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Post-pandemic IT strategy; comfort, productivity, security

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Post-pandemic IT strategy

While almost all industries where rattled by the advent of the pandemic – a commonality that they all shared was just how crucial tech is right now, and how it has acted as an enabler in 2020.

These strides in tech where what allowed companies to continue operations throughout lockdowns and enabled staff to work comfortable and efficiently from home.

This need for new tech, however, had a strenuous toll on IT departments globally forcing teams late into the night to roll out emergency solutions. All this was happening while global supply chains faltered and at some points even collapsed due to the pressure.

The strain was so intense, that every other company faced supply chain disruptions in 2020, causing IT buyers to pay a premium when it came to procuring the most basic equipment needed to keep business up and running.

Stepping into 2021, we try to learn from the several lessons the previous year has to offer and work on formulating a concrete post-pandemic IT strategy with a greater focus on the long term.

Making home more homy

When the pandemic first broke out, companies’ main focus was how to immediately meet needs and priorities such as keeping staff operational as they adapted to working from home.

Companies that mitigated the first wave of the pandemic are finally catching a breather – this will be a critical phase in planning ahead when it comes to accommodating for staff that are working from homes and making their stay more comfortable.

We can see that procurement priorities have changed from getting the basics towards meeting the needs of a broader workforce. Finally, wellbeing is becoming a bigger priority as well as we can see ergonomic office material on the rise as companies strive to create an ideal environment for the teams to work in.

In parallel, the needs for better connectivity at home, be it more reliable Wi-Fi or better sound and audio quality are also witnessing an increase. We can see that this IT strategy post-pandemic will prove to be useful on both the short and long run.

Maximizing productivity

It’s not just hardware that requires greater consideration, though. Hastily thrown-together collaborative systems, that got employees through the early months, need to be reviewed. Are those combinations of cloud-based video conferencing and email systems helping employees get the job done, or have elements started to inhibit productivity? Is a more joined-up workflow required to fit the way employees want to operate?

Hardware is one side of the equation, but that leaves out software such as applications and systems that have been quickly adopted to meet the needs of the pandemic.

The systems that got us through the first months of the pandemic need to be seriously reviewed. Some questions we might ask are whether these combinations of cloud-based video conferencing and email systems still helping in getting the job done? Are certain elements proving to be bottlenecks or are they hindering productivity? Is a more synchronized workflow needed to meet new needs?

This is the best time for IT leaders to evaluate the efficiency of the systems they currently have in place, while considering new alternatives that bring new features to the table.

Security, security, security

Another priority on many IT directors’ to-do list is security. Companies that rushed to equip employees with computers, and provide remote access at home, will need to ensure that no corners were cut in the process – and that critical functions remain secure.

A major theme following us from 2020 and expected to shine even brighter in 2021 is security. An effective post-pandemic IT strategy needs to take into account security as a core competency.

2020 witnessed a tremendous rise in cyberattacks during lockdowns, with perpetrators aiming at the weaker and laxer security systems. In a preventive approach, IT departments should pair up with HR departments and work in bringing security awareness trainings.

Organizations will also need to revise their endpoint security controls, however, to bolster perimeter defenses. With large numbers continuing to work remotely, mobile device management (MDM) solutions may be needed to authenticate users, and check that anti-virus, firewalls and software patches are up to date.

MDM can also prove to be very useful for storing information in the correct place, enabling appropriate backups to take place and keeping disaster recovery protocols in check.

Whatever the post-pandemic IT strategy implemented, IT leaders should bear in mind the time they need to roll out new systems or features, how these new roll outs will work in conjunction with other systems, and most importantly flagging any security compromises.

Junior social media strategist with a degree in business. Passionate about technology, film, music and video games.

MedTech

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90% effective in kids

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Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear safe and nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infections in 5- to 11-year-olds, according to study details released Friday as the U.S. considers opening vaccinations to that age group.

The shots could begin in early November — with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas — if regulators give the go-ahead.

Details of Pfizer’s study were posted online. The Food and Drug Administration was expected to post its independent review of the company’s safety and effectiveness data later in the day.

Advisers to the FDA will publicly debate the evidence next week. If the agency ultimately authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final decision on who should receive them.

Full-strength Pfizer shots already are authorized for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem rising infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.

More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers already have signed up to get the shots into little arms.

The Biden administration has purchased enough kid-size doses — in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine — for the nation’s roughly 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds. If the vaccine is cleared, millions of doses will be promptly shipped around the country, along with kid-size needles.

