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Scientists edge closer to pollution-free fusion energy amid recent breakthroughs

Two major experiments in recent months have signaled a major technological leap in the field.

Congress Reviews Biden’s Proposal to Regulate Fentanyl

Federal officials urge Congress to strengthen regulations on all fentanyl-related substances, with one calling it the most dangerous drug he’s seen.

Survivors, family members call for opioid crisis accountability

The protest comes after a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimated 100,000 lives were lost due to opioid overdoses in the past year.

Threats Under the Tree: Congress Addresses Holiday Products’ Dangers

Congress held a hearing on Tuesday to tackle common threats under the tree and discussed legislation to protect children from these holiday hazards.

Mississippi Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the major abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Sen. Rand Paul attacks Dr. Anthony Fauci in Senate COVID-19 hearing

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., once again traded barbs at a Senate hearing Thursday after Paul accused Fauci of starting the COVID-19 pandemic by funding risky biological research in Wuhan, China.

Paul pressed Fauci to admit guilt and said he should resign. But Fauci would have none of it.

“I have a great deal of respect for this body of the Senate, and it makes me very uncomfortable to have to say something, but he is egregiously incorrect,” Fauci said during the Senate House, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the next steps in the government’s response to COVID-19.

Paul accused Fauci of approving the National Institutes of Health funding in gain-of-function research in Wuhan since 2014. Gain-of-function research is a controversial type of biological research that studies future viruses before they emerge from nature so scientists can learn how to combat them.

Fauci, who is head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not deny the funding but said the research could not lead to the COVID-19 pandemic because the viruses involved were evolutionarily distant from SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that caused COVID-19.

“I’m unwilling to take any responsibility for the current pandemic. I have no responsibility for the current pandemic,” Fauci said.

Paul made similar comments when Fauci testified before the committee in July.

U.S. intelligence agencies on Friday released an unclassified report saying they have reached a broad agreement that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon or through genetic engineering and that China’s officials did not know about the virus before the initial outbreak in Wuhan. The origins of the virus remain unknown, they suggested.

At the hearing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that about 9,000 children ages 5 to 11 have been infected since the beginning of the pandemic and 97 have died.

“As a mother, I know that no parent should have to see their child face long-term complications of an infection or to be hospitalized. We now have a highly effective tool to prevent this disease in our children,” she said.

On Tuesday, the CDC approved emergency authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine in children age 5 to 11. The child doses are about a third of the doses given to adults. Pediatricians and schools are getting ready to roll out the vaccines this week. Walensky said at the hearing that the vaccine is found to be 91% effective in preventing infections in children in that age group.

Last month, federal regulators authorized booster doses of Moderna’s vaccine for people age 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions at higher risk of exposure — and they approved extra doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for the same groups the previous month.

Regulators also approved a booster to Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine for all recipients over the age of 18, as well as “mixing and matching” booster doses among the three available vaccines.

Fauci commended new COVID-19 therapeutics developed by Merck and Ridgeback. In a recent clinical trial, the drug decreased hospitalization and death by 50% in the treated individuals compared with the placebo group, he said.

Walensky emphasized that vaccinations and testing are the first ways to combat COVID-19, but “we need as many tools in this toolbox as possible.”

As Thanksgiving and winter holidays approach, Fauci said in a recent television interview, for families whose members are vaccinated, “there’s no reason at all why you can’t enjoy the holidays in a family way, the way we’ve traditionally done it all along.”

Walensky said at the hearing that as she looks toward the coming weeks and months with some optimism, but “we need to be humble in our response to this virus and to follow the science as we modify evidence and address the pandemic.”

Last winter, U.S. COVID-19 cases increased by 180% in the two and a half months between Nov. 1 and Jan. 13, according to the CDC. The rapid rise coincided with the emergence of the Delta variant, a more contagious strain of the virus that’s now dominant in U.S. infections.

Additionally, a new subvariant known as Delta-plus has been found in Britain and accounted for about 6% of all coronavirus cases for the week beginning Sept. 27, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency.

Eight states have reported nearly a dozen cases of the new strain, according to outbreak.info, a project investigating COVID-19 that’s supported by the CDC. The strain has not been proven to cause more serious illness.


