- Hours after Hurricane Laura was upgraded to a Category 3 on Wednesday morning, it was upgraded once more to a Category 4.
- It is expected to make landfall in western Louisiana and eastern Texas late Wednesday or early Thursday. Over half a million people have evacuated the two states.
- Laura is expected to be catastrophic. Strong winds and flash flooding will begin on Wednesday and likely continue through Thursday. Storm surges could reach 30 miles inland.
- Government officials in the states are encouraging residents to evacuate. Officials are also working on balancing their hurricane response efforts with their pandemic response as COVID-19 continues to spread through Texas and Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura Upgraded to Category 3
Hurricane Laura was been upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane as parts of Texas and Louisiana brace for it to hit their coasts late Wednesday and early Thursday.
The storm had been declared a Category 3 earlier that morning, just hours before it received another upgrade. Over half a million people across the two states have evacuated in preparation for the storm. Areas east of Houston, Texas, which were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey just three years ago, are expected to be near the point of Laura’s landfall. People in those communities are among those evacuating.
A Wednesday morning update from the National Hurricane Center warned that Laura could have a severe impact.
“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas to Intracoastal City, Louisiana,” the NHC said. The surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the immediate coastline.
Hurricane winds are expected to be felt in portions of Texas and Louisiana Wednesday night and will move further inland early on Thursday. Flash flooding could begin as early as Wednesday afternoon in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. As of Wednesday morning, areas of Louisiana were already starting to see flooding begin.
Heavy rainfall threats as well as local flash and urban flooding could also spread to parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio.
Meteorologists and Government Officials Respond
As Laura was upgraded this morning, with projections showing a devastating path, meteorologists and other experts took to Twitter to share their concerns. Some warned that it could be “catastrophic” while others said more people may have to evacuate that leaders initially thought.
Government officials have also been leading preparation efforts. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards requested federal assistance from President Donald Trump, which was approved over the weekend. Edwards has also been emphasizing the need to evacuate quickly, warning people on Wednesday that wherever they are come noon is where they will be to ride out the storm.
For his part, Texas Governor Greg Abbott also signed a disaster proclamation in his state. He has also spoken about the state’s plans to balance their hurricane response with their pandemic response.
Abbot said that the state has ordered hundreds of buses so that people can evacuate in a distanced way. There are also plans to send out COVID-19 testing teams to shelters once it is safe to do so.
“Just because a hurricane is coming to Texas does not mean Covid-19 either has or is going to leave Texas,” Abbott said while speaking to reporters on Tuesday. “Covid-19 is going to be in Texas throughout the course of the hurricane.”
The governor said that local officials are “taking all necessary protocols to make sure that they reduce the spread.”
See what others are saying: (The Weather Channel) (NBC News) (Washington Post)
U.S. Pledges To Donate 500 Million More Vaccines Globally
The announcement comes as wealthy nations face pressure to help lower-income countries deal with the pandemic and as American vaccine makers face calls to share their technology.
Biden Promises More Vaccines
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. will purchase 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for countries in need, bringing the total number of U.S. vaccine donations to more than 1.1 billion.
Biden’s pledge, which was made at a virtual COVID-19 summit, comes as world leaders and organizations have criticized wealthy nations for not doing enough to help lower-income countries deal with the pandemic. Many have also slammed countries like the U.S. for moving forward with plans for booster shots while so much of the world remains unvaccinated.
According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, of the six billion shots administered globally, nearly 80% percent have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries compared to just 0.5% in low-income countries.
While several wealthy nations begin to give booster shots, just 2% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
Pressure Grows for American Companies to Share Vaccine Technology
It’s not just wealthy countries and their leaders that are being met with criticism over the massive vaccination gap. There is also a lot of growing pressure on American drug companies to share their formulas with manufacturers in poor nations that need more doses.
Senior officials told The New York Times that the Biden administration privately asked Pfizer and Moderna to engage in joint ventures where they license their technology to contract manufacturers in an effort to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income nations.
While those conversations reportedly prompted Pfizer to sell the U.S. the 500 million doses announced this Wednesday at a not-for-profit price, the company still refused to license its technology.
Meanwhile, the alleged discussions appear to have had no impact at all on Moderna.
Many have argued the Moderna has even more of an obligation to share its technology given that it was developed in part by the National Institutes of Health. On top of that, the company accepted an additional $2.5 billion in taxpayer money as part of Operation Warp Speed.
In a statement to The Times on Tuesday, a Moderna spokeswoman said that the company had agreed not to enforce its COVID-related patents and was “willing to license our intellectual property for Covid-19 vaccines to others for the post pandemic period.”
But experts say that vaccine technology is needed now, not when the pandemic is over.
Many have argued that Biden should put more pressure on the companies to share their intellectual property, including some legal experts who said he could compel them to do so using the Defense Production Act, which gives the president broad emergency powers.
Administration officials, however, have argued that forcing the companies to share the information is more complicated, and any efforts to do so would result in legal battles that will ultimately be counterproductive.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal)
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.