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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

Integer plans $30 million innovation and manufacturing facility in Galway

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Integer Holdings, a medical device outsource (MDO) manufacturer, will further expand its presence in Galway with the construction of a new Medical Device Innovation and Manufacturing facility in the Parkmore East area of the city.

Plano, Texas–based Integer said the initial phase of the project will total 60,000 square feet and a $30 million investment over the coming years, with construction scheduled from 2022 to late 2023 and equipment investments continuing for another two or three years.

Integer said it has planning permission for another 87,000 square feet of expansion when needed.

This new facility is required to meet increased demand for regional research, development and manufacturing capabilities, as well as capacity for catheters and delivery systems. It adds to Integer’s 15 global manufacturing sites and current presence in Ireland, which includes an R&D centre in Galway and manufacturing facilities in Galway and New Ross, County Wexford.

Tánaiste and minister for enterprise trade & employment Leo Varadkar TD, said: “I’m really pleased to see Integer announce further investment in Galway, with the addition of a new Medical Device Innovation and Manufacturing facility. I understand that this expansion will result in 100-200 new roles in the coming years, creating excellent employment opportunities for people in the area. This collaboration between IDA Ireland and Integer is another example of the valuable work that IDA Ireland does to bring investment into the country. I wish the team every success with this expansion.”

The expansion is expected to add 100 to 200 new jobs in engineering, administration and manufacturing, plus several hundred third-party contractors in the Galway region. Integer said it has around 1,300 employees in Ireland, including 350 in Galway.

The investment is being supported by the government through the IDA Ireland.

“Integer’s planned expansion in Galway is very welcome news,” said IDA Ireland CEO Martin Shanahan.

This is an important strategic move for the company, he noted, positioning it to meet growing demand globally for its products.

“This is a significant investment by a leading medical devices company and demonstrates Integer’s continued commitment to Galway and the West Region,” he added.”

The company, which has been in Ireland for over 25 years, currently employs approximately 1,300 people in Ireland, with 350 based in Galway.

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MedTech

FDA backs Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster for Americans with high-risk illness

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally authorized on Wednesday Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine booster dose against COVID-19’s delta variant for Americans aged 65 and older with a high risk of grave illness.

While the dose will strictly involve a specific population group, boosters will be accessible to individuals between 18 and 64 years with health-threatening risks of extreme illness from the coronavirus. In parallel, the dose will be given to employees working in explicit establishments or hold certain job positions that might expose them to contracting severe COVID-19 complications, such as doctors and nurses, teachers, daycare employees, grocery workers, and people in homeless shelters.

According to the FDA’s statement, the third booster dose should be administered six months after the first two shots. 

“The FDA considered the committee’s input and conducted its own thorough review of the submitted data to reach today’s decision,” director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks said in a statement.

“We will continue to analyze data submitted to the FDA pertaining to the use of booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and we will make further decisions as appropriate based on the data,” he added.

The FDA’s authorization will pave the way for what seems to be a complicated campaign to distribute the shots to the country’s most exposed and susceptible population, leading to potentially millions of Americans getting their vaccines at pharmacies, health clinics, and doctors’ offices.

While the administration endorsed the shots, Pfizer Inc. set safety and side effects measures by analyzing the booster’s effects in a clinical trial that involved 318 people.

During the clinical trial, the first category comprised of 306 individuals ranged between 18 and 55 years old while 12 people exceeded 65 years. The process took two months of monitoring while analyzing side effects such as pain, redness, swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, and chills. 

While the third Pfizer- BioNTech shot has similar side effects to the first two shots, the FDA disclosed that a set of participants frequently suffered from swollen lymph nodes in their underarms after receiving the booster shot.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice conducted a prolonged meeting on Wednesday to address collected data to analyze the effectiveness and assurance of the Pfizer-BioNTech third shot. While the committee has already studied the data, its final recommendation will be settled during its assemblage on Tuesday.

The FDA’s authorization will set the right framework for the Committee’s recommendations regarding boosters, as the CDC aims to make equitable approvals from a public health perspective, which in CDC’s advisors’ opinion should be based on preventing the intensity of the disease instead of aiming to prevent moderate infections.

As for the individuals who received a different vaccine, the FDA’s booster shot approval and the CDC’s data analysis will not refer to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson doses, as federal actions will take place in the upcoming weeks.

An FDA official, Doran Fink, engaged in CDC’s recommendatory meeting, disclosed that the federal agency does not have sufficient data to endorse the success and effectiveness of administering a Pfizer- BioNTech booster to individuals who got immunized with a different vaccine.

The FDA’s Wednesday authorization listed the U.S. as the world’s most prosperous nation to deliver booster doses, joining a league incorporating Germany, France, Israel, and the U.K.

While some public health specialists prefer if doses were sent to countries with lower vaccine rates, the Biden Administration pledged on Wednesday at a virtual COVID-19 summit to distribute an additional backup health package comprised of 500 million Pfizer doses to countries in need.

“We believe boosters have an important role in play in addressing the continued threat of this disease, alongside efforts to increase global access and uptake among the unvaccinated,” chairman and chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla said in a statement.

The vagueness following the CDC’s decision will linger until its meeting on Tuesday, while the FDA’s ruling could potentially detriment the Biden Administration’s scheme to distribute booster shoots to the majority of the country’s citizens.

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MedTech

Start-up develops “world’s first” tomographic ultrasound robot

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Sydney-based medical device start-up Vexev has developed what it says is the world’s first tomographic ultrasound robot (TUR) to make diagnostics more affordable, accessible and insightful, after spending two years in stealth mode.

The primary method of diagnosis for cardiovascular disease is 2D ultrasound operated by a sonographer. Whilst 2D ultrasound is one of the most affordable imaging diagnostic modalities, and does not involve harmful radiation to the patient, it has several limitations – affordability, inconsistency and can only produce 2D scans.

Skilled sonographers are also increasingly in short demand, and their careers are often shortened by RSI due to years of operating 2D ultrasound machines.

The TUR will be tested in upcoming clinical trials at Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Vascular Imaging, which is located at the Prince of Wales Hospital campus. The trials are supported by Australian vascular surgeons such as Dr Shannon Thomas, A/Prof Ramon Varcoe, Dr Andrew Lennox and Dr Tom Daly.

Matt Adams, senior vascular sonographer from the Australian Sonographers Association, said: “Vexev’s device has the potential to evolve the role of Vascular Sonographers, minimising low skill, high volume aspects of typical workflow. It may also assist in combating the well documented shortage of skilled Vascular Sonographers in the workforce, and high incidence of repetitive strain disorder. With extra time on their hands, this highly skilled group of healthcare professionals may have the chance to expand their scope of practice – whether that be in education, research or therapeutic intervention.”

Vexev’s technology is designed to automate the entire ultrasound procedure. Beyond increasing the efficiency and quality consistency of 2D ultrasound, the TUR aims to make diagnostics significantly more powerful by producing 3D tomographic ultrasound outputs (analogous to MRIs/CTs).

As a result, clinical settings where 2D ultrasound was previously uneconomical, such as dialysis clinics and regional clinics, can now adopt an imaging diagnostics capability. With Vexev’s device, sonographers will be able to produce 3D diagnostic outputs just like CT scan and MRI radiographers, complete more scans each day, and no longer suffer from high RSI incidence.

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