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Pfizer, BioNTech seek U.S. COVID-19 vaccine clearance for children 5-11

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pfizer and BioNTech SE have asked U.S. regulators to authorize emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, a group for whom no shot is currently allowed, Pfizer said on Thursday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a date of Oct. 26 for its panel of outside advisers to meet and discuss the application, making it possible for children in this age group — numbering around 28 million — to begin receiving the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shortly afterward.

“With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against #COVID19,” Pfizer wrote on Twitter.

The vaccine already has won U.S. emergency use authorization in teens ages 12 to 15 and is fully approved by regulators for people ages 16 and up.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is one of three in use in the United States, along with the two-dose Moderna vaccine and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson version, neither of which has won full regulatory approval for any age group.

A rapid authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in young kids could help mitigate a potential surge of cases in the coming weeks and months, with schools open nationwide and colder weather driving activities indoors. If given regulatory authorization, the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine would become the first COVID-19 shot made available to children 5 to 11 in the United States.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been shown to induce a strong immune response in 5 to 11 year olds in a 2,268-participant clinical trial, the companies said on Sept. 20.

The two drugmakers are also testing the vaccine in children ages 2 to 5 years old and children ages 6 months to 2 years, with data expected in the fourth quarter.

The vaccine could be ready for roll out as early as November pending approval from federal regulatory health agencies, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said on CNN.

Once the authorization is granted, Zients said: “We are ready. We have the supply. We’re working with states to set up convenient locations for parents and kids to get vaccinated including pediatricians’ offices and community sites.”

The United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Children currently make up about 27% of all U.S. coronavirus cases and an increasing percentage of hospitalizations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That reflects the high contagiousness of the coronavirus Delta variant among unvaccinated people.

While children are less susceptible to severe COVID-19, they can spread the virus to others, including vulnerable populations more at risk of severe illness.

A Pfizer spokesperson said the application to the FDA has been completed.

U.S. labor market regaining footing as weekly jobless claims fall sharply

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped by the most in three months last week, suggesting the labor market recovery was regaining momentum after a recent slowdown, as the wave of COVID-19 infections began to subside.

The weekly unemployment claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, the most timely data on the economy’s health, also showed the number of people on state unemployment rolls plunging to an 18-month low in late September.

Improving labor market conditions bode well for the government’s closely watched employment report for September and also provide ammunition for the Federal Reserve, which signaled last month it could begin reducing is monthly bond buying as soon as November.

“The labor market is back on track after a few weeks of rising claims threw a question mark into the markets’ understanding of just how solid the economic outlook really is,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York. “The Fed has the evidence it needs to start paring back its emergency stimulus purchases when it meets next month.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 38,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000 for the week ended Oct. 2. That was the biggest drop since late June. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 348,000 claims for the latest week.

Unadjusted claims, which economists say offer a better read of the labor market, tumbled 41,431 to 258,909 last week. California led the drop in claims last week. There were also decreases in Michigan, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Missouri. They offset notable increases in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Claims had increased for three straight weeks as California moved people to another program following the expiration of federal government-funded aid on Sept. 6, to allow the recipients to collect one additional week of benefits.

There had also been increases in filings related to the idling of assembly plants in some states by automakers as they managed their supply of semiconductors amid a global shortage.

A resurgence in COVID-19 infections, driven by the Delta variant, also disrupted activity in the high-contact services sector. That suggested some moderation in labor market conditions in the prior weeks, which was confirmed by a separate report on Thursday from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas showing job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers increased 14% to 17,895 in September.

Still, layoffs were down 85% compared to September 2020.

In the third quarter, employers announced 52,560 job cuts, the fewest since the second quarter of 1997 and down 23% from the July-September period.

Layoffs last month were led by companies in the healthcare/products sector, with 2,673 announced cuts. Since the Pfizer vaccine received full-FDA approval, many healthcare facilities have implemented vaccine mandates, which have led to the firing of non-compliant workers.

Ongoing strains in the supply chain saw industrial goods manufacturers laying off 2,328 workers in September, while warehousing businesses reported 1,936 job cuts. There were 1,679 job cuts in the services sector.

But the rise in layoffs was dwarfed by an explosion in planned hiring, in part as retailers gear up for the holiday season. The Challenger report showed companies announced plans to hire 939,790 workers compared to only 94,004 in August.

With companies eager to hire, more people are coming off the state unemployment rolls. The claims report showed the number of people continuing to receive benefits after an initial week of aid tumbled 97,000 to 2.714 million in the week ended Sept. 25. That was the lowest level since mid-March 2020.

The total number of people collecting unemployment checks under all programs dropped to 4.172 million during the week ended Sept. 18 from 5.027 million in the prior week. That reflected the end of extended benefits last month, which economists hope will increase the labor pool.

The pandemic forced some people to drop out of work to become caregivers. Others are reluctant to return for fear of contracting the coronavirus, while some have either retired or are seeking career changes. That has left employers desperate to fill a record 10.9 million job openings as of the end of July.

The worker shortages have impacted job growth, though there is optimism that hiring picked up in September. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 500,000 jobs last month.

Estimates range from as high as 700,000 jobs to as low as 250,000, reflecting the mixed labor market indicators in September. A survey from the Conference Board last week showed consumers’ views of current labor market conditions softened.

While the Institute for Supply Management’s measure of manufacturing employment rebounded last month after contracting in August, its measure of services industry employment slipped.

The economy created 235,000 jobs in August, the fewest in seven months. The unemployment rate is forecast dipping to 5.1% in September from 5.2% in August.

”Going forward, the combination of easing labor supply constraints, strong labor demand and an improving COVID outlook should spur further labor market progress,” said Lydia Boussour, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York.

Wenatchee cancels Friday's game against Davis because of multiple COVID-19 positives

WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee High School Panthers football game against Davis has been canceled, athletic director Jim Beeson confirmed Wednesday night after the program had six COVID-19 positive cases on the varsity team.

This is the second time the Panthers have been forced to cancel a game this season.

Wenatchee also cancelled its season-opener against Skyline after a pair of non-varsity players tested positive. The entire team was forced to quarantine and miss four days of practice.

Ultimately, the Panthers just didn’t have the minimum number of practices required to compete against Skyline. This is a little bit different given that multiple players on the varsity team tested positive.

“If we have one positive case, and they’ve gone through practice with everybody — they’ve exposed the whole group,” Beeson said in August after the Skyline game was cancelled. “It’s frustrating. It’s the first but it won’t be the last. I know that for sure. We just have to deal with it and err on the side of caution ... .”

The plan, he said, is to keep next week’s game against West Valley on the schedule. If there are no more positive cases, players will return to practice next week.

Friday’s game against Davis will not be made up.

Confluence Health CEO-elect is stepping down

WENATCHEE — Confluence Health’s once soon-to-be CEO, Dr. Douglas Wilson, is departing before stepping into the new role.

Current CEO Dr. Peter Rutherford will delay his retirement while the Confluence Board of Directors searches for another CEO replacement, according to Andrew Canning, Confluence Health spokesperson.

Rutherford was set to retire this fall.

Canning said he is not able to share the specifics of Dr. Wilson’s departure. Adding, “his separation was not linked to or associated with any specific event or incident.”

Wilson’s vaccination status did not play a role in the separation, Canning said in an email.

The board is working with an outside research search firm to help find a CEO replacement candidate, Canning said. No replacement candidates have been selected yet.