Good news and bad news: The first coronavirus vaccinations were administered in the United States Monday, the same day that the number of people in the U.S. who have died from Covid-19 passed 300,000, Campbell Robertson, Amy Harmon and Mitch Smith report for The New York Times. (Guardian editor Ankita Rao shared a list of 10 of those 300,000 she thinks about regularly.) Federal officials said some 20 million people will be able to receive the first of the two shots by the end of the year, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said another 30 million will receive it in January, The Washington Post reports. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, it’s up to the states to decide where and to whom to distribute the first batch of vaccines. Based on news reports, most are going, as expected, to workers at health care facilities. Even so, hospitals haven’t received enough to vaccinate everyone on staff, so they have to determine who’s at the front of the line. The New York Times reports that at George Washington University Hospital, which held a ceremonial vaccination event yesterday for the Department of Health and Human Services, administrators used an algorithm to choose which five employees to vaccinate first based on age and underlying medical conditions. Other hospitals are prioritizing workers who spend the greatest amount of time with Covid patients, or letting hospital staff determine when and if they should sign up for a vaccine based on their health histories and other risk factors, JoNel Aleccia writes for NBC News.
- Also: The Food and Drug Administration will likely give the Moderna vaccine emergency authorization on Friday after new data released today showed it to be highly protective, Noah Weiland, Denise Grady and Carl Zimmer report for The New York Times. Side effects include fever, headache, and fatigue, which may be unpleasant but not dangerous.
Christmas break: The United Kingdom’s health minister has said London restaurants and pubs must close beginning Wednesday, after health authorities identified a new, faster-growing variant of the virus that could be contributing to the rapid spread of the disease in London and parts of southern and eastern England, The New York Times reports. The new restrictions come just before the government is loosening the rules to allow as many as three households to meet for Christmas, before resuming stricter measures again after the holiday.
- Also: Although the German government contributed $445 million to the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and has furnished 400 vaccination centers and enlisted 10,000 healthcare workers to staff them, the country can’t begin administering shots until the European Union approves the vaccine, Kirsten Grieshaber reports for the Associated Press. Hospitals in the country have been sounding alarms for weeks as Covid patients fill beds and stretch resources. After the country criticized the EU agency responsible for approval for not planning to meet to discuss authorization until December 29, the agency bumped up the meeting to December 21.
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Genetic vulnerability: After studying a group of 2,200 critically ill patients, a group of scientists in Europe have identified a link between severe Covid infections and genes, Ben Guarino reports for The Washington Post. For example, the scientists found people with blood type A were at higher risk of severe infections, while those with blood type O were less vulnerable. Links like this could lead to better treatments, although that process is long, difficult and far from guaranteed.
- Also: A woman with a rare genetic mutation linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease expected to develop in her 40s lived into her 70s and only began showing mild symptoms of dementia at age 72, Jennie Erin Smith reports for The New York Times. Aliria Rosa Piedrahita de Villegas died from cancer earlier this year, and gave researchers permission to study her brain in the hopes that they can figure out how to prevent early-onset Alzheimer’s in others.
Misconduct you can bank on: After a software glitch resulted in 170,000 JPMorgan Chase customers being unjustly charged overdraft fees, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency declined to publicly reprimand or levy any financial penalties against the nation’s largest bank, Patrick Rucker reports for ProPublica and The Capitol Forum. Instead, the regulatory agency issued a supervisory letter—a private reprimand that typically would stay out of the public’s eye. At least five other banks have been caught wrongly charging customers overdraft fees since 2017, when President Trump took office, and not one has been fined or publicly penalized. The temporary head of the agency, Brian Brooks, as well as his predecessor, Joseph Otting, both previously helped run OneWest Bank, a lender co-founded by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Last month, Trump nominated Brooks to lead the agency for a full, five-year term. Overdraft fees, which disproportionately impact the poorest customers, bring in more than $11 billion for big banks every year. Chase, for example, charges customers $34 for overdrafts and can levy that fee up to three times in a day. While the bank agreed to refund customers they believed had been unfairly charged, there is no independent verification or supervision.
Boom and bust: The Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund was established in 1982 to help ease the effects of the oil and gas industry’s energy extraction, so why is the state-run fund giving a $28 million dollar grant to finance a railway intended to shuttle fossil fuels across the state? That’s the question asked by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Utah-based environmental group Living Rivers in a lawsuit seeking to halt the grant, Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein reports for The Guardian. A state audit of the fund earlier this year showed this is hardly the first time funds have been questionably allocated. The grants have often gone to building infrastructure that only benefits fossil fuel companies. The fund’s $5 million cap on grants is routinely ignored, as is the stipulation that the grantee must match the funds.
Climate progress?: A recent United Nations report warned that the richest people in the world will have to make tectonic shifts in their everyday lives to turn the tide on climate change, but five years after the Paris climate accords, big polluters have already made significant changes, Somini Sengupta writes in The New York Times. If greenhouse-gas spewing countries like China can manage to keep their pledges to get emissions down to net-zero by the middle of the century, we could still limit temperature rise to a level scientists hope would avert the worst climate disasters. And the United Nations is asking countries to set even more ambitious goals, although the only enforcement, as Sengupta explains, is “diplomatic peer pressure.”
Building a better fire tower: As wildfires become more common and more destructive, Australia is turning to new technologies to catch them before they burn out of control, Mike Cherney reports for The Wall Street Journal. In particular, they are looking to use drones and satellite imaging to monitor high risk areas and sensors to detect fine particulate matter from fires. Fire watchers can spot a fire in an average of seven minutes, but it’s not feasible to staff towers all day, every day. Technology could enable constant monitoring. “If we can get detection 24/7 but at the same speed as a human-manned fire tower, then I think that would be a good outcome,” Rohan Scott, who leads the rural fire service in the Canberra area, told The Journal. “Anything quicker than that would be a definite bonus.”
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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