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Coronavirus cases went unreported at largest meatpackers, investigation finds

WASHINGTON — High coronavirus infection and death rates among workers in the U.S. meatpacking industry went unreported because of a “political decision” to not track cases, according to the report released Wednesday of an investigation by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not require meatpacking companies to install safety standards to protect workers during the pandemic, the Select Subcommittee found. OSHA is the agency responsible for ensuring worker safety, but scaled back investigations in 2020, according to the subcommittee report.

OSHA “totally abandoned” workers, Debbie Berkowitz, former OSHA chief of staff, said at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommended businesses enforce social distancing guidelines, but OSHA did not press meatpacking companies to comply so the coronavirus “spread like wildfire,” she said.

The subcommittee did not call OSHA officials to testify.

Coronavirus cases among meatpackers were three times higher than earlier estimates, according to the report, and the virus disproportionately hit workers of color. Last spring, 87% of infected meatpackers were racial or ethnic minorities, the CDC found.

The meatpacking industry is made up largely of immigrant and refugee workers, said Berkowitz, and workers are often afraid to speak out against poor working conditions, fearing punishment from their supervisors.

Workers during the pandemic continued to work in close proximity to each other, said American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska Interim Director Rose Godinez. Godinez is the daughter of two meatpackers, both of whom retired before the pandemic.

More than half of Nebraska’s meatpackers are immigrant workers, she said, putting immigrant families and minority communities at higher risk. Last summer, Hispanics accounted for 60% of Nebraska’s coronavirus cases, she said, but the Hispanic community is only 11% of the state’s population.

Godinez asked subcommittee members to demand OSHA respond to workers’ complaints. She also urged members to support comprehensive immigration reform to protect meatpackers who are not U.S. citizens and fear employer retaliation.

Meatpacking companies and the Trump administration “caused enormous pain” to meatpackers and their families, said Select Subcommittee Chair Jim Clyburn.

In an interview before the hearing, Berkowitz said she expects the Biden administration to issue the first protections for meatpacking workers next week by requiring vaccines.


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The modern space race: U.S. aims to stay on top

WASHINGTON— China’s increased efforts in space had the attention of the Senate space subcommittee Thursday, with several senators saying Congress will act to ensure that NASA retains its leadership role in space exploration.

“Nobody’s going to out-entrepreneur the United States, that’s like famous last words,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.

China’s Shenzhou-16’s three-person crew arrived at China’s Space Station on Oct. 16 for a six-month stay, the longest mission in China’s history and a feat the U.S. has its eyes on.

“We must work to avoid a Cold War-style space race. Unfortunately, it seems some countries are less committed to this than others,” Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said regarding China’s emerging space presence.

One program in particular, NASA’s Artemis program, plans to have humans return to the Moon, including the first woman and person of color taking these giant leaps by 2024. NASA wants to use data from that lunar mission to land the first astronauts on Mars. The Artemis Accords, an international agreement for these plans, promises cooperation and transparency among nations and public-private partnerships. China is not part of the agreement.

The International Space Station, a major U.S.-led multi-nation partnership, is set to expire. But Redwire Space executive Mike Gold said the Artemis Accords will allow for continued cooperation.

“The desire to unite humanity is the very heart of the Artemis mission,” said Gold. “Through Artemis, NASA is assembling the largest, broadest and most diverse international, beyond low-Earth orbit, human spaceflight coalition in human history.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., supported legislation to reauthorize NASA to ensure funding for its international partnerships and programs.

“It’s frustrating to me to see the spirit of NASA turned into the cheering of billionaires or competition with each other,” Cantwell said, concerning private space launches by companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, both of which were low-Earth orbit flights.

Axiom Space official Mary Lynne Dittmar said passing the authorization bill would show the United States’ commitment to its exploration goals.

“One of the things that’s really critical about authorization acts is that they are signaling devices,” said Dittmar. She said they signal congressional support, a commitment to investment and continuity of purpose.

“But they also signal to the international community, so other countries look to see what Congress does,” she said.

