Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines highly effective after first shot in real-world use, -U.S. study

By Ankur Banerjee and Vishwadha Chander

(Reuters) – COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc with BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc reduced the risk of infection by 80% two weeks or more after the first of two shots, according to data from a real-world U.S. study released on Monday.

The risk of infection fell 90% by two weeks after the second shot, the study of just under 4,000 vaccinated U.S. healthcare personnel and first responders found.

The study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated the vaccines’ ability to protect against infection, including infections that did not cause symptoms. Previous clinical trials by the companies evaluated their vaccine’s efficacy in preventing illness from COVID-19.

The findings from of the real-world use of these messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines confirm the efficacy demonstrated in the large controlled clinical trials conducted before they received emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The study looked at the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines among 3,950 participants in six states over a 13-week period from Dec. 14, 2020 to March 13, 2021.

“The authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provided early, substantial real-world protection against infection for our nation’s healthcare personnel, first responders, and other frontline essential workers,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

The new mRNA technology is a synthetic form of a natural chemical messenger being used to instruct cells to make proteins that mirror part of the novel coronavirus. That teaches the immune system to recognize and attack the actual virus.

The CDC study comes weeks after real-world data from Israel suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 94% effective in preventing asymptomatic infections.

Some countries, including Britain and Canada, are allowing extended gaps between doses that differ from how the vaccines were tested in clinical trials in order to alleviate supply constraints. In the trials, there was a three-week gap between Pfizer shots and four weeks for the Moderna vaccine.

In Britain, authorities said in January that data supported its decision to move to 12 weeks between the first and second Pfizer/BioNtech shots. Pfizer and its German partner have warned that they had no evidence to prove that.

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee and Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot)

Canada needs stricter health measures to counter rapid spread of COVID-19 variants – officials

By Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) – COVID-19 variant cases are increasing rapidly in several parts of Canada and longer-range forecasts show that stronger public health restrictions will be required to counter the spread of the disease, health officials said on Friday.

Canada is expecting enough coronavirus vaccine doses to double its supply by the end of next week as it ramps up its vaccination program. But more transmissible variants now account for a high proportion of new cases, health officials said.

“Increasing case counts, shifting severity trends and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern is a reminder that we are in a very tight race between vaccines versus variants,” Canada’s chief medical officer, Theresa Tam, told reporters.

While Canada has handed out first shots to many of the most vulnerable and very elderly, recent data shows that young adults between 20 and 39 years of age are driving new cases now, health officials said.

Many parts of the country have begun to relax some health restrictions put in place to beat back a second wave, but Tam said Canadians should buckle down now to avoid a sharp rise in cases and a third wave.

“We are closer now than ever, but it is still too soon to relax measures and too soon to gather in areas where COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada,” Tam said.

“So as Passover, Easter and Ramadan approach, make plans to celebrate safely, including having virtual celebrations to protect each other as we make this the last big push to keep the path clear for vaccines,” she said.

As of Thursday, Canada had reported 22,790 deaths and 951,562 total coronavirus cases. On Friday, the officials told reporters that new modeling showed the domestic death toll could rise to between 22,875 and 23,315 by April 4, with total cases rising to between 973,080 and 1,005,020.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern rail deal seen boosting farm sales

By Rod Nickel and Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) – Canadian Pacific’s $25 billion deal to buy Kansas City Southern will create a rail network from Canada to Mexico that farm groups say could smooth the flow of their goods to market.

The deal, subject to approval by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, would combine CP’s cross-Canada network, which stretches as far south as Kansas City, Missouri, with its U.S. rival’s network, which extends south into Mexico.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Iowa-based Soy Transportation Coalition said the deal could increase market access for customers of each railway.

“Many current Canadian Pacific customers currently only have access to export terminals in the Pacific Northwest,” Steenhoek said in a statement. “Similarly, current Kansas City Southern customers may enjoy new access to markets served by the Canadian Pacific network.”

Mexico is a major buyer of U.S. corn and Canadian canola.

“This will open up a whole new set of opportunities for grain shipments,” said an industry source close to the deal.

