September 17, 2020

Moderna is ramping up to have its coronavirus vaccine to the public early next year.

Stephane Bancel, CEO of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company, told The Boston Globe that Moderna originally planned to determine its vaccine's effectiveness in October. But because infection rates are slowing, "which is great for the country," Bancel added, it's becoming "less and less probable" Moderna will have definitive results by then. "We've said November," Bancel said, but that timetable could stretch into December if infections slow even further.

Determining a vaccine's effectiveness requires there's a good amount of coronavirus infections out there, as a developer needs to know if the vaccine protects people from a virus better than a placebo. The Food and Drug Administration requires a vaccine to prevent at least 50 percent of infections to be considered effective. More than 25,000 people are currently enrolled in Moderna's phase three trial across the country.

If everything pans out, Bancel said Moderna will seek an emergency use authorization from the FDA to speed up the vaccine's approval process. And when that happens, Moderna can ship out the doses of the vaccine it has already produced to the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense pledged $1.5 billion for 100 million doses of Moderna's vaccine, but Bancel said that many doses won't be ready until early 2021.

Moderna's vaccine is among several the government is helping fund in hopes of rolling out hundreds of millions of doses as soon as possible. Read more at The Boston Globe. Kathryn Krawczyk

6:01 p.m.

It looks like the final 2020 debate match-up between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden didn't draw quite as big of a TV audience as the first one.

Preliminary numbers from Nielsen on Friday showed that Thursday's debate between Trump and Biden averaged 55.2 million viewers across six networks, CNN and The New York Times report. This, CNN notes, was down roughly 11 percent from the 62 million viewers who tuned in on those networks to the first debate last month.

Nielsen will provide updated figures later on Friday taking into account viewers on other channels. When those final figures from Nielsen were added for the first debate, the total came out to about 73 million viewers, which made it the third highest-rated general election debate Nielsen has recorded, the Times notes.

The second debate between Trump and Biden was widely seen as more of a success than the first one, which was derailed by frequent interruptions from Trump. Thursday's debate was originally meant to be the third for the 2020 election, but a second was scrapped after Trump refused to particulate over plans to hold it virtually. Brendan Morrow

5:02 p.m.

Reopening schools doesn't seem to be a major contributor to coronavirus community spread, data from random testing in the U.S. and Britain reveals. That's especially true of elementary schools, the data shows.

Children, even young ones, can and have been infected with COVID-19 and can transmit the virus to adults. But even as coronavirus surges once again across the U.S. and Britain, random testing data shows young children aren't the ones causing coronavirus spikes, experts who've seen the data say. "The more and more data that I see, the more comfortable I am that children are not, in fact, driving transmission, especially in school settings,” Brooke Nichols, an infectious disease modeler at the Boston University School of Public Health, told The New York Times.

The risks among children in middle and high schools are less clear, experts acknowledge. But they believe "these schools may be able to contain the coronavirus, provided the community prevalence is low and the schools take abundant precautions," the Times reports. It all led Dr. David Rubin, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania, to conclude it's worth at least reopening elementary schools in lower-risk areas. "I think there’s a pretty good base of evidence now that schools can open safely in the presence of strong safety plans, and even at higher levels of case incidence than we had suspected,” he said. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:33 p.m.

It's been "several months" since President Trump was in attendance for a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, in an interview with Meet the Press on Friday described the current status of the White House coronavirus task force, explaining that it is now meeting less regularly than it used to earlier in the pandemic despite the U.S. seeing an uptick in daily COVID-19 cases.

"The number of task force meetings have diminished, and we're averaging right now about one a week," Fauci said.

Asked by Chuck Todd when Trump himself last attended one of these meetings, Fauci said "that was several months ago." Fauci also said in the interview that Scott Atlas, a controversial White House COVID-19 adviser who has no background in epidemiology and recently posted a false claim that masks don't work that was removed by Twitter, has the president's "ear" more than he does.

"I definitely don't have his ear as much as Scott Atlas right now," Fauci said. "That has been a changing situation. We certainly interact with the vice president at the task force meetings, and the vice president makes our feelings and what we talk about there known to the president. But direct involvement with the president in the discussions, I have not done that in a while."

Fauci's comments come days after Trump attacked him as a "disaster" and said that people are "tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots." Brendan Morrow

4:33 p.m.

