John Alexander says Australian Open a ‘compromised event’ despite ‘Herculean effort’ to get players here


In the haste to keep the Australian Open as close to its January timeslot as possible better alternatives may have been overlooked, according to John Alexander, the former Australian Open doubles champion, now the federal Member for Bennelong.

One suggestion put forward was to host back-to-back events in December 2021 and January 2022, making Australia the epicentre of world tennis for two months.

“Had that option been taken — and it still might be forced on us if we can’t get it up, starting on the 8th of February — that would’ve given much, much more time for us to come to terms with the COVID virus, much more time to make arrangements with players, [and] it would have reduced the cost for setting up the various events because you’d be setting up for two events not just one,” he told The Ticket.

“We might also have seen who was going to be the greatest of all time because you might have a [Novak] Djokovic or a [Roger] Federer with two grand slams within a period of two months.

“There were quite a few arguments why that might not be the worst idea but we are stuck with what we are doing now … there is still a possibility that things will get too difficult and it might have to be postponed, but I would advocate rather than not do it, to look at doing one in December and another one in January.”

Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia have gone to great lengths to hold the Australian Open.(AAP: Tennis Australia, file)

While praising the extraordinary lengths Tennis Australia had gone to, with support from the Victorian Government, Alexander said the decision to stick with the event early in the calendar year may have been too hasty.

“When you make hasty decisions, maybe the other options weren’t tabled or fully worked through,” he said.

“But with the difficulties we are encountering now, and there are many, we seem to be coping quite well — but I think at best it’s going to be a compromised championship because so many of the players won’t have a fair opportunity to prepare.

“A big part of preparing for the Australian Open, especially for a great majority of the players coming from the northern hemisphere winter and then having to acclimatise to our weather conditions of temperatures in the mid-30s and 40s, it sometimes takes more than one week [of] intense practice and training under those conditions, it’s more like a two-week exercise and the players in lockdown aren’t having that opportunity.”

Fourteen-day lockdown ‘not that big a price to pay’

A masked Novak Djokovic at Adelaide Airport.
Novak Djokovic has come under fire for making “suggestions” on how quarantine could be made easier for players.(ABC News)

World number one Djokovic, who is quarantining in Adelaide, has been widely criticised for making a list of suggestions to help those players who are under the strictest lockdown rules.

He has come under fire from the 45th-ranked player in the world, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who has had the benefit of preparing for the Open without any quarantining constraints.

Alexander says many of the younger players will have their minds broadened by playing at this year’s Open and having to deal with Australia’s strict approach to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the great things of travel is that it’s said to broaden your mind, and you’ve got players coming from all around the world and they’re hypercritical,” Alexander said.

“But if they understood what we have gone through here in this country, and in particular Victoria, and how well we have combatted the COVID virus and all that it brings, they might then have some appreciation as to why the rules are so strict,” he said.

“And then they might understand that it’s probably not a bad deal — they’re having their airfares paid, their hotel paid, their food paid and they get a minimum $100,000 in prizemoney if they’re in the main draw.

“That’s not a bad deal and, as somebody else said from the Victorian Government, ‘They’re asked to spend 14 days in quarantine, our entire state had 111 days in lockdown.’

“But you know, you get young people, who are very, very, successful, they make a lot of money and if they can’t get the booking at the right table in the right restaurant at the right time it’s a major problem for some of them.

“They’re a tad spoilt possibly, a bit privileged, but I think it will broaden their takeaway that they’ll understand that Australia has actually done outstandingly well and the effort that Tennis Australia is going to — and the costs to try to stage this event as close to the traditional date as possible — is Herculean and it would be nice if people co-operated and realised they are one of the major beneficiaries in getting the tournament on.”

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Trump’s Effort To Overturn The Election Should Be Investigated Like 9/11


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that Democrats are moving forward with trying to remove President Donald Trump from office.

— News reports have said there have been discussions involving cabinet officers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. What was the nature of these deliberations, and what testimony would administration officials give to illuminate Trump’s psychological stability or his willingness to execute faithfully the law and duties of his office?

— What role is Trump’s pardon power playing in his deliberations, or in conversations with allies, over how to cling to power?

— What were the precise interactions between Trump and Vice President Mike Pence? To Trump’s anger, Pence released a statement saying he had no constitutional power to intervene in Biden’s election certification, but the statement also embraced the view that there were pervasive questions about the counting of the 2020 presidential vote. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said after Pence’s announcement he was denied access to the White House grounds, apparently on orders from Trump.

