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FDA Permits Use Of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine For Kids 12 And Up 

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that they approved the use of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for kids aged 12 and up; previously the vaccine was only approved for individuals 16 and older. 

The administration’s approval will ideally get all middle and high school students vaccinated before the fall semester. The FDA is also hoping that the approval will accelerate America’s effort to drive down new infections and reach herd immunity. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet this Wednesday to review the shot completely for use in kids. If approved by the CDC, as it is expected too, adolescents can begin receiving their shots as early as this week. 

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Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said “the decision brings us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic. I want to assure parents that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data before clearing it for use in the teens.”

The companies expressed how in late March the vaccine was found to be 100% effective in a clinical trial of more than 2,000 adolescents, as well as activated a “robust” antibody response in younger children. All apparent side effects were also consistent with those seen in adults. 

Health experts have long claimed that vaccinating children is an essential step to ending the pandemic, and is the only way America has a shot at reaching herd immunity. According to government data children make up 20% of the total U.S. population. “Between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated against Covid to achieve herd immunity, and some adults may refuse to get the shots. Though more experts now say herd immunity is looking increasingly unlikely as variants spread,” experts claim.

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The White House’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in April that “the US could begin vaccinating older kids against Covid-19 by the fall while elementary-age children may start getting their shots by early next year.” 

Approval by the FDA for kids under the age of 12 could potentially come in the second half of the year, according to Fauci. Pfizer claims that it expects to apply for authorization for its vaccine to be given to toddlers and younger children in September, and infants in November. Pfizer has also become the first vaccine manufacturer to begin the submission process to get full FDA approval for its use of the vaccine in people 16 and older. 

Pfizer and BioNTech reported that they began a clinical trial for their vaccine in healthy 6-month to 11-year-old children. 

This will also be a major step in President Biden’s efforts to bring back full in-person learning for America’s kids in the fall. The administration even announced plans to invest $10 billion into Covid-19 testing for schools specifically.

Pfizer BioNTech Vaccine

Restaurant Workers Are Wearing Bracelets To Prove They’ve Been Vaccinated 

One restaurant in Philadelphia is attempting to make its customers feel more comfortable about returning to normalcy by requiring its vaccinated employees to wear a bracelet that makes it clear they’ve received their immunizations. 

El Merkury is the restaurant that’s having most of its employees wear a blue silicone bracelet with a QR code on the side of it that links directly to their proof of Covid-19 vaccination. The overall goal of this is to not only give the customers a greater peace of mind, but staff members as well. 

Sofia Deleon is the owner of El Merkury who spoke to local journalists this week regarding the new bracelets and how it’s providing staff and customers with an extra sense of security.

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“It was really important for me to have everybody vaccinated so that they could come back to work and really feel safe.”

The bracelets work by having the wearers upload their vaccination cards for review before they can receive the band itself. The documentation is stored on a server that is in compliance with medical privacy laws so users don;t have to worry about their information being shared. The process is end-to-end encrypted, providing the most security for users. 

ImmunaBand is the brand responsible for making these bracelets, and the company makes two types of bands. One of them just has the QR code while the other has the QR code plus the wearer’s name and type of vaccine they received. That code can easily be scanned by any smartphone’s camera for proof of vaccination. 

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Tashof Bernton is the president of ImmunaBand and recently spoke to CNN about how restaurants in Los Angeles and Pennsylvania specifically are buying the bands the most currently. 

“I hope the use of our bands will become more widespread to help demonstrate support for the vaccination program and help people feel more comfortable as the economy continues to reopen.”

Berton explained how the bracelets are simply a “way of saying ‘look I’m safe,’ and try to deescalate some of the tension and fear that people feel after a year in lockdown.” 

Even better, a portion of profits from the bands go directly to Covid relief and recover funds. Berton discussed how ImmunaBand “is a business, but it also really is about showing support for the vaccination program and doing what we can to bring us back together again as a society.”

Girl Vaping

Scientific Paper That Claimed Smokers Are Less Likely To Get Covid Retracted 

A scientific paper that claimed current smokers are 23% less likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 when compared to non-smokers has been retracted by a medical journal after it was revealed that the studies authors had financial links to the tobacco industry.

The World Health Organization has warned the exact opposite, in fact, claiming that because smoking impairs lung function there is actually an increased risk of severe symptoms if one gets a respiratory infection, like the Covid-19 virus. 

The paper was initially published in July last year by the European Respiratory Journal, and it claimed to have “found that current smoking was not associated with adverse outcome in patients admitted to the hospital with Covid. Smokers are at a significantly lower risk of acquiring the virus.” 

The latest edition of the European Respiratory Journal published a retraction notice for the paper, stating: “It was brought to the editors’ attention that two of the authors had failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest at the time of the manuscript’s submission.” 

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That is, one of the authors (José M. Mier) at the time had a current and ongoing role in providing consultancy to the tobacco industry on tobacco harm reduction; and another (Konstantinos Poulas) at the time was a principal investigator for the Greek company NOSMOKE … a science and innovation hub that has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (an organisation funded by the tobacco industry).”

