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US FDA Authorizes Third Dose of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Older Americans

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those 65 and older and some high-risk Americans, paving the way for a quick rollout of the shots.

The booster dose is to be administered at least six months after completion of the second dose, and the authorization would include people most susceptible to severe disease and those in jobs that put them at risk, the FDA said.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel could vote Thursday on the use of a third shot of the vaccine, an agency official said at a public meeting of the panel Wednesday.

President Joe Biden announced in August the government’s intention to roll out booster shots for people 16 and older this week, pending approval by the FDA and CDC.

Advisers to the FDA voted Friday to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for Americans 65 and older and those at high risk of severe illness, after overwhelmingly rejecting a call for broader approval.

The advisory panel said there was not enough evidence to support booster shots for all those 16 and older who had received a second dose at least six months earlier, and it also sought more safety data.

The agency could revisit the issue of additional shots for a broader authorization in the future. Top FDA members have been split on the need for boosters for the general population, with interim head Janet Woodcock backing them and some of the agency’s senior scientists arguing that current evidence does not support them.

Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday that a second shot of its COVID-19 vaccine increased its effectiveness in the United States against moderate to severe forms of the disease.

Information on booster doses of Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine is just weeks away, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday.

Some countries, including Israel and Britain, have already rolled out COVID-19 booster campaigns. The United States authorized extra shots for people with compromised immune systems last month, and more than 2 million people had already received a third shot, CDC data showed. 

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Researchers Detect Malaria Resistant to Key Drug in Africa

Scientists have found evidence of a resistant form of malaria in Uganda, a worrying sign that the top drug used against the parasitic disease could ultimately be rendered useless without more action to stop its spread.

Researchers in Uganda analyzed blood samples from patients treated with artemisinin, the primary medicine used for malaria in Africa in combination with other drugs. They found that by 2019, nearly 20% of the samples had genetic mutations, suggesting the treatment was ineffective. Lab tests showed it took much longer for those patients to get rid of the parasites that cause malaria.

Drug-resistant forms of malaria were previously detected in Asia, and health officials have been nervously watching for any signs in Africa, which accounts for more than 90% of the world’s malaria cases. Some isolated drug-resistant strains of malaria have previously been seen in Rwanda.

“Our findings suggest a potential risk of cross-border spread across Africa,” the researchers wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine, which published the study Wednesday.

The drug-resistant strains emerged in Uganda rather than being imported from elsewhere, they reported. They examined 240 blood samples over three years.

Malaria is spread by mosquito bites and kills more than 400,000 people every year, mostly children under 5 and pregnant women.

Resistance has ‘a foothold’

Dr. Philip Rosenthal, a professor of medicine at the University of California- San Francisco, said that the new findings in Uganda, after past results in Rwanda, “prove that resistance really now has a foothold in Africa.”

Rosenthal, who was not involved in the new study, said it was likely there was undetected drug resistance elsewhere on the continent. He said drug-resistant versions of malaria emerged in Cambodia years ago and have now spread across Asia. He predicted a similar path for the disease in Africa, with deadlier consequences given the burden of malaria on the continent.

Dr. Nicholas White, a professor of tropical medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, described the new paper’s conclusions about emerging malaria resistance as “unequivocal.”

“We basically rely on one drug for malaria, and now it’s been hobbled,” said White, who also wrote an accompanying editorial in the Journal.

He suggested that instead of the standard approach, where one or two other drugs are used in combination with artemisinin, doctors should now use three, as is often done in treating tuberculosis and HIV.

White said public health officials need to act to stem drug-resistant malaria, by beefing up surveillance and supporting research into new drugs, among other measures.

“We shouldn’t wait until the fire is burning to do something, but that is not what generally happens in global health,” he said, citing the failures to stop the coronavirus pandemic as an example.

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Arctic Sea Ice Shrank Less in 2021, Scientists Say

Scientists with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in the U.S. state of Colorado said Wednesday that, as summer was ending in the Northern Hemisphere, Arctic sea ice had shrunk less in 2021 than in other recent years. 

Supported by NASA and other federal agencies, the NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It is among the research organizations that monitor the ebb and flow of the Arctic ice pack. Scientists with the center determined the ice pack reached its minimum extent for the year on September 16.

Sea ice extent is defined as the total area in which ice concentration is at least 15% 

This year, satellite observations determined Arctic ice covered a minimum of 1.82 million square kilometers, which NSIDC scientists said was the highest minimum coverage since 2014, and the 12th lowest in 43 years of satellite records. 