Developers will start rolling out their COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months, leaving U.S. health officials to test their long-term safety. But that won't be easy, especially given that the Trump administration quietly shut down the office responsible for ensuring the safety of vaccines last year, The New York Times reports.

Before the late 1980s, vaccine safety relied on parents, doctors, vaccine makers, and hospitals to step forward and report symptoms they feared were connected to a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then worked out a new system that sought out clusters of symptoms among people who receive a vaccine, and expanded that oversight during the H1N1 epidemic of 2009. This system helped the U.S. figure out which symptoms actually popped up long after a vaccine was injected, and which were just coincidental.

But in 2019, the National Vaccine Program Office was shut down in an effort to cut costs and "eliminate program redundancies," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wrote at the time. The shortsightedness of that shutdown has come into clear view amid the coronavirus pandemic, said Dr. Nicole Lurie, who who was assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS during the 2009 pandemic. FDA and CDC staffers have reportedly been meeting up on their own time to cobble some safety projects together. "There's no sort of active coordination to bring all the information together," Lurie told the Times.

Other vaccine experts and political scientists have their own concerns: foreign disinformation campaigns, a lack of transparency, proper communications to clear up health issues unrelated to vaccines, to name a few. A coordinated vaccine office would be tasked with handling all of that. Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:14 p.m.

Sacha Baron Cohen still has one more Borat surprise up his sleeve.

In a video posted to Twitter on Friday, the comedian revealed that Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat's daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, apparently got into the White House in September while posing as a journalist.

Video posted to the official Borat Twitter account on Friday showed Bakalova both outside and inside of the White House walking alongside a journalist from One America News, a far-right network that has been promoted by President Trump.

"They take my daughter into the White House," Baron Cohen says in the video as Borat. "No need for security checks or COVID test!"

The video also shows Bakalova briefly exchanging words with Donald Trump Jr. and attending an event where the president himself spoke, though it wasn't clear when that footage was taken.

Baron Cohen previously told Good Morning America on Friday that Bakalova "has been staying in character since the movie and actually recently got taken on a tour of the White House about a week before the super-spreader event by people who believed that she was a real journalist." This White House footage actually didn't make the cut of the movie itself, which was released on Friday. But with Baron Cohen still revealing new scenes after the film dropped, don't bet against there being a few more Borat bombshells in store. Brendan Morrow

2:43 p.m.

A far-right extremist has been accused of opening fire on Minneapolis' third police precinct and sparking violence during May's George Floyd protests.

Ivan Harrison Hunter, a 26-year-old from Texas, was charged Friday with one count of interstate travel to participate in a riot. An admitted member of the "Boogaloo Bois," Hunter opened fire on the precinct and later looted it and helped set it on fire, the FBI said in a sworn affidavit released Friday.

The Minneapolis police's third precinct was just a block from where Floyd was killed, and became the center of protests against police violence that devolved into the destruction of the precinct and buildings around it. Hunter is one of several far-right extremists accused of intentionally ramping up that violence. Armed with a mask and tactical gear, Hunter fired 13 rounds at the precinct while officers were inside and ran away shouting "Justice for Floyd," the FBI alleges. He later bragged about "help[ing] the community burn down that police station" on Facebook.

Hunter admitted he was member of the Boogaloo movement, a collection of far-right, anti-government extremists intent on sparking a second civil war. He was in contact with other self-described Boogaloo Bois who arranged a trip to Minneapolis. He also texted with Steven Carrillo, another Boogaloo member who later shot and killed a sheriff's deputy in California. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:25 p.m.

President Trump on Friday announced that Israel and Sudan will normalize relations — and in the process unsuccessfully sought an attack on his Democratic opponent from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House on Friday said that Israel and Sudan "have agreed to the normalization of relations," touting this as a "historic agreement" and calling it "another major step toward building peace in the Middle East." Trump spoke in the Oval Office about the agreement, with Netanyahu joining him over the phone, and got in a dig at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

"Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi?" Trump asked Netanyahu. "Sleepy Joe. Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow, I don't think so."

But Trump didn't get what he was apparently looking for from Netanyahu, who ignored the question about Biden entirely and avoided going after the former vice president.

"Well, Mr. President," Netanyahu responded, "one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America." Brendan Morrow

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