The authorization bill would open more opportunities for international partnerships to specifically stimulate science and technological advancements. Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said commercial low-Earth orbit development would allow the U.S. to continue having access to microgravity research that benefits biomedical innovations.

“It’s important for the United States to not turn that development capability over to a competitive nation. We need to keep that capability resident in the United States.”


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AAPI women underline nuanced challenges to access abortion

WASHINGTON – “Terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice, but it was my choice.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat representing Washington state and an immigrant from India, along with two other congresswomen shared their abortion stories at a House committee hearing discussing recent abortion bans.

Jayapal first disclosed her abortion in 2019 in a New York Times Opinion article. Until then, she said at the hearing, her mother did not know about it.

“Some of it was because as an immigrant from a culture that deeply values children and in a society that still stigmatizes abortion, suicide and mental health needs, I felt shame that I should never have felt,” she said.

Jayapal said in an interview that AAPI – Asian American and Pacific Islanders – women experience some unique challenges in trying to get abortions that members of Congress need to learn about.

“Unfortunately, many AAPI women do face cultural stigma around the choice to have an abortion,” said Jayapal.

Studies show AAPI parents find discomfort in discussing sexual health with their children. Among 455 AAPI respondents ages 18 to 25, only 10% reported family as the source of sex and birth control education, according to a study by the University of California. As a result, one in three Asian women had used the calendar method for pregnancy prevention, twice the percentage of other racial and ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Activists said the cultural stigma not only comes from the traditional family values of Asian families but the historical silencing of Asian American women in American society.

“The model minority myth just makes it easier to say AAPI are okay,” said Da Hae Kim, a legal advocacy manager at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), which advocates for AAPI reproductive rights. “If you don’t know that there is a problem, you’re not going to be able to come up with solutions. We’re stopped right out the gate.”

A study by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization with ties to Planned Parenthood that analyzes reproductive health issues, shows 6% of American women who get abortions identify as AAPI, and AAPI women make up 6.5% of women in the U.S.

NAPAWF filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, urging it to reject overturning the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in favor of abortion rights and outlining the nuanced challenges AAPI women face in trying to obtain an abortion, including language, economic and cultural barriers.

AAPI women often cannot afford to obtain abortions out of state, advocates said. About 27% of employed AAPI women are essential workers, according to the Center for American Progress. The median annual income among different AAPI subgroups ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.

“They may not be able to fly out of state or drive out of state or even take a day off of work,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.

In addition, activists said there is a need for culturally informed care that reaches out to all corners of the AAPI community.

“You cannot just provide the top three Asian languages and expect you’ve reached the AAPI community. We speak dozens of languages, even more dialects,” said Jennifer Wang, chief of strategic partnerships and research at NAPAWF.

Further, 34% of AAPI report limited English proficiency, which means they have difficulty communicating in English, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.

NAPAWF members in Texas said that AAPIs face an information barrier because many cannot understand the ongoing legal battle surrounding Texas’s abortion bans.

“The uncertainty and the fear that it creates really just all compounds,” said Anvita Kandru, Texas outreach coordinator at NAPAWF.

Chu, the first Chinese American elected to Congress, has introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act in the House in each new Congress for a decade. The act would guarantee women’s right to an abortion by law rather than relying on the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. The House passed the measure in September, but the Senate has not yet taken it up.

“It did send a strong message out there that AAPI women can be a leader, not only for the AAPI community but actually for all of America on very important issues,” said Chu.

Opening U.S. to vaccinated travelers exacerbates global inequality, experts say

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. set to join the EU and Canada in reopening its borders for vaccinated travelers in November, people in countries with limited access to COVID-19 vaccinations face significant hurdles that federal officials should address quickly, migration experts said Tuesday.

Nearly 60 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, had not been able to vaccinate more than 10% of their population by September, according to a World Health Organization report. The Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford predicted that the majority of African countries will miss the WHO’s goal to vaccinate 40% of the population by the end of the year.

“A lot of people traveling from low-income countries already face lots of challenges in getting a visa,” said Meghan Benton, a speaker at the panel and research director at the Migration Policy Institute, at a Brookings Institution event. “This (vaccine requirement) only exacerbates the inequality in the global traveling system.”

