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After Biden COVID Recovery, White House Launches New Booster Push 

President Joe Biden’s administration is launching a renewed push for COVID-19 booster shots for those eligible, pointing to the enhanced protections they offer against severe illness as the highly transmissible BA.5 variant spreads across the country. 

The initiatives include direct outreach to high-risk groups, especially seniors, encouraging them to get “up to date” on their vaccinations, with phone calls, emails and new public service announcements. 

Americans ages 5 and older should all get boosters five months after their initial primary series, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also says those age 50 and older, or those who are immunocompromised, should get their second boosters four months after their first. According to the CDC, tens of millions of eligible Americans haven’t received their first boosters, and only 30% of those who have received their first boosters have also received their second. 

The CDC has released a “booster calculator” to help people determine when to get a booster shot. 

Biden, who received his second booster shot in March, tested positive for the virus last week and recovered after experiencing mild symptoms for five days. 

“Given the rise of the Omicron BA.5 variant, it is essential that Americans stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations — with booster shots — to achieve the highest level of protection possible,” the White House said. COVID-19 is killing about 366 people in the U.S. each day, the vast majority of whom are not up to date on their vaccinations. The administration says those deaths are largely preventable. 

‘Undervaccinated’

In May, according to the CDC, prior to the dominance of the BA.5 variant in the U.S., people over 50 who had received only their first booster shots were four times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those with two or more booster doses. 

“Currently, many Americans are undervaccinated, meaning they are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said this month. “Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection against severe outcomes.” 

As part of the new booster push, the White House says pharmacies in the federal pharmacy program will step up outreach to those eligible for second booster doses. It says Walgreens will make more than 600,000 phone calls, and Rite Aid will send nearly 9 million emails to people encouraging them to get shots. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also reach out to 600 nursing homes that have reported booster uptake rates under 80% to offer additional federal support, including setting up on-site clinics and sending medical providers and infectious disease experts to educate people about the benefits of the shots. CMS will also email booster reminders to the 16 million people who receive their Medicare emails and added a booster reminder message to its 1-800-MEDICARE call-in line. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will also continue to run public service announcements encouraging boosters during commercial breaks on shows with significant viewership among seniors.

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Science & Health
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Russia to End Partnership Aboard International Space Station

Russia announces plans to sever a long-term space partnership. Plus, a private spaceflight company extends its record of successful launches, and NASA scores a win for its upcoming moon mission. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space. 

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Science & Health
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WHO: New Vaccines Must be Developed to Keep Pace With COVID Variants

The World Health Organization is calling for greater investment in the development of new vaccines to keep pace with the rapidly evolving variants of the coronavirus.

As world attention is focused on the monkeypox outbreak, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. He says new tools must be developed to curb this deadly disease while public health measures that are known to work must be maintained and strengthened.

He says one of the most effective ways to save lives is to vaccinate the right groups first. By this he means health workers, older people, and other at-risk groups such as those with underlying health conditions.

He notes COVID-19 cases and deaths have been increasing for the last five weeks. The latest WHO report puts the number of confirmed global cases at nearly 566 million, including more than 6.3 million deaths.

Tedros says several countries also are reporting increasing hospitalizations, following waves of transmission driven by omicron subvariants. “While vaccines have saved countless lives, they have not substantially reduced transmission. So, it is vital for governments and the private sector to continue collaborating and investing in the development of new vaccines that prevent both infection and disease.”

Tedros adds vaccines should be developed that can be delivered more easily, such as through nasal sprays or drops.

The WHO executive director for health emergencies, Mike Ryan, says more attention must be paid to pandemic preparedness. He says risks from diseases such as COVID-19, monkeypox, Marburg, and polio are accelerating because nations tend to be reactive, rather than active in tackling these diseases.

“I think we need to really take a much more systematic look at how we prioritize pathogens for the future and then how we invest… It will cost money and it does cost money. But it is a fantastic investment in protecting us down the line. And a dollar spent in preparedness is worth a thousand dollars spent on response.”

WHO chief Tedros agrees. He urges all countries to assess and strengthen their readiness and response plans for future waves of transmission.

He adds that as new vaccines and other COVID-19 tools are developed, it is crucial they are equitably available in all countries.

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Science & Health
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Palestinians Burn Israeli E-Waste Releasing Toxic Chemicals

Every week, tons of electronic waste cross the border from Israel to the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinian families make a living off the waste by burning it to extract copper they can sell. But the burning is taking a toll on residents’ health. Linda Gradstein reports. Camera: Ricki Rosen.

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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Twitter Accepts Oct. 17 Trial but Is Concerned Musk Will Try to Delay

 Twitter Inc. does not object to Elon Musk’s proposal to start a trial on October 17 over Musk’s bid to walk away from his $44 billion acquisition deal but the social media company wants a commitment to complete the trial in five days, Twitter said in a court filing on Wednesday. 

Musk has said he needs time to complete a thorough investigation of what he says is Twitter’s misrepresentation of fake accounts, which he said breached their deal terms. 

