minority-owned small businesses and businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Find out what these changes could mean for you at our Small Business Update, Thursday (2/25) at 12 pm ET. Neil Bradley, Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will be there to answer your PPP loan questions.
A Chance to Win $50,000 for Your Small Business – FedEx Grant Contest
The story of your small business is one worth telling. You’ve grown stronger and wiser over the last year and the valuable new lessons you’ve learned have helped you become more focused than ever before. Now you have a chance to win $50,000 to help you continue growing your business. Enter the 9th annual FedEx Small Business Grant Contest today.
Here are a few simple tips to help you get started – The 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is now open. Entries close March 9, 2021. Before you enter, have your FedEx account number handy. Or create an account if you don’t have one. Then follow these five simple steps to prep your entry:
- Write a short profile of your company
Tell us about your business. Why did you start this business? What does your company do? What do you do differently or better than your competitors? Are there any social causes that are important to your business? How would you use the winnings to enhance your business?
- Have a copy of your logo available to upload along with some photos
You’ll need a digital version of your current logo and several photos that best represent your business. Be sure your photos are formatted horizontally.
- Create an optional YouTube video
Make a one-minute video describing your business and its mission. While a video is optional, it does help voters and the contest judges get to know your business quickly. And don’t worry, the one minute is not a hard and fast rule. Just make sure the YouTube video is set to public viewing.
This will give you a good overview of what a contest entry entails.
- Get ready to promote your entry
Plan to remind people to vote for you using your email list and social channels. Votes are one of the many factors that can help you get noticed by the contest judges.
Enter here: https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/enter-now
More info: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/small-business/grant-contest.html?CMP=SOC-1006521-1-16-1003-1111000-US-US-EN-FXALISBGCKIT200&LINK=LEARNGCLI315120
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
1st draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/first-draw-ppp-loans
First draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
2nd draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans
Second draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
Finally, following up on the article above with the economic outlook news, we would like to announce our next virtual conference. It will take place on March 11th at 11 AM with John Ferguson, Senior Vice President & Senior Portfolio Manager with Northern Trust.
Economic Trends & Reopening of the Economy
- History: Economic and Market Review through the Pandemic
- Current Events: Market and Economic Signs that we are at an inflection point
- Outlook for the Future: Is this a remake of the roaring 20’s?
Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-march-11-economic-trends-reopening-of-the-economy-6016
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry