The FDA mulls boosters, states dispute vaccine mandates, and the US reaches yet another grim milestone. Here’s what you should know:
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An FDA panel takes a close look at boosters amid controversy
Today the US Food and Drug Administration’s independent advisory committee is meeting to discuss whether booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are safe and effective enough to warrant widespread use. The FDA will then make a formal decision, after which the Centers for Disease Control’s independent advisory panel will weigh in. Earlier this week, the FDA released data from Pfizer that examines waning immunity and makes the case for boosters. But so far the debate over whether boosters are necessary or ethical for the general population has been fraught. The World Health Organization and other vaccine policy experts have criticized the decision to allow third shots for healthy Americans when so many people worldwide have yet to receive their first doses. And earlier this week an international group of scientists said the move was not necessary, including two FDA employees who recently announced they will leave the agency at least in part because they disagree with the push for boosters.
On Thursday, the FDA also amended its emergency use authorization for Eli Lilly’s antibody cocktail, which was previously authorized for people age 12 and over who have mild to moderate infections and are at high risk for developing a severe case of Covid-19. Now the agency says that the drugs can be used as a preventative measure for people who have been exposed and are high risk, though it emphasized that this is not a substitute for vaccination.
Vaccine mandates polarize the country even as they start to pay off
Soon after the White House announced a sweeping new array of Covid-19 policies last week, vaccine mandates chief among them, some states began speaking out in opposition to the national directives. In a letter to President Biden yesterday, 24 attorneys general asked him to walk back his decision to require companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations, and threatened legal action if he doesn’t. Meanwhile, Biden met this week with executives from companies including Disney and Microsoft to talk about his plan to make shots more compulsory.
Vaccine mandates are becoming more widespread across the globe, and all signs indicate that they can do a good job of getting people vaccinated. But to have the desired outcome, they have to be done right. As of this week, French health workers were required to have gotten at least their first dose. The 3,000-odd employees who had not were suspended without pay. Unions warned of disruptions to care, but the country’s health minister said care hasn’t been significantly impacted, and some people have decided to get vaccinated after seeing that the mandate is a reality.
The US marks the pandemic’s toll as questions persist about the origins and future of the Covid-19
Earlier this week the US hit a grim pandemic milestone: 19 months after Covid-19 first sent the US into lockdown, 1 in 500 Americans have died from the disease. Older and non-white Americans make up a disproportionate share of the deaths. On the National Mall in Washington, a new temporary art installation of more than 600,000 white flags bearing personalized messages symbolizes the impact of the pandemic.
But for all the devastation the pandemic has wrought, there’s still so much we don’t know about how the disease emerged or where it’s heading. Recently, a faulty theory that Sars-CoV-2 was present in Italy long before it was detected in Wuhan has taken hold, despite the deeply flawed nature of the evidence. And because human behaviors and public health measures have evolved alongside the virus, it’s proving hard for disease modelers to reliably predict what will happen next beyond the short term.
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Something to Read
Science fiction isn’t a genre known for being warm and fuzzy. But writer Becky Chambers aims to change that. “In a world numbed by cynicisms and divisions,” WIRED’s Jason Kehe writes, “Chambers’ stories are intended to repair—to warm up our insides and restore feeling.”
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How is technology shaping the course of this pandemic and future ones?
From mRNA vaccines to contact tracing, every major development of this pandemic so far has used technology in innovative ways. At RE:WIRED, a virtual global event on November 9 and 10, WIRED will host a series of conversations with people across the world and from various disciplines who are thinking about the consequences of technology for all aspects of our future, public health chief among them. Learn more and sign up to tune in here.