NASA’s 1st Asteroid Samples Land on Earth After Spacecraft Release 

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NASA’s first asteroid samples fetched from deep space parachuted into the Utah desert Sunday to cap a seven-year journey.

In a flyby of Earth, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released the sample capsule from 63,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) out. The small capsule landed four hours later on a remote expanse of military land, as the mothership set off after another asteroid.

Scientists estimate the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu but won’t know for sure until the container is opened. Some spilled and floated away when the spacecraft scooped up too much and rocks jammed the container’s lid during collection three years ago.

Japan, the only other country to bring back asteroid samples, gathered about a teaspoon in a pair of asteroid missions.

The pebbles and dust delivered Sunday represent the biggest haul from beyond the moon. Preserved building blocks from the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, the samples will help scientists better understand how Earth and life formed.

Osiris-Rex, the mothership, rocketed away on the $1 billion mission in 2016. It reached Bennu two years later and, using a long stick vacuum, grabbed rubble from the small roundish space rock in 2020. By the time it returned, the spacecraft had logged 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers).

NASA’s recovery effort in Utah included helicopters as well as a temporary clean room set up at the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range. The samples will be flown Monday morning to a new lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The building already houses the hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of moon rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts more than a half-century ago.

The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, will accompany the samples to Texas. The opening of the container in Houston in the next day or two will be “the real moment of truth,” given the uncertainty over the amount inside, he said ahead of the landing.

Engineers estimate the canister holds 250 grams (8.82 ounces) of material from Bennu, plus or minus 100 grams (plus or minus 3.53 ounces). Even at the low end, it will easily surpass the minimum requirement of the mission, Lauretta said.

It will take a few weeks to get a precise measurement, said NASA’s lead curator Nicole Lunning.

NASA plans a public show-and-tell in October.

Currently orbiting the sun 50 million miles (81 million kilometers) from Earth, Bennu is about one-third of a mile (one-half of a kilometer) across, roughly the size of the Empire State Building but shaped like a spinning top. It’s believed to be the broken fragment of a much larger asteroid.

During a two-year survey, Osiris-Rex found Bennu to be a chunky rubble pile full of boulders and craters. The surface was so loose that the spacecraft’s vacuum arm sank a foot or two (0.5 meters) into the asteroid, sucking up more material than anticipated and jamming the lid.

These close-up observations may come in handy late in the next century. Bennu is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2182 — possibly close enough to hit. The data gleaned by Osiris-Rex will help with any asteroid-deflection effort, according to Lauretta.

Osiris-Rex is already chasing after the asteroid Apophis and will reach it in 2029.

This was NASA’s third sample return from a deep-space robotic mission. The Genesis spacecraft dropped off bits of solar wind in 2004, but the samples were compromised when the parachute failed, and the capsule slammed into the ground. The Stardust spacecraft successfully delivered comet dust in 2006.

NASA’s plans to return samples from Mars are on hold after an independent review board criticized the cost and complexity. The Martian rover Perseverance has spent the past two years collecting core samples for eventual transport to Earth.

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Cholera Cases Rise Globally

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The World Health Organization says there is a global uptick in cholera cases.

The number of cases reported last year was more than double those reported in 2021, the United Nations agency said.

The number of countries reporting cholera statistics also grew in 2022 by 25%, from 35 countries in 2021 to 44 countries last year.

Cholera can be a life-threatening disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that can spread through unsafe food or water.  Cholera bacteria can spread from a person to drinking water or water used to grow food or prepare food.  Cholera can also spread when human feces with cholera enter the water supply.

The standard treatment for cholera has been a two-dose vaccination, but beginning in October 2022, the International Coordinating Group that manages emergency vaccine supplies, switched to a single-dose vaccine.

Last year, there were large cholera outbreaks, the WHO said. Seven countries –Afghanistan, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, NIgeria, Somalia and Syria – reported more than 10,000 suspected and confirmed cholera cases.

The WHO said the world is on track this year to continue the cholera upsurge with outbreaks currently in 24 countries “with some countries in the midst of acute crises.”  

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Some US Health Providers Dropping Gender-Affirming Care for Kids Even Where It’s Legal

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As Republican-led states have rushed to ban gender-affirming for minors, some families with transgender children found a bit of solace: At least they lived in states that would allow those already receiving puberty blockers or hormone therapy to continue.

But in some places, including Missouri and North Dakota, the care has abruptly been halted because medical providers are wary of harsh liability provisions in those same laws — one of multiple reasons that advocates say care has become harder to access even where it remains legal.

“It was a completely crushing blow,” said Becky Hormuth, whose 16-year-old son was receiving treatment from the Washington University Gender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital until it stopped the care for minors this month. Hormuth cried. Her son cried, too.

“There was some anger there, not towards the doctors, not toward Wash U. Our anger is towards the politicians,” she said. “They don’t see our children. They say the health care is harmful. They don’t know how much it helps my child.”

Since last year, conservative lawmakers and governors have prioritized restricting access to transgender care under the name of protecting children. At least 22 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. Most of the bans face legal challenges and enforcement on some of them has been put on hold by courts.

All the laws ban gender-affirming surgery for minors, although it is rare, with fewer than 3,700 performed in the U.S. on patients ages 12 to 18 from 2016 through 2019, according to a study published last month. It’s not clear how many of those patients were 18 when they received the surgeries.

There’s more variation, though, in how states handle puberty-blockers and hormone treatments under the new bans. Georgia’s law does not ban those for minors. The others do. But some states, including North Carolina and Utah, allow young people taking them already to continue. Others require the treatments to be phased out over time.

These treatments are accepted by major medical groups as evidence-based care that transgender people should be able to access.

James Thurow said the treatment at the Washington University center changed everything for his stepson, a 17-year-old junior at a suburban St. Louis high school who is earning As and Bs instead of his past Cs, has a girlfriend and a close group of friends.

“His depression, his anxiety had pretty much dissipated because he was receiving the gender-affirming care,” Thurow said. “He’s doing the best he’s ever done at school. His teachers were blown away at how quickly his grades shot up.”

For its part, the center said in a statement that it was “disheartened” to have to stop the care. Its decision followed a similar one from University of Missouri Health Care, where the treatment for minors stopped Aug. 28, the same day the law took effect.

Both blamed a section of the law that increased the liability for providers. Under it, patients can sue for injury from the treatment until they turn 36, or even longer if the harm continues past then. The law gives the health care provider the burden of proving that the harm was not the result of hormones or puberty-blocking drugs. And the minimum damages awarded in such cases would be $500,000.

Neither state Sen. Mike Moon, the Republican who was the prime sponsor of the Missouri ban, state Sen. Justin Brown nor state Rep. Dale Wright, whose committees advanced the measure, responded immediately to questions left Thursday by voicemail, email or phone message about the law’s intent.

In North Dakota, the law allows treatment to continue for minors who were receiving care before the law took effect in April. But it does not allow a doctor to switch the patient to a different gender dysphoria-related medication. And it allows patients to sue over injuries from treatment until they turn 48.

Providers there have simply stopped gender-affirming care, said Brittany Stewart, a lawyer at Gender Justice, which is suing over the ban in the state. “To protect themselves from criminal liability, they’ve just decided to not even risk it because that vague law doesn’t give them enough detail to understand exactly what they can and cannot do,” Stewart said.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said it’s not just liability clauses that have caused providers to stop treatment.

Across the South, where most states have adopted bans on gender-affirming care for minors, she said she’s heard of psychologists who wrongly believe the ban applies to them and pharmacists who stop filling orders for hormones for minors, even in places where the laws are on hold because of court orders.

“It’s hard to overstate the level of kind of chaos and stress and confusion it’s causing on the ground,” she said, “particularly … for people who live in more rural communities or places where even before a law went into effect, it still took quite a bit of effort to get this care.”

Her organization is providing grants and navigation services to help children get treatment in states where it’s legal and available. That system is similar to networks that are helping women in states where abortion is not banned get care.

But there’s one key difference: gender-affirming care is ongoing. 

For 12-year-old Tate Dolney in Fargo, North Dakota, continuing care means traveling to neighboring Minnesota for medical appointments. “It’s not right and it’s not fair,” his mother, Devon Dolney, said at a news conference this month, “that our own state government is making us feel like we have to choose between the health and well-being of our child and our home.”

Hormuth’s son is on the waiting list for a clinic in Chicago, at least a five-hour drive away, but is looking at other options, too. Hormuth, a teacher, has asked also her principal to write a recommendation in case the family decides to move to another state.

“Should we have to leave?” she asked. “No one should have to have a plan to move out of state just because their kid needs to get the health care they need.”

In the meantime, the family did what many have: saving leftover testosterone from vials. They have enough doses stockpiled to last a year.

