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U.S. Won’t Join WHO-led Effort to Find and Distribute Coronavirus Vaccine

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  • 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.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office

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The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom


What Was in the Files?

President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.

The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.

According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.

A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.

The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.

Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.

On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.

They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.

What Happens Next?

Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.

Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.

Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.

If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.

The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.

On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.

Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.

Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.

The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats

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The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.


The Right To Build Families Act of 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.

The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.” 

The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.

The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”

Fertility Treatments Under Treat

The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.

For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.

Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.

Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.

All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions. 

“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.

“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.

In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”

Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.

“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”

The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.

Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.” 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (HuffPost) (USA Today)

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Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees

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The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.


An Agency Crawling With Extremists

Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.

The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.

The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.

“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.

POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.

The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.

In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”

Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.

The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem

Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.

In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.

The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.

The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.

Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.

In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.

See what others are saying: (Project on Government Oversight) (Business Insider)

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