In a statement, NSIDC Director Mark Serreze said, “We had a reprieve this year — a cool and stormy summer with less ice melt. But the amount of old, thick sea ice is as low as it has ever been in our satellite record.” 

The NSIDC said the last 15 years have produced the lowest 15 sea ice extents in the satellite record. The amount of old, multiyear ice — that is, ice that has remained frozen through at least one summer melt season — is at one of the lowest levels in the ice age record, which began in 1984. 

The center cautioned the Arctic Sea ice extent figures were preliminary, as continued melting could still push the ice minimum extent lower before the early winter freeze begins. NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year’s ice conditions.

 

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WHO: Reducing Air Pollution Could Save Millions of Lives

The World Health Organization is issuing new guidelines on improving global air quality, which it says could save many of the seven million lives that are lost each year to pollution.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says inhaling dirty air increases the risk of pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, as well as noncommunicable ailments including heart disease, stroke and cancers. 

“Air pollution is a health threat in all countries but especially for vulnerable groups in low- and middle-income countries with poor air quality due to urbanization and rapid economic development and air pollution in the home caused by cooking, heating and lighting,” he said. 

Since the WHO’s last global update in 2005, a new body of evidence has emerged showing that humans suffer damage to their health at lower concentrations of air pollution than previously believed. 

Consequently, the WHO recommends lower air quality levels for five key pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. 

Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s department of environment, climate change and health, says a changeover to cleaner energy will improve people’s health and mitigate global warming.

“Moving to renewable and clean sources of energy because [of] this will have a very positive impact on reducing the greenhouse gases emission and tackling the causes of climate change and reducing air pollution,” she said. “Both are critical pillars of our health.” 

Besides improving health and saving lives, reducing air pollution could also have enormous economic benefits.

The World Bank estimates the global cost associated with health damage from ambient air pollution stands at $5.7 trillion a year. 

 

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Amnesty Report : Drugmakers Far Short of Offering COVID-19 Vaccines to Poorer Nations

Amnesty International is accusing the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies of creating an “unprecedented human rights crisis” by failing to provide enough COVID-19 vaccines for the world’s poorest nations. 

In a report issued Wednesday, the human rights advocacy group says AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and the partnership of Pfizer and BioNTech have “failed to meet their human rights responsibilities” by refusing to participate in global vaccine sharing initiatives and share vaccine technology by waiving their intellectual property rights.

Amnesty says only a “paltry” 0.3% of the 5.76 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed around the world have gone to low-income countries, while 79% have gone to upper-middle and high-income countries. It says the disparity is “pushing weakened health systems to the very brink and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week,” especially in parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia. 

The organization says Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna alone are set to make $130 billion combined by the end of 2022.

“Profits should never come before lives,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general. 

Amnesty is calling on governments and pharmaceutical companies to immediately deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of such countries by the end of the year. 

COVID Summit

The report was issued ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual COVID Summit, held in conjunction with this week’s United Nations General Assembly. Biden is expected to announce a global vaccination target of 70% along with an additional purchase of 500 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, bringing the United States’ overall donations to more than 1.1 billion doses.

“America is committed to beating COVID-19. Today, the United States is doubling our total number of global donated vaccines to more than 1.1 billion. For every shot we’ve put in an American arm to date, we are donating three shots globally,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday on Twitter. 

 

 

Extreme poverty

The Asian Development Bank says the pandemic likely pushed as many as 80 million people in Asia’s developing nations into extreme poverty last year. A report issued Tuesday by the Manila-based institution said the region’s developing economies will likely grow at a slower-than-expected pace in 2021 due to lingering COVID-19 outbreaks and the slow pace of vaccination efforts

The ADB is predicting Southeast Asian economies to grow by just 3.1 percent this year, a drop from the 4.4 percent rate forecast in its economic outlook back in April.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP).

 

 

 

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US, China Unveil Separate Big Steps to Fight Climate Change

The two biggest economies and largest carbon polluters in the world announced separate financial attacks on climate change Tuesday. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will no longer fund coal-fired power plants abroad, surprising the world on climate for the second straight year at the U.N. General Assembly. That came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a plan to double financial aid to poorer nations to $11.4 billion by 2024 so those countries could switch to cleaner energy and cope with global warming’s worsening impacts. That puts rich nations close to within reach of its long-promised but not realized goal of $100 billion a year in climate help for developing nations. 

“This is an absolutely seminal moment,” said Xinyue Ma, an expert on energy development finance at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. 