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NASA Readies for Dramatic Landing of Asteroid Sample to Earth

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The climactic end of a seven-year voyage comes Sunday when a NASA capsule is to land in the Utah desert, carrying to Earth the largest asteroid samples ever collected.

Scientists have high hopes for the sample, saying it will provide a better understanding of the formation of our solar system and how Earth became habitable.

The Osiris-Rex probe’s final, fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere will be perilous, but the U.S. space agency is hoping for a soft landing, around 9 a.m. local (15H00 GMT), in a military test range in northwestern Utah.

Four years after its 2016 launch, the probe landed on the asteroid Bennu and collected roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface.

Even that small amount, NASA says, should “help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth” and cast light “on the earliest history of our solar system,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.

“This sample return is really historic,” NASA scientist Amy Simon told AFP. “This is going to be the biggest sample we’ve brought back since the Apollo moon rocks” were returned to Earth.

But the capsule’s return will require “a dangerous maneuver,” she acknowledged.

Osiris-Rex is set to release the capsule — from an altitude of more than 108,000 kilometers — about four hours before it lands.

The fiery passage through the atmosphere will come in the last 13 minutes, as the capsule hurtles downward at a speed of more than 43,453 kph, with temperatures of up to 2,760 Celsius.

Its rapid descent, monitored by army sensors, will be slowed by two successive parachutes. Should they fail to deploy correctly, a “hard landing” would follow.

If it appears that the target zone 60 by 15 kilometers might be missed, NASA controllers could decide at the last moment not to release the capsule.

The probe would then keep its cargo and make another orbit of the sun. Scientists would have to wait until 2025 before trying a new landing.

If it succeeds, however, Osiris-Rex would head toward a date with another asteroid.

Once the tire-sized capsule touches down in Utah, a team in protective masks and gloves will place it in a net to be airlifted by helicopter to a temporary “clean room” nearby.

NASA wants this done as quickly and carefully as possible to avoid any contamination of the sample with desert sands, skewing test results.

On Monday, assuming all goes well, the sample will be flown by plane to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, the box will be opened in another “clean room,” the beginning of a days-long process.

NASA plans to announce its first results at a news conference on Oct. 11.

Most of the sample will be conserved for study by future generations. Roughly one-fourth of it will be immediately used in experiments, and a small amount will be sent to Japan and Canada, partners in the mission.

Japan had earlier given NASA a few grains from the asteroid Ryugu, after bringing 5.6 grams of dust to Earth in 2020 during the Hayabusa-2 mission. Ten years before, it had brought back a microscopic quantity from another asteroid.

But the sample from Bennu is much larger, allowing for significantly more testing, Simon said.

Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, dating to some 4.5 billion years ago, and have remained relatively intact.

They “can give us clues about how the solar system formed and evolved,” said Osiris-Rex program executive Melissa Morris.

“It’s our own origin story,” she said.

By striking Earth’s surface, “we do believe asteroids and comets delivered organic material, potentially water, that helped life flourish here on Earth,” Simon said.

Scientists believe Bennu, which is 500 meters in diameter, is rich in carbon — a building block of life on Earth — and contains water molecules locked in minerals.

Bennu had surprised scientists in 2020 when the probe, during the few seconds of contact with the asteroid’s surface, had sunk into the soil, revealing an unexpectedly low density, sort of like a children’s pool filled with plastic balls.

Understanding its composition could come in handy in the distant future.

There is a slight, but non-zero, chance (one in 2,700) that Bennu could collide catastrophically with Earth, though not until 2182.

But NASA last year succeeded in deviating the course of an asteroid by crashing a probe into it in a test, and it might at some point need to repeat that exercise, but with much higher stakes. 

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US Experts Carry Out Second Pig-to-Human Heart Transplant

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A 58-year-old man this week became the world’s second patient to receive a transplant of a genetically modified pig heart, the latest milestone in a growing field of medical research. 

Transplanting animal organs into humans, called xenotransplantation, could offer a solution to the chronic shortage of human organ donations. More than 100,000 Americans are currently on waiting lists for organ transplants. 

Both heart procedures were carried out by experts from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, with the first patient dying two months after his transplant last year due to “a multitude of factors including his poor state of health” prior to the operation, the university said in a statement Friday. 

‘Now I have hope’

The latest operation took place Wednesday with patient Lawrence Faucette. He was ineligible for a donated human heart due to pre-existing vascular disease and internal bleeding complications. 

Without the experimental transplant, the father of two and Navy veteran was facing near-certain heart failure. 

“My only real hope left is to go with the pig heart, the xenotransplant,” Faucette was quoted as saying prior to the procedure. “At least now I have hope, and I have a chance.” 

Following the transplant, Faucette was breathing on his own and the new heart was functioning well “without any assistance from supportive devices,” the university said. 

He was taking conventional anti-rejection drugs as well as receiving a new antibody therapy to prevent his body from damaging or rejecting the new organ. 

Transplanted pig kidney lasted 61 days

Xenotransplants are challenging because the patient’s immune system will attack the foreign organ. Scientists are trying to circumvent the problem by using organs from genetically modified pigs. 

In the past few years, doctors have transplanted kidneys from genetically modified pigs into brain-dead patients. 

The NYU Langone Hospital Transplant Institute in New York announced this month that a pig kidney transplanted into a brain-dead patient had functioned for a record-breaking 61 days. 

Early xenotransplantation research focused on harvesting organs from primates — for example, a baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn known as “Baby Fae” in 1984, but she survived only 20 days. 

Current efforts focus on pigs, which are thought to be ideal donors for humans because of their organ size, their rapid growth and large litters — and the fact they are already raised as a food source. 

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Study: Farmers Face Climate Change Threat to Their Farms, Incomes

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About 76% of farmers are worried about the future impact of climate change, while 71% say it already has had an impact on their farms and incomes, a recent survey by life science company Bayer Group found.

Researchers interviewed 800 farmers in eight countries — Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Kenya, Ukraine and the United States — and said that 568 of those farmers have witnessed the impact of climate change directly on their farms.

About 80% of them have experienced heat effects and anticipate reduced yields in the coming years.

Rodrigo Santos, president of the Crop Science Division at Bayer, said that despite the impact of climate change on farming communities, there will be more demand for food harvested from less land in the coming years.

“We need to produce 50% more food … with 20% less land per capita than we do today,” Santos said.

“Climate change for us, when we live in the cities, is one thing, but for the farmers it is impacting their yields, it’s impacting their production, it’s impacting their ability to produce food and feed,” he said.

The report said that 73% of farmers interviewed in Kenya, for instance, have faced drought. Persistent droughts in the East African nation have resulted in crop losses and livestock deaths.

The report highlights that 1 in every 6 farmers worldwide suffered a nearly 16% loss of income due to adverse weather conditions over the past two years.

Unpredictable weather patterns and insufficient seed varieties exacerbated food insecurity in Africa, according to experts.

The head of Africa Agribusiness International Finance Corp. at the World Bank, Yosuke Kotsuji, said the continent needs to adopt new farm technologies faster.

“The headache is how to scale technology dissemination,” he said. “The way you and I can farm — next door we can get quite different results.”

According to experts, older African farmers encounter difficulties when it comes to embracing technologies, unlike their younger counterparts on the continent.

Most farmers surveyed mentioned that they either currently implement or plan to adopt methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, over 50% of them are striving to enhance biodiversity.

Doaa Abdel-Motaal, a senior counselor at the World Trade Organization, said there is a need to facilitate the easy movement of food in different countries to fight food insecurity.

“We also need to take into account the fact that the climate crisis is progressing and there will be more climate calamities, unfortunately, in different parts of the globe,” Abdel-Motaal said. “So allowing food to move from country A to country B to counter those calamities so that countries don’t starve is absolutely essential.

“Where countries find themselves on the map is no more than an accident of geography. There are some countries that are completely dependent on imported food for their food security,” he said.

Farmers worry about escalating fertilizer costs, energy prices and fluctuations in prices and income, the report said.

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 UNGA Approves Agreement with 5-Year Goal to End Tuberculosis

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U.N. member nations Friday approved a “political declaration” that establishes a plan to end tuberculosis around the world in the next five years.

The plan, engineered by the World Health Organization (WHO), was approved during the U.N. General Assembly’s high-level meeting on tuberculosis in New York. It sets a goal that includes reaching 90% of the world’s population with TB prevention services, using a WHO-recommended TB rapid test for initial diagnosis, and licensing at least one new TB vaccine by 2027.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – who led the meeting – says many of the targets established at the first high-level tuberculosis meeting in 2018 were not met, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says the goal of treating 44 million people with TB fell short by about 10 million people, and the goal of reaching 30 million people with preventive treatment fell short by about half.