He originally sought a February trial, but on Tuesday proposed an October 17 trial after a judge ruled the proceeding was to start in three months. 

Twitter has called the fake accounts a distraction and pushed for the trial to hold Musk to the deal to start as soon as possible, arguing that delay damages its business. It said in its court filing that Musk had offered no assurance a trial would be completed in five days, as ordered by the judge, Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery. 

“Twitter sought that commitment because it believes Musk’s objective remains to delay trial, render impracticable the Court’s expedition order, and thus avoid adjudication of his contractual obligations,” said the Twitter filing. 

Attorneys for Musk, the world’s richest person and chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Twitter also dismissed Musk’s claims that the company was dragging its feet in responding to his demands for documents. 

Twitter said Musk is the one holding up the process by refusing to answer the company’s complaint, which it said would clarify the issues and any counterclaims he may assert. 

Shares of Twitter closed up 1.3% at $39.85 on Wednesday. 

Musk agreed to acquire the company for $54.20 a share. 

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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Meta Posts First Revenue Drop as Inflation Throttles Ad Sales

Meta Platforms Inc. issued a gloomy forecast after recording its first ever quarterly drop in revenue Wednesday, with recession fears and competitive pressures weighing on its digital ads sales. 

Shares of the Menlo Park, California-based company were down about 4.6% in extended trading. 

The company said it expected third-quarter revenue to be in the range of $26 billion to $28.5 billion, which would be a second consecutive year-over-year drop. Analysts were expecting $30.52 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. 

Total revenue, which consists almost entirely of ad sales, fell 1% to $28.8 billion in the second quarter ended June 30, from $29.1 billion last year. The figure slightly missed Wall Street’s projections of $28.9 billion, according to Refinitiv. 

The company, which operates the world’s largest social media platform, reported mixed results for user growth. 

Monthly active users on flagship social network Facebook came in slightly under analyst expectations at 2.93 billion in the second quarter, an increase of 1% year over year, while daily active users handily beat estimates at 1.97 billion. 

Like many global companies, Meta is facing some revenue pressure from the strong dollar, as sales in foreign currencies amount to less in dollar terms. Meta said it expected a 6% revenue growth headwind in the third quarter, based on current exchange rates. 

Still, the Meta results also suggest that fortunes in online ads sales may be diverging between search and social media players, with the latter affected more severely as ad buyers reel in spending. 

Alphabet Inc., the world’s largest digital ad platform, reported a rise in quarterly revenue on Tuesday, with sales from its biggest moneymaker, Google search, topping investor expectations. 

Snap Inc. and Twitter both missed sales expectations last week and warned of an ad market slowdown in the coming quarters, sparking a broad sell-off across the sector. 

On top of economic pressures, Meta’s core business is also experiencing unique strain as it competes with short video app TikTok for users’ time and adjusts its ads business to privacy controls rolled out by Apple Inc. last year. 

The company is simultaneously carrying out several expensive overhauls as a result, revamping its core apps and boosting its ad targeting with AI, while also investing heavily in a longer-term bet on “metaverse” hardware and software. 

Meta executives told investors they were making progress in replacing ad dollars lost as a result of the Apple changes but said it was being offset by the economic slowdown. 

They added that Reels, a short video product Meta is increasingly inserting into users’ feeds to compete with TikTok, was now generating over $1 billion annually in revenue. 

However, Reels cannibalizes more profitable content that users could otherwise see and will continue to be a headwind on profits through 2022 before eventually boosting income, executives told analysts on Wednesday. 

“They are being greatly affected by everything,” Bokeh Capital Partners’ Kim Forrest said, referring to the economic slowdown as well as competition from TikTok and Apple.  

“Meta has a problem because they’re chasing TikTok and if the Kardashians are talking about how they don’t like Instagram … Meta should really pay attention to that.” 

On Monday, two of Instagram’s biggest users, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, shared a meme imploring the company to abandon its shift to TikTok-style content suggestions and “make Instagram Instagram again.” 

Not persuaded

CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not appear to be swayed, however. 

About 15% of content on Facebook and Instagram is currently recommended by AI from accounts users do not actively follow, and that percentage will double by the end of 2023, he told investors on the call. 

For now, at least, the metaverse part of Meta’s business remains largely theoretical. In the second quarter, Meta reported $218 million in non-ad revenue, which includes payments fees and sales of devices like its Quest virtual reality headsets, down from $497 million last year. 

Its Reality Labs unit, which is responsible for developing metaverse-oriented technology like the VR headsets, reported sales of $452 million, down from $695 million in the first quarter. 

Although Meta has recently slowed investments as cost pressures increased, executives reassured investors it was still on track to release a mixed-reality headset called Project Cambria later this year, focused on professionals. 

Meta broke out the Reality Labs segment in its results for the first time earlier this year, when it revealed the unit had lost $10.2 billion in 2021. 

Its second-quarter operating profit margin fell to 29% from 43% as costs rose sharply and revenue dipped. 

In November, Chief Financial Officer David Wehner will become Meta’s first chief strategy officer. Susan Li, Meta’s current vice president of finance, will become CFO.

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