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Social media heavyweights wooed for Pfizer smear campaign

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Social media heavyweights wooed for Pfizer smear campaign

Social media influencers in France with hundreds of thousands of followers say a mysterious advertising agency offered to pay them if they agreed to smear Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine with negative fake stories.

French YouTuber Léo Grasset was among those contacted. He said Tuesday that he was offered a potentially lucrative but also hush-hush deal to make bogus claims that Pfizer’s vaccine poses a deadly risk and that regulators and mainstream media are covering up the supposed dangers.

Grasset, who has 1.1 million subscribers on YouTube, says he refused. Other France-based influencers with sizable audiences on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms also said they were contacted with similar offers of payment for posts.

The person who contacted Grasset identified himself as Anton and said his agency has a “quite considerable” budget for what he described as an “information campaign” about “COVID-19 and the vaccines offered to the European population, notably AstraZeneca and Pfizer.”

Specifically, Anton asked for a 45- to 60-second video on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube to say that “the mortality rate of the Pfizer vaccine is 3 times greater than the AstraZeneca” and querying why the European Union is buying it.

“This is a monopoly and is causing harm to public health,” Anton claimed of EU’s purchases.

He refused in a follow-up email to divulge who is financing the disinformation campaign, saying: “The client prefers to remain incognito.”

Grasset shared the email exchanges with The Associated Press.

The smear effort drew a withering response from French Health Minister Olivier Veran.

“It’s pathetic, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible and it doesn’t work,” he said.

The person who contacted Grasset said he works for an advertising agency called Fazze. A website for Fazze used to give a London address but that had been scrubbed from the site on Tuesday. Companies House, where British firms are registered, has no record of Fazze.

The AP sent emails requesting comment to a contact address listed on the website and to the email address used by Anton. Neither elicited an immediate response.

Anton’s emails included a password-protected link to a set of instructions in error-strewn English for the would-be campaign.

It said influencers who agreed to take part shouldn’t say that they were being sponsored and should instead “present the material as your own independent view.”

Other instructions were that influencers should say “that mainstream media ignores this theme” and should ask why governments are purchasing Pfizer.

A trainee doctor in southern France with tens of thousands of followers who was also approached for the smear effort told French broadcaster BFMTV that he was offered more than 2,000 euros ($3,000) for a 30-second video post.

Grasset said that given the large size of his YouTube following, he possibly might have earned tens of thousands of euros (dollars) had he agreed to take part.

Instead, he wrote back that “I can’t work for a client that won’t give its name and who asks me to hide the partnership.”

“Too many red flags,” Grasset said in an interview with AP. “I decided not to do it.”

“They wanted me to talk about the Pfizer vaccine in a way that would be detrimental to the Pfizer vaccine reputation,” he said.

He said the disinformation effort drives home the need for people “to be super, super cautious” about what they see online.

“We creators on YouTube, on internet, Instagram, et cetera, we are at the center of something going on like an information war,” he said. “We, as creators, need to set our standards really high because it’s, I think, just the beginning.”


LE PECQ, France (AP) — By JOHN LEICESTER Associated Press

AP journalist Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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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