The target of funding providing $2 billion for research also fell short by about half between 2018 and 2020.

TB remains one of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases, the WHO chief says, killing more than a million people a year while infecting more than 10 million.

Tedros says there are also about 500,000 drug-resistant TB cases each year.

The WHO reports new cases and deaths from TB rose between 2020 and 2021 – the peak years of the pandemic – but adds that coordinated efforts since then have seen some improvement in the numbers.

As it did with COVID-19 during the pandemic, the WHO has also launched a TB vaccine accelerator program designed to speed up the development, testing and authorization of new TB vaccines.

The WHO says there is currently only one licensed TB vaccine, and while it has proved to be moderately effective in preventing severe TB in infants, it inadequately protects adolescents and adults, who account for 90% of TB transmission globally.

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The Fall Equinox Is Here; What Does That Mean?

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Fall is in the air — officially.

The equinox arrives on Saturday, marking the start of the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere.

But what does that actually mean? Here’s what to know about how we split up the year using the Earth’s orbit.

What is the equinox?

As the Earth travels around the sun, it does so at an angle.

For most of the year, the Earth’s axis is tilted either toward or away from the sun. That means the sun’s warmth and light fall unequally on the northern and southern halves of the planet.

During the equinox, the Earth’s axis and its orbit line up so that both hemispheres get an equal amount of sunlight.

The word equinox comes from two Latin words meaning equal and night. That’s because on the equinox, day and night last almost the same amount of time — though one may get a few extra minutes, depending on where you are on the planet.

The Northern Hemisphere’s spring — or vernal — equinox can land between March 19 and 21, depending on the year. Its fall – or autumnal — equinox can land between Sept. 21 and 24.

What is the solstice?

The solstices mark the times during the year when the Earth is seeing its strongest tilt toward or away from the sun. This means the hemispheres are getting very different amounts of sunlight — and days and nights are at their most unequal.

During the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice, the upper half of the Earth is tilted in toward the sun, creating the longest day and shortest night of the year. This solstice falls between June 20 and 22.

Meanwhile, at the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning away from the sun — leading to the shortest day and longest night of the year. The winter solstice falls between December 20 and 23.

What’s the difference between meteorological and astronomical seasons?

These are just two different ways to carve up the year.

Meteorological seasons are defined by the weather. They break down the year into three-month seasons based on annual temperature cycles. By that calendar, spring starts on March 1, summer on June 1, fall on Sept. 1 and winter on Dec. 1.

Astronomical seasons depend on how the Earth moves around the sun.

Equinoxes, when the sun lands equally on both hemispheres, mark the start of spring and autumn. Solstices, when the Earth sees its strongest tilt toward or away from the sun, kick off summer and winter.

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Australia to Examine National COVID-19 Response

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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Thursday announced the government will conduct a yearlong inquiry into the country’s approach to COVID-19, but opposition politicians say the limited scope and powers of the inquiry will make it “a complete waste of time.”   

International border closures made Australia a fortress for much of the pandemic.  It had some of the world’s longest and toughest lockdowns.

Australian efforts to contain the virus were some of the most restrictive in the world, with residents of Melbourne spending more time in lockdowns than almost any other urban area. 

An inquiry, announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will look at the health and economic issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic and bureaucratic obstacles to responding to it. 

Three independent experts, to be appointed by the government, will examine vaccinations, the availability of personal protective equipment and public health campaigns as well as financial support for businesses and individuals.   

Albanese told reporters Thursday that an independent inquiry will help to prepare Australia for the next pandemic.

“It was a time where Australians joined together,” said Albanese. “They made sacrifices. We need to examine what went right, what could be done better with a focus on the future because the health experts and the science tells us that this pandemic is not likely to be the last one.”

The federal inquiry follows up to 20 other state probes into COVID-19 in Australia.

Experts hope the new inquiry will provide a comprehensive nationwide assessment of Australia’s response to the pandemic.

Nancy Baxter, head of the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Australia must be prepared for the next global virus outbreak.

“The focus of this should be on what we do differently in the next pandemic or what we do similarly,” said Baxter. “We need to learn.  Unfortunately, we will likely face another pandemic in our lifetime and so we need to be able to face that in a better way than we did COVID-19.”  

Only federal government decisions, not those of state and territory authorities, will be scrutinized.  Opposition lawmakers have said the probe therefore will not go far enough.  

Albanese has not said whether the inquiry would have powers to force political leaders to testify. 

The expert panel has been given a year for its work. 

Over the past week, more than 5,000 cases were reported across the country, according to official data but Australian authorities say the virus’s impact on the health system is fading.   

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School Shooting Survivor Develops App That Seeks to Help People Heal

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Kai Koerber was a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members there on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

Seeing his peers — and himself — struggle with returning to normal, he wanted to do something to help people manage their emotions on their own terms.

While some of his classmates at the Parkland, Florida, school have worked on advocating for gun control, entered politics or simply taken a step back to heal and focus on their studies, Koerber’s background in technology — he’d originally wanted to be a rocket scientist — led him in a different direction: to build a smartphone app.

The result was Joy: AI Wellness Platform, which uses artificial intelligence to suggest bite-sized mindfulness activities for people based on how they are feeling. The algorithm Koerber’s team built is designed to recognize how people feel from the sounds of their voices — regardless of the words or language they speak.

“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, the first thing that came to mind after we’ve experienced this horrible, traumatic event — how are we going to personally recover?” he said. “It’s great to say OK, we’re going to build a better legal infrastructure to prevent gun sales, increased background checks, all the legislative things. But people really weren’t thinking about … the mental health side of things.”

Like many of his peers, Koerber said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for a “very long time” and only recently has it gotten a little better.

“So, when I came to Cal, I was like, ‘Let me just start a research team that builds some groundbreaking AI and see if that’s possible,’” said the 23-year-old, who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley earlier this year. “The idea was to provide a platform to people who were struggling with, let’s say sadness, grief, anger … to be able to get a mindfulness practice or wellness practice on the go that meets our emotional needs on the go.”

He said it was important to offer activities that can be done quickly, sometimes lasting just a few seconds, wherever the user might be.

Mohammed Zareef-Mustafa, a former classmate of Koerber’s who’s been using the app for a few months, said the voice-emotion recognition part is “different than anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“I use the app about three times a week, because the practices are short and easy to get into. It really helps me quickly de-stress before I have to do things, like job interviews,” he said.

To use Joy, you simply speak into the app. The AI is supposed to recognize how you are feeling from your voice, then suggest short activities.

It doesn’t always get your mood right, so it’s possible to manually pick your disposition. Let’s say you are feeling “neutral” at the moment. The app suggests several activities, such as 15-second exercise called “mindful consumption” that encourages you to “think about all the lives and beings involved in producing what you eat or use that day.”

Yet another activity helps you practice making an effective apology. Feeling sad? A suggestion pops up asking you to track how many times you’ve laughed over a seven-day period and tally it up at the end of the week to see what moments gave you a sense of joy, purpose or satisfaction.

The iPhone app is available for an $8 monthly subscription, with a discount if you subscribe for a whole year. It’s a work in progress, and as it goes with AI, the more people use it, the more accurate it becomes.

A plethora of wellness apps on the market claim to help people with mental health issues, but it’s not always clear whether they work, said Colin Walsh, a professor of biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University who has studied the use of AI in suicide prevention. According to Walsh, it is feasible to take someone’s voice and glean some aspects of their emotional state.

“The challenge is if you as a user feel like it’s not really representing what you think your current state is like, that’s an issue,” he said. “There should be some mechanism by which that feedback can go back.”

The stakes also matter. Facebook, for instance, faced criticism for its suicide prevention tool, which used AI (as well as humans) to flag users who may be contemplating suicide, and — in some serious cases — contact law enforcement to check on the person. But if the stakes are lower, Walsh said, if the technology is simply directing someone to spend some time outside, it’s unlikely to cause harm.

Koerber said people tend to forget, after mass shootings, that survivors don’t just “bounce back right away” from the trauma they experienced. It takes years to recover.

“This is something that people carry with them, in some way, shape or form, for the rest of their lives,” he said.

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Biden Administration Announces $600M to Produce COVID Tests, Will Reopen Website to Order Them

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The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is providing $600 million in funding to produce new at-home COVID-19 tests and is restarting a website allowing Americans to again order up to four free tests per household — aiming to prevent possible shortages during a rise in coronavirus cases that has typically come during colder months.

The Department of Health and Human Services says orders can be placed at starting September 25, and that no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service.

