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Families of coronavirus victims are organizing online to push politicians for more strict health measures

Angela Kender saw it just before bed, and right then made a plan to confront her state’s lawmakers with pictures of local virus victims, including her mother. An old friend sent it to Fiana Tulip. She was furious about her mom’s death; maybe she could channel her rage like Urquiza had. And Rosemary Rangel Gutierrez’s sisters told her about the obituary after their father died. She sounds like you, they said.

“This man is the most dangerous person on the planet,” Urquiza said this week after Trump told Americans on video not to be afraid of covid-19. “I’m counting down the minutes until his referendum comes on November 3rd and we can end this nightmare and protect ourselves and our families.”

The loose support group Urquiza formed has tightened into organized activism. They have pushed politicians, especially Republicans, to enact more serious public health measures. This week, across the country, they have led vigils, memorials and funeral processions to grieve the more than 213,000 lives lost in the United States. The national week of mourning is likely the largest collective recognition of the country’s coronavirus toll.

Powerful grass-roots groups often have started this way, even before the days of organizing through social media. They began with personal anguish, with individuals grieving their dead alone, trying to transform their anger into action, policy or change. It’s the story of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, of the Sandy Hook Promise and Never Again MSD, of Black Lives Matter and Mothers of the Movement.

Urquiza named her group Marked by Covid. She founded it in the days after her father died, with some of his last words to her reverberating. He said he felt betrayed by Arizona’s governor and Trump, politicians he once supported. Urquiza, 39 and a recent graduate of a master’s program in public policy, decided then she would be the voice of a constituency that grows larger by the day: Americans who have lost loved ones to the pandemic and who are fed up with their elected officials.

“I hope that my small actions can start a movement,” she said in July, less than two weeks after her dad died.

It’s too early to know how influential the group, or others like it, will become. Some of Urquiza’s fellow organizers joined her as a way to process loss, and it’s unclear how Marked by Covid will define itself when the pandemic ends. But part of Urquiza’s ambitious vision is to advocate for policies that address the racial and economic inequalities exacerbated by the virus.

Urquiza and Marked by Covid have attracted national attention and more than 50,000 followers across their social media accounts. More than 1,000 people have donated $30,000 to the group, Urquiza said, and they’re using the money to place more honest obituaries online and in newspapers.

The Joe Biden campaign has taken notice. Urquiza spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August, appears in anti-Trump ads and sat in the

China is doubling down in the global push for a coronavirus vaccine

And while the successful development of a vaccine would not preclude other countries from continuing to pursue their own research, China has placed special emphasis on being first.

As of October, four of the 10 Covid-19 vaccine candidates that have entered Phase 3 clinical trials worldwide — the last and most important step of testing before regulatory approval is sought — were developed by Chinese companies.

Two are from China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of state-owned pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). Another candidate, CoronaVac, was developed by drugmaker Sinovac Biotech, with the remaining one jointly developed by the Chinese military-linked Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and vaccine company CanSino Biologics.

Two coronavirus vaccine candidates from the China National Biotec Group (CNBG) are now in phase 3 clinical trials.

CNBG Chairman Yang Xiaoming said last month that the progress of its vaccines was going “faster than expected.” The company has carried out Phase 3 trials in countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Peru, Morocco, and Argentina, with a total of 42,000 participants.

“We’re only one last mile away from eventual success,” he recently told a bioindustry conference in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected last December.

Wu Guizhen, the chief bio-safety expert at China’s Disease Control and Prevention Center, told state broadcaster CCTV last month that the country’s coronavirus vaccines could be ready for general public use as early as November.

“I believe it’s very likely they’ll be the first to announce the successful development of a vaccine,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“But the key question is how well the international society, especially the scientific community, will recognize it.”

“Spirit of sacrifice”

A vaccine usually takes years to develop. But to stop a virus that has killed more than a million people worldwide, scientists are developing Covid-19 vaccines at unprecedented speed. In China, efforts to ramp up that process have included the controversial testing of hundreds of thousands of people outside the normal regulatory approval process.

Since July, Chinese drug makers have been administering experimental vaccines on people working in “high-risk” professions — including medical workers and border agents — under a government-approved emergency use program, which allows vaccine candidates to be used on a limited scale before their safety and efficacy have been fully proven by clinical trials.

The vaccine candidates approved for emergency use are still in Phase 3 trials. Some experts worry that fast-tracking the normal approval process could potentially expose participants to unknown side effects, and Chinese drug makers are taking risks that contravene international ethical and safety norms.

“Despite official claims that the vaccines are safe and effective, it may not be a wise decision to inoculate so many people on such a large scale before systematic data from Phase 3 clinical trials become available,” said Huang, the global health expert.