Canadian grain handlers also see potential for enhanced sales, but are awaiting details on how much of a priority the combined company will place on customer service, said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, whose members include Cargill Ltd and Richardson International.

CP has effectively moved Canadian grain in the past year, but its spending on upgrading its network has lagged the agriculture sector’s growth during the past five years, Sobkowich said.

For Canadian oil, the merger may offer modest benefits for producers who ship with CP, said John Zahary, chief executive of Altex Energy, which operates rail uploading terminals connected to Canadian National, which handles more oil volumes.

The combination is likely to increase industry price competition and is thus unlikely to face regulatory roadblocks, analysts said.

“This is by default negative for the other railroads, including Canadian National, which faces a longer haul competitor into the Gulf Coast and Midwest,” J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Ossenbeck said in a research note.

Kansas City shares jumped 13% to $252.80 but were still well short of the offer price of $275, a move that analysts attributed to the extended lead time for the deal, which is not expected to close until the middle of 2022.

Shares of Canadian Pacific fell about 5%.

CP Chief Executive Keith Creel approached Kansas City Southern CEO Pat Ottensmeyer late last year to discuss a deal, the industry source said, adding that the two executives know each other well.

While it is the biggest M&A deal announced thus far in 2021 and is the largest ever involving two rail companies, it ranks behind the 2010 takeover of BNSF by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $26.4 billion.

The cash-and-stock offer has an enterprise value of about $29 billion, implying an 18 times multiple to Kansas City’s 2021 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) estimate, according to analysts.

That is higher than Kansas City’s current multiple of 14 times, making any competing bids unlikely, Ossenbeck said.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera and Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Christian Plumb, Anil D’Silva and Jonathan Oatis)

Exclusive: U.S. looks to Canada for minerals to build electric vehicles – documents

By Ernest Scheyder and Jeff Lewis

(Reuters) – The U.S. government is working to help American miners and battery makers expand into Canada, part of a strategy to boost regional production of minerals used to make electric vehicles and counter Chinese dominance.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce is hosting a closed-door virtual meeting with miners and battery manufacturers to discuss ways to boost Canadian production of EV materials, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The move comes as demand for electrified transportation is set to surge over the next decade.

Conservationists have strongly opposed several large U.S. mining projects, leading officials to look north of the border to Canada and its supply of 13 of the 35 minerals deemed critical for national defense by Washington.

Tesla Inc, Albemarle Corp, Talon Metals Corp and Livent Corp are among the more-than 30 attendees at Thursday’s meeting who will discuss ways Washington can assist U.S. companies expand in Canada and overcome logistical challenges, according to the documents.

The U.S. Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The event comes after U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed last month to building an EV supply chain between the two countries.

Since Biden’s election, three U.S. mining companies have invested in Canada, where mining accounts for 5% of the country’s gross domestic product, versus roughly 0.9% in the United States.

Canada’s Fortune Minerals Ltd, which is developing a cobalt mine in the Northwest Territories, has also held funding talks with the U.S. Export/Import Bank, its chief executive told Reuters.

“The United States is really taking this seriously,” CEO Robin Goad said.

Lithium-ion batteries are dangerous to transport over long distances, so automakers prefer to have them built near assembly plants. That should aid efforts by Ontario and Quebec to develop their own battery cell plants with both provinces close to U.S. automakers in Michigan and Ohio, industry executives said.

“The border between Canada and the U.S. is inconsequential with respect to EVs and EV minerals,” said Arne Frandsen, CEO of mining investment group Pallinghurst, which is the largest shareholder in Nouveau Monde Graphite Inc, which is building a graphite mine and anode plant in Quebec.

Pallinghurst joined Livent last November to buy the Nemaska lithium project in Quebec, in what will be North America’s largest lithium mine. Both projects are slated to open by 2024 just as automakers launch dozens of new EV models.

“We do see Canada as a natural fit for expansion as the whole battery supply chain is going through a huge self-reckoning about sourcing,” said Livent CEO Paul Graves.

Livent has supply deals with BMW and Tesla.

