One shot: A single dose coronavirus vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will soon be in front of the Food and Drug Administration, and could get emergency authorization in February, The New York Times reports. However, the efficacy of the vaccine dropped from 72 percent in the U.S. to 57 percent when tested in South Africa, where a new, extra-contagious Covid variant is rampant. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna also say that their vaccines are less effective against this variant, which has spread to more than 30 countries, including the U.S. It’s another reason to vaccinate the U.S. population as quickly as possible, before more contagious variants have time to spread widely. President Biden has increased his stated goal of administering one million shots per day to 1.5 million per day, or 150 million in his first 100 days as president. The administration will also buy 100 million more doses each of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, increasing total doses to 600 million, enough to vaccinate most of the U.S. population by the end of summer, according to The Wall Street Journal. Per the CDC vaccination tracker, more than 48 million doses have been distributed and over 26 million have been administered.
- Also: About 25.8 million people have tested positive for coronavirus in the U.S. and more than 434,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. As FiveThirtyEight reports, most models show U.S. deaths climbing to about 500,000 by February 20. Globally, more than 101.5 million people have tested positive and about 2.2 million have died.
Monopolizing vaccines: If rich countries hoover up the vaccine supply, leaving poor countries unvaccinated, the result will be financial losses greater than $9 trillion, with half the amount absorbed by wealthy countries like the U.S., Canada and Britain, according to a new study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce, Peter S. Goodman reports for The New York Times. Currently, the wealthiest countries have claimed most of the supply now or soon to be available—enough to vaccinate two and three times their populations—leaving poor countries in the lurch. Nations like Bangladesh, Tanzania, and Peru will likely have to wait until 2024 to fully vaccinate their people.
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Adverse reactions: Tim Zook, a 60-year-old X-ray technologist in Southern California, was looking forward to getting his second Covid vaccination, writing on Facebook: “Never been so excited to get a shot before.” But about two and a half hours after the shot, Zook had an upset stomach and trouble breathing, so he was sent to the emergency room, and within a few days he was dead, Teri Sforza reports for the OC Register–one of more than 130 deaths reported to have occurred shortly after vaccine administration in 2021. The deaths are under investigation, and it’s uncertain whether vaccines were the cause. Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “No prescription drug or biological product, such as a vaccine, is completely free from side effects. Vaccines protect many people from dangerous illnesses, but vaccines, like drugs, can cause side effects, a small percentage of which may be serious.” According to the agency, “the event may have been related to an underlying disease or condition, to medications being taken concurrently, or may have occurred by chance.”
It takes two? Facing the prospect of more contagious coronavirus variants, some public health experts are suggesting people invest in higher-quality masks, or wear two masks at a time, Fenit Nirappil reports for The Washington Post. It “just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Anthony Fauci said on the “Today” show. But Fauci later walked back the statement, saying Americans should follow CDC advice to wear well-fitting masks with “two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric” instead of surgical masks meant for healthcare workers.
- Also: Fauci’s wavering on masks at the outset of the pandemic is part of the evidence given in this interesting critique of the hero doctor of our time, by Sam Adler-Bell for The Drift.
Suspect sanitizer: The Food and Drug Administration has announced heightened scrutiny of all alcohol-based hand sanitizers imported from Mexico, the first-ever countrywide import alert for an entire category of drug product. The action means that sanitizers from Mexico can be detained at the border. The agency notes that during the pandemic there has been a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products from Mexico labeled as containing ethanol (or ethyl alcohol), which is safe, but that test positive for methanol, or wood alcohol, a substance that is toxic when absorbed through skin contact and potentially fatal if ingested. As FairWarning reported in October, at least 17 people died last year after ingesting hand sanitizer made with methanol.
Green jobs: President Biden signed a number of executive orders directed at the climate crisis, which he said would have the added benefit of creating new clean energy jobs, Lisa Friedman, Coral Davenport, and Christopher Flavelle report for The New York Times. These orders pledge the country to reserve 30 percent of federal land and water for conservation purposes, identify climate change as a national security threat, and promise to build a network of electric car charging stations across the country. “Today is climate day in the White House which means today is jobs day at the White House,” Biden said.
- Also: Auto giant General Motors has set a 2035 target to cease production of gas and diesel-powered cars and trucks, The Wall Street Journal reports, a move that could have a major environmental impact, as well as huge consequences for the oil industry. Vehicles powered by fossil fuels now account for about 98 percent of GM’s sales and all of its profits.
Scrapyard fight: The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a civil rights investigation into a decision by the state of Illinois to permit a company to open a scrapyard on the city’s predominantly low-income and Latino Southeast Side, soon after it closed a scrapyard in a mostly white and wealthy neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, Adam Mahoney reports for Grist. The investigation was prompted by complaints from two Chicago environmental justice groups that allege the state discriminated against Black and Latino residents by approving the scrapyard without adequate public outreach, and that state environmental officials colluded with developers and industry to shift polluting operations into areas that already suffer from pollution.
Flint settlement: A federal judge has given preliminary approval to a $641 million settlement stemming from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Craig Mauger and Kayla Ruble report for The Detroit News, resolving more than 100 cases in state and federal courts over lead contamination in the city’s drinking water. Under the settlement, 80 percent of the money would go to children who were exposed to the lead-contaminated water; 18 percent would settle claims of adults and of property damage; and 1 percent for business losses. “While final approval remains pending, the settlement can provide people with security that their claims will be heard and not tied up in legal proceedings for an indefinite period of time,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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