Yet Chinese drug companies were already taking controversial and risky steps months before the launch of the emergency use program.

Yang, the CNBG chairman, told a conference in Wuhan last month that

Verma, Meadows push to finalize $200 drug-card plan for seniors by Election Day

Caught by surprise by President Donald Trump’s promise to deliver drug-discount cards to seniors, health officials are scrambling to get the nearly $8 billion plan done by Election Day, according to five officials and draft documents obtained by POLITICO.



a person posing for the camera: Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


© Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The taxpayer-funded plan, which was only announced two weeks ago and is being justified inside the White House and the health department as a test of the Medicare program, is being driven by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the officials said. The administration is seeking to finalize the plan as soon as Friday and send letters to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries next week, informing seniors of Trump’s new effort to lower their drug costs, although many seniors would not receive the actual cards until after the election.

The $200 cards — which would resemble credit cards, would need to be used at pharmacies and could be branded with a reference to Trump himself — would be paid for by tapping Medicare’s trust fund.

“The goal is to begin the test by distributing cards starting in October 2020,” according to a draft proposal circulated within the White House last week and obtained by POLITICO.

Career civil servants have raised concerns about the hasty plan and whether it is politically motivated, particularly after Verma pushed Medicare officials to finalize the plan before the Nov. 3 election, said two officials.

The plan to lower seniors’ drug costs comes as administration officials grapple with Trump’s falling support among older Americans, a significant threat to his re-election. Trump is currently lagging challenger Joe Biden by as much as 27 points in recent polls among Americans ages 65 and older, a major reversal from the 2016 campaign, with seniors now voicing concerns about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his chaotic leadership style.

“This has nothing to do with politics. It’s good policy and demonstrates the president is continuing to deliver on his promises to our nation’s seniors,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson. The White House did not make Meadows available for an interview.

CMS did not make Verma available for interviews and declined comment.

Democrats have dismissed the cards as a “gimmick” that will do little to achieve Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge of lowering drug prices.

“It’s a shameless stunt that steals billions from Medicare in order to fund a legally dubious scheme that’s clearly intended to benefit President Trump’s campaign right before Election Day,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

The administration previously ordered that Trump’s name appear on millions of stimulus checks sent out by the IRS this spring, which Democrats have alleged was an effort for the president to take credit for a congressional relief package.

Trump abruptly announced the drug-discount cards on Sept. 24, a last-minute decision that surprised even some of his own

U.S. FDA Safety Guidelines Likely to Push COVID-19 Vaccine Authorization Past Election | Top News

By Michael Erman and Manas Mishra

(Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration told coronavirus vaccine developers on Tuesday it wants at least two months of safety data before authorizing emergency use, a requirement that would likely push any U.S. vaccine availability past the Nov. 3 presidential election.

A senior administration official confirmed the White House had approved the plan, which undercuts President Donald Trump’s hopes of getting a vaccine before voters go to polls.

Trump voiced his displeasure in a Twitter post late on Tuesday: “New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day. Just another political hit job!”

The FDA released the guidance laying out more stringent recommendations for drugmakers hoping to apply for an emergency use authorization (EUA) for their experimental vaccines.

The New York Times reported on Monday that the guidelines had been blocked by the White House. The senior administration official said there he had been no holdup of the guidance, which underwent normal regulatory review.

The move is the latest effort by U.S. officials to play down politics around the vaccine and assure public safety.

“Being open and clear about the circumstances under which the issuance of an emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine would be appropriate and is critical to building public confidence and ensuring the use of COVID-19 vaccines once available,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA division responsible for approving vaccines, said in a statement.

The White House could still force authorization of a vaccine without that additional safety data. Doing so would put it in open disagreement with the FDA and its career scientists, and add to the perception that politics was playing a role in pushing out a vaccine.

If the agency follows its own guidelines, it is unlikely to authorize a vaccine before sometime in late November. It wants two months of data from half of a trial’s volunteers.

Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech <22UAy.F> are expected to be the first to announce results from a late-stage U.S. clinical trial.

About half the volunteers in the 44,000-subject Phase III trial had received the second dose of the two-shot vaccine by late September.

Pfizer had previously said it expected to release efficacy data as early as this month and provide FDA with safety data, including the median of two months’ safety data after the second dose, on a rolling basis.

The head of the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program said on Tuesday efficacy data on one or two vaccines will be available within the next month or two, and that there should be enough supply to immunize 30 million people during November and December.

Moderna Inc

appears likely to be the second company after Pfizer that will have U.S. trial data available for an EUA review.

Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla tweeted on Tuesday that the company had not discussed the FDA’s standards with the White House, saying that could compromise the agency’s independence.

Kamala Harris and the Push to Cut Hosptal Bills in California

As a former state attorney general, Senator Kamala D. Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, has received significant scrutiny of her record on law enforcement, facing questions and criticism about uneven prosecutions of killings by police officers.

But she is less known for another role she took on, opposing the consolidation of institutions in the health care industry, which has become a major force driving the cost of medical care higher for consumers. She challenged proposed mergers between industry behemoths and anti-competitive behavior by powerful hospital systems and drug makers.

She oversaw multimillion-dollar settlements with major health care corporations like Quest Diagnostics and McKesson, which were the subjects of whistle-blower lawsuits accusing them of fraud against the state Medicaid program.

And she took the lead among state attorneys general in opposing an anti-competitive merger between a big hospital group and a large physician practice. She joined the Justice Department lawsuit that stopped two of the nation’s largest health insurers, Anthem and Cigna, from joining together.

Ms. Harris and Vice President Pence are scheduled to debate on Wednesday evening, at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on access to health care, high medical bills and drug prices.

“She will be as she has historically been a very strong advocate for consumer protection,” said W. Kenneth Marlow, a health care lawyer with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis in Nashville who represents for-profit businesses seeking to buy hospitals. If the Democrats win the White House, he predicted her presence in a Biden administration would lead to close scrutiny of health care deals.

Consolidation among major hospital systems has plateaued in recent years, but has continued at a pace that still alarms health policy experts. Recent studies including the RAND examination of prices for hospital and outpatient treatment have made the case that mergers and acquisitions have led to some mega-networks charging two-and-a-half to three times more than Medicare does for patient care.

As the California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, Ms. Harris used her powers to protect consumers and to prosecute fraud or antitrust violations in pursuit of health care industry players she accused of maximizing profits at the expense of patients.

The daughter of a medical researcher, Shyalama G. Harris, who died of cancer in 2009, Ms. Harris took on those big companies in a state with the some of the most sprawling hospital systems in the country.

The Biden campaign declined to make Ms. Harris available for an interview. A statement from Sabrina Singh, a campaign spokeswoman, said that she “had a strong track record of taking on powerful corporations and special interests on behalf of the people of California.”

As attorney general, “she decided that health care was a big priority for her,” said Richard Scheffler, a professor of health economics at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work on the effect of big health systems on prices has been cited by the attorney general’s office. He helped write an analysis of her tenure

Push to bring coronavirus vaccines to those in poverty faces trouble

LONDON (AP) — An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest people is facing potential shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines themselves — and is running into skepticism even from some of those it’s intended to help most.

In one of the biggest obstacles, rich countries have locked up most of the world’s potential vaccine supply through 2021, and the U.S. and others have refused to join the project, called Covax.

“The supply of vaccines is not going to be there in the near term, and the money also isn’t there,” warned Rohit Malpani, a public health consultant who previously worked for Doctors Without Borders.

Covax was conceived as a way of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth.

It is being led by the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency; Gavi, a public-private alliance, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that buys immunizations for 60% of the world’s children; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, another Gates-supported public-private collaboration.

Covax’s aim is to buy 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, though it isn’t yet clear whether the successful vaccine will require one dose or two for the world’s 7.8 billion people.

Countries taking part in the project can either buy vaccines from Covax or get them for free, if needed.

One early problem that has emerged: Some of the world’s wealthiest nations have negotiated their own deals directly with drug companies, meaning they don’t need to participate in the endeavor at all. China, Russia and the U.S. have said they do not intend to join. Other countries, including France and Germany, will technically join Covax but won’t procure vaccines for their citizens via the initiative.

READ MORE: More than 150 countries sign up for global vaccine distribution plan

Not only that, but firm agreements with Covax came in too late to prevent more than half of all potential doses being snapped up by countries representing 13% of the world’s population, according to an Oxfam study.

“As a continent of 1.2 billion people, we still have concerns,” Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director John Nkengasong said Thursday.

He praised Covax for the solidarity it represents but said there are serious questions about allocation, saying African nations’ envoys are meeting directly with vaccine manufacturers to ask “if we came to the table with money, how would we get enough vaccines to cover the gap?”

The European Union has contributed 400 million euros ($469 million) to support Covax, but the 27-country bloc won’t use Covax to buy vaccines. Instead, the EU has signed its own deals to buy more than 1 billion doses, after some member states raised concerns about what was described as Gavi’s “dictatorship” approach to running Covax.

Gavi, WHO and CEPI announced in September that countries representing two-thirds of the world’s population had joined Covax, but they acknowledged they still need about $300 million more from governments or other

Downing Street push to send asylum seekers abroad



a bench in front of 10 Downing Street: Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Top story: ‘Significant political and logistical obstacles’

Hello and welcome to this Thursday briefing with me, Alison Rourke.