Twelve manufacturers that employ hundreds of people in seven states have been awarded funding and will produce 200 million over-the-counter tests to replenish federal stockpiles for government use, in addition to producing enough tests to meet demand for tests ordered online, the department said.

Federal officials said that will help guard against supply chain issues that sparked some shortages of at-home COVID tests made overseas during past surges in coronavirus cases.

Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, said the website will remain functional to receive orders through the holidays and “we reserve the right to keep it open even longer if we’re starting to see an increase in cases.”

“If there is a demand for these tests, we want to make sure that they’re made available to the American people for free in this way,” O’Connell said. “But, at this point, our focus is getting through the holidays and making sure folks can take a test if they’re going to see Grandma for Thanksgiving.”

The tests are designed to detect COVID variants currently circulating and are intended for use by the end of the year. But they will include instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates, the department said.

The initiative follows four previous rounds where federal officials and the U.S. Postal Service provided more than 755 million tests for free to homes nationwide.

It is also meant to complement ongoing federal efforts to provide free COVID tests to long-term care facilities, schools, low-income senior housing, uninsured individuals and underserved communities which are already distributing 4 million per week and have distributed 500 million tests to date, the department said.

O’Connell said manufacturers would be able to spread out the 200 million tests they will produce for federal use over 18 months. That means that, as demand for home tests rises via the website or at U.S. retailers when COVID cases increase around the country, producers can focus on meeting those orders — but that they will then have an additional outlet for the tests they produce during period when demand declines.

“We’ve seen every winter, as people move indoors into heated spaces, away from the outside that, over each of the seasons that COVID’s been a concern, that we have seen cases go up,” O’Connell said.

She added that also “there’s always an opportunity or chance for another variant to come” but “we’re not anticipating that.”

“That’s not why we’re doing this,” O’Connell said. “We’re doing this for the fall and winter season ahead and the potential for an increase in cases as a result.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that the “Biden-Harris Administration, in partnership with domestic manufacturers, has made great strides in addressing vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain by reducing our reliance on overseas manufacturing.”

“These critical investments will strengthen our nation’s production levels of domestic at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and help mitigate the spread of the virus,” Becerra said in a statement.

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UN Chief Underscores Little Time Left to Avert Climate Crisis

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned a climate summit of world leaders on Wednesday there is not much time left to avert an environmental catastrophe.

“We must make up for time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels,” Guterres told world leaders at the start of the daylong General Assembly symposium at United Nations headquarters in New York.

After Guterres’ opening remarks, heads of state representing 34 nations were set to speak on the importance of sustainability, including Brazil, Pakistan, South Africa, Canada, the European Union and Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation imperiled by rising sea levels. Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva withdrew after falling ill. His environment minister was expected to speak in his place.

The two largest economies that also are the biggest polluters — the United States and China — were noticeably left off the speakers’ list. Only nations who planned to increase their pledges to slash emissions were invited to the podium. U.S. Special Envoy on Climate John Kerry was in attendance.

Guterres said that the global shift from fossil fuels to renewables is underway, but that progress is decades overdue. The harms of climate change, he said, are hitting the developing world the hardest, and the Global North is mostly to blame.

“Many of the poorest nations have every right to be angry, angry that they are suffering from a climate crisis they did nothing to create, angry that promised finance has not been materialized, angry that their borrowing costs are sky-high,” the U.N. chief said.

Guterres said he is optimistic that the climate summit will help persuade some of the richest countries and corporations to meet the U.N.’s worldwide target of net-zero emissions by 2050. He said he is hopeful the powers that be take sharp action and invest more in the future of renewable energy.

But the focus was not solely on curbing pollution in the wealthiest echelons of the Global North.

Kenyan President William Ruto urged countries in the Global South to pool together their trillions of dollars in collective resources to independently finance climate initiatives.

“Neither Africa nor the developing world stands in need of charity from developed countries,” he said.

Ruto floated another progressive idea in his address: a universal tax on the sale of fossil fuels.

The climate summit also featured executives from Allianz, the travel insurer, as well as numerous key global lenders, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Additionally, the mayor of London and the governor of California were set to speak.

A U.N. report released earlier this month noted global temperatures are on track to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average in the next decade, an increase widely recognized as a tipping point in the battle to reverse climate change.

Some information for this story was provided by Reuters.

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Musk’s Neuralink to Start Human Trial of Brain Implant

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Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s brain-chip startup Neuralink said on Tuesday it has received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitment for the first human trial of its brain implant for paralysis patients. 

Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, Neuralink said, but did not reveal how many participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about six years to complete. 

The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone. 

The company, which had earlier hoped to receive approval to implant its device in 10 patients, was negotiating a lower number of patients with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after the agency raised safety concerns, according to current and former employees. It is not known how many patients the FDA ultimately approved. 

Musk has grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying it would facilitate speedy surgical insertions of its chip devices to treat conditions such as obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia.  

In May, the company said it had received clearance from the FDA for its first-in-human clinical trial, when it was already under federal scrutiny for its handling of animal testing. 

Even if the BCI device proves to be safe for human use, it would still potentially take more than a decade for the startup to secure commercial use clearance for it, according to experts. 

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Sponsor an Ocean? Tiny Island Nation of Niue Has Novel Plan to Protect Pacific

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The tiny Pacific island nation of Niue has come up with a novel plan to protect its vast and pristine territorial waters — it will get sponsors to pay.

Under the plan, which was being launched by Niue’s Prime Minister Dalton Tagelagi on Tuesday in New York, individuals or companies can pay $148 to protect 1 square kilometer (about 250 acres) of ocean from threats such as illegal fishing and plastic waste for a period of 20 years.

Niue hopes to raise more than $18 million from the scheme by selling 127,000 square-kilometer units, representing the 40% of its waters that form a no-take marine protected area.

In an interview with The Associated Press before the launch, Tagelagi said his people have always had a close connection with the sea.

“Niue is just one island in the middle of the big blue ocean,” Tagelagi said. “We are surrounded by the ocean, and we live off the ocean. That’s our livelihood.”

He said Niueans inherited and learned about the ocean from their forefathers, and they want to be able to pass it on to the next generation in sustainable health.

Most fishing in Niue is to sustain local people, although there are some small-scale commercial operations and occasional offshore industrial-scale fishing, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Because of all the illegal fishing and all the other activities at the moment, we thought that we should be taking the lead, to teach others that we’ve got to protect the ocean,” Tagelagi said.

Unregulated fishing can deplete fish stocks, which then cannot replenish, while plastics can be ingested by or entangle marine wildlife. Human-caused climate change has also led to warmer and more acidic oceans, altering ecosystems for underwater species.

Niue is also especially vulnerable to rising sea levels threatening its land and freshwater, and the island is at risk of more intense tropical storms charged by warmer air and waters.

With a population of just 1,700 people, Niue acknowledges it needs outside help. It’s one of the smallest countries in the world, dwarfed by an ocean territory 1,200 times larger than its land mass.

Under the plan, the sponsorship money — called Ocean Conservation Commitments — will be administered by a charitable trust.

Niue will buy 1,700 sponsorship units, representing one for each of its citizens. Other launch donors include philanthropist Lyna Lam and her husband Chris Larsen, who co-founded blockchain company Ripple, and U.S.-based nonprofit Conservation International, which helped set up some technical aspects of the scheme.

Maël Imirizaldu, marine biologist and regional leader with Conservation International, said one problem with the conventional approach to ocean conservation funding was the need for places like Niue to constantly seek new funding on a project-by-project basis.

“The main idea was to try and switch that, to change the priority and actually help them have funding so they can plan for the next 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Imirizaldu said.

Simon Thrush, a professor of marine science at New Zealand’s University of Auckland who was not involved in the plan, said it sounded positive.

“It’s a good idea,” Thrush said, adding that as long as the plan was thoroughly vetted and guaranteed over the long term, “I’d be up for it.”

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WHO: Hundreds of Children Die in Sudan Health Crisis

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Measles, diarrhea and malnutrition, among other preventable diseases, kill about 100 children every month in Sudan where armed conflicts have uprooted more than five million people from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Between May 15 and September 14, at least 1,200 children under the age of five died from a deadly combination of a suspected measles outbreak and high malnutrition in nine camps for internally displaced people in Sudan’s White Nile state.

There have also been reports of cholera, dengue, and malaria cases emerging in various parts of the country, sparking concerns about the looming threat of epidemics.

“Children younger than five are worst impacted, accounting for nearly 70% of all cases and 76% of all deaths,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The U.N. warning comes as Sudan’s health sector is teetering on the brink of collapse, crippled by a severe lack of funding and essential resources.

“Health facilities are at breaking point, due to shortages of staff, life-saving medicine and critical equipment, exacerbating current outbreaks and causing unnecessary deaths,” the WHO said.