She suggested providing vaccines during the visa application process or after travelers arrive at their destinations instead of rejecting all unvaccinated travelers.

“We need to think about enabling infrastructure rather than simply enforcement,” Benton said.

Other experts at the panel said access to vaccines is only one of the problems people from low-income countries face.

“Even if you can access vaccines, can you get the documentation that can then be verified? How are data handled in countries where people have trusting issues with their governments?” said Elizabeth Collett, a senior adviser to the Migration Policy Institute.

Benton said in an interview that there is “a big question mark” on what kind of vaccine verification system the U.S. government will propose, especially because states and cities differ in ways they handle vaccine verification, such as accepting digital or print vaccination cards.

On Nov. 8, the U.S.will lift the almost two-year travel suspension on 33 countries including China, Iran and most European countries for those vaccinated. In the past two years, people who weren’t U.S. citizens could not enter America if they were in one of the other countries in the 14 days prior to their proposed arrival in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization will be accepted as proof of vaccination. The list includes vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca (and Covishield), and China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.

Foreign travelers with mixed doses of approved vaccines from different manufacturers will be admitted. The FDA recommendation for Americans to receive mixed doses is expected this week.

The American borders are also opening up to Canada and Mexico in early November to vaccinated non-essential travelers, which include tourists and those visiting friends and families. Currently, essential workers from those countries may enter the U.S. without proof of vacation, but in January they, too, will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated.

Last week, the Biden administration warned Moderna to increase its global vaccine distribution and noted that Moderna has already received $10 billion in federal funds to fund the vaccine development.

“I think these companies understand our authorities and understand we would not be afraid to use them, but the best recourse right now is for them to step up to the plate now,” David Kessler, the Biden administration’s chief science officer for the COVID-19 response, said last week at a Yale Law School event.

Benton said putting people into two categories – vaxxed and nonvaxxed – obscures the more important need to increase vaccination rates globally.

“We should stop thinking about preventing people from coming in but how to facilitate vaccine access worldwide,” she said.


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National Weather Service remains understaffed despite bipartisan support

WASHINGTON – Ten years after the “Super Outbreak” of 175 tornadoes ravaged the South and killed over 300 people, the National Weather Service is still struggling to reform itself and manage employee workloads to better prepare the nation for extreme weather events in the era of climate change.

At a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing Thursday, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said many of those deaths in 2011 might have been prevented if the NWS was better able to communicate the risks in real time with local communities.

Yet despite the agency’s bipartisan support, it still faces many of the same communication and staffing issues today, according to several witnesses.

Many committee members pointed to extreme weather incidents in their states when urging the NWS to get its act together.

For Reps. Suzanna Bonamici, D-Ore., and Ami Bera, D-Calif., it was record-breaking wildfires and heat waves that killed hundreds in the Pacific Northwest last year.

Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, pointed to “devastating 500-year floods that seem to come almost yearly” in his district near Houston.

NWS Director Louis Uccellini explained that extreme weather events are harder to predict because there is no historical data. Hurricane Ida, which hit New York City in August, was the first time Uccellini said he had ever seen subways “flooded from rainfall [rather than] surges from the ocean.”

However, despite its bipartisan support, the NWS has had long-running staffing problems that get in the way of improving its ability to communicate effectively about weather events.

After initiating reforms in 2017 to better prepare the nation for extreme weather events, the NWS has fallen short in three out of eight aspects of those reforms, a September Government Accountability Office report said,.

Cardell Johnson, a specialist at GAO, explained that the NWS did not have an adequate system in place to listen and respond to its employees’ concerns.

John Werner, president of National Weather Service Employees Organization, added that the current workload given to NWS employees “exceeds” what the employees can do. He shared a chart that shows a 15 percent decrease in the NWS’s number of nonmanagerial employees over the past decade.

March report by the committee also highlighted the gender and racial imbalance at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the NWS. At the end of 2020, there were 8.5 male engineers for each female engineer, and the number of African American workers at NOAA has remained nearly flat over the past four years.