— Most profound, arguably, is the basic question: Who, if anyone, is actually running the government? Journalists have described Trump, during the midst of a deadly pandemic, as largely checked out from most work beyond fulminating angrily about the election and his assertion that it was stolen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday called Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley expressing concern about an erratic Trump ordering an ill-considered military action as he clings to power, and apparently urging Milley to have the military resist that if he tries. The notion that these types of conversations are taking place in the leadership of a country armed with nuclear weapons, and facing adversaries who have them also, is breathtaking. Let’s hope we stay lucky. But it’s entirely possible a full inquiry might reveal the Trump transition as among the most perilous moments in national security since 9/11 or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Note that most of the questions listed above do not pertain directly to the scores of questions over how Capitol security was breached and what happened immediately before, during, and after that emergency. Many of those questions likely will fall directly in the provinces of the criminal justice system, and of Congress’s own inquiries into the security failure.

Trump’s transition, however, has been a comprehensive outrage, and therefore needs a comprehensive examination. Many of Trump’s actions, or those of his allies, may not be narrowly illegal but could still raise foundational issues of a political or policy nature. Punishing the guilty is one task. Illuminating the public record in an authoritative way is another. And this illumination should be insulated as much as possible from partisan influence.

That’s why the 9/11 Commission comparison is relevant. The commission had a mandate to look at systemic factors that preceded the 9/11 attacks, and recommendations for what the government should do in the future. As its executive director, Philip Zelikow, later explained: “I think it is healthy organizations and countries to conduct such after-action reports, especially if there has been a major national trauma. Not just an inspector general-type of report, wagging your finger, looking for the government misconduct – though there is that part of it – but more like ‘What really happened here? Why did this happen?’ To understand it in a full way and then prepare a report that could be provided to the American people, as well as the recommendations as to how we could avoid this in the future.”

Trump’s effort to undermine an effective transition and public confidence in the legitimacy of the presidential election is an assault on the nation’s system of governance that must be avoided in the future. A commission with credible figures from both parties on it could take into account the need to protect ongoing criminal prosecutions and executive privilege. (After Trump leaves office, his privilege claims over his actions during the transition should be virtually nil.)

Most importantly, a commission could highlight recommendations for reforms. The Trump transition has magnified subjects that have long seemed indefensible, such as the abuse of the pardon process to help cronies and contributors, or the dangerous Cold War policy of presidential sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. The exercise needn’t be simply a cudgel against Trump. Perhaps there would be recommendations on how to increase public confidence in elections during major outside events like a pandemic or war.

Another reason for a commission is because many of the events of the past ten weeks are ripe targets for being mythologized in distorted ways. The terrorists who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 believed they were righteously avenging the government’s catastrophic effort to end a siege at a Waco cult compound two years before.

The grievances and malice that animate national politics aren’t going away, but their most noxious expressions can be mitigated by establishing a clear and credible record of how this presidential transition went off the rails.

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COVID jabs ready to roll ahead of ‘all hands on deck’ rollout effort


Meanwhile, 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be imported from Europe and the company expects to deliver those doses by the end of next month, pending approvals. The AstraZeneca product, made in partnership with Oxford University, is also being produced under licence in Australia by CSL.

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Once delivered, the government will be relying on a range of logistics operators and state government cooperation to distribute vaccines. An initial 30 to 50 “cold chain” hubs will be established, with sites decided with the states and territories, to store the Pfizer product, which needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees.

Epidemiologists have previously warned that while Australia is well prepared for the rollout, citizens need to be prepared for challenges in vaccine distribution due to the unique scale of the task.

Social scientist and senior lecturer in public health and community medicine at UNSW, Dr Holly Seale, warned the government faced a big challenge in ensuring the priority groups set to be vaccinated first were all identified and encouraged to come forward for their jabs.

“We know that it’s not always easy to identify somebody based on a particular characteristics,” she said.

“Trying to capture data is going to take a lot of effort.”

A nurse holds a phial of vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – one of two products being rolled out in Australia.Credit:AP

The federal government has selected DHL Supply Chain and Linfox as logistics partners for transport of the vaccine. The companies will be responsible for “track and report the temperature of the vaccine at all times”, according to Health Minister Greg Hunt.

The rollout will start with Pfizer’s vaccine, followed by the AstraZeneca product.

“Linfox’s cold chain network includes temperature-controlled distribution centres and cross-dock facilities across Australia, and a world-class fleet with industry-leading safety and temperature-controlled features including temperature tracking and the highest security standards,” Linfox executive chair Peter Fox said in a statement last month.

Meanwhile, digital services provider Accenture has been commissioned to design the software to track vaccine doses across the supply chain.

A Qantas spokesman said the national carrier has done some work to ensure its domestic freighters are equipped to transport vaccines at minus 70 degrees if they are called upon to transport doses across the country, however the airline will not be involved in importing the first vaccine doses.

While the vaccination rollout will initially be undertaken by hospitals and some GP clinics, a health department spokesman said the government was preparing a wide-ranging workforce to deliver the jabs, including pharmacists who are set to get involved later this year.

Pharmacists have long pushed for involvement in the rollout. Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Anthony Tassone said that pharmacists were well-versed in cold chain logistics and any concerns about required storage temperatures for vaccines “not insurmountable” for local pharmacists.

“With such a significant task ahead of us to immunise as many Australians who want to receive the vaccine in 2021 – we literally need all immuniser ‘hands on deck’ to get the job done,” he said.

with Patrick Hatch

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Hacked documents detail China’s effort to control narrative surrounding coronavirus outbreak


FILE – In this Dec. 25, 2020 file photo, released by Xinhua News Agency, a staff member inspects syringes of COVID-19 inactivated vaccine products at a packaging plant of the Beijing Biological Products Institute Co., Ltd, a unit of state-owned Sinopharm in Beijing. (Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via AP, File)

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UPDATED 8:50 AM PT – Thursday, December 31, 2020

China’s ruling Communist Party took extensive steps in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak to control the narrative surrounding the virus and fight public opinion.

This comes amid reports by Pro-Publica and the New York Times, which detail documents leaked by a hacker group that calls itself “CCP Unmasked.”

These documents show thousands of directives and memos reportedly from the country’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, working to make the virus appear less threatening and authorities seem as if they were competently handling the situation

This included using specialized software, which allowed the government to track online trends, coordinate censorship activity and manage fake social media accounts. These directives date back as far as early January. This also included ordering news sites to use only government-published reports and not to compare the virus with the SARS outbreak of 2002.

At the beginning of February, Chinese President Xi Xinping himself called for tighter control of digital media with a directive stating regulators should work to “influence international opinion.”

Much of this came to a head on February 7, 2020 with the death of coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang who had warned of a new viral outbreak before succumbing to the virus himself.

Authorities began an immediate crackdown by warning expressions of grief would be allowed, but anyone “sensationalizing” the story would be dealt with “severely.” Following Li’s death, online memorials vanished and police detained people working to archive deleted posts.

By late May, authorities were alerted to confidential opinion analysis reports being published online and ordered cyber administration offices to get rid of internal reports.

Researchers said hundreds of thousands of people work part-time in China to help shape the country’s online narrative, including low level government employees as well as university students and teachers.

This is not the first report to show China’s effort to censor its own people. Reports dating back to early 2020 show the Chinese messenger app WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings, blocked keyword combinations that criticized President Xi, local officials and policies linked to the outbreak.

The U.S. and other nations have long accused China of suppressing information about the coronavirus that could have potentially changed the tide of the outbreak.

MORE NEWS: Dem imposed lockdowns force residents to flee San Francisco, sending tax revenue down 43 percent





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McConnell implores Trump not to veto defense bill, prepares override effort


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remained on the Senate floor into the wee small hours of the morning Tuesday– long after the Senate passed the $900 billion pandemic relief package—and urged President Trump not to make good on his threat to veto the defense spending bill, but prepared the Senate’s response.

TRUMP MEETS WITH HOUSE REPS TO TALK ABOUT ELECTION CHALLENGE

Earlier this month, the GOP-controlled Senate approved the $740 billion national defense bill despite Trump’s veto threat. Trump wants any National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to include the repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

The law provides legal protection for Big Tech companies. Trump has called the law a “serious threat to our “National Security & Election Integrity.”

Trump’s position on the veto threatens to divide Republicans in the Senate. The final vote in the Senate was 84-13, well beyond the two-thirds requirement to override a potential veto if Trump carried through on his threat to sink the legislation. 

McConnell set up a veto override effort on Dec. 29 in the event that Trump makes good on his threat, Fox News’ Chad Pergram tweeted early Tuesday.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has voiced his concerns with the bill’s language concerning future U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

RAND PAUL’S SPEECH AGAINST COVID-19 PACKAGE GOES VIRAL

Paul said he is concerned that the measure on troop deployment “creates 535 commanders-in-chief in Congress” and hampers the president’s ability to deploy troops as he sees fit.

“I very much am opposed to the Afghan war, and I’ve told them I’ll come back to try to prevent them from easily overriding the president’s veto,” Paul told reporters on Monday, according to the  Hill.

Democrats support the measure because they oppose Trump, Paul said earlier, but the amendment would also apply to future presidents, including President-elect Joe Biden.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that there is no clear path forward in the event of a Trump veto. Paul is objecting to “establishing “pro forma sessions,” which makes the potential override more difficult.

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Craig Caplan, a producer for CSPAN, tweeted that McConnell talked about the override and Paul was “seated on the Senate Floor but did not object to the unanimous consent on NDAA.”

“The Democrat Leader [Sen. Charles Schumer] and I have agreed to unanimous request as follows: the Senate will meet for pro forma sessions only until Dec. 29 when we will return to session,” McConnell said, according to Caplan.

He continued, “In the event the President has vetoed the bill and the House has voted to override the veto (Dec. 28), the Senate would have the opportunity to process the veto override at the time.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Marisa Schultz and the Associated Press contributed to this report



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Moderna vaccine cleared in U.S., boosting immunization effort


Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine was cleared by U.S. regulators, the second vaccine to gain emergency authorization this month as a historic mass immunization effort ramps up across the country.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to grant the authorization Friday for the shot’s use among adults means that two of the six vaccine candidates identified by Operation Warp Speed are now available to the public, a feat accomplished in less than one year. Shots from AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson that have also received U.S. government support are expected to be submitted for review next year.

Developed with the National Institutes of Health, Moderna’s shot, like the one produced by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE that was cleared last week, is based on messenger RNA technology that previously hadn’t been used in vaccines. For Moderna, whose stock-market ticker symbol is ‘MRNA,’ it is also the first product from the company to be cleared by regulators for use. An application for full approval is expected next year.

“With the availability of two vaccines now for the prevention of Covid-19, the FDA has taken another crucial step in the fight against this global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States each day,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

On Thursday, a group of outside advisers to the FDA voted 20-0, with one abstention, to back the shot, which isn’t yet approved in any other countries and hasn’t yet been used on anyone outside of a clinical trial.

Moderna’s vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of Covid-19 and was able to prevent the most severe infections, according to the FDA’s analysis of clinical trial results. Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is 95% effective. Both shots far exceed the minimum standard of 50% efficacy the FDA set for clearing any potential coronavirus vaccine.

Shipping and Storage

Like the Pfizer shot, Moderna’s is administered in a two-dose regimen. However, it doesn’t require special equipment to be kept cold. Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored in ultracold freezers, but Moderna’s can be kept in a standard freezer like those found in most home kitchens. That is expected to make it easier to distribute and for many pharmacies to handle.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to speed vaccine development, made more than $950 million available to Moderna to develop the vaccine. The U.S. has committed to spend billions to purchase 200 million doses, enough to immunize 100 million people, and has the option to purchase another 300 million.

The option to secure more doses could be especially crucial to the vaccine rollout in the U.S., one of the most far-reaching mass immunization campaigns ever undertaken, a massive logistics endeavor that the U.S. Army general in charge of Operation Warp Speed has likened to the D-Day invasion.

When it comes to rolling out a new product at enormous scale, Moderna, as a young company, is untested. However, it may account for half or more of the early U.S. vaccine inventory. That’s because while the U.S. purchased 100 million doses from Pfizer last summer — enough for 50 million people — it initially passed on the opportunity to acquire more. On Thursday, Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said the U.S. is close to a deal for another 100 million Pfizer doses.

Pfizer, maker of some of the biggest-selling drug products of all time, like cholesterol fighter Lipitor and erectile-dysfunction drug Viagra, has said it would need to fulfill orders from other countries before satisfying any new U.S. demand for more shots.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Wednesday that 5.9 million does of Moderna’s vaccine would be sent out nationwide rapidly after the authorization. He said that 2.9 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have already gone out and another 2 million doses of the Pfizer shot will go out next week.

Moderna expects to be able to produce 20 million doses for the U.S. by the end of the year, and another 85 million to 100 million doses in the U.S. in the first quarter.

Overall, it and its manufacturing partner Lonza Group AG plan to produce 500 million to 1 billion total doses of its vaccine in 2021. The European Union, Canada and Japan also have large purchase agreements with the company, and the U.K. has secured 7 million doses.

Biotech darling

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Moderna became one of the most richly valued private biotechnology companies before selling shares to the public for the first time in Dec. 2018. Though it had been working to develop numerous vaccines from its early days, its work on a potential personalized cancer vaccine drew the most attention.

Investors were initially skeptical of the stock, given the company had no portfolio of approved products from which to draw a reliable stream of revenue, and between its debut and the start of this year it had declined roughly 15%. But since the company began working on its vaccine, the shares have soared, leaping by more than eightfold.

Moderna’s victory is likely to increase hopes for other pharmaceutical products based on the mRNA technology. According to BioNTech Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin, the first such drugs for cancer may be approved in two to three years. A Moderna vaccine combined with Merck & Co.’s immuno-oncology drug Keytruda helped shrink tumors in 5 of 10 patients with advanced head and neck cancer, according to a study presented last month.

Companies are working to find ways to use mRNA for flu vaccines, as well as treatments for heart failure and cystic fibrosis. Messenger RNA vaccines may help produce immunizations for viruses that have evaded more conventional shots. For example, Moderna is working on a shot for cytomegalovirus, which can cause birth defects when passed from pregnant mother to unborn child and has eluded researchers for 50 years.