This could provide some momentum going into major climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in less than six weeks, experts said. Running up to the historic 2015 Paris climate deal, a joint U.S.-China agreement kickstarted successful negotiations. This time, with China-U.S. relations dicey, the two nations made their announcements separately, hours and thousands of miles apart. 

“Today was a really good day for the world,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the upcoming climate negotiations, told Vice President Kamala Harris. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has made a frenetic push this week for bigger efforts to curb climate change called the two announcements welcome news, but said “we still have a long way to go” to make the Glasgow meeting successful. 

Depending on when China’s new coal policy goes into effect, it could shutter 47 planned power plants in 20 developing countries that use the fuel that emits the most heat-trapping gases, about the same amount of coal power as from Germany, according to the European climate think-tank E3G. 

“It’s a big deal. China was the only significant funder of overseas coal left. This announcement essentially ends all public support for coal globally,” said Joanna Lewis, an expert on China, energy and climate at Georgetown University. “This is the announcement many have been waiting for.”

From 2013 to 2019, data showed that China was financing 13% of coal-fired power capacity built outside China – “far and away the largest public financier,” said Kevin Gallagher, who directs the Boston University center. Japan and South Korea announced earlier this year that they were getting out of the coal-financing business. 

With all three countries pulling out of financing coal abroad “that sends a signal to the global economy. This is a sector that’s fast becoming a stranded asset,” Gallagher said. 

While this is a big step it is not quite a death knell for coal, said Byford Tsang, a policy analyst for E3G. That’s because China last year added as much new coal power domestically as was just potentially cancelled abroad, he said. 

Tsang cautioned that the one-sentence line in Xi’s speech that mentioned this new policy lacked details like effective dates and whether it applied to private funding as well as public funding. 

What also matters is when China stops building new coal plants at home and shutters old ones, Tsang said. That will be part of a push in the G-20 meetings in Italy next month, he said. “The Chinese are going to respond to international pressure, rather than just American bilateral pressure right now,” said Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on China’s politics and energy at Villanova University. 

“A coal-free energy mix is still decades in the future” because coal power plants typically operate for 50 years or more, said Stanford University environment director Chris Field. 

Many nations that are trying to build their economies — including top polluters China and India — have long argued they needed to industrialize with fossil fuels, like developed nations had already done. Starting in 2009 and then with “a grand bargain” in 2015 in Paris, richer nations promised $100 billion a year in financial help to poorer nations to make the switch from dirty to clean fuel, World Resources Institute climate finance expert Joe Thwaites said. 

But as of 2019, the richer nations were only providing $80 billion a year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. So, when rich nations like the United States asked poorer ones to do more “it gives any other country a very easy retort,” Thwaites said: “‘You took out commitments and you haven’t delivered on those either.” 

In April, Biden announced he would double the Obama era financial aid pledge of $2.85 billion a year to $5.7 billion. On Tuesday he announced that he hopes to double that to $11.4 billion a year starting in 2024, but he does need passage from Congress. 

The European Union has been doling out $24.5 billion a year with the European Commission recently upping that to more than $4.7 billion over seven years. “The Europeans are doing a lot more and the Americans are lagging behind,” Thwaites said. 

He said several studies calculate that based on the U.S. economy, population and carbon pollution, it should be contributing 40% to 47% of the $100 billion fund to be doing its fair share. 

But Congressional Republicans aren’t convinced. “We shouldn’t be contributing to a fund that picks winners and losers and further subsidizes China in the process,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the House Climate Committee. 

The time for global grandstanding is over, said Princeton University climate science and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer said. “It’s what’s happening on the ground that matters.” 

“Accelerating the global phase out of coal is the single most important step” to keeping the Paris agreement’s key warming limit within reach, said U.N. chief Guterres. 

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Done With Delays, Academy Movie Museum Rolls Out Red Carpet

The projectors are rolling. The ruby slippers are on. Many an Oscar sits glistening. The shark has been hanging, and waiting, for nearly a year.  

Nine years after it was announced, four years after its first projected open date, and five months since its last planned launch date, the U.S. film academy’s museum is ready to open to the public on Sept 30.  

“I’m very moved to be able to say to you, finally, at last, boy howdy hey, welcome to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” Tom Hanks told reporters Tuesday at a media preview of the Los Angeles building and its exhibits.  

Hanks, a member of the board of trustees, led the fundraising for the project along with fellow actor Annette Bening and Walt Disney Co. executive chairman Bob Iger.  