’51ST STATE’

To be sure, the United States is also trying to boost domestic production of EV metals, which the Biden administration has said is critical.

But Washington is increasingly viewing Canada as a kind of “51st State” for mineral supply purposes and plans to deepen financial and logistical partnerships with the country’s mining sector over time, according to a U.S. government source.

Both countries are members of the Energy Resource Governance Initiative, a pact to share mining experience and resources.

Canadian firms are also able to apply for U.S. government grants under the U.S. Defense Production Act and other U.S. funding programs. There are no U.S. tariffs on Canadian EV battery metals or EV parts.

“You’re beginning to see Canada become an important part of the North American EV supply chain,” said Keith Phillips, CEO of Piedmont Lithium Ltd, which in January bought 20% of Sayona Mining Ltd, a developer of a Quebec lithium project.

Canada’s First Cobalt Corp is building the continent’s only cobalt refinery, part of an effort to wean the EV industry off supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where child labor has been used. Cobalt is used to make battery cathodes.

Adding to the appeal of Canada, some of the country’s mines bill themselves as environmentally friendly and promise to use hydroelectric power to reduce their carbon emissions.

The United States knows “that we are the most-secure and most-resilient source of metal imports for them,” Canadian Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan told Reuters.

Last week, privately-held USA Rare Earth invested in Search Minerals Inc’s rare earths project in Newfoundland in eastern Canada.

While USA Rare Earth already controls a rare earths deposit in Texas, executives said they wanted access to more of the minerals used to make electronics and weapons.

“You can’t just rely on projects in the U.S. for supply,” said Pini Althaus, USA Rare Earth’s CEO. “You have to collaborate with Canada.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston and Jeff Lewis in Toronto; Editing by Amran Abocar and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. plans to send four million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico, Canada

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to send roughly 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that it is not using to Mexico and Canada in loan deals with the two countries, an administration official told Reuters on Thursday.

Mexico will receive 2.5 million doses of the vaccine and Canada will receive 1.5 million doses, the official said.

“This virus has no borders,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We only put the virus behind us if we’re helping our global partners.”

The Biden administration has come under pressure from allies worldwide to share vaccine, particularly from AstraZeneca, which is authorized for use in other countries but not yet in the United States.

AstraZeneca has millions of doses made in a U.S. facility, and has said that it would have 30 million shots ready at the beginning of April. The company’s shares rose slightly on the news.

The deal to share the vaccine, which is still being finalized, does not affect President Joe Biden’s plans to have vaccine available for all adults in the United States by the end of May, the official said. The deal is likely to be announced publicly in the coming days.

Two officials said the vaccine would be delivered in “short order” once the deal was completed, but they declined to give a more specific timetable.

The “releasable” vaccines are ready to be used once they arrive. Under the deal, the United States will share doses with Mexico and Canada now with the understanding that they will pay the United States back with doses in return. The official said that would take place later this year.

The United States had no plans to share the vaccine with other countries at this time, he said.

“They are our neighbors, they are our partners,” the official said about Mexico and Canada. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had requested the vaccine previously.

Biden has said if the United States has a surplus of vaccine, it will share it with the rest of the world.

The official noted that the United States has pledged $4 billion to the COVAX vaccine facility that aims to deliver coronavirus vaccines to poor countries.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)

Canada extends travel restrictions at U.S. border: Canadian official

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. land borders with Canada will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least April 21, the Canadian government said Thursday.

The new 30-day extension is the second announced under President Joe Biden and comes as U.S lawmakers in border states have urged lifting the nearly year-old restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada has shown little interest in lifting the restrictions and last month imposed new COVID-19 testing requirements for some Canadians returning at crossings.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Moderna begins study of COVID-19 vaccine in kids

(Reuters) – Moderna Inc has begun dosing patients in a mid-to-late stage study of its COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, in children aged six months to less than 12 years, the company said on Tuesday.

The study will assess the safety and effectiveness of two doses of mRNA-1273 given 28 days apart and intends to enroll about 6,750 children in the United States and Canada.