More health care and Big Pharma coverage from Fortune:

  • The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is dangerously flawed. Science and data could fix it
  • How hackers could undermine a successful vaccine rollout
  • “There simply isn’t the trust”: The fight to overcome vaccine skepticism in the Black community
  • You can now get personalized updates on the COVID vaccine from Zocdoc
  • Here’s how much Europe will pay for each COVID-19 vaccine



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SCOTUS Dismisses Suit on Effort Excluding Illegals from Apportionment



The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) dismissed a legal challenge to President Trump’s effort to exclude illegal aliens from being counted in congressional apportionment to protect the representation of American citizens.

On Friday, in a 6-3 decision, SCOTUS threw out a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the state of New York against Trump’s effort to exclude illegal aliens from congressional apportionment counts that decide how many lawmakers represent each state in Congress.

The majority of justices issued an unsigned opinion which called the ACLU and New York’s challenge “premature” because it is unclear how many persons would be excluded from counts and the impact it would have on various states’ representation.

The opinion states:

At the end of the day, the standing and ripeness inquiries both lead to the conclusion that judicial resolution of this dispute is premature. Consistent with our determination that standing has not been shown and that the case is not ripe, we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented. We hold only that they are not suitable for adjudication at this time.

The judgment of the District Court is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

The court’s three liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — issued a signed dissent in which they said the effort should be deemed unconstitutional.

“Because I believe plaintiffs’ claims are justiciable, ripe for review, and meritorious, I would affirm the lower court’s holding,” Breyer wrote in the dissent. “I respectfully dissent.”

Dale Wilcox of the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) applauded Trump for moving forward with the plan.

“It is crystal clear that our national government should represent the American people, and no one else,” Wilcox said in a statement. “And court after court has held that illegal aliens are not part of the American people. They, therefore, should not be represented by our elected officials in Washington, as they would be if included in the apportionment count.”

“We applaud the President for having the clarity of vision to see this, and the forthrightness to act on it. And we are glad that today the Supreme Court tossed out this lawsuit meant to block him,” Wilcox said.

The decision allows Trump to follow through on the effort, though the Census Bureau has yet to deliver final counts to the Commerce Department. Capitol Hill reports have indicated that final counts may not be ready until after President-elect Joe Biden assumes office on January 20, 2021.

Biden has suggested that he will not pursue the effort, claiming previously that the U.S. Constitution “clearly requires” illegal aliens to be counted in congressional apportionment.

States such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia are projected to lose congressional seats if the illegal alien population is included in congressional apportioning.

Today, there are an estimated 11 million to 22 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. The Census estimates that based on current legal and illegal immigration levels, by 2060 about one-in-six residents will have been born outside the country.

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder. 





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Upstart Moderna takes on outsized role in U.S. vaccine effort



Pfizer ultimately did not receive government funding for research and development, though Warp Speed in July provided $1.95 billion to secure 100 million shots, a deal the government also said would support mass manufacturing.

Moderna’s late-stage clinical trial was slightly smaller than Pfizer’s, with 30,000 participants rather than its competitor’s 44,000. Both shots are roughly 95 percent effective for the general population, although Pfizer’s was more effective for adults over 65, at 94 percent to Moderna’s 86 percent.

But that may not be a statistically significant difference, said Steven Joffe, a University of Pennsylvania health policy expert and member of the Data Safety Monitoring Board overseeing several vaccine trial under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed.

“They and most of the other companies, Pfizer excepted, had a lot of help from the government and Warp Speed,” Joffe said — adding that nonetheless, Moderna’s success “is a big achievement.”

Moderna executives said Thursday at the FDA advisory committee meeting that they did not see serious allergic reactions in the trial; two incidents, one in the placebo group, were not seen to be related to the shot itself. The data comes as U.S. and U.K. regulators scramble to better understand severe reactions to the Pfizer vaccine in people with serious allergies. Those reactions happened outside of clinical trials, where people with serious allergies are rarely included.

The FDA panel voted 20-0 to recommend the vaccine, with Michael Kurilla, a National Institutes of Health scientist, abstaining because he said he was “very uncomfortable” with a blanket recommendation for people over 18 years old. Because of the severity of the pandemic and limited supplies, “I would prefer to see it more targeted to people at high risk of more threatening illness and disease,” he said.

Moderna’s vaccine has several logistical advantages over Pfizer’s. Unlike Pfizer, Moderna opted for the U.S. government to distribute its shot, handing one of the biggest challenges of the vaccination push to military personnel and commercial distributors guided by Gen. Gustave Perna, Warp Speed’s chief operating officer.

Moderna’s shot can also be stored in most regular freezers, while Pfizer’s needs ultra-cold freezers or containers filled with dry ice that make that vaccine more challenging to ship and store.