Ongoing-armed hostilities between Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which started in April, have generated and exacerbated humanitarian crises in the African country.

The conflict has taken an immense toll on Sudan’s civilian population, with the Health Ministry acknowledging over 1,500 civilian deaths since the conflict started.

However, aid agencies contend that the actual death toll far exceeds the officially reported figures.

Both warring factions, the SAF and RSF, have faced accusations of committing egregious acts of violence against civilians, including arbitrary detentions and killings.  

“The conflict has paralyzed the economy, pushing millions to the brink of poverty,” Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last week.

“More than 7.4 million children are without safe drinking water and at least 700,000 are at risk of severe acute malnutrition,” he said.

Humanitarian appeal 

In May, the U.N. appealed for $2.57 billion in humanitarian assistance for 18 million people in Sudan.

However, the situation remains dire, with aid agencies estimating that more than 24 million Sudanese are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

As of September 19, the appeal has garnered $788 million, approximately 30% of the required funds, with the United States leading the list of donors with a contribution of $472.5 million.

“The world has the means and the money to prevent every one of these deaths from measles or malnutrition,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“And yet dozens of children are dying every day — a result of this devastating conflict and a lack of global attention. We can prevent more deaths, but need money for the response, access to those in need, and above all, an end to the fighting,” he said, according to the statement. 

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Climate Change Impeding Fight Against AIDS, TB and Malaria

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Climate change and conflict are hitting efforts to tackle three of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has warned.

International initiatives to fight the diseases have largely recovered after being badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Fund’s 2023 results report released on Monday.

But the increasing challenges of climate change and conflict mean the world is likely to miss the target of putting an end to AIDS, TB and malaria by 2030 without “extraordinary steps,” said Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund.

For example, malaria is spreading to highland parts of Africa that were previously too cold for the mosquito carrying the disease-causing parasite.

Extreme weather events like floods are overwhelming health services, displacing communities, causing upsurges in infection and interrupting treatment in many different places, the report said. In countries including Sudan, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Myanmar, simply reaching vulnerable communities has also been immensely challenging due to insecurity, it added.

There are positives, Sands said. For example, in 2022, 6.7 million people were treated for TB in the countries where the Global Fund invests, 1.4 million more people than in the previous year.

The Fund also helped provide 24.5 million people with antiretroviral therapy for HIV and distributed 220 million mosquito nets.

Sands added that innovative prevention and diagnostic tools also provided hope.

This week, there is a high-level meeting on TB at the U.N. General Assembly, and advocates hope for renewed focus on the disease.

The Global Fund has faced criticism from some TB experts for not allocating more of its budget to the disease, as it is the biggest killer of the three diseases the fund focuses on.

“There’s no doubt that the world needs to devote more resources towards fighting TB… but it is not as simple as comparing annual deaths from each disease,” said Sands. For example, he said, many countries with the highest burden of TB are middle-income countries that have more capacity to fund health services domestically.

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Bystanders Less Likely to Give Women CPR: Research

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Bystanders are less likely to give life-saving CPR to women having a cardiac arrest in public than men, leading to more women dying from the common health emergency, researchers said Monday.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation combines mouth-to-mouth breathing and chest compressions to pump blood to the brain of people whose hearts have stopped beating, potentially staving off death until medical help arrives.

In research to be presented at a medical conference in Spain this week, but which has not yet been peer-reviewed, a team of Canadian doctors sought to understand how bystanders administer the procedure differently to men and women.

They looked at records of cardiac arrests that took place outside of hospitals in the United States and Canada between 2005 and 2015, which included nearly 40,000 patients. 

Overall, 54% of the patients received CPR from a bystander, the research said.

For cardiac arrests in a public place, such as in the street, 61% of women were given CPR by a bystander — compared to 68% of men. 

Alexis Cournoyer, an emergency physician at the Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal who conducted the research, told AFP that this gap “increases women’s mortality following a cardiac arrest — that’s for sure.”

Cardiac arrests are a leading cause of death, with more than 350,000 occurring in the U.S. alone every year, according to the American Heart Association.

Only around 10% of people who have a sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive, research has shown.

The researchers sought to find a reason for the gender gap.

One theory was that bystanders in public could be uncomfortable touching a women’s breast without consent, Cournoyer said.

The researchers looked into whether age could play a role, he added.

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Families Challenge North Dakota’s Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Children

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Families and a pediatrician are challenging North Dakota’s law criminalizing gender-affirming care for minors, the latest lawsuit in many states with similar bans. 

Gender Justice on Thursday announced the state district court lawsuit in a news conference at the state Capitol in Bismarck. The lawsuit against the state attorney general and state’s attorneys of three counties seeks to immediately block the ban, which took effect in April, and to have a judge find it unconstitutional and stop the state from enforcing it. 

State lawmakers “have outlawed essential health care for these kids simply and exclusively because they are transgender,” Gender Justice attorney and North Dakota state director Christina Sambor told reporters. “They have stripped parents of their right to decide for themselves what’s best for their own children. They have made it a criminal offense for doctors to provide health care that can literally save children’s lives.” 

The bill that enacted the ban passed overwhelmingly earlier this year in North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who is running for president, signed the ban into law in April. It took effect immediately. 

“Going forward, thoughtful debate around these complex medical policies should demonstrate compassion and understanding for all North Dakota youth and their families,” Burgum said at the time. 

Tate Dolney, a plaintiff and 12-year-old transgender boy from Fargo, said gender-affirming care helped his confidence, happiness, schoolwork and relationships with others. 

“I was finally able to just be who I truly am,” the seventh-grader told reporters. “It has hurt me all over again to know that the lawmakers who have banned the health care don’t want this for me and want to take it all away from me and every other transgender and nonbinary kid who just wants to be left alone to live our lives in peace.” 

Mother Devon Dolney said Tate was previously severely depressed and angry, but with the care “went from being ashamed and uncomfortable with who he is to being confident and outspoken,” a “miraculous” change. 

North Dakota’s ban has led the family to travel farther for Tate’s appointments, now in neighboring Minnesota, she said. The family has considered moving out of North Dakota, she said. 

Politicians “have intruded on our lives and inserted themselves into decisions that they have no business being involved in,” father Robert Dolney said. 

The law exempts minors who were already receiving gender-affirming care and allows for treatment of “a minor born with a medically verifiable genetic disorder of sex development.” 

But the grandfather clause has led providers “to not even risk it, because that vague law doesn’t give them enough detail of exactly what they can and cannot do” — an element of the suit, Gender Justice Senior Staff Attorney Brittany Stewart said. 

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley told The Associated Press he hadn’t seen the lawsuit’s filing, but his office “will evaluate it and take the appropriate course.” 

Bill sponsor and Republican state Rep. Bill Tveit told the AP that he brought the legislation to protect children. 

“I’ve talked to a number of people who are of age now and would transform back if they could, and they’re just really upset with their parents and the adults in their life that led them to do this, to have these surgeries,” Tveit said. He declined to identify the two people he said he talked to, but said one is a college student in Minnesota that he became acquainted with while working on the bill. 

North Dakota’s law criminalizes doctors’ performance of sex reassignment surgeries on minors with a felony charge, punishable up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. 

The law also includes a misdemeanor charge for health care providers who prescribe or give hormone treatments or puberty blockers to minors. That charge is punishable up to nearly a year’s incarceration and a $3,000 fine. 

Opponents of the bill said sex reassignment surgeries are not performed on minors in North Dakota, and the ban on gender-affirming care would harm transgender youth, who are at increased risk for depression, suicide and self-harm. 

At least 22 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states face lawsuits. A federal judge struck down Arkansas’ ban as unconstitutional, and a federal judge has temporarily blocked a ban in Indiana.

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Special Mosquitoes Being Bred to Fight Dengue

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For decades, preventing dengue fever in Honduras has meant teaching people to fear mosquitoes and avoid their bites. Now, Hondurans are being educated about a potentially more effective way to control the disease — and it goes against everything they’ve learned.

Which explains why a dozen people cheered last month as Tegucigalpa resident Hector Enriquez held a glass jar filled with mosquitoes above his head, and then freed the buzzing insects into the air.

Enriquez, a 52-year-old mason, had volunteered to help publicize a plan to suppress dengue by releasing millions of special mosquitoes in the Honduran capital.

The mosquitoes Enriquez unleashed in his El Manchen neighborhood — an area rife with dengue — were bred by scientists to carry bacteria called Wolbachia that interrupt transmission of the disease. When these mosquitoes reproduce, they pass the bacteria to their offspring, reducing future outbreaks.

This emerging strategy for battling dengue was pioneered over the last decade by the nonprofit World Mosquito Program, and it is being tested in more than a dozen countries.

