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Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

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Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Google is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened.

The more highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Google’s Wednesday announcement was shortly followed by Facebook, which also said it will make vaccines mandatory for U.S. employees who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons.

In an email sent to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning Oct. 18 instead of its previous target date of Sept. 1.

The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.

“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote.

And Pichai disclosed that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters and other U.S. offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.

“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”

Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.

Various government agencies already have announced demands for all their employees to be vaccinated, but the corporate world so far has been taking a more measured approach, even though most lawyers believe the mandates are legal.

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring their employees to disclose their vaccination status, but are not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.

Less than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s human resources practice.

“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.

Google’s vaccine mandate will be adjusted to adhere to the laws and regulations of each location, Pichai wrote, and exceptions will be made for medical and other “protected” reasons.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai explained.

Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. President Joe Biden also is considering mandating all federal government workers be vaccinated.

The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.

The vaccine requirement rolling out in California next month covers more than 240,000 government employees. The city and county of San Francisco is also requiring its roughly 35,000 workers to be vaccinated or risk disciplinary action after the Food and Drug Administration approves one of the vaccines now being distributed under an emergency order.

It’s unclear how many of Google’s workers still haven’t been vaccinated. In his email, Pichai described the vaccination rate at the company as high.

Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by another technology powerhouse, Apple, which recently moved its return-to-office plans from September to October, too.

The delays by Apple and Google could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.

Google’s vaccine requirement also could embolden other employers to issue similar mandates to guard against outbreaks and minimize the need to wear masks in the office.

While most companies are planning to bring back their workers at least a few days a week, others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.


SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP)

MedTech

Vista Equity invests $300 million in telehealth software firm TigerConnect- sources

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Healthcare communications software provider TigerConnect has raised $300 million in growth investment from private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

The valuation of TigerConnect wasn’t known. It last raised $45 million at a valuation of $370 million in September 2020, according to PitchBook data, counting HealthQuest Capital and New Leaf Ventures as its backers. Some of the early investors have exited through Vista’s investment, one of the sources said.

Santa Monica, California-based TigerConnect delivers cloud-based clinical communication and collaboration solutions, including telehealth, to over 7,000 healthcare organizations and 700,000 caregivers.

In an interview, Brad Brooks, TigerConnect’s co-founder and chief executive confirmed the partnership with Vista, but declined to comment on the amount or valuation.

He said the company plans to use the proceeds to invest in its product to meet the growing need for clinical collaborations, as well as looking for acquisition opportunities.

The number of users on TigerConnect’s platform more than doubled during the past year as hospitals try to improve efficiency and the experience for patients during the pandemic, Brooks added.

“There had really been a dramatic lack of efforts around clinical workflow communication. We’re almost like a Slack for healthcare, putting in a common communication network so that everyone can reach everyone,” said Brooks.

The company, founded in 2010, sells subscription-based software solutions, including collaboration, communication, scheduling and patient engagement. It also plans to utilize AI and machine learning technology to provide smart solutions based on the platform data.

Vista has over $86 billion in assets under management and specializes in investing in enterprise software, data and technology companies. Last week, it invested an undisclosed amount in BlueConic, a Boston-based customer data platform.

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MedTech

AstraZeneca booster shot is effective against Omicron variant

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A study from an Oxford University lab published on Thursday revealed that a three-dose course of AstraZeneca booster shot is efficient in controlling the fast spread of the Omicron variant.

The Pharmaceutical company said in its statement that the results – while they have yet to be released in a peer-reviewed medical journal – are relatively identical to those of its rivals, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. They also uncovered that their booster vaccines effectively fight the latest Coronavirus variant.

After receiving the third dose of AstraZeneca, the study highlighted that the shot had a neutralizing effect against the virus, which had an almost identical result to the two shots against its previous variant, Delta.

“As we better understand Omicron, we believe we will find T-cell response provides durable protection against severe disease and hospitalizations,” the head of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceutical R&D, Mene Pangalos, said when referring to a significant element of the immune system that fights infection.

After taking the Vaxzervria – the third booster shot – antibody levels marked a much higher rate than antibodies in patients who had already caught the virus and naturally regained health, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said.

On Tuesday, the pharmaceutical firm announced that it is already working with its partner, Oxford University, to develop a vaccine exclusively directed towards fighting the Omicron variant, mirroring other MedTech companies’ attempts.

The university’s study incorporated 41 samples from individuals who had already taken the first two shots of AstraZeneca and others who took the booster one. The lab examined and analyzed blood samples from people infected with the virus and others vaccinated with the two dozes, the third booster shot, and finally, those who had already caught one of the coronavirus variants.

It is worth mentioning that AstraZeneca stated that while the Oxford University lab results support its booster shot, the study was completely independent of researchers who had previously joint efforts with the London-based firm on the vaccine.

The world is looking to halt back from the detrimental effect the pandemic is spreading, with governments and scientists seeking to heighten fortifications in their health sectors against the Omicron.

Even since its emergence on the scene, the latest COVID-19 variant proved to be one of the most dominant variants to date. Governments are worried it might become globally spread after the holidays if they fail to curb the infections rate.

Earlier this month, the UK endorsed third shots after discovering that boosters have a vital role in restoring protection against other diseases triggered by the Omicron. 

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MedTech

Moderna, unfazed by Omicron, prepares for 2022 vaccination campaign

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Moderna, unfazed by Omicron, prepares for the 2022 vaccination campaign

Covid-19 vaccine-making veteran Moderna seems unfazed by the emergence of the Omicron variant, saying that they can begin work on developing a booster short within a couple of weeks, according to Chief Executive Stephane Bancel.

“It only needs minor adjustments for Omicron, I don’t expect any problems,” said Bancel in an interview with the Swiss newspaper TagesAnzeiger.

Though hoping to begin clinical trials in early 2022, for the time being, they will be relying on the booster dose of their mRNA-1273 vaccine to counter the fast-spreading coronavirus variant. 

The company is now awaiting vital information on the new variant to begin vaccine development, which could take up to one or two weeks.

Bancel says that it will take another few months to produce 500 million doses after all the regulatory requirements have been met, citing that their capabilities and experience as a company today have increased compared to one year ago.

In 2021, Moderna managed to create around 700 million to 800 million vaccine doses. In 2022, they expect to escalate production capacity from 100 million doses per month to 150 million per month. 

Deals were also made with Swiss-based drug manufacturer Lonza to boost production further and plan to fire up their factory lines in the first quarter of 2022.

The company is currently discussing a future ‘vaccine subscription’ service with Switzerland that works to ensure a steady supply. This move helps improve ties with the country, which Moderna is keen to proceed with after signing parliamentary agreements with Canada and Australia.

“We have a number of new vaccines in development, for example against influenza or against the RS virus, which causes a respiratory disease that is fatal in the elderly and young children,” Bancel added.

“We can combine these three mRNA vaccines into one dose and propose to governments to secure supplies for a certain amount for several years and then invest in a production facility in that country,” he added.

With this, the company can designate certain countries as having priority should another pandemic occur in the future.

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