With FDA authorization expected Friday, the company faces its biggest test yet. Warp Speed officials say that more than 4 million doses are ready to ship to states by Monday, and the remainder of the country’s 200 million dose order will stream in over the next six months.

“I’m sure they’ve got good people there, but this is their first product,” said Loss. “Anytime you do something for the first time, there is the possibility of mistakes, uncertainty.”



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First Coronavirus Vaccines Head to States, Starting Historic Effort


At Novant Health in Winston-Salem, N.C., the new ultracold freezers are ready — enough to eventually house more than 500,000 doses of the first coronavirus vaccine approved in the United States.

In Los Angeles, the Cedars-Sinai medical center has installed extra security cameras to protect the secret location of its soon-to-arrive supply of the vaccine.

In Jackson, Miss., the state’s top two health officials are preparing to roll up their own sleeves in the coming days and be the first to get the shots there as cameras roll, hoping to send the message, “We trust it.”

The Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization on Friday night of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has set in motion the most ambitious vaccination campaign in the nation’s history, a challenge of staggering proportions choreographed against a backdrop of soaring infection rates and deaths. This weekend, 2.9 million doses of the vaccine are to begin traveling by plane and guarded truck from Pfizer facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin to designated locations, mostly hospitals, in all 50 states.

The first injections are expected to be given by Monday to high-risk health care workers, the initial step toward the goal of inoculating enough Americans by spring to finally halt the spread of a virus that has killed nearly 300,000, sickened millions and upended the country’s economy, education system and daily life.

The rapid development of the vaccine, and its authorization based on data showing it to be 95 percent effective, has been a triumph of medical science, but much in this complicated next stage could go wrong.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, and the special boxes it is being shipped in can be opened no more than twice a day, in order to maintain the deep freeze. Side effects, like achiness or headache, could cause some of the nurses, doctors and others who are first in line for the vaccine to miss a day or two of work, challenging overburdened hospitals.

States say they have only a fraction of the funding they need from the federal government for staffing to administer the shot, for tracking who has received both doses of the vaccine — a booster is needed three weeks after the initial injection — and for other crucial pieces of the effort.

“Our teams are on standby, ready to pivot,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. Most of the state’s allocation will be delivered to a central location and then flown in small amounts, often in tiny planes, to far-flung hospitals and clinics that will need to quickly administer it.

Preparations for this moment have been months in the making. Military planners have looked at a range of potential obstacles, from large-scale protests that could disrupt traffic to poor weather conditions. In an emergency, officials are prepared to use military airplanes and helicopters to deliver vaccines to remote locations.

FedEx and UPS will transport the vaccine throughout most of the country, and each delivery will be followed by shipments of extra dry ice a day later. Pfizer designed special containers, with trackers and enough dry ice to keep the doses sufficiently cold for up to 10 days. Every truck carrying the containers will have a device that tracks its location, temperature, light exposure and motion.

For all the planning, and contingencies, there is still a good deal of confusion. States are receiving initial allocations according to a federal formula based strictly on their adult population. But many hospitals say they still don’t know exactly how much they will get or when the shipments will arrive.

“It’s really been a lot of the unknowns about the logistics,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Smith, the chief operating officer for Cedars-Sinai, noting that the medical center was also treating the highest number of Covid-19 patients it had seen since the pandemic began in March.

Other hospital systems are reeling from the news that their initial allocations will be much smaller than they had hoped. The Cleveland Clinic, one of the 10 hospital groups in Ohio that are receiving the first batch of vaccines, is expecting only 975 doses in an initial shipment, even though it has more than 40,000 employees around the state.

Ohio has prioritized getting initial doses of the vaccine to people in nursing homes and assisted living centers because they are at such high risk.

“We’re going to have a lot less vaccine than we have people wanting it,” Dr. Robert Wyllie, Cleveland Clinic’s chief of medical operations, said, adding that the system would first vaccinate workers in the intensive care units at four hospitals that are experiencing the highest volumes of Covid patients. Everybody who works in those units, including housekeepers, will be eligible for a shot. Like many health systems, Cleveland Clinic plans to stagger vaccinations so that if side effects cause some employees to miss work, the unit can still be fully staffed.

One reason for the shortfall in initial supply is that federal officials recently decided to send out a little fewer than half of the 6.4 million doses they had initially planned for the first wave.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, said he was taking a cautious approach to doling out the vaccine, setting aside for subsequent shipments another 2.9 million doses for booster shots, which are given three weeks later, as well as an emergency reserve supply.

But that careful strategy has come under criticism from others, who have argued that the vaccine must be deployed as quickly as possible, given that infections are raging out of control, hospitals are overflowing and thousands of people are dying a day. The F.D.A. released data this week showing that Pfizer’s vaccine begins to offer some protection from the coronavirus even before people get their second doses.

