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We don’t know enough about the Delta variant, but we’re finding out more every day

August 4, 2021, 10:56 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

As we are all hopefully aware by this point, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is a game changer due to its high transmissibility—and potentially other characteristics that we’re not quite sure about yet. Our understanding seems to evolve on a near-daily basis, albeit in a fragmented sort of way, so let’s have a quick roundup of the latest news on the subject.

First up: the issue of vaccines’ efficacy against the strain. New research from the U.K. suggests that, while current COVID-19 vaccines do still offer a relatively high degree of protection against Delta—you’re three times less likely to catch it if fully vaccinated, the study found—the antibodies the vaccines raise are becoming less effective against the variant.

That means vaccines may need to be tweaked to address Delta, which raises a big question: should countries that are planning to roll out booster shots soon, such as Germany, France and the U.K., really be doing so with the current generation of vaccines, or should those shots be going instead to countries that urgently need them to give people basic protection now, thus reducing the likelihood of new variants emerging?

Second: Delta raises the threshold for herd immunity. While the initial threshold was pegged at somewhere between 60% and 70%, experts now think it would need to be more in the region of 90%. Barring well-enforced vaccine mandates, which obviously carry huge political risks, I can’t see that happening in many countries—in the U.S., for example, nearly half of unvaccinated Americans have no intention of getting jabbed. The implications are obviously not good for the longevity of COVID-19 restrictions (Germany for one is anticipating measures continuing into the winter.)

Third: as Fortune reporters Grady McGregor, Biman Mukherji and Sophie Mellor report in this deep piece, we still don’t know why the Delta-fueled waves in the U.K. and India suddenly dropped off. So, while everyone obviously hopes the same will happen in the U.S., nobody really knows if the country will be so lucky.

Finally, some good-ish news, though not Delta-related as such: U.K. researchers have found that kids who get sick with COVID-19 mostly recover within a week. The study was conducted before Delta became widespread in the country, but the researchers say they expect to see similar results with the newer variant. I say “good-ish” because 1.8% of the observed COVID-positive children still had symptoms more than two months later, and that’s by no means a negligible figure given the scale of the problem.

More news below.

David Meyer


SoftBank and Roche

SoftBank now has a $5 billion non-voting stake in Roche. The investment was made through the same SB NorthStar unit that made controversial plays such as the "Nasdaq whale" strategy and, er, Wirecard. SB NorthStar tends to invest in tech and early-stage biotech companies, so Big Pharma represents a significant strategic shift. Financial Times

Eviction moratorium

The CDC has issued a new eviction moratorium that will last until October 3. While President Biden didn't issue the moratorium himself, the extension may help mollify liberal Democratic lawmakers who said the White House needed to do more to stop 3.6 million Americans losing their homes during the pandemic. Fortune

Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard is shedding two senior executives as it deals with a gender-bias suit and criticism over its workplace culture. The gaming giant now has its first female business unit head, Jen Oneal, who is alongside fellow company veteran Mike Ybarra replacing J. Allen Brack as president of the Blizzard Entertainment studio. Activision HR chief Jesse Meschuk is also out. The company said the studio "needs a new direction and leadership given the critical work ahead in terms of workplace culture, game development, and innovation." Wall Street Journal

Facebook vs researchers

Facebook has blocked New York University researchers who are studying political ads on the platform. It says their data-scraping breaks its terms of service. Lead researcher Laura Edelson: "Facebook is silencing us because our work often calls attention to problems on its platform..Worst of all, Facebook is using user privacy, a core belief that we have always put first in our work, as a pretext for doing this." Bloomberg


Nvidia and ARM

Nvidia's proposed takeover of ARM, the chip architecture firm currently owned by SoftBank, reportedly may be blocked by U.K. authorities who are worried about national security. Alternatively, the U.K. may approve the deal with certain conditions. Fortune

Crypto warning

SEC chair Gary Gensler yesterday said the cryptocurrency scene was "like the Wild West" and pledged to crack down on fraud, scams and abuse. "If we don't address these issues, I worry a lot of people will be hurt," he said, giving his first comprehensive assessment of the situation since assuming the position. Naturally, his words hit the prices of Bitcoin and Ethereum. Fortune

Household debt

U.S. household debt rose by the largest amount in around 14 years over the last three months, to a little under $15 trillion. As Meghan Leonhardt writes: "The good news, though, is that a majority of the borrowers taking out these new mortgages had 'very good' credit scores of over 760." Fortune

Inflation risk

"The bulls are partying on the beach while a swirling storm brews offshore," writes Shawn Tully, referring to the threat of equities being overvalued in a time of low interest rates and potentially high inflation. "Put the two together, and you get what looks like the convergence of two hurricanes. And it's a whopper few see coming." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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