5 min read

Where's the pan-variant vaccine?

The knives are out for the RBA; are we entering the age of antisocial media; another major crypto (Web3) hack; and why are we still waiting on a pan-variant vaccine?
Cartoon showing new PM Anthony Albanese with plenty of problems.
New PM Anthony Albanese has inherited plenty of problems, including a central bank that allowed inflation to get out of hand. Source.

1—Where's the pan-variant vaccine?

Eric Topol of Scripps Research sat down for an interview with New York Magazine in which he lamented the world's governments "keep reacting and chasing instead of doing the things we know would get ahead of it [COVID-19]":

"From day one of this pandemic, we have never tried to get ahead of the virus. Labs have come up with all sorts of broad neutralizing antibodies that would be variantproof. Nasal vaccines, to block transmission, to achieve mucosal immunity — there are 12 in clinical trials. There are all these drugs in the hopper. Pan-coronavirus vaccines. These are all academic pursuits or largely from small companies. There hasn't been a national or a much larger international initiative to get ahead of the virus."

He has a point – the Omicron variant has been around since November 2021 and it took seven months to get a BA.1-specific booster approved, only for the pharmaceutical companies sent back to the start of the approval process for a BA.5-specific booster, which we still don't have.

That means we're all getting booster shots for the original Wuhan strain despite it not having much in common with BA.5. Then by the time we get a BA.5 booster, "it may not work against the then circulating virus because it knows how to evolve".

But we could, if the commitment (read: money) was there:

"This virus is ideally suited, as compared to flu or HIV, for a variantproof vaccine... We've proven that. We’re just not building on our successes. It's incredible. This is a less challenging, less hypermutating virus than the flu. Our COVID vaccines make flu vaccines look like a joke, or at least they did."

The US government's Operation Warp Speed was widely praised for getting us from "from a novel pathogen to vaccine shots in arms" in less than 12 months, at a cost of just $10 billion – or about a fifth of the amount the Biden administration just committed to semiconductor subsidies. A "second incarnation, with a tenth of that budget, could almost certainly accomplish a great deal... with competent execution, we could roll out pan-variant COVID vaccines before the end of 2022".

Check out the full interview here (~15 minute read).

2—And so it begins

Just two days after we claimed it was "only a matter of time until it [the RBA] also finds itself under the spotlight", the knives came out:

"Former principal adviser to federal Treasury and chief economist at both ANZ Bank and Credit Suisse Warren Hogan told The Daily Telegraph the RBA had made 'pretty bad errors' over the past 18 months and was at risk of compounding those by jacking up the cash rate too quickly.
Mr Hogan, who was also a professor of economics at Sydney University for 30 years, said RBA Governor's Philip Lowe's chief error was a public commitment in 2021 that the cash rate was 'very likely' to remain at 0.1 per cent until at least 2024.

He said that guidance had the effect of 'misleading people, basically' and encouraging them to buy homes and take out loans in the mistaken belief that rates wouldn't rise for up to three years.
'It's unforgivable. I think they should resign — the whole board.'"

We're yet to see any true insiders speak out against the RBA, unlike across the ditch where at least two former governors have now criticised the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. With an independent review currently underway it's unlikely that any former RBA governors, even if they believed it to be true, would speak out and risk tainting that process.

But back to Hogan's point, should RBA governor Philip Lowe, who has yet to take any personal responsibility for the inflation predicament we now find ourselves in, set the example by stepping down? Probably, although his seven-year term is up next year anyway – 17 September – and he would be walking away from a $1m annual salary.

We're also not sure anyone else at the RBA, or elsewhere, would have done much better: central bankers all drink from the same well – they all work with the same models, read the same papers and attend the same conferences. The only developed economies without persistently high inflation today are Switzerland and Japan, which were also two countries where the central banks didn't ease policy considerably at the onset of the pandemic. But that's probably less due to foresight and more to the fact they were constrained – rates in both countries were already negative.

You can read the full article in the Daily Telegraph here (~3 minute read).

3—A fool and his money are soon parted

Crypto hacks are incredibly common. Twitter screencap showing the latest.
If something seems too good to be true – especially in crypto – it probably is. Source.

4—The era of antisocial media

"Shares of Meta (formerly Facebook) now trade at less than half of their all-time high. The company has announced it is changing its news feed to emphasize content from its 'discovery engine' instead of from friends and family. Instagram, a Meta subsidiary, has announced a similar change, to much criticism."

So wrote Tyler Cowen in Bloomberg, as he pondered whether "social media is past its prime", drawing parallels with the downfall of the once-dominant practice of blogging. Cowen notes while it's "not a prediction", he sees viewership shifting to more private and small-group messaging (e.g. WhatsApp) and to video away from text, something that has already been happening with TikTok's popular short video format.

But will a shift away from social media result in a better future? Cowen's not so sure, worrying that gossip – a social problem in the "pre-social-media world" – would simply become turbocharged by technology, leading to people to "just use social media to talk about each other instead of debating the issues of the day".

You can read Cowen's the full article on Bloomberg ($) here (~4 minute read).

5—Further reading...

🏡 Millennials [those born between 1981 and 1996] are twice as rich as they were before the pandemic, although they're still poorer (~6.5%) than Boomers were at the same age.

🏭 Manufacturing purchasing managers' indices for the euro area's four largest members all indicated contraction in July, following equally-weak readings from China, South Korea and Taiwan.

⚔️ US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan last night despite threats of "strong countermeasures" from Chinese officials, releasing an opinion piece to coincide with her landing stating that her visit "should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan".

🚢 "The first ship carrying grain departed a Ukrainian port early Monday under a United Nations-brokered deal to ease a global food crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine."