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BioNTech expects pre-reserved vaccine bottling capacity to be freed up

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – BioNTech said global capacity to bottle new COVID-19 vaccines, which is in tight supply as producers hoping to develop successful candidates book up slots, will likely be more freely available once some drop out of the race.

“If clinical trials fail or get delayed, capacity may be freed up again,” Sierk Poetting, BioNTech’s head of operations and finance, told an online news conference on Thursday.

“The (fill and finish) market is indeed very tight because everyone has reserved capacity, but I believe we will see some adjustments there once the first products are on the market,” he said.

“This is certainly a type of capacity that can be more easily transferred (than production capacity).”

More than 40 experimental vaccines are currently being tested on volunteers around the globe to combat the new coronavirus, which has claimed more than 1 million lives.

Also speaking at the briefing, German research minister Anja Karliczek reiterated a prediction that it would likely take until mid-2021 for a vaccine to be available to the overall population, as production ramp-ups would take some time.

BioNTech and its partner Pfizer have said that if they win approval for their vaccine candidate, they aim to supply up to 100 million doses worldwide by the end of 2020 and a further 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Jan Harvey)

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Pelosi eyes 25th Amendment panel to assess presidential capacity

Pelosi plans to introduce legislation to create a commission as outlined under the 25th Amendment to assess the president’s capacity to hold office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled legislation Friday that would allow Congress to intervene under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove the president, insisting it’s not about President Donald Trump but inspired by the need for greater congressional oversight of his White House.

Pelosi has been raising questions about Trump’s mental fitness since his COVID-19 diagnosis and demanding more transparency about his health. The bill would set up a commission to assess the president’s ability to lead the country and ensure a continuity of government. It comes one year after Pelosi’s House launched impeachment proceedings against Trump.

“This is not about President Donald Trump — he will face the judgment of the voters,” Pelosi said at a press conference at the Capitol.

Just weeks before the Nov. 3 election, with no hopes of the bill becoming law, the rollout was quickly dismissed as a stunt by Trump’s team and top allies.

“It’s an absurd proposal,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Fox.

“Absolutely absurd,” said Senate Majority Leader McConnell during an appearance in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.

The president’s opponents have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment for some time, but are raising it now, so close to Election Day, as the campaigns are fast turning into a referendum on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.


Pelosi said Trump needs to disclose more about his health after his COVID-19 diagnosis and when, exactly, he first contracted COVID as others in the White House have become infected. More than 210,000 Americans have died and millions more have tested positive for the virus, which shows no signs of abating heading into what public health experts warn will be a difficult flu season and winter.

The legislation that would create a commission as outlined under the 25th Amendment, which was passed by Congress and ratified in 1967 as a way to ensure a continuity of power in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

It says the vice president and a majority of principal officers of the executive departments “or of such other body as Congress” may by law provide a declaration to Congress that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” At that point, the vice president would immediately assume the powers of acting president.

“Let Congress exert the power the Constitution gave us,” Pelosi said Friday standing before a poster of the amendment.

Pelosi was joined by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a constitutional scholar, who has proposed similar bills in the past.

“In times of chaos we must hold fast to our Constitution,” he said Friday.

Raskin said the commission would be launched “only for the most extreme situations.”

But, as Congress showed by impeaching — and acquitting the president over the past year — the legislative branch is determined to exert itself at times as a check on

Maryland allows child care centers to expand capacity as part of economic recovery plan

The Maryland State Department of Education announced Thursday it will allow child care centers to operate at the capacity for which they are licensed, easing restrictions previously meant to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in an effort to support the state’s economic recovery.

Since May, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has gradually lifted capacity restrictions promoting social distancing inside “high-risk locations” such as restaurants, brick-and-mortar retail shops and places of worship. Now, almost all businesses have reopened in some fashion, though most still have restrictions such as capacity limits, face covering requirements and temperate checks.

The expansion of child care comes as a relief to both providers that operate on tight margins and parents who have struggled to find quality care while public schools continue to operate remotely.

“It’s a game changer,” said Rich Huffman, CEO of the Celebree day care and education program, which runs child care programs for multiple age groups throughout Maryland. “It allows for us to do what we do best, and it allows more parents to go back to work. It’s going to be a huge part of the state’s recovery.”

Child care centers can now have as many as 30 school-aged students in the same room with a ratio of one teacher for every 15 students.

Since July, child care centers have been limited to no more than 15 people per classroom. In March, the state closed child care centers except for the children of essential workers as the pandemic swept into the state.

State schools superintendent Karen B. Salmon said at an Annapolis news conference that more than 82% of licensed child care centers have reopened since March. But they have remained financially hindered due to the shutdown and capacity limits, she said, forcing many parents to turn to unlicensed providers who don’t meet state standards to care for children.

“Hopefully this action will assist in limiting the many unregulated and illegal operators that have sprung up in recent months, ” Salmon said. “There are no criminal background checks, no oversight, and parents can not be sure that their children are in a safe environment.”

Maryland Family Network deputy director Steve Rohde said the increased slots made available to families will mean greater protections for children. In the current situation, he said, there are fewer adults to help children wash hands and adhere to other health protocols.

While the extra slots will help some families who are on waiting lists at their day care centers, he said there are many centers that currently have openings.

“Parents are in a real quandary right now in terms of school and child care and their comfort level,” he said. “Getting back to the child care ratios in place before COVID is a good step.”

Some parents with young children had already secured temporary child care services to fill the gaps caused by the state’s restrictions. It’s unclear how many of them will switch back to licensed child care centers and providers.

Christina