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Vaccine Inequity Comes Into Stark Focus During UN Gathering

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Vaccine

The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution will come into sharper focus Thursday as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots step to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders.

 

 

Already, the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in leaders’ speeches — many of them delivered remotely exactly because of the virus. Country after country acknowledged the wide disparity in accessing the vaccine, painting a picture so bleak that a solution has at times seemed impossibly out of reach.

 

 

“Some countries have vaccinated their populations, and are on the path to recovery. For others, the lack of vaccines and weak health systems pose a serious problem,” Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, said in a prerecorded speech Wednesday. “In Africa, fewer than 1 in 20 people are fully vaccinated. In Europe, one in two are fully vaccinated. This inequity is clearly unfair.”

 

Countries slated to give their signature annual speeches on Thursday include South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Burkina Faso and Libya.

 

 

Also among them will be Zimbabwe, where the economic ravages of the pandemic have forced some families to abandon the long-held tradition of taking care of their older people. And Uganda, where a surge in virus cases have made scarce hospital beds even more expensive, leading to concerns over alleged exploitation of patients by private hospitals.

 

 

On Wednesday, during a global vaccination summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.

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The move comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

 

 

 

The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

 

 

During an anti-racism event on Wednesday commemorating a landmark but contentious conference 20 years ago, President Felix Tshisekedi of Congo pointed to the fact that only about 1 in 1,000 people in his country have gotten at least one shot.

 

 

The disparity in vaccine availability around the world “clearly does not demonstrate equality between the countries and peoples of this world,” Tshisekedi said.

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likewise called out failures in sharing coronavirus vaccines during his speech Wednesday night, his hopes in 2020 of “effective multilateralism and effective international solidarity” dashed a year later, “where one thing is to share objectives and quite another is to share vaccines.”

 

 

 

Also on Thursday, foreign ministers are due to ponder climate change as a security issue when the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, meets in the morning.

 

 

 

Climate change has been a major focus during this week’s General Assembly gathering. World leaders made “faint signs of progress” on the financial end of fighting climate change in a special United Nations feet-to-the-fire meeting Monday, but they didn’t commit to more crucial cuts in emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Democrats May Pass Their Agenda After All

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Democrats

All of a sudden, it appears that the Democrats’ two-bill strategy to pass as much of their agenda as possible is … working as planned? Lots of caveats apply, nothing is agreed to until everything is, and the whole thing could still come apart.

 

 

But Senate Democrats are talking about reaching a deal this week, with Bernie Sanders meeting with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and no apparent deal-breakers identified at this point. That’s only the Senate, of course, but all along it’s been hard to believe that House Democrats would reject anything that Sanders and Manchin both supported.

 

Let’s take a step back. What was always hard about this approach was that the party’s agenda was ambitious and the gap between the most and least liberal Democrats was large. That meant that all wings of the party, and especially the most liberal group, were going to have to give up a lot of things they strongly cared about.

 

 

The size of the bill also meant that there were going to be a lot of potential landmines, some of them buried deep in the text. Those could still blow things up; all that Senate Democrats are hoping to get done this week is an overall agreement (a “framework”), with the details to be filled in later — leaving room for someone to object once a final deal is reached. And as always, there’s almost no room for error given the party’s narrow majorities.

 

But two big factors suggest eventual passage is likely.

For one, in contrast with the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate in August, everyone negotiating this bill is a Democrat. And given the way elections work these days, with presidential popularity more important to a lawmaker’s re-election than his or her own popularity, all those Democrats have a stake in making President Joe Biden look good.

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The other thing? The two bills address issues — such as health care, climate, child care and so on — that Democrats have compromised on numerous times in the past. Seriously: Does anyone think that New York and New Jersey Democrats will ultimately vote against the entire Democratic agenda if relief for state and local taxes isn’t included? Sure, that’s what they’re saying now. And sure, they’ll fight for their districts’ interests. But surely when push comes to shove they’ll accept commitments for the future or some other verbiage from leadership. After all, their districts will benefit from items in both bills, even if they don’t get exactly what they want.

 

 

It’s even possible that the public focus on the total cost of the bill, which everyone seems to agree was a communications nightmare, is playing a helpful role. If there’s one thing that legislators can do, it’s find a compromise between two numbers; that’s a lot easier than haggling over the programs generating the numbers. Meanwhile, since almost no one knows what’s supposed to have been in the bills, Democrats can start talking up whatever they pass, rather than making excuses for what they didn’t.

 

Again: There’s no agreement yet; all they’re working on is a framework, not the full legislative language with all the details; and things could easily still collapse. But I’ve been saying for a while that the eventual outcome to these negotiations is a complete unknown, and I don’t think that’s the case any more.

 

 

Now the most likely outcome is that both bills pass and are signed into law. If that happens, the total size is going to be a lot lower than originally proposed, and a lot of Democratic priorities won’t be included, but it would still cap off an impressive legislative start to Biden’s presidency.