“We know the first dose is partially protective,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former F.D.A. commissioner and a board member of Pfizer, said on CNBC Friday. “We need to get as much protective immunity as possible into the general public.”

Pfizer has said it can provide up to 25 million doses to the U.S. by the end of this month. “Eventually, we will become much more confident in our manufacturing, our distribution process, state handling, et cetera,” General Perna said. “And then the requirement for reserve won’t be necessary.”

Additional vaccines are in the pipeline. Moderna recently applied for emergency authorization for its vaccine. The company said it is “on track” to produce 20 million doses by the end of this month and between 500 million and a billion through 2021.

States are largely planning to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about who gets vaccinated first: health care workers at high risk of exposure to Covid-19 and residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, a population that has died from the virus at disproportionately high rates.

There is some variation among their plans. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said this week that “tip-of-the-spear, high-contact workers” in hospitals would receive the very first shots and that he hoped to reach “as many elderly people as we can” by the end of December.

In Mississippi, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said frontline hospital workers would get the shots ahead of nursing home residents, in part to ease any anxiety those residents might have about the vaccine.

“They’re still a little bit hesitant,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “If we don’t put ourselves out there first, take the first doses of vaccine and show that we believe in it and trust it, I don’t think the long-term-care folks are going to have the uptake they need.”

In most states, the concerted effort to vaccinate nursing home residents will begin a week later. Starting Dec. 21, CVS and Walgreens will send teams of pharmacists out to about 75,000 nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities in all 50 states, under a contract with the federal government, to vaccinate as many residents and staff members as agree to it. CVS is aiming to complete the process over nine to 12 weeks.

On Thursday afternoon, as an F.D.A. advisory committee debated whether to recommend authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, the first packages of supplies to administer it — vaccination record cards, masks, visors, information sheets and syringes — arrived at UPMC Presbyterian, a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Graham Snyder, the medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC, said that a hospital committee had concluded that the immediate goal for allocation was to prevent transmission from the community to the hospital staff.

“The greater likelihood of their exposure is in the community and home than in the workplace,” he said, noting that health care workers have generally taken great precautions when they are among patients.

Some hospitals have said they will give priority to workers with underlying medical conditions that would put them at higher risk for severe disease.

Dr. Marci Drees, the infection prevention officer and hospital epidemiologist at ChristianaCare, a Delaware-based hospital system, said that the system would offer its health care workers a list of such conditions but would ask them only to disclose generally whether they had any.

“Lower-wage workers might be less likely to disclose because of the perception of discrimination,” Dr. Drees said. “So we’re trying to focus on job roles and spreading allocation across our system.”

One of the biggest outstanding questions is how many Americans — even in the health care field — will hesitate to get the vaccine; a Pew Research Center poll conducted late last month found that 18 percent said that they would “definitely not” take the vaccine “if it were available today” and that 21 percent said that they would “probably not.”

Many health care workers have been hesitant about this vaccine because it is so new, and they are eager to see hard data before they decide whether to take it. Mindful of their cautiousness, Dr. Drees said that ChristianaCare was emphasizing to its staff that taking the vaccine is voluntary.

“While I know that the risk of getting Covid far outweighs the risk of getting the vaccine,” Dr. Drees said, “meeting workers where they are at is important.”

At Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in South Carolina, Dr. Chris Lombardozzi, the system’s chief medical officer, said he did not anticipate much in the way of resistance from employees. “Our medical staff is completely on board,” he said, noting that he’d had discussions with leaders of several departments. To a person, he said, they say, “I want to be first.”

Their willingness reflects the reality of how hard the pandemic has hit their professions.

“We are so tired of this,” Dr. Lombardozzi said. “We are tired of watching people die. We are tired of not having a cure for an awful, awful virus. We want this to go away.”

Katie Thomas, Jennifer Steinhauer, Rebecca Robbins and Niraj Chokshi contributed reporting.





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Ghislaine Maxwell to offer $28.5 million bond in effort to get out of jail


Six months after a federal judge determined Ghislaine Maxwell to be a flight risk and ordered her detained until trial, the accused co-conspirator of deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein intends to present a proposed bail package of $28.5 million in a renewed effort to be released from jail before the end of the year, ABC News has learned.

More than $22 million of the assets pledged to secure the proposed bond will come from the combined resources of Maxwell and her husband, with the remainder to be posted by a handful of close family and friends, according to a person familiar with Maxwell’s intentions.

The forthcoming bail application, expected to be in front of U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in the coming days, will also be the first public acknowledgement from Maxwell that she is, in fact, married, the person said.

At a detention hearing shortly after Maxwell’s arrest in July, a federal prosecutor told the court that Maxwell had refused to provide information about the identity or assets of her previously unknown spouse.