With more than half the world’s population at risk of contracting dengue, the World Health Organization is paying close attention to the mosquito releases in Honduras, and elsewhere, and it is poised to promote the strategy globally.

In Honduras, where 10,000 people are known to be sickened by dengue each year, Doctors Without Borders is partnering with the mosquito program over the next six months to release close to 9 million mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacteria.

“There is a desperate need for new approaches,” said Scott O’Neill, founder of the mosquito program.

Dengue defies typical prevention

Scientists have made great strides in recent decades in reducing the threat of mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria. But dengue is the exception: Its rate of infection keeps going up.

Models estimate that around 400 million people across some 130 countries are infected each year with dengue. Mortality rates from dengue are low – an estimated 40,000 people die each year from it – but outbreaks can overwhelm health systems and force many people to miss work or school.

“When you come down with a case of dengue fever, it’s often akin to getting the worst case of influenza you can imagine,” said Conor McMeniman, a mosquito researcher at Johns Hopkins University. It’s commonly known as “breakbone fever” for a reason, McMeniman said.

Traditional methods of preventing mosquito-borne illnesses haven’t been nearly as effective against dengue.

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that most commonly spread dengue have been resistant to insecticides, which have fleeting results even in the best-case scenario. And because dengue virus comes in four different forms, it is harder to control through vaccines.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are also a challenging foe because they are most active during the day – meaning that’s when they bite – so bed nets aren’t much help against them. Because these mosquitoes thrive in warm and wet environments, and in dense cities, climate change and urbanization are expected to make the fight against dengue even harder.

“We need better tools,” said Raman Velayudhan, a researcher from the WHO’s Global Neglected Tropical Diseases Program. “Wolbachia is definitely a long-term, sustainable solution.”

Velayudhan and other experts from the WHO plan to publish a recommendation as early as this month to promote further testing of the Wolbachia strategy in other parts of the world.

Scientists surprised by bacteria

The Wolbachia strategy has been decades in the making.

The bacteria exist naturally in about 60% of insect species, just not in the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

“We worked for years on this,” said O’Neill, 61, who with help from his students in Australia eventually figured out how to transfer the bacteria from fruit flies into Aedes aegypti mosquito embryos by using microscopic glass needles.

Around 40 years ago, scientists aimed to use Wolbachia in a different way: to drive down mosquito populations. Because male mosquitoes carrying the bacteria only produce offspring with females that also have it, scientists would release infected male mosquitoes into the wild to breed with uninfected females, whose eggs would not hatch.

But along the way, O’Neill’s team made a surprising discovery: Mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia didn’t spread dengue — or other related diseases, including yellow fever, Zika and chikungunya.

And since infected females pass Wolbachia to their offspring, they will eventually “replace” a local mosquito population with one that carries the virus-blocking bacteria.

The replacement strategy has required a major shift in thinking about mosquito control, said Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Everything in the past has been about killing mosquitoes, or at the very least, preventing mosquitoes from biting humans,” Brady said.

Since O’Neill’s lab first tested the replacement strategy in Australia in 2011, the World Mosquito Program has run trials affecting 11 million people across 14 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Fiji and Vietnam.

The results are promising. In 2019, a large-scale field trial in Indonesia showed a 76% drop in reported dengue cases after Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes were released.

Still, questions remain about whether the replacement strategy will be effective – and cost-effective – on a global scale, O’Neill said. The three-year Tegucigalpa trial will cost $900,000, or roughly $10 per person that Doctors Without Borders expects it to protect.

Scientists aren’t yet sure how Wolbachia actually blocks viral transmission. And it isn’t clear whether the bacteria will work equally well against all strains of the virus, or if some strains might become resistant over time, said Bobby Reiner, a mosquito researcher at the University of Washington.

“It’s certainly not a one-and-done fix, forever guaranteed,” Reiner said.

Special mosquitoes bred in Colombia

Many of the world’s mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia were hatched in a warehouse in Medellín, Colombia, where the World Mosquito Program runs a factory that breeds 30 million of them per week.

The factory imports dried mosquito eggs from different parts of the world to ensure the specially bred mosquitoes it eventually releases will have similar qualities to local populations, including resistance to insecticides, said Edgard Boquín, one of the Honduras project leaders working for Doctors Without Borders.

The dried eggs are placed in water with powdered food. Once they hatch, they are allowed to breed with the “mother colony” — a lineage that carries Wolbachia and is made up of more females than males.

A constant buzz fills the room where the insects mate in cube-shaped cages made of mosquito nets. Caretakers ensure they have the best diet: Males get sugared water, while females “bite” into pouches of human blood kept at 37 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit).

“We have the perfect conditions,” the factory’s coordinator, Marlene Salazar, said.

Once workers confirm that the new mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, their eggs are dried and filled into pill-like capsules to be sent off to release sites.

Doctors get help in Honduras

The Doctors Without Borders team in Honduras recently went door-to-door in a hilly neighborhood of Tegucigalpa to enlist residents’ help in incubating mosquito eggs bred in the Medellin factory.

At half a dozen houses, they received permission to hang from tree branches glass jars containing water and a mosquito egg-filled capsule. After about 10 days, the mosquitoes would hatch and fly off.

That same day, a dozen young workers from Doctors Without Borders fanned out across Northern Tegucigalpa on motorcycles carrying jars of the already hatched dengue-fighting mosquitoes and, at designated sites, released thousands of them into the breeze.

Because community engagement is key to the program’s success, doctors and volunteers have spent the past six months educating neighborhood leaders, including influential gang members, to get their permission to work in areas under their control.

Some of the most common questions from the community were about whether Wolbachia would harm people or the environment. Workers explained that any bites from the special mosquitoes or their offspring were harmless.

Maria Fernanda Marin, a 19-year-old student, works for Doctors Without Borders in a facility where Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are hatched for eventual release. She proudly shows neighbors a photo of her arm covered in bites to help earn their trust.

Lourdes Betancourt, 63, another volunteer with the Doctors Without Borders team, was at first suspicious of the new strategy. But Betancourt – who has been sickened by dengue several times — now encourages her neighbors to let the “good mosquitoes” grow in their yards.

“I tell people not to be afraid, that this isn’t anything bad, to have trust,” Betancourt said. “They are going to bite you, but you won’t get dengue.”

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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UN: 700 Million People Don’t Know When — Or If — They Will Eat Again

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A global hunger crisis has left more than 700 million people not knowing when or if they will eat again, and demand for food is rising relentlessly while humanitarian funding is drying up, the head of the United Nations food agency said Thursday.

World Food Program Executive Director Cindy McCain told the U.N. Security Council that because of the lack of funding, the agency has been forced to cut food rations for millions of people, and “more cuts are on the way.”

“We are now living with a series of concurrent and long-term crises that will continue to fuel global humanitarian needs,” she said. “This is the humanitarian community’s new reality — our new normal — and we will be dealing with the fallout for years to come.”

The WFP chief, the widow of the late U.S. senator John McCain, said the agency estimates that nearly 47 million people in over 50 countries are just one step from famine — and a staggering 45 million children younger than 5 are now estimated to suffer from acute malnutrition.

According to WFP estimates from 79 countries where the Rome-based agency operates, up to 783 million people — one in 10 of the world’s population — still go to bed hungry every night. More than 345 million people are facing high levels of food insecurity this year, an increase of almost 200 million people from early 2021 before the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said.

At the root of the soaring numbers, WFP said, is “a deadly combination of conflict, economic shocks, climate extremes and soaring fertilizer prices.”

The economic fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have pushed food prices out of the reach of millions of people across the world at the same time that high fertilizer prices have caused falling production of maize, rice, soybeans and wheat, the agency said.

“Our collective challenge is to ramp up the ambitious, multi-sectoral partnerships that will enable us to tackle hunger and poverty effectively, and reduce humanitarian needs over the long-term,” McCain urged business leaders at the council meeting focusing on humanitarian public-private partnerships. The aim is not just financing, but also finding innovative solutions to help the world’s neediest.

Michael Miebach, CEO of Mastercard, told the council that “humanitarian relief has long been the domain of government” and development institutions, and the private sector was seen as a source of financial donations for supplies.

“Money is still important, but companies can offer so much more,” he said. “The private sector stands ready to tackle the challenges at hand in partnership with the public sector.”

Miebach stressed that “business cannot succeed in a failing world” and humanitarian crises impact fellow citizens of the world. A business can use its expertise, he said, to strengthen infrastructure, “innovate new approaches and deliver solutions at scale” to improve humanitarian operations.