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Jonathan Bernstein

 

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Clinton “Doing Fine” And Will Be Out Of Hospital Soon

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 Bill Clinton is doing fine and will be released soon from a Southern California hospital where he’s being treated for an infection, President Joe Biden said.

 

 

Biden said Friday during remarks at the University of Connecticut that he had spoken to Clinton and the former president “sends his best.”

 

 

“He’s doing fine; he really is,” Biden said.

“He’s not in any serious condition,” Biden said. “He is getting out shortly, as I understand it. Whether that’s tomorrow or the next day, I don’t know.”

 

 

 

Clinton, 75, was admitted to the University of California Irvine Medical Center, southeast of Los Angeles, on Tuesday with an infection unrelated to COVID-19, his spokesman said.

 

 

 

An aide to the former president said Clinton had a urological infection that spread to his bloodstream, but he is on the mend and never went into septic shock, a potentially life-threatening condition.

 

 

Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña said Friday that Clinton would remain hospitalized overnight to receive further intravenous antibiotics.

 

 

 

“All health indicators are trending in the right direction, including his white blood count which has decreased significantly,” Ureña said in a statement.

 

AP

 

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Next On FDA’s Agenda: Booster Shots Of Moderna, J&J Vaccines

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Vaccines

With many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations already rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot, millions of others who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait anxiously to learn when it’s their turn.

 

 

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week.

 

 

 

On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra doses of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when. The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week.

 

 

 

After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency itself will make a decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then next week, a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them. Its decision is subject to approval by the CDC director.

 

 

 

The process is meant to bolster public confidence in the vaccines. But it has already led to conflicts and disagreements among experts and agencies.

 

 

For example, last month the CDC advisory panel backed Pfizer boosters at the six-month point for older Americans, nursing home residents and people with underlying health problems.

 

 

But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky overruled her advisers and decided boosters should also be offered to those with high-risk jobs such as teachers and health care workers, adding tens of millions more Americans to the list.

Some health experts fear the back-and-forth deliberations are muddling the public effort to persuade the unvaccinated to get their first shots. They worry that the talk of boosters will lead people to wrongly doubt the effectiveness of the vaccines in the first place.

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As the FDA’s panel meets to review the Moderna and J&J vaccines, its decisions this time are likely to be even more complicated, with experts discussing whether a third Moderna shot should contain just half the original dose and what’s the best timing for a second shot of the single-dose J&J vaccine.

 

 

 

The panel will also look into the safety and effectiveness of mixing-and-matching different brands of vaccine, something regulators have not endorsed so far.

 

 

An estimated 103 million Americans are fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s formula, 69 million with Moderna’s and 15 million with J&J’s, according to the CDC. Regulators took up the question of Pfizer boosters first because the company submitted its data ahead of the other vaccine makers.

 

The two initial Moderna shots contain 100 micrograms of vaccine each. But the drugmaker says 50 micrograms ought to be enough for a booster for healthy people.

 

 

A company study of 344 people gave them a 50-microgram shot six months after their second dose, and levels of virus-fighting antibodies jumped. Moderna said the booster even triggered a 42-fold rise in antibodies able to target the extra-contagious delta variant.

 

 

Side effects were similar to the fevers and aches that Moderna recipients commonly experience after their second regular shot, the company said.

 

 

 

 

J&J released data in September showing that a booster given at two months provided 94% protection against moderate-to-severe COVID-19 infection. The company has not yet disclosed patient data on a six-month booster, but early measures of virus-fighting antibodies suggest it provides even higher protection.

 

 

Even without a booster, J&J says, its vaccine remains about 80% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S.

 

 

Scientists emphasize that all three vaccines used in the U.S. still offer strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19. The issue is how quickly, and how much, protection against milder infection may wane.

 

 

In one recent study, researchers compared about 14,000 people who had gotten their first Moderna dose a year ago with 11,000 vaccinated eight months ago. As the delta variant surged in July and August, the more recently vaccinated group had a 36% lower rate of “breakthrough” infections compared with those vaccinated longer ago.

 

 

Still, medical experts continue to debate the science and rationale for giving extra shots to those who already have significant protection.

 

 

The White House and its top medical advisers announced sweeping plans in August to offer boosters to nearly all adults, citing signs of waning protection and the then-surging delta variant. But they were rebuffed by many experts who said there is little data showing whether such broad use would stop breakthrough infections or curb the overall trajectory of cases.

 

 

While the FDA and CDC ultimately scaled back use of Pfizer boosters, Biden administration officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have suggested that extra shots will eventually be recommended for most Americans.

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They point to data from Israel showing lower rates of infections and severe disease among people who received a third Pfizer shot.

 

 

The FDA meetings come as U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.

 

 

By LAURAN NEERGAARD

     MATTHEW PERRONE

 

AP

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