Downing Street has asked officials to consider the option of sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Morocco or Papua New Guinea to be held in offshore detention centres, according to documents seen by the Guardian. The Foreign Office (FCO) was asked by No 10 to “offer advice on possible options for negotiating an offshore asylum processing facility similar to the Australian model in Papua New Guinea and Nauru”. But the FCO’s advice appeared highly dismissive of the idea, warning of “significant political and logistical obstacles” to sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea. It said it was “highly unlikely” that Morocco would agree to hosting asylum seekers and that Moldova had “endemic” corruption. Plans to process asylum seekers at offshore centres in Ascension or St Helena would be “extremely expensive and logistically complicated” given the remoteness of the islands, the documents said. A Whitehall source familiar with the government plans said the proposals were part of a slate of new policies that would “discourage” and “deter” migrants from entering the UK illegally. Australia’s offshore processing regime has been widely criticised by human rights groups. Graham Thom from Amnesty International Australia said the system was both “in breach of international law” and “hugely expensive”.

* * *

‘Severe disruption to services’ – Tens of thousands could die because the NHS suspended such a large proportion of normal care to focus on tackling Covid-19, MPs have warned. Illnesses that went undetected or untreated included cancer and heart disease, the Commons health and social care committee has said. “We’ve heard of severe disruption to services, especially cancer, and here we could be looking at tens of thousands of avoidable deaths within a year,” said the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the cross-party select committee. Once the lockdown began on 23 March, GP urgent referrals for cancer fell by 62%, the number of MRI and CT scans to diagnose the disease plummeted by 75% and by mid-May, 36,000 cancer operations had been cancelled. It comes after the PM confronted critics critics of his coronavirus strategy on Wednesday, insisting there was “only one way of doing this” and that he was not willing to simply “let the virus take its course”.

* * *

US election – Joe Biden has broken fundraising records following the acrimonious presidential debate, raising $3.8m in an hour, according to his campaign manager. Biden said his opponent’s performance was a “national embarrassment”, calling out his refusal to denounce white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys. Meanwhile, Donald Trump gloated over the unedifying TV spectacle’s ratings in a rally speech on Wednesday night in Minnesota. But the Commission on Presidential Debates seemed more concerned about the remaining two debates, issuing a surprise statement saying it would soon announce “additional structure … to the format of the remaining debates, to ensure a more orderly

Push to bring coronavirus vaccines to the poor faces trouble

LONDON (AP) — An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest people is facing potential shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines themselves — and running into skepticism even from some of those it’s intended to help most.

In one of the biggest obstacles, rich countries have locked up most of the world’s potential vaccine supply through 2021, and the U.S. and others have refused to join the project, called Covax.

“The supply of vaccines is not going to be there in the near term, and the money also isn’t there,” warned Rohit Malpani, a public health consultant who previously worked for Doctors Without Borders.


Covax was conceived as a way of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth.

It is being led by the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency; Gavi, a public-private alliance, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which buys immunizations for 60% of the world’s children; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, another Gates-supported public-private collaboration.

Covax’s aim is to buy 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, though it isn’t yet clear whether the successful vaccine will require one dose or two for the world’s 7.8 billion people. Countries taking part in the project can either buy vaccines from Covax or get them for free, if needed.

One early problem that emerged: Some of the world’s wealthiest nations negotiated their own deals directly with drug companies, meaning they don’t need to participate in the endeavor at all. China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. don’t intend to join.

And so many rich countries bought vaccines from manufacturers — before the shots have even been approved — that they have already snapped up the majority of the vaccine supply for 2021.

The European Union has contributed 400 million euros ($469 million) to support Covax, but the 27-country bloc won’t use Covax to buy vaccines, in what some see as a vote of no-confidence in the project’s ability to deliver. Instead, the EU has signed its own deals to buy more than 1 billion doses, depriving Covax of the bulk negotiating power of buying shots for the continent.

Gavi, WHO and CEPI announced in September that countries representing two-thirds of the world’s population had joined Covax, but they acknowledged they still need about $400 million more from governments or elsewhere. Without it, according to internal documents seen by The Associated Press before the organization’s board meeting this week, Gavi can’t sign agreements to buy vaccines.

Covax did reach a major agreement this week for 200 million doses from the Indian vaccine maker Serum Institute, though the company made clear that a large portion of those will go to people in India.

By the end of next year, Gavi estimates, the project will need $5 billion more.

Covax said negotiations to secure vaccines are moving forward despite the lack of funds.

“We are working with the governments who have expressed interest earlier