Vaccine trials: The drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company, said in a news release that the Covid vaccine they are jointly developing and testing is 90 percent effective in clinical trials, Katie Thomas, David Gelles and Carl Zimmer report for The New York Times, and no serious safety concerns have yet emerged. If those results hold, it would make the coronavirus vaccine as effective as common childhood vaccines. The companies will ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization later this month after racking up two months of data, and could have enough doses manufactured by the end of the year to immunize 15-20 million people. Whether vaccine recipients who contract Covid anyway will have milder cases is still undetermined.
- Also: The coronavirus has sickened more than 10.1 million people in the U.S. and more than 50.9 million globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. More than 1.2 million people have died, and more than 238,000 of those deaths have been in the U.S.
Task maskers: President-elect Joe Biden has announced that he is forming a coronavirus task force of doctors and health experts to help advise him on the pandemic, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Laurie McGinley report for The Washington Post. The task force will be chaired by Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general under the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. According to anonymous sources close to Biden, the president-elect plans to ask governors to adopt statewide mask mandates and issue clear guidance to their constituents on social distancing and limiting large gatherings.
- Also: The Republican governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, has issued an emergency declaration and ordered residents of the state to wear masks in public or with anyone outside of their households, Andrea Salcedo reports for The Washington Post. Although the state government has encouraged wearing masks in public, Gov. Herbert resisted mandating them because he was “concerned that requiring masks could create divisive enforcement issues.” The state’s seven-day rolling average of new cases reached a new high on Sunday for the fifth consecutive day.
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Animal-human transmission: The Danish government decided to cull millions of mink—effectively wiping out a major national industry—after the coronavirus passed from humans to mink and back again, mutating in the process and showing signs of being less responsive to treatment with antibodies, James Gorman writes in The New York Times. Mink are the only known animals to have transmitted an altered virus; although humans have passed coronavirus to their pets, the reverse has not been shown to happen. The concern is that the virus could hop to an animal, whether mink or a different species, and then mutate into a more virulent or severe version before getting transmitted back to humans.
Obamacare on trial: The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the future of Obamacare this week, specifically whether or not the tax cuts passed by the Trump administration have rendered the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports for the Associated Press. The court’s ruling will affect every American, but especially those with pre-existing conditions (which now includes more than 10 million people who have tested positive for Covid), 12 million who are covered by expanded Medicaid. Eleven million people who purchase health insurance through taxpayer-subsidized private markets like HealthCare.gov also have a lot at stake, not to mention newly jobless Americans who have recently lost employer-provided medical coverage.
Risky business: The U.S. Federal Reserve for the first time has included climate change as a risk in its biannual financial stability report and detailed how natural disasters exacerbated by a warming planet could lead to market volatility, Reuters reports. “Acute hazards, such as storms, floods, or wildfires, may cause investors to update their perceptions of the value of real or financial assets suddenly,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard wrote in a statement to accompany the report’s release. “Chronic hazards, such as slow increases in mean temperatures or sea levels, or a gradual change in investor sentiment about those risks, introduce the possibility of abrupt tipping points or significant swings in sentiment.”
- Also: The White House has removed the climate scientist Michael Kuperberg from his position as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which produces the government’s definitive reports on climate change, Jason Samenow, Andrew Freedman and Juliet Eilperin report for The Washington Post. The New York Times reports that a likely replacement is David Legates, a deputy assistant secretary at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has worked closely with groups that deny climate change. Observers expect the Trump administration to try to fill the position ahead of the production of the fifth edition of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment.
Raising Arizona: Arizona once had the reputation as a haven for parents of developmentally disabled children, but after years of budget cuts, poor management and leadership turnover, many are finding the state no longer delivers, according to an investigation by ProPublica and the Arizona Daily Star. Now, fewer than a third of an estimated 157,000 Arizonans with developmental disabilities receive home or community-based services, and even fewer have access to therapies, day treatment programs, job training, housing and health care meant to help them live as independently as possible. Four of every 10 people who applied for assistance were rejected between September 2016 and March 2020 because they lacked sufficient documentation, submitted an incomplete application or did not meet functional or medical criteria. In one example of the difficulties parents face, a mother was asked to prove that her adult daughter developed Down syndrome before turning 18—even though Down syndrome arises from a genetic difference that occurs in utero.
The future of travel?: The Virgin Hyperloop carried some of its first passengers in a key safety test held at the company’s DevLoop test site in Las Vegas, Nevada, Reuters reports. Although the company’s chief technology officer and director of passenger experience only reached speeds of 107 mph, the hope is that one day the technology, which uses magnetic levitation to achieve great speeds, could facilitate travel at 600 mph or faster. That could shorten a trip from New York City to Washington, D.C. to just 30 minutes.
Dirty weed: Four years after California legalized recreational cannabis, several jurisdictions have been accused of bribery and conflicts of interest in their regulation of the burgeoning business, Adam Elmahrek and Ruben Vives report in the Los Angeles Times. The latest case involves the city of Baldwin Park, where the FBI has been investigating how officials have regulated the weed business and recently served warrants on the homes or offices of a councilman from the city of Compton, the Baldwin Park city attorney and a San Bernardino County planning commissioner. In September, a former Baldwin Park police officer, in a sworn statement, described complaints he had received from cannabis operations of “questionable business practices, which included paying as much as $250,000 cash in a brown paper bag to city officials.” The industry is thought to be vulnerable to corruption because, in the cities that allow dispensaries, competition for a valuable license can be intense. And cannabis businesses, still illegal under federal law, deal mostly in cash.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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