NOSMOKE is based in Greece and develops vaping products as well as promotes e-cigarette research from the tobacco industry. In the paper itself, Mier, Poulas and their co-authors claimed they had no conflict of interest when it came to their role in the study. 

The retraction notice also claimed that the authors of the original study did not agree with the decision. “While failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest was not normally sufficient grounds for retraction, the editors felt the decision was justified based on the nature of the undisclosed relationship, and in the context of the sensitive subject matter presented”.

“The editors also acknowledge that at no point was there a question of any scientific misconduct on the part of any of the authors, aside from the failure of two contributing authors to disclose their conflicts of interest relating to the tobacco industry.”

Konstantinos Farsalinos is the senior author of the original paper who released a statement in which he claimed that the conflicts of interest were “irrelevant to the study’s main aims and objectives.” 

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“Additionally, I proposed to publicly release the full dataset and the statistical script so that all findings could be independently verified. The editors declined. I requested my proposal to be mentioned in the retraction letter, but that was also rejected by the editors. I disagree with the retraction and I consider it unfair and unsubstantiated.”

Dr. Sarah White, who is also the director of the Quit Victoria program, disagreed, claiming that the retraction was the right decision. 

“We really rely on research in being able to take a dispassionate look at the data but also the interpretation of that data. The reader needs to know that the authors have some potential or actual conflict of interest, or they’ve actually been involved with the industry. There was no strong evidence to support the claim that smokers are less likely to get Covid. 

The review of the original study found that “In the context of smoking and Covid-19, poor data collection can lead to several erroneous conclusions. If patients with missing smoking data are not eliminated from the total pool, smokers may be wrongly underrepresented. Furthermore, it is difficult to get accurate history from patients who are either intubated or in respiratory failure.

“If data from these patients are missing, and these patients are not removed from the denominator, it can give a false impression that smokers are less likely to develop severe disease. Second, it must be noted that most published studies have not reported the duration (years) or frequency (number of cigarettes) of smoking, hence these cannot be accounted for.”

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

CDC Expected To Meet About J&J Vaccine Pause

The CDC and FDA are meeting to discuss the six blood clotting cases among people who received the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

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America’s National Science Academy Proposes $100 Million Geoengineering Research Program 

The nation’s national science academy recently claimed that the US should establish a multi-million-dollar research program specifically for looking into solar geoengineering. The group recently released a report that recommends the country put between $100-200 million into a five year program that would work to understand the “feasibility of interventions to dim the sun, the risk of harmful unintended consequences, and how such technology could be governed in an ethical way.”

The National Academies of Science (NAS) said that cutting fossil fuels emissions should be the nation’s number one priority when it comes to tackling climate change. However, the lack of action from our world leaders within the past decade has created an even more damaged environment to improve. 

The report claims that there are three types of solar geoengineering that would help heat escape the Earth’s atmosphere and thus cool the planet overall: “injecting tiny reflective particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight; using the particles to make low-lying clouds over the oceans more reflective; and thinning high-altitude cirrus clouds. Major volcanic eruptions are already known to cool the climate by pumping particles high into the atmosphere.

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Geoengineers are already arguing that the impact of climate change is already so large that every option must be explored if the Earth wants any chance at surviving the next century. Professor Marcia McNutt is the president of the Academy who recently spoke to the media about the importance of this overdue research. 

“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, solar geoengineering needs to be studied further. But just as with advances in fields such as artificial intelligence or gene editing, science needs to engage the public to ask not just can we, but should we? Questions of governance – who will decide to deploy this intervention and for how long – were as important as the scientific questions.”

Professor Chris Field of Stanford University was the chair of the committee that wrote the report, who claimed that “the US solar geoengineering program should be all about helping society make more informed decisions regarding the planet.”

“Based on all of the evidence from social science, natural science, and technology, this research program could either indicate that solar geoengineering should not be considered further, or conclude that it warrants additional effort.”

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The report claimed that “a reasonable initial investment for this solar geoengineering research program is within a range of $100-200 million total over five years. The program would be a small fraction of the US budget for climate change research and should not shift the focus from other projects.”

“The program should be designed to move forward in a socially responsible manner with researchers following a code of conduct, research catalogued in a public registry, and public engagement undertaken. Outdoor experiments should be subject to appropriate governance including impact assessments,” according to the report. 

The academy claims that the program should also include scientific research regarding the possible climate outcomes that geoengineering could have on society and its many ecosystems. “Social dimensions cited for research included domestic and international conflict and cooperation, and justice, ethics, and equity.”

Professor Gernot Wagner of New York University said: “The report’s focus on research and research governance is important for one simple reason: the current discussion is – and should be – all about research into solar geoengineering, certainly not about deploying the technology, where, if anything, a firm moratorium would be appropriate.”

All Oklahoma Residents Can Now Get The Covid-19 Vaccine Thanks To Several Native Tribes

All residents in the state of Oklahoma are now eligible for the Covid-19 vaccines due to the efforts of several Native tribes. Last week, the Chickasaw Nation opened up all of its available Covid-19 vaccine appointments to all Oklahoma residents, regardless of whether or not they were a fellow member of the tribe or not. 