“We all know, films are made everywhere in the world, and they are wonderful films,” Hanks said. “And there are other cities with film museums, but with all due respect, created by the Motion Picture Academy, in Los Angeles, this museum has really got to be the Parthenon of such places.”  

The first thing most visitors will notice on entering the building is Bruce, a 1,208-pound (548-kilogram), 25-foot-long (7.6-meter), 46-year-old shark made from the “Jaws” mold. Bruce hangs above the bank of main escalators and was hoisted there last November in anticipation of what was then a planned April opening. 

The featured inaugural exhibit celebrates the works of the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Others examine the work of directors Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar.  

Some galleries focus on the Oscars, with actual statuettes won across the decades, and speeches projected on walls.  

Projected scenes are a theme in all the museum’s galleries, with technology from 18th century “magic lanterns” through silent films to the 3-D digital tech of today.  

Costumes from “The Wizard of Oz” to “The Wiz” are on display, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers. 

Announced in 2012 and first slated to open in 2017, the museum was beset with delays that are typical for such a project, but they were compounded by a pair of pandemic postponements.  

Designed by architect Renzo Piano, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a 300,000-square-foot (27,871-square-meter) space made up of two buildings, one old, one new, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  

“It’s shiny and new and enormous, and it’s crammed with about 125 years’ worth of ideas and dreams and life-changing cinematic experiences,” actor Anna Kendrick said at the media preview.  

The older structure is the 1930s Saban Building, once home to the May Company department store. It’s linked by bridges to a new building that is topped by a terrace and a concrete-and-glass dome that has a distinctiveness that could lead to a nickname.  

Piano said Tuesday that he hopes it’s “the soap bubble” and not something more cinematic.  

“Please,” the architect said, “don’t call it the Death Star.”  

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6 Tribes Sue Wisconsin to Try to Stop November Wolf Hunt

Six Native American tribes sued Wisconsin on Tuesday to try to stop its planned gray wolf hunt in November, asserting that the hunt violates their treaty rights and endangers an animal they consider sacred.

The Chippewa tribes say treaties give them rights to half of the wolf quota in territory they ceded to the United States in the mid-1800s. But rather than hunt wolves, the tribes want to protect them.

The tribal lawsuit comes three weeks after a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and void a state law mandating annual hunts, arguing that the statutes don’t give wildlife managers any leeway to consider population estimates.

Hunters blew past their limit during a court-ordered hunt in February. The state Department of Natural Resources set the quota at 119, but hunters killed 218 wolves in just four days, forcing an early end to the season.

Conservationists then deluged the department with requests to cancel this fall’s hunt out of concerns it could devastate the wolf population. Agency biologists recommended setting the fall quota at 130. But the agency’s board last month set the kill limit at 300.

The tribes have claimed their half, but since they won’t hunt wolves, the working quota for state-licensed hunters would be 150. The lawsuit alleges the board’s decision to set the quota at 300 was a deliberate move to nullify the tribes’ share and was not based on science.

The DNR’s latest estimates put Wisconsin’s wolf population at roughly 1,000. Opponents say hunters probably killed at least a quarter of the population if poaching is included.

“In our treaty rights, we’re supposed to share with the state 50-50 in our resources and we’re feeling that we’re not getting our due diligence because of the slaughter of wolves in February,” John Johnson Sr., president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The Ojibwe word for “wolf” is Ma’iingan, and the Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region often call themselves Anishinaabe. The wolf holds a sacred place in their creation story.

“To the Anishinaabe, the Ma’iingan are our brothers. The legends and stories tell us as brothers we walk hand in hand together. What happens to the Ma’iingan happens to humanity,” Marvin Defoe, an official and elder with Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, said in the statement.

Hunters, farmers and conservationists have been fighting over how to manage Wisconsin’s wolves. Farmers say wolves kill livestock, while hunters are looking for another species to stalk.

The six tribes are represented by Earthjustice, which is one of several groups that are suing the federal government over the Trump administration’s decision last November to lift Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. and return management authority to the states.

Gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are considered part of the western Great Lakes population, which is managed separately from wolves in Western states.

The Biden administration last Wednesday said federal protections may need to be restored for western wolves because Republican-backed state laws have made it much easier to kill the predators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s initial determination that western wolves could again be imperiled launched a yearlong biological review.

Dozens of tribes asked the Biden administration one day earlier to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves across the country, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting them. They asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to act quickly on an emergency petition they filed in May to relist the wolf as endangered or threatened. 

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