- On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that the United States will not join an effort led by the World Health Organization that aims to find and distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
- So far, 172 countries have expressed interest in the initiative, but the U.S. response has been criticized as “vaccine nationalism.”
- In part, the W.H.O.-led effort seeks to ensure that poorer countries will also have access to vaccines based on their case-load.
- One major problem that could arise is a U.S. hoarding of vaccines. If that were to be the case, many Americans would likely still be vulnerable to international cases, as the first approved vaccine will likely not offer full protection.
U.S. Won’t Join W.H.O. Vaccine Efforts
The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it would not be joining a World Health Organization-led effort that seeks to find and distribute a coronavirus vaccine around the world.
“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere explained, “but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
Deere’s comment fall back on an argument that the Trump administration has made for months: the W.H.O. is too “China-centric.” In July, the Trump administration formally began the process to withdraw from the W.H.O. because of such criticism.
So far, 172 countries have engaged in discussions to participate in the W.H.O.-led vaccine effort, known as the COVAX initiative.
That program aims for several outcomes, with the ultimate goal of distributing 2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccines by the end of next year.
One of the main objectives of the Covax effort is to avoid a situation where vaccine access is limited to countries that have either produced the vaccine or can afford to buy large quantities.
For example, Covax aims to distribute vaccines based on population size, prioritizing health care workers and vulnerable people. It also plans to set aside a portion that can be sent to hot spots if they should arise.
The idea of the initiative is that such a method will allow wealthy and middle-income countries to help fund the development of at least nine current vaccine candidates, while also allowing poorer countries to receive vaccines based upon need. By doing this, the Covax effort hopes to avoid repeating what could essentially be a much more deadly repeat of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, which was hoarded by rich countries.
“Vaccine Nationalism” Criticism
While rich countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan have expressed interest in the initiative, the U.S. now faces criticism and concern over its decision to opt out the effort.
Experts have chiefly pointed to one of two scenarios.
The first, which is unlikely but still possible, would be that none of the U.S. candidates are viable, leaving the United States with no option because it shunned the Covax effort.
As The Washington Post describes it, this could prove to be a potentially risky move because “it eliminates the chance to secure doses from a pool of promising vaccine candidates.”
Kendall Hoyt, an assistant professor from Dartmouth’s School of Medicine, told The Post that such a move is like deciding to opt out of an insurance policy. Hoyt argued the U.S. could be pursuing bilateral deals with drug companies while participating in Covax at the same time.
According to reports, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had expressed interest in bringing the U.S. into the Covax effort, but that failed after he was met with resistance from government officials who argued that the U.S. already had enough coronavirus vaccine candidates.
The second outcome is that the U.S. does develop an effective vaccine but hoards it, vaccinating a large number of Americans — including those at lower risk of catching or contracting a particularly bad case of COVID-19 — while leaving other countries without.
Of course, many would ask: shouldn’t the U.S. take care of its own citizens first? The problem, according to experts, is that the first vaccine approved in the U.S. likely won’t offer full protection. That means some Americans might still be vulnerable to imported cases.
In other words, experts say that the less people who receive the vaccine internationally, the greater the risk of the coronavirus spreading even more in the U.S.
On top of that, U.S. economic recovery is also going to depend on economic recovery in other parts of the world. There, many have pointed back to a statement last month from the W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who warned against “vaccine nationalism.”
“For the world to recover faster, it has to recover together, because it’s a globalised world: the economies are intertwined,” he said. “Part of the world or a few countries cannot be a safe haven and recover.”
Still, the Trump administration has defended its efforts to continually distance itself from the W.H.O. For example, it has argued that the U.S. is akin to an airplane passenger securing its own oxygen mask before helping others,
“You put on your own first, and then we want to help others as quickly as possible,” Food and Drug Administration senior official Peter Marks said in June.
However, as columnists for Foreign Affairs argued, “The major difference, of course, is that airplane oxygen masks do not drop only in first class — which is the equivalent of what will happen when vaccines eventually become available if governments delay providing access to them to people in other countries.”
When Could A COVID Vaccine Come?
One of the lasting questions of the pandemic is: When will the public start seeing vaccines being made readily available?
Unfortunately, that answer is still unknown, but two major health officials have recently suggested that a vaccine could come early.
On Sunday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the FDA might authorize a vaccine before Phase 3 trials are completed.
“It is up to the sponsor to apply for authorization or approval, and we make an adjudication of their application,” Hahn said. “If they do that before the end of Phase 3, we may find that appropriate. We may find that inappropriate. We will make the decision.”
To be clear, Hahn’s language here is fairly specific. It will almost certainly fall under the umbrella of “if the benefits outweigh the risks.” Nonetheless, the news was significant if for no other reason than Hahn indicated that the agency was willing to potentially make such a move.
Then, on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told Kaiser Health News that clinical trials could be stopped early if they provide overwhelmingly positive results that show a vaccine is safe and effective.
Fauci said scientists would have a “moral obligation” to make the vaccine available to all participants in the study if that were the case, thus speeding up that vaccine’s ability to hit the public.
Neither Fauci or Hahn’s comments have come without some level of concern. Many worry that both could be influenced by President Donald Trump’s rush to make a vaccine available. Last month, Trump even suggested that a vaccine could be ready as early as Election Day in November.
As far as Fauci’s comments go, the body that has the power to end trials early is the Data and Safety Monitoring Board. Notably, it is independent and not controlled by the executive branch. In fact, its members are not even government workers. Because of that, Fauci said any decision the board makes isn’t going to be influenced by the president.
Hahn has also denied that the FDA will submit to pressure from the Trump administration, but concern that Trump is pressuring the FDA to give the green light on unproven coronavirus treatments is nothing new.
Last week, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for plasma recovered from COVID patients despite concerns that plasma might not be as effective as Trump had indicated. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Institutes of Health stressed that there is “insufficient data” to show whether plasma is or isn’t a safe, effective treatment.
Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants
A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.
A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face
After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.
It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.
According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.
On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”
“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”
Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”
Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.
Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.
He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla
Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.
She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.
Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.
Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.
The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.
Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.
It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.
DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.
Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.
Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)
Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration
Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.
The Pandemic’s End
“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.
“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.
The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.
“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.
“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.
Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.
“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”
To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question
Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.
The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”
The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.
The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.
New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.
In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio
In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.
The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol
In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.
Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.
Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”
But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.
“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.
When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.
“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”
Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”
When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.
The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.
“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”
He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”
Trump Warms to QAnon
QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.
The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.
He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.
When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.
In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.
In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.
Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”