“We need to look like the communities we serve,” Uccellini said, admitting that he was “not happy” with the slow pace of progress.

Focusing on solutions, Johnson pointed out that while the NWS has tried to implement sweeping reforms, many employees only hear about changes through email updates and do not buy into new initiatives.

“Successful reform is rooted in having leadership and staff continuity and communication,” he said.

Werner suggested that the NWS needed to do more outreach to schools and universities to inform students about career opportunities in meteorology.

Erik Salna, Associate Director at the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, said not fixing the operational problems leaves people more at risk when extreme weather events occur.

“Either we reduce the risk, or risk will reduce us,” he said.


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FDA panel recommends Moderna COVID-19 vaccine boosters for at-risk groups

WASHINGTON — A Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend that the FDA approve the booster shot of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for people age 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions or who are at higher risk of exposure to the virus.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee’s recommendation now goes to the FDA for approval. If approved, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then would review it and make a final decision in the next couple of weeks.

Several members of the advisory committee cautioned that there was insufficient data and a lack of diversity in the people chosen by Moderna’s for the clinical trials.

Only 149 subjects were involved in the trial, and 95.3% of them are white and 60.4% of them are women, according to the FDA.

Patrick Moore, American Cancer Society professor at University of Pittsburgh, pointed out the issue but nonetheless voted yes. He said he went with his gut feeling.

“Data are not perfect. But it’s an extraordinary time and we have to work with imperfect data,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of New England Journal of Medicine and a committee member.

On Sept. 3, Moderna requested authorization of its half-dose booster shot to be used at least six months after the two-dose primary series for those 65 and older and those above 18 who have underlying medical conditions or are at higher risk of exposure, including health care workers, teachers and prisoners.

This is the same population group for which Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 third dose was approved to distribute on Sept. 24.

Moderna’s therapeutic area head, Jacqueline Miller, told the panel that the Moderna’s booster shot leads to a 17-fold increase in antibody level countering the delta variant. Miller also said that the adverse reactions of the booster shot are not more severe than those of the second dose.

Moderna booster shot raises antibody

Moderna’s clinical trials show an increase in antibody levels after giving booster shots. (Livestream of the FDA meeting)

On Friday, Johnson & Johnson’s booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine will be reviewed by the same FDA panel. The experts will also discuss “mix-and-match,” using different types of vaccines from different manufacturers.

During Thursday’s meeting, a clear distinction was made between the half-dose (50 mcg) booster shot and the full-dose (100 mcg) third dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The 100 mcg third dose was made available to only the immunocompromised individuals on Aug. 12. Some experts questioned how Moderna plans to prevent confusion during the distribution process.

“We recognize that this will require some education and enforcement and so we are preparing to send a ‘Dear Health Care Provider’ letter explaining how the doses are to be administered,” Miller responded.

Scientists from Israel at the meeting presented that the Pfizer booster shots’ distribution in Israel has led to a decline in COVID cases in the unvaccinated group. They also suggested the side effect of a third dose is lower than the second dose, though there could be underreporting cases.

“For 3.7 million booster doses administered, we had 44 serious adverse events reported,” they said.

Booster shot in Israel

Scientists from Israel show that Pfizer booster shots’ distribution has led to a decline in COVID cases in the unvaccinated group in Israel. (Livestream of the FDA meeting)

Earlier this month, the CDC found that the booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine does not cause additional complications compared with the second dose.

New research shows that unvaccinated Americans view the scientists’ haste in developing booster shots as a sign that the vaccines are not working as well as promised, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Meanwhile, those vaccinated see it as a sign that scientists are striving to make vaccines more effective.

As of Wednesday, 56.6% of Americans were fully vaccinated, while 34.4% have not yet received one dose of COVID vaccine, according to the CDC.

President Biden on Thursday highlighted progress made in reducing COVID-19 infections since September and encouraged more to get shots.

“These boosters are free, available and convenient to get,” President Biden said. “We have to do more to vaccinate the 66 million unvaccinated people in America. It’s essential.”

Merck on Oct. 8 said it has developed an oral medicine that could reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by approximately 50%. The company has submitted it to the FDA for emergency use authorization. If approved, the pill would become the first oral antiviral medicine for COVID-19.

