More incremental vaccine news greeted markets Wednesday as AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 shot won approval in the UK, marking the first regulatory clearance for the injection.
Although Astra’s shot presents fewer logistical challenges than the more effective Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, there are still questions about its efficacy stemming from somewhat confusing trial data. Approval in the US and the EU isn’t imminent, although German officials said the process could proceed rapidly once an application is submitted. German Health Minister Jens Spahn, for example, said the European Medicines Agency should conduct “a thorough and quick examination” of the shot, which could also be key to the vaccination push in poorer countries. It’s less difficult to store and, importantly, it’s more cost effective. Apparently, the shot will comprise nearly half of vaccine supply to lower- and middle-income nations.
For the UK, approval comes at a critical juncture, as the country fights to beat back a new variant of COVID, thought to be more transmissible. The mutation is generally blamed for a surge in caseloads in the country, which is laboring (or not laboring, depending on how literally you want to take the term) under very strict containment protocols.
From December 8 through December 20, 616,933 people in the UK received their first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine.
“This is a moment to celebrate British innovation,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday, lauding the Astra approval. “This vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease.”
The US has identified its first case of the mutant virus sweeping across the UK. “The variant was found in a man in his 20s who is in isolation southeast of Denver in Elbert County and has no travel history,” the AP wrote, citing state health officials. Apparently, there’s a “second suspected case of the variant” in Colorado, the AP added, noting that “both of the people were working in the Elbert County community of Simla [and] neither of them are residents of that county, expanding the possibility of the variant’s spread throughout the state.”
Meanwhile, in markets, EM equities are now sitting at levels not seen since before the financial crisis. MSCI’s index hit the highest since December 2007 on Wednesday. It’s up nearly 70% from the lows hit in March.
You can thank vaccine optimism, Fed dovishness, the ubiquitous hunt for yield, and especially the flagging dollar for the rally in EM. The MSCI All-Country gauge will wrap up 2020 with a gain of around 14%, up more than 65% from March’s panic lows.
Oh, and Bitcoin briefly hit a new high on Wednesday up above $28,570.
As the figure (above) shows, this month’s rally is impressive, to say the least. The coin was up 47% for December at Wednesday’s highs. That would make this the best month since May of 2019.
Bloomberg rousted a generic quote from Paolo Ardoino, Bitfinex’s CTO. “While a growing institutional presence has been part of the narrative of the current bull run, we may see increased retail interest in Bitcoin as a form of digital gold,” he said.