The vaccine has already been authorized for emergency use in Americans who are aged 18 and older.

In a separate study which began in December, Moderna is also testing mRNA-1273 in adolescents between 12 and 18 years old.

The latest study is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

U.S. extends travel restrictions at land borders with Canada, Mexico through March 21

By David Shepardson and Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least March 21, the one-year anniversary of the restrictions to address COVID-19 transmission concerns, the U.S. government said Friday.

The new 30-day extension is the first announced under President Joe Biden and comes as the White House has been holding meetings about potentially tightening requirements for crossing at U.S. land borders in North America, officials said.

Canada has shown little interest in lifting the restrictions and recently imposed new COVID-19 testing requirements for some Canadians returning by land crossings.

On Jan. 26, the U.S. government began requiring nearly all international air travelers to get negative COVID-19 test results within three days of travel, but has no similar requirements for land border crossings.

In an executive order issued last month, Biden directed U.S. officials to “immediately commence diplomatic outreach to the governments of Canada and Mexico regarding public health protocols for land ports of entry.”

It added U.S. agencies should submit a plan to Biden within 14 days “to implement appropriate public health measures at land ports of entry.”

“The plan should implement CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, consistent with applicable law, and take into account the operational considerations relevant to the different populations who enter the United States by land,” it said.

Biden also directed a similar review of sea travel and to “implement appropriate public health measures at sea ports.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Ted Hesson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

Canada to demand negative COVID tests from people returning across U.S. land border

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will step up its fight against COVID-19 by obliging citizens returning home over land from the United States to show they do not have COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Everyone arriving by air already has to prove they tested negative within the previous 72 hours and this rule is being expanded to land crossings starting on Feb. 15, Trudeau said.

Although non-essential travel between the two nations is banned, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have second homes in the United States, and Ottawa is obliged to allow them to return if they wish. People who arrive without test results can be fined C$3,000 ($2,360).

The measure only affects around 5% of returning Canadians because the majority arrive by air.

“We’re using every tool in the toolbox to get us all through this crisis,” Trudeau told reporters. Essential workers such as truck drivers are exempt from the new rules.

Canada has recorded a total of 20,835 deaths and 808,120 cases of COVID-19. Many provinces reimposed restrictions to combat a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and as a result the number of new daily cases over the last week fell to around 3,500 from 8,000 in early January.

“This is gratifying progress,” chief medical officer Theresa Tam told reporters.

Trudeau also promised the supply of vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc would ramp up next week.

His Liberal government has been attacked by critics over the slow pace of vaccinations, caused in part by a temporary reduction in supplies from Pfizer.

Separately, officials said Canada would allow a sixth dose to be taken from each vial of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than the originally intended five.

They told reporters that six doses could be extracted provided a special syringe was used, mirroring moves taken by the United States and some European nations.

($1=1.2704 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Mark Heinrich)

Canada’s Trudeau says scope for closer U.S.-Canada integration on EVs, critical mineral supply

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada and the United States can collaborate more closely on manufacturing electric vehicles and on supplying critical minerals needed to make batteries for cars and other clean technologies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

“The integration of our economies, of our supply chains … I think gives a real opportunity for us to really take some leaps forward,” Trudeau said in a telephone interview.

After noting that Canada has many of the rare earths minerals needed for car batteries and solar panels, Trudeau said it was important to have “a secure supply from a friend and an ally”.

China has been one of the main suppliers of critical minerals to the United States, and Biden is planning to mandate a review of critical U.S. supply chains with an eye to securing U.S. industrial supplies, Reuters reported earlier this week.

Canada’s mineral wealth “is part of why so many automakers are now looking at setting up their supply chains for zero emission vehicles in Canada,” Trudeau said.

General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Stellantis NV have all announced plans to manufacture electric vehicles in Canada in coming years.

“We’ve already seen something like $6 billion worth of investment by auto companies in Canada over the past couple of years into zero-emissions or low-emissions vehicles,” Trudeau said.

“There’s a lot of really great opportunities to be developing partnerships and production facilities not just for the North American market, but for the world,” he added.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Daniel Wallis)