COVID-19 cases have fallen by over 45% after reaching a peak in September, according to the CDC. Dr. Anthony Fauci, however, warned on Saturday that though there’s a turnaround in the slope, the death count is still up.

“I strongly suspect that you’re going to start seeing the deaths go down similar to the hospitalizations,” he said.

In an interview, Richard Kennedy, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and co-director of the Vaccine Research Clinic, said that the country would likely see a rise in COVID cases as people will tend to stay indoors when winter comes.


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Goal to have 60% of people in every country vaccinated by mid-2022 not impossible, agency heads say

WASHINGTON — The goal to have at least 40% of people in every country vaccinated by the end of 2021 and at least 60% by mid-2022 is ambitious but not impossible, World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is a member of the multilateral COVID-19 response task force, said Tuesday.

“If we decide as a community that we can do this, we will do it,” she said during a virtual discussion Tuesday on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group’s annual meetings in Washington. “We are very far away from where we need to be, but we need to ramp up now … this target is very ambitious given where we are now, but it’s not impossible.”

Top officials of the IMF, World Bank, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization – the COVID-19 task force – will seek over the next few days to get finance officials to assist them in making concrete plans to reach the vaccination goal.

On Wednesday, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told reporters that failure to reach the goal could lead to $5.3 trillion in global gross domestic product losses over the next five years.

“Especially G20 countries should own those targets and make it happen because more than 80 percent of the economy belongs to them and the bulk of the production capacity also belongs to them,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Current vaccination coverage reaches less than 4% of people living in low-income countries, compared to over 60% of populations in richer economies, exacerbating global vaccine inequities across the world, the leaders said.

Despite plentiful supply and rapid production of vaccines in advanced economies, vaccine donations are not enough, said Ghebreyesus.

“Seventy percent of the deliveries [are] just to 10 countries. That’s completely unfair. This will not end the pandemic,” he added.

Vaccine inequity is particularly apparent in Africa, said World Bank Group President David Malpass, who pointed to the gap between donations and the actual deliveries of those donated doses.

“What we need to do is get the countries that have excess vaccines to state and follow through in an accountable way with the deliveries,” Malpass said, adding that the World Bank has 250 million doses under contract to be delivered to Africa and the developing world.

“We’re trying to have early delivery dates for the donations that have been committed by the advanced economies and we need to know what the type of vaccine is and where it’s going to be delivered so we can work on the hesitancy problem,” he said.

The question of intellectual property protection for vaccines was raised, with the officials saying that waiving the IP would trigger the transfer of the technology, skills and capacity needed to give developing countries the opportunity to manufacture vaccines.

“As [a] global community, we should ask ourselves, why do we even have the IP waiver as a legal instrument if we’re not going to use it in such unprecedented conditions?” said Ghebreyesus.

The IMF’s Georgieva agreed, saying, “If the road is to build strength [and] capacity to face health risks in the future, now is the time to approach this in a comprehensive manner.”


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Supreme Court considers dispute over Kentucky abortion law

WASHINGTON — A Kentucky abortion clinic and the state’s attorney general went head-to-head in Supreme Court oral arguments Tuesday on whether the attorney general waited too long to defend a restrictive abortion law in a case that could give insights into the justices’ positions on future abortion cases.

Republican Gov. Matthew Bevin signed a law that restricts a second-trimester abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation” in 2018. The abortion clinic EMW Women’s Surgical Center, sued. A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling.

In the meantime, Democrat Andy Beshear, a supporter of abortion rights, succeeded Bevin as governor in 2019, and Republican Daniel Cameron was elected attorney general.

Beshear’s administration declined to fight the appeals court decision, but Cameron then said he wanted to appeal further. An appeals court denied his request to revive the case, saying he was too late.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Cameron had the opportunity to defend the law earlier but chose not to and didn’t appeal on time. But several justices seemed more sympathetic to Cameron’s position.

Though the court will not decide on the abortion law itself, a ruling in Cameron’s favor would give him the green light to fight to reinstate the law.