A Pfizer study tracked 2,268 kids in that age group who got two shots three weeks apart of either a placebo or the low-dose vaccine. Each dose was one-third the amount given to teens and adults.

Researchers calculated the low-dose vaccine was nearly 91% effective, based on 16 COVID-19 cases in youngsters given dummy shots versus three cases among vaccinated children. There were no severe illnesses reported among any of the youngsters, but the vaccinated ones had much milder symptoms than their unvaccinated counterparts.

In addition, young children given the low-dose shots developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults who got regular-strength vaccinations.

That’s important information considering that hospitalizations of mostly unvaccinated children reached record levels last month.

The CDC reported earlier this week that even as the delta mutant surged between June and September, Pfizer vaccinations were 93% effective at preventing hospitalizations among 12- to 18-year-olds.

Pfizer’s study of younger kids found the low-dose shots proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects such as sore arms, fever or achiness that teens experience.

The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men.

While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta mutant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Moderna also is studying its COVID-19 shots in elementary school-age youngsters. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger children as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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FDA OKs mixing COVID vaccines; backs Moderna, J&J boosters

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U.S. regulators on Wednesday signed off on extending COVID-19 boosters to Americans who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine and said anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decisions mark a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month. But before more people roll up their sleeves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consult an expert panel Thursday before finalizing official recommendations for who should get boosters and when.

The latest moves would expand by tens of millions the number of Americans eligible for boosters and formally allow “mixing and matching” of shots — making it simpler to get another dose, especially for people who had a side effect from one brand but still want the proven protection of vaccination.

Specifically, the FDA authorized a third Moderna shot for seniors and others at high risk from COVID-19 because of their health problems, jobs or living conditions — six months after their last shot. One big change: Moderna’s booster will be half the dose that’s used for the first two shots, based on company data showing that was plenty to rev up immunity again.

For J&J’s single-shot vaccine, the FDA said all U.S. recipients, no matter their age, could get a second dose at least two months following their initial vaccination.

The FDA rulings differ because the vaccines are made differently, with different dosing schedules — and the J&J vaccine has consistently shown a lower level of effectiveness than either of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

As for mixing and matching, the FDA said it’s OK to use any brand for the booster regardless of which vaccination people got first. The interchangeability of the shots is expected to speed the booster campaign, particularly in nursing homes and other institutional settings where residents have received different shots over time.

FDA officials said they wanted to make the booster guidance as flexible as possible, given that many people don’t remember which brand of vaccine they received.

“Being able to interchange these vaccines is a good thing — it’s like what we do with flu vaccines,” FDA’s Dr. Peter Marks told reporters Wednesday evening. “Most people don’t know what brand of flu vaccine they received.”

Still, he added that many people will decide to get a booster from the same company as their initial vaccination.

The agency’s mix-and-match decision was based on preliminary results from a government study of different booster combinations that showed an extra dose of any type revs up levels of virus-fighting antibodies. That study also showed recipients of the single-dose J&J vaccination had a far bigger response if they got a full-strength Moderna booster or a Pfizer booster rather than a second J&J shot. The study didn’t test the half-dose Moderna booster.

Health authorities stress that the priority still is getting first shots to about 65 million eligible Americans who remain unvaccinated. But the booster campaign is meant to shore up protection against the virus amid signs that vaccine effectiveness is waning against mild infections, even though all three brands continue to protect against hospitalization and death.

“Today the currently available data suggest waning immunity in some populations of fully vaccinated people,” said FDA’s acting commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock. “The availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against COVID-19 disease.”

The Moderna booster decision essentially matches FDA’s ruling that high-risk groups are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, which is made with the same technology.

FDA recommended that everyone who’d gotten the single-shot J&J vaccine get a booster since it has consistently shown lower protection than its two-shot rivals. And several independent FDA advisers who backed the booster decision suggested J&J’s vaccine should have originally been designed to require two doses.

Experts continue to debate the rationale of the booster campaign. Some warn that the U.S. government hasn’t clearly articulated the goals of boosters given that the shots continue to head off the worst effects of COVID-19, and wonder if the aim is to tamp down on virus spread by curbing, at least temporarily, milder infections.

FDA regulators said they would move quickly to expand boosters to lower age groups, such as people in their 40s and 50s, if warranted.

“We are watching this very closely and will take action as appropriate to make sure that the maximum protection is provided to the population,” said Marks, the FDA’s top vaccine official.