Jared Cohen, president of global affairs at Goldman Sachs, told the council that the revenue of many multinational companies rivals the GDP of some of the Group of 20 countries with the largest economies. And he said five American companies and many of their global counterparts have over 500,000 workers — more than the population of up to 20 U.N. member nations.

“Today’s global firms have responsibilities to our shareholders, clients, staff, communities, and the rules-based international order that makes it possible for us to do business,” he said.

Cohen said businesses can fulfill those responsibilities during crises first by not scrambling “to reinvent the wheel every time,” but by drawing on institutional memory and partnering with other firms and the public sector.

He said businesses also need “to act with speed and innovate in real time,” use local connections, and bring their expertise to the humanitarian response.

Lana Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates ambassador, said the U.N. appealed for over $54 billion this year, “and until now, 80% of those funds remain unfulfilled,” which shows that “we are facing a system in crisis.”

She said public-private partnerships that were once useful additions are now crucial to humanitarian work.

Over the past decade, Nusseibeh said, the UAE has been developing “a digital platform to support a government’s ability to better harness international support in the wake of natural disasters.” The UAE has also established a major humanitarian logistics hub and is working with U.N. agencies and private companies on new technologies to reach those in need, she said.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the funding gap has left the world’s most vulnerable people “in a moment of great peril.”

She said companies have stepped up, including in Haiti and Ukraine and to help refugees in the United States, but for too long, “we have turned to the private sector exclusively for financing.”

Businesses have shown “enormous generosity, but in 2023 we know they have so much more to offer. Their capacities, their know-how, and innovations are tremendously needed,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “The public sector must harness the expertise of the private sector and translate it into action.”

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India’s Nipah Virus Outbreak: What Do We Know So Far? 

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Authorities in India are scrambling to contain a rare outbreak of Nipah, a virus spread from animals to humans that causes deadly fever and has a high mortality rate. Here is a look at what is known so far:

What is the Nipah virus? 

The first Nipah outbreak was recorded in 1998 after the virus spread among pig farmers in Malaysia. The virus is named after the village where it was discovered. 

Outbreaks are rare but Nipah has been listed by the World Health Organization — alongside Ebola, Zika and COVID-19 — as one of several diseases deserving of priority research because of their potential to cause a global epidemic. 

Nipah usually spreads to humans from animals or through contaminated food, but it can also be transmitted directly between people.  

Fruit bats are the natural carriers of the virus and have been identified as the most likely cause of subsequent outbreaks. 

Symptoms include intense fever, vomiting and a respiratory infection, but severe cases can involve seizures and brain inflammation that results in a coma. 

Patients have a mortality rate of between 40% and 75% depending on the public health response to the virus, the WHO says.

There is no vaccine for Nipah.

What has happened during previous outbreaks? 

The first Nipah outbreak killed more than 100 people in Malaysia and prompted the culling of 1 million pigs to try to contain the virus.  

It also spread to Singapore, with 11 cases and one death among slaughterhouse workers who had come into contact with pigs imported from Malaysia. 

Since then, the disease has mainly been recorded in Bangladesh and India, with both countries reporting their first outbreaks in 2001. 

Bangladesh has borne the brunt in recent years, with more than 100 people dying of Nipah since 2001.  

Two early outbreaks in India killed more than 50 people before they were brought under control. 

The southern state of Kerala has recorded two deaths from Nipah and four other confirmed cases since last month.  

Authorities there have closed some schools and instituted mass testing. 

This marks Kerala’s fourth recorded spate of Nipah cases in five years. The virus killed 17 people during the first instance in 2018.  

The state has stamped out previous outbreaks within weeks through widespread testing and strict isolation of those in contact with patients.

Are animal-to-human viruses becoming more frequent? 

Having first appeared thousands of years ago, zoonoses — diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans — have multiplied over the past 20 to 30 years. 

The growth of international travel has allowed them to spread more quickly. 

By occupying increasingly large areas of the planet, experts say, humans also contribute to disruption of the ecosystem and increase the likelihood of random virus mutations that are transmissible to humans. 

Industrial farming increases the risk of pathogens spreading among animals while deforestation heightens contact among wildlife, domestic animals and humans. 

By mixing more, species will transmit their viruses more, which will promote the emergence of new diseases potentially transmissible to humans. 

Climate change will push many animals to flee their ecosystems for more livable lands, a study published by the scientific journal Nature warned in 2022. 

According to estimates published in the journal Science in 2018, there are 1.7 million unknown viruses in mammals and birds, with 540,000 to 850,000 of them having the capacity to infect humans. 

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One American, Two Russians Blast Off in Russian Spacecraft to International Space Station

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One American and two Russian space crew members blasted off Friday aboard a Russian spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a mission to the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub lifted off on the Roscosmos Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft at 8:44 p.m. local time. O’Hara will spend six months on the ISS while Kononenko and Chub will spend a year there.

Neither O’Hara nor Chub has ever flown to space before, but they will be flying with veteran cosmonaut and mission commander Kononenko, who has made the trip four times already. The trio should arrive at the ISS after a three-hour flight.

When they get to the ISS, their module will dock and when the hatches open they will be met by seven astronauts and cosmonauts from the U.S., Russia, Denmark and Japan. Later in September, three of the ISS crew will depart, including NASA astronaut Frank Rubio who will have been there for more than a year.

According to NASA, when mission commander Kononenko finishes his tour to space in a year’s time, he will hold the record for the person who has spent the longest amount of time — more than a thousand days — in space.

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Bangladesh Dengue Outbreak Kills 778 People

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Bangladesh is struggling with a record outbreak of dengue fever, with experts saying a lack of a coordinated response is causing more deaths from the mosquito-transmitted disease. 

The World Health Organization recently warned that diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever caused by mosquito-borne viruses are spreading faster and further because of climate change. 

So far this year, 778 people in Bangladesh have died and 157,172 have been infected, according to the government’s Directorate General Health Services. The U.N. children’s agency says the actual numbers are higher because many cases are not reported. 

The previous highest number of deaths was in 2022, when 281 people are reported to have died during the entire year. 

Dengue is common in tropical areas and causes high fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and, in the most serious cases, internal bleeding that leads to death. 

Mohammed Niatuzzaman, director of the state-run Mugda Medical College and Hospital in Dhaka, said Thursday that Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the outbreak because of a lack of a “sustainable policy” and because many do not know how to treat it. 

Outside Dhaka and other big cities, medical professionals including nurses need better training in handling dengue cases, he said. 

He said authorities should include groups like city corporations and local governments in the fight against dengue, and researchers should study how to prepare for future outbreaks. 

Some residents of Dhaka are unhappy with the authorities. 

“Our house is in an area which is at risk of dengue. It has a higher quantity of waste and garbage. I’m cautious and use a mosquito net. Despite that, my daughter caught dengue,” said Zakir Hassain, a resident of Dhaka’s Basabo area.

“What will happen to those who are unaware? If the city corporation or ward commissioner took more care and sprayed insecticides, then we could have avoided the dengue outbreak,” he said. 

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NASA Selects New Director to Investigate UFOs

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NASA said on Thursday it has selected a research director to investigate UFO sightings on the recommendation of an independent panel of experts. 

Administrator Bill Nelson, who made the announcement, has yet to identify the appointee. 

The unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP, is the official term for what most call UFOs — unidentified flying objects. The panel, which included physicists, astronomers and biologists, wouldn’t say whether eyewitness accounts of UAP prove the existence of life beyond our horizons. 

That’s still an open question, according to Nelson. “If you ask me do I believe there’s life in a universe that’s so vast that it’s hard for me to comprehend how big it is, my personal answer is, ‘Yes,'” he said. 

In his statement, Nelson conceded that “[NASA scientists] don’t know what these UAP are.” 

In 2021, the national intelligence director published a comprehensive report, sharing never-before-seen scientific data and military observations on coastal sightings of UAP. Some of the high-flying objects are said to outpace and outmaneuver even the best fighter jets, without any apparent thrust or flight control systems. 

UAP have mystified Americans since June 1947, when newspapers first reported that a metallic “flying saucer” appeared in the sky over mountain ranges in Washington state. Sensational accounts of UAP sightings have cropped up all over the world since, including the debunked Roswell, New Mexico incident that made headlines that same year.

For the better part of a century, conspiracy theorists have accused the government of withholding facts or even lying to the public. But Nelson promised that NASA’s incoming research director would disclose all UAP-related developments to “shift the conversation about UAP from sensationalism to science.”

The director will manage “centralized communications, resources and data analytical capabilities to establish a robust database for the evaluation of future UAP,” NASA said. 

The appointment comes as academics claim to be making inroads in the search for extraterrestrial life. In recent weeks, the controversial Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb recovered tiny meteorite fragments off the coast of Papua New Guinea. His team is evaluating whether the unusual metallic samples are bits of alien technology. 