In December, the Supreme Court will consider a Mississippi case that could overturn the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile on Monday night the Biden administration once again urged the courts to strike down a Texas law that prohibits abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy.

The Kentucky law would ban “dilation and evacuation” abortions, a common second trimester abortion method where doctors use surgical instruments to remove the fetus. Dilation and evacuation abortions are the only type available in Kentucky after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Those who oppose abortion argue the dilation and evacuation method is inhumane and dismembers the fetus. Abortion providers say the method is safe and effective.

“Doctors shouldn’t have to choose between providing the safest, most appropriate care for their patients and going to jail,” Dr. Ernest Marshall, owner of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, said in a statement.

During oral arguments, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU who represented the abortion clinic, argued that “intervention is not a revolving door” where Cameron could fail to appeal and then gain re-entry after a court’s ruling.

“If you fail to appeal, you’re out,” she said.

At a news conference outside the court, Kolbi-Molinas said that Cameron’s actions are “part of a concerning strategy to ban abortion by any means necessary.”

Meg Stern, support fund director for the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said if the court rules in Cameron’s favor it would set a “dangerous precedent” for future abortion cases. But even so, Stern said Cameron likely won’t be successful in getting the law reinstated because the courts have already deemed it unconstitutional multiple times.

Still, Cameron and his attorneys were in high spirits after the oral arguments.

While he voiced his support for the abortion bill, Cameron also emphasized that his argument is about state sovereignty and his ability as attorney general to defend state laws.

“We’ve been knocking on the door of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Cameron told reporters. “I’m optimistic that we will get a favorable ruling.”

Following botched vaccine rollout to American Indians, lawmakers introduce Urban Indian Health Confer Act

WASHINGTON – The Department of Health and Human Services’ botched response to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine for Native Americans caused significant delays in getting the vaccine to urban American Indians, the president of the National Council of Urban Indian Health told a House subcommittee Tuesday.

HHS neglected to ask Urban Indian Organizations for input on the vaccine rollout until a day before the deadline, according to Walter Murillo, president of the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

As a result, he told the House National Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous People, vaccine distribution to urban American Indians was significantly delayed. American Indians in urban areas were unclear whether to get their shots through their state of residence or through the Indian Health Service, Murillo said.

The Urban Indian Health Confer Act, introduced by subcommittee member Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-N.M., would require HHS to consult the 41 Urban Indian Organizations, which are urban-based nonprofits governed by Native Americans to address health care issues, on health care policies concerning the 2.8 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives living in urban areas.

The Indian Health Service is the only HHS agency that confers with Urban Indian Organizations before making policies about American Indians. There are no communication chains to any other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We must move past the notion that only the IHS has a trust obligation to Native people,” Murillo said. “Because the truth is, the federal government has the responsibility to provide care for all native people.”

The federal government has an obligation to provide health care for American Indians because of treaties signed with tribal nations in exchange for their land.

According to Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., Urban American Indians rely on health organizations in major cities, such as the Zuni Clinic in Albuquerque, which offers primary care, dental and behavioral health services at no cost. Grijalva’s bill would bring the Zuni clinic and similar urban organizations into the forefront of decision-making.

The Biden administration’s budget proposal includes a $2.2 billion funding increase for the Indian Health Service, and for the first time, includes an advance appropriation for the IHS so funding does not have to be approved each year. This would protect the IHS from a government shutdown if an annual federal budget is not approved, as nearly happened last week. However, Biden’s budget proposal has yet to be approved by Congress.

Murillo ultimately wants American Indian voices to guide all federal-level public health conversations related to Native Americans.

“We would like to adhere to the phrase ‘no policies about us without us,’” he said.

Pandemic overwhelms resources for sexual assault survivors, says Deputy Attorney General

WASHINGTON – Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco told a Senate hearing Tuesday that the pandemic has exacerbated the increased demand for services for survivors of sexual violence as senators consider a bill to strengthen and renew the Violence Against Women Act. 

“The demand for services is outpacing the ability to provide these services, and it’s only become more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic [because] people are at home and really with their abuser in many respects, and that is a horrible situation we need to rectify,” Monaco said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. 