In August, the Biden administration announced plans for an across-the-board booster campaign aimed at all U.S. adults, but outside experts have repeatedly argued against such a sweeping effort.

On Thursday an influential panel convened by the CDC is expected to offer more specifics on who should get boosters and when. Their recommendations are subject to approval by the CDC director.

The vast majority of the nearly 190 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while about 15 million have received the J&J vaccine.


WASHINGTON (AP)

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FDA panel endorses booster shot for J&J COVID-19 vaccine

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U.S. health advisers endorsed a booster of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday, citing concern that Americans who got the single-dose shot aren’t as protected as those given two-dose brands.

J&J told the Food and Drug Administration that an extra dose adds important protection as early as two months after initial vaccination — but that it might work better if people wait until six months later. Unable to settle the best timing, the FDA’s advisory panel voted unanimously that the booster should be offered at least two months after people got their earlier shot.

“I think this frankly was always a two-dose vaccine,” said FDA adviser Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It would be hard to recommend this as a single-dose vaccine at this point.”

The FDA isn’t bound by the recommendation as it makes a final decision — and adding to the debate’s complexity, new research also suggests that J&J recipients might have a stronger immune response if their booster dose is from a competing brand.

Preliminary results from an ongoing study of different ways to “mix and match” different shots showed that a booster of any sort revved up people’s levels of virus-fighting antibodies — at least for a few weeks. And the most dramatic jump came from giving a Pfizer or Moderna shot after the single-dose J&J vaccination.

FDA’s advisers didn’t vote on whether that should be recommended but told the government to allow flexibility with boosters, saying there were no safety red flags even if it’s not yet clear just how much difference, if any, mixing and matching may make in long-term protection.

“In the real world all these kind of combinations are already happening so I think it’s a matter of some urgency for the FDA to help sort out what is admittedly a complicated and challenging scenario,” said Dr. Ofer Levy of Boston Children’s Hospital.

The government says all three U.S. vaccines continue to offer strong protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and that the priority is getting first shots to the 66 million eligible but unvaccinated Americans who are most at risk. But with the spread of the extra-contagious delta variant and signs of waning immunity against milder infections, the nation is moving toward a broader booster campaign.

Last month Pfizer boosters started being offered to seniors and younger adults at high risk from COVID-19 because of poor health, jobs or living conditions — at least six months after their initial vaccination. Thursday, the FDA advisory panel recommended the same approach for half-dose Moderna boosters.

But J&J’s vaccine has consistently shown lower effectiveness levels across a series of studies — and the FDA panel ultimately settled on another shot for any recipient 18 or older at least two months after their first vaccination.

“This is really — with the second dose — bringing it, I think, on par with those other vaccines in terms of effectiveness,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee of Rosalind Franklin University.

The FDA will use its advisers’ recommendations to decide whether to authorize boosters for both J&J and Moderna. Next, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would rule on who should roll up their sleeves.

The vast majority of the 188 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while J&J recipients account for only about 15 million.

J&J’s vaccine is made with a different technology and on Friday, the company pitched its booster as a way to strengthen a robust vaccine that they said has retained its protective power over eight months. But FDA scientists pointedly challenged that assertion.

“There are data that suggest the effectiveness of this vaccine is actually less robust than the company’s presentation here,” said Dr. Peter Marks, FDA’s top vaccines official. “And that is a finding of concern particularly because that’s been seen in minority communities potentially and others.”

As for its booster, J&J presented results from a large study that found giving a second dose just two months after the first bumped protection against symptomatic COVID-19 to 94% from 70% in U.S. recipients. Giving that booster six months later instead prompted an even bigger jump in virus-fighting antibodies.

But in their own review, FDA scientists noted only a tiny portion of cases involved the delta variant, by far the dominant strain in the U.S. And while FDA’s reviewers found no new safety concerns about a second J&J dose, they noted other shortcomings. J&J followed booster recipients for little more than a month, making it hard to draw conclusions about the durability of protection. Also, FDA scientists stressed they hadn’t had time to independently confirm J&J’s data, which were submitted shortly before the meeting. That’s highly unusual and drew serious concern from the advisory panel.

The J&J vaccine was highly anticipated for its one-and-done formulation. But its rollout earlier this year was hurt by a series of troubles including manufacturing problems and some rare but serious side effects including a blood clot disorder and a neurological reaction called Guillain-Barre syndrome. In both cases, regulators decided the shot’s benefits outweighed those risks.


WASHINGTON (AP).

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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