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters. 

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Malawi Extends Polio Vaccination to 15-Year-Olds

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Malawi is extending the maximum age of children eligible for the polio vaccination from 5 to 15. Since the discovery last year of its first polio case 30 years after the country eradicated the disease, the number of cases has increased to five this year — the latest victim being 14 years old.  

Malawi health authorities made the announcement Tuesday at the launch of the nationwide polio vaccination campaign that is targeting about 9.7 million children.     

Beston Chisamile, the secretary of health in Malawi, said the children will be vaccinated on their doorsteps.  

“Our health workers will be visiting parents’ homes and vaccinating [children],” said Chisamile. “We are aware that some of them were skipped in the previous vaccination phase, and we want to try and reach the majority.” 

Chisamile said the maximum age of children to be vaccinated was extended from 5 to 15 years of age after the discovery of another case this year of a 14-year-old. 

Polio resurfaces 

Polio is a viral disease that causes irreversible paralysis and has no cure. The disease can be prevented, however, by the administration of effective vaccines. 

Thirty years after it eradicated the disease, Malawi confirmed its first polio case in February 2022. Since then, the number of confirmed cases has increased to five. 

Malawi is among several countries in Africa that have registered confirmed cases of polio in recent years.  

The World Health Organization said in a statement released on August 30 that 187 confirmed cases of circulating variant poliovirus have been reported in 21 countries in the African region. 

The WHO said that although the region has been certified free of wild poliovirus, it is witnessing a resurgence of the disease because of a decline in immunization coverage and the disruption of essential health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A push to vaccinate

UNICEF, WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are leading the vaccination campaign in Malawi. 

The UNICEF representative in Malawi, Shadrack Omol, said the United Nations’ children’s agency so far has procured and distributed 10.2 million doses of the polio vaccine across all 29 districts and 865 health facilities in Malawi. 

Omol also said UNICEF has installed 250 new refrigerators, repaired 125 broken ones, and distributed essential cold storage equipment. 


Health authorities in Malawi have noted with concern, though, that some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated because of cultural and religious beliefs. 


Authorities say this will impede efforts to meet vaccination targets.  


George Jobe, the executive director of the Malawi Health Equity Network, told VOA that his organization has been educating people about the importance of vaccinating children against polio. 


“We still maintain our plea and health education to those who don’t believe in medication that they should be mindful of the right to the good health of their children,,” said Jobe. “The children will make their own choices when they grow up. But at the moment, parents must not apply whatever they believe in on their children.” 

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French Agency: iPhone 12 Emits Too Much Radiation, Must Be Taken off Market

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A government watchdog agency in France has ordered Apple to withdraw the iPhone 12 from the French market, saying it emits levels of electromagnetic radiation that are too high.

The National Frequency Agency, which oversees radio-electric frequencies as well as public exposure to electromagnetic radiation, called on Apple in a statement Tuesday to “implement all available means to rapidly fix this malfunction” for phones already being used.

Corrective updates to the iPhone 12 will be monitored by the agency, and if they don’t work, “Apple will have to recall” phones that have already been sold, according to the French regulator’s statement.

Apple disputed the findings and said the device complies with all regulations governing radiation.

The agency, which is known by the French acronym ANFR, said it recently checked 141 cellphones, including the iPhone 12, for electromagnetic waves capable of being absorbed by the body.

It said it found a level of electromagnetic energy absorption of 5.74 watts per kilogram during tests of a phone in a hand or a pocket, higher than the European Union standard of 4 watts per kilogram.

The agency said the iPhone 12 met the threshold when radiation levels were assessed for a phone kept in a jacket or in a bag.

Apple said the iPhone 12, which was released in late 2020, has been certified by multiple international bodies and complies with all applicable regulations and standards for radiation around the world.

The U.S. tech company said it has provided the French agency with multiple lab results carried out both by the company and third-party labs proving the phone’s compliance.

Jean-Noël Barrot, France’s minister in charge of digital issues, told France Info radio that the National Frequency Agency “is in charge of controlling our phones which, as there are software updates, may emit a little more or a little less electromagnetic waves.”

He said that the iPhone 12 radiation levels are “slightly higher” than the standards but “significantly lower than levels where scientific studies consider there may be consequences for users. But the rule is the rule.”

Cellphones have been labeled as “possible” carcinogens by the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, putting them in the same category as coffee, diesel fumes and the pesticide DDT. The radiation produced by cellphones cannot directly damage DNA and is different from stronger types of radiation like X-rays or ultraviolet light.

In 2018, two U.S. government studies that bombarded mice and rats with cellphone radiation found a weak link to some heart tumors, but federal regulators and scientists said it was still safe to use the devices. Scientists said those findings didn’t reflect how most people use their cellphones and that the animal findings didn’t translate into a similar concern for humans.

Among the largest studies on potential dangers of cellphone use, a 2010 analysis in 13 countries found little or no risk of brain tumors.

People’s mobile phone habits also have changed substantially since the first studies began and it’s unclear if the results of previous research would still apply today.

Since many tumors take years to develop, experts say it’s difficult to conclude that cellphones have no long-term health risks. Experts have recommended that people concerned about their cellphone radiation exposure use earphones or switch to texting.

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Americans Can Now Get Updated COVID-19 Shots

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Most Americans should get an updated COVID-19 vaccine, health officials said Tuesday.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the new shots for everyone 6 months and older and the agency’s director quickly signed off Tuesday on the panel’s recommendation. That means doses should be available this week, some as early as Wednesday.

The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has faded, but there are still thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths in the U.S. each week. Hospitalizations have been increasing since late summer, though the latest data indicate infections may be starting to level off, particularly in the South.

Still, experts worry that immunity from previous vaccinations and infections is fading in many people, and a new shot would save many lives.

According to a survey last month that the CDC cited, about 42% said they would definitely or probably get the new vaccine. Yet only about 20% of adults got an updated booster when it was offered a year ago.

Doctors hope enough people get vaccinated to help avert another “tripledemic” like last year when hospitals were overwhelmed with an early flu season, an onslaught of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and yet another winter coronavirus surge.

Here is what you need to know about the new COVID-19 shots:

Who should get the updated vaccine?

The Food and Drug Administration approved the updated shots from Pfizer and Moderna for adults and children as young as 6 months. FDA said starting at age 5, most people can get a single dose even if they’ve never had a prior COVID-19 shot. Younger children might need additional doses depending on their history of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations.

The CDC decides how best to use vaccines and makes recommendations for U.S. doctors and the general public. The agency’s panel of outside experts recommended the updated COVID-19 shots by a vote of 13-1. The no vote came from a panel member who had argued that the new shots should initially be recommended only for older people and others at greatest risk of severe illness. But other panel members said all ages could — and should — benefit.

“We need to make vaccination recommendations as clear as possible,” said one panel member, Dr. Camille Kotton, an infectious diseases doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Where can i get a shot?

The new vaccine will be available at pharmacies, health centers and some doctor offices. Locations will be listed on the government’s website. The list price of a dose of each shot is $120 to $130, according to the manufacturers. But federal officials said the new COVID-19 shots still will be free to most Americans through private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. For the uninsured or underinsured, the CDC is working with health departments, clinics and certain pharmacies to temporarily provide free shots.

On Tuesday, a Pfizer official said his company expected to have doses available at some U.S. locations as early as Wednesday.

Why more COVID-19 shots?

Similar to how flu shots are updated each year, the FDA gave COVID-19 vaccine makers a new recipe for this fall. The updated shots have a single target, an omicron descendant named XBB.1.5. It’s a big change. The COVID-19 vaccines offered since last year are combination shots targeting the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version, making them very outdated.

Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax all have brewed new supplies, and the FDA on Monday approved shots from Pfizer and Moderna. Novavax’s updated vaccine is still under review.

Will they be effective enough?

Health officials are optimistic, barring a new mutant. As expected, XBB.1.5 has faded away in the months it took to tweak the vaccine. Today, there is a soup of different coronavirus variants causing illness, and the most common ones are fairly close relatives. Recent lab testing from vaccine makers and other research groups suggest the updated shots will offer crossover protection.

Earlier vaccinations or infections have continued to help prevent severe disease and death but protection wanes over time, especially against milder infections as the virus continually evolves. The FDA did allow seniors and others at high risk to get an extra booster dose last spring. But most Americans haven’t had a vaccination in about a year.

Can I get a flu shot and COVID-19 shot at the same time?

Yes. The CDC says there is no difference in effectiveness or side effects if people get those vaccines simultaneously, although one in each arm might be more comfortable. The CDC urges a yearly flu shot for pretty much everyone ages 6 months and up. The best time is by the end of October.

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