The Biden administration supports renewing the law, which expired nearly three years ago although Congress continued to fund it, and wants to increase the funding, Monaco said. The extra money could be used, for example, to reduce long waiting lines at VAWA-funded rape crisis centers across the country, she said. 

The bill would reauthorize existing VAWA programs to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking through 2026. It also would expand the programs, strengthen federal gun restriction laws for abusers and further housing and economic security for survivors.  

Since its initial enactment in 1994, VAWA has been renewed three times. In March, the House passed the bill with 29 Republican votes in a show of bipartisan support.  

At the start of the hearing, three Republican senators who are not committee members, Joni Ernst, R-IowaShelley Capito, R-W.Va., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R- Miss., spoke to the impact the act has had on protecting women for years. The senators stressed the need to protect underrepresented and underserved survivors of domestic violence, including those in rural, tribal and indigenous communities.   

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., made the case for closing the “boyfriend loophole” by updating the law to protect dating partners in the same way as married partners. While domestic abusers are prohibited from having guns if they lived with, were married to or had a child with the victim, dating partners are not subject to those laws. 

“Women are more likely to be killed if the abuser has a gun, and it’s no different if that abuser is in a dating relationship than if they are a spouse,” Monaco said in agreement. That same notion was reinforced by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who stressed the need for information-sharing between the federal government and state local authorities regarding background checks.  

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, criticized Monaco for not showing up during a previous Senate hearing on the FBI’s failure to investigate sexual abuse claims against Larry Nassar, who served as the U.S. women’s national gymnastics team doctor.  

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton tried to derail the hearing away from VAWA by focusing on Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Monday memorandum that called on the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s offices to address violent threats against teachers and school officials following a request made by the National School Boards Association. 

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill, who chairs the committee, said he wants to move quickly. “We need to get this bill to a president who is anxious to receive it [and] sign it into law for reauthorization.”  

Union leaders call on Trump to invoke Defense Production Act to speed delivery of protective gear to frontline workers

President Donald Trump should invoke his authority under the Defense Production Act to expedite the delivery of masks, gloves and gowns to frontline workers who are at a high risk of contracting the coronavirus, union leaders said Tuesday.

“While the rest of America hovers down, these everyday heroes leave the safety of their homes and head to the frontlines,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest trade union of public employees in the United States. “In too many cases, they are doing it without the protective equipment they need.”

Saunders and the other leaders, speaking on a press call, said the Defense Production Act was designed for this kind of national emergency, but Trump is hesitant to use it.

The Defense Production Act was passed in 1950 due to production needs during the Korean War. The law gives presidents the power to direct corporations to prioritize services and critical material deemed necessary to aid the national defense.

“Unfortunately, it seems he is waiting for the blessing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful corporate special interest group, which is leaning on him not to invoke his full authority under the DPA,” Saunders said.

He said that public service workers are putting their communities first, while Trump is putting the business lobby first.

Due to shortage of masks, many frontline workers around the U.S. are using bandanas and other makeshift masks, Saunders said. He noted that one sanitation worker in Atlanta informed him that they have no masks or gloves left and are given only three disinfectant wipes per day.

Many hospitals have started reusing N95 masks, said Stacy Chamberlain, executive director of AFSCME Council 75. However, reusing N95 respirators is taking a short-cut around the issue of the shortage of protective gear and ignoring standards around mask usage that have long been in place, she said.

Henry A. Garrido, executive director of AFSCME District Council 37 in New York state, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., said that while the president has said that ventilators have been sent to New York, he has not seen any. “We desperately, desperately need ventilators in public hospitals,” said Garrido.

Health care providers in New York fortunate enough to get tested for the coronavirus are still expected to work while they wait for the results, said Garrido.

Results by agencies can take from around 48 hours to six days, according to Garrido. He added that health care providers are only expected to self-isolate after they display symptoms like coughing and fever. About 300 first responders are being tested daily in New York, and a quarter of those test results come out positive, said Garrido.

Denise Duncan, president of the United Nurses Associations of California, said frontline workers should not be struggling to get tested for COVID-19 because “we don’t have an endless supply of people.”

 


 

Medill Today // December 2, 2021