Maxwell’s legal team first signaled their intention to take a second crack at securing pretrial release for their client in a pair of letters to the court last month that were redacted to conceal the identities of the family members and friends of Maxwell who were offering to co-sign the bond.

“Ms. Maxwell and her counsel have assembled substantial information that was not available to present at the initial hearing [in July], as well as a comprehensive bail package co-signed by sureties who were unable to come forward at that time,” wrote Christian Everdell, an attorney for Maxwell, on Nov. 25.

The proposed bail package, Everdell wrote, will include letters from family and friends that contain details that — if made public — would “invite identification and harassment of the sureties and other third parties, including minor children.” The co-signers are “legitimately afraid” that if their names become public, they will be subjected to the “same relentless media scrutiny and threats that Ms. Maxwell has experienced for more than a year,” Everdell wrote.

Also to be included, according to Everdell’s letter, is a financial report prepared by a professional accounting firm that “provides a summary of Ms. Maxwell’s financial condition from 2015-2020 and discloses all of her assets, all assets held in trust, and assets held by other family members.”

At Maxwell’s initial detention hearing in July, federal prosecutors conceded that they were not alleging that Maxwell presented a danger to society if released on bail, but argued that her finances were “opaque” and that she was the “very definition of a flight risk.”

“She has three passports, large sums of money, extensive international connections, and absolutely no reason to stay in the United States to face a potential significant term of incarceration,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe.

Maxwell’s renewed bail proposal will attempt to counter those concerns by emphasizing her marriage, her family connections to the U.S. and her commitment to stay and fight the charges, according to the person familiar with her plans. Her proposal will also include a waiver of her right to contest extradition from England and France, the two countries besides the U.S. where she holds citizenship.

Maxwell, 58, is the Oxford-educated daughter of Robert Maxwell, the larger-than-life publishing baron whose rags-to-riches story captivated England. She lived an extravagant life among the British elite until her father’s business empire collapsed in the wake of his death in 1991. She decamped to New York looking for a fresh start and was soon seen in the company of the mysterious multimillionaire Epstein.

In a letter to a Florida state prosecutor related to Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea, Epstein’s attorneys described his relationship with Maxwell as one of two “long-term intimate relationships” Epstein had in adulthood. Maxwell has asserted in court filings that she entered Epstein’s employ in 1999, where she remained, despite the eventual end of their romantic relationship, until at least 2006.

Following Epstein’s death in custody in August 2019, media and law enforcement attention turned to Maxwell, who had been previously accused in civil lawsuits of facilitating Epstein’s abuse of young women and girls, allegations that she has long denied. She was arrested on July 2 in a surprise early morning raid at a secluded 156-acre property in Bradford, New Hampshire, that had been purchased by a shell company in an all-cash transaction, according to court records and public documents.

To answer allegations from prosecutors that she tried to hide from law enforcement during the year-long investigation prior to her arrest, Maxwell will contend that she was never hiding from the government but had sought seclusion because of media attention and threats to the safety of her and her family after Epstein’s death, the person said.

Maxwell’s bail proposal is also expected to renew her concerns that the conditions of her confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn are putting her health at risk and making it difficult for her to review documents in preparation for trial. She recently spent two weeks in quarantine protocol after a staff member assigned to her unit tested positive for COVID-19, according to court records. Her lawyers have argued that Maxwell — a pretrial detainee — is being subjected to “disparate treatment” because the federal Bureau of Prisons failed to keep Epstein alive in jail.

“[T]the Department of Justice is seeking to repair the BOP’s tarnished reputation by placing Ms. Maxwell under extraordinarily harsh conditions, not in any response to Ms. Maxwell’s requirements, but rather in response to the failed handling of a completely different inmate,” wrote Bobbi Sternheim, an attorney for Maxwell, in a letter to the court earlier this week.

Maxwell pleaded not guilty to a six-count federal indictment alleging that she conspired with Epstein in a multi-state sex trafficking scheme involving three unnamed minor victims between 1994 and 1997. Prosecutors contend Maxwell not only “befriended” and later “enticed and groomed multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein, through a variety of means and methods,” but was also, at times, was “present for and involved” in the abuse herself.

Maxwell’s attorneys have already questioned the prosecution’s contention that the “strength of the Government’s evidence” provided a strong incentive for Maxwell to flee, alleging in an earlier court filing that the government had yet to produce the corroborating documentation they claimed to have.

“[T]he dearth of evidence reinforces why Ms. Maxwell has never intended to flee. She steadfastly maintains her innocence and vehemently denies the charges against her,” wrote Maxwell’s attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca in October.

Maxwell has asked Nathan to set a hearing on her renewed bail proposal for Dec. 21. If granted release, Maxwell could be out of custody in time for Christmas, which is also her 59th birthday. Nathan has ordered the government to respond to Maxwell’s proposal by next week and then will decide if a hearing is necessary.



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