Other tribes that are located in Oklahoma have expanded their vaccinations as well to reach residents beyond just those within the tribe. “The Osage, Choctaw and Citizen Potawatomi Nations are offering vaccines to all members of the public, while the Cherokee Nation has opened appointments to anyone residing within its 14-county jurisdiction,” according to CNN. 

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The state of Oklahoma in general is currently in Phase 3 of its vaccine distribution plan, the criteria of which covers a wide variety of residents including healthcare workers, first responders, residents 65 and older, those with medical conditions, teachers and school staff, students 16 and older, people in congregate settings, public health staff, government officials and essential workers. The Oklahoma state government has to enter into Phase 4 of its plan before it prioritizes vaccinating everyone like the Native tribes are. 

Tribal nations in Oklahoma received a multitude of vaccines from the Indian Health Service. As the vaccination process continued these tribes demonstrated an efficient ability to get shots distributed quickly, so they began receiving more and more, allowing them to expand their efforts beyond their own tribes. 

Dr. John Krueger is the chief medical officer for the Chickasaw Nation who recently spoke with the media to credit his tribe’s “robust infrastructure” for its ability to distribute vaccines to non-Native members quickly and effectively.

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“The Chickasaw Nation recently opened a new facility in the city of Ada with 16 drive-thru lines, dramatically increasing our capacity. We also have three other vaccination sites as well as a team that travels to people’s homes. Now that those in our Nation’s priority groups have been offered vaccines, the tribe is able to move on to those outside the tribe. We are a part of these communities, and they are a part of us. The faster we can get all of us back to essential protection, the better it is for us and the better it is for everyone,” Krueger explained. The Chickasaw Nation has administered more than 30,000 vaccines.

The Choctaw Nation also attributes their success in expanding who they vaccinate to an efficient first phase of distribution that quickly got all priority groups vaccinated when they needed to be. According to Captain Clinton Bullock, director of pharmacy for the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center, “It’s not necessarily an issue of supply outpacing demand, rather, the tribe is capitalizing on the resources offered by the Indian Health Service to help protect the rest of the state. There are, of course, non-Native members of the community that our tribal citizens come in contact with. Helping to develop this herd immunity not only benefits the tribal members, but the community as a whole.” The Choctaw Nation has administered over 20,000 vaccines according to Bullock. 

Many tribal health providers have outpaced the rest of the country as a whole in distributing the vaccine. This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of these tribes independently receive their vaccine allotments from the Indian Health Service, as opposed to the state health department, which has helped them get priority individuals vaccinated faster, so that the rest of the state could also catch up.

Alaska Becomes First State To Allow Everyone Over 16 To Be Vaccinated 

Alaska has become the first state in the US to allow Covid-19 vaccines to any adult who wants one, as well as individuals over the age of 16, according to Governor Mike Dunleavy, who took to Twitter this week to make the announcement. 

“Effective immediately, Alaska will become the first state in the nation to allow anyone over the age of 16 to get the Covid-19 vaccine. This marks a significant step forward in our efforts to put this virus behind us.” 

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In order to be eligible you must be living or working in Alaska. 16 is also  the lowest age authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use of the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine are currently approved for individuals 18 and older. With any vaccine further research always needs to be done in order for it to be approved for teenagers and children because their bodies are constantly developing and changing, so scientists need to ensure that the doses will be just as effective. 

Most states are still only vaccinating specific higher risk groups first, such as senior citizens, essential workers, and individuals with underlying medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of contracting the virus. 

“Nearly one year ago the first positive Covid-19 case arrived in Alaska. Today, our state – because of the undaunted efforts of Alaskans – is leading the nation in vaccination efforts.” 

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Governor Dunleavy initially opened up vaccines to anyone 55 and older in the beginning of March. That policy also included essential workers, such as teachers, agriculture workers, first responders, other healthcare workers, and the media. Individuals with underlying medical conditions have always been a priority as with the rest of the nation. 

Alaska was initially allocated with 288,000 vaccine doses and now about 170,993 people have received at least one of their two shots, and about 119,631 people are fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the state has given the most total doses per 100,000 people in the country. With 41,376 doles out, it is one of just two states over 40,000 doses given per 100,000 people – along with New Mexico.” The state of Louisiana has also approved of the vaccine to be given to individuals 16 and older, however, the state is only allowing individuals that young to be vaccinated if they have underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk. 

Alaska has been one of the luckiest states in the US throughout this pandemic with a total of around 60,000 confirmed cases and 291 deaths; the state is ranked number 46 in terms of states with the most cases. Vermont is the only other state that’s recorded fewer deaths as well. The increase in distribution of these vaccines is a great sign for Americans who are ready and hopeful that the world will start to return to a sense of normalcy within the next few months.

Experts Are Warning The US Could Face Another Surge Of Covid-19

With multiple governors easing up on health and safety procedures before a proper herd immunity is met, many healthcare experts are worried the US might face another severe outbreak of the virus.

CDC Expected To Release New Guidelines For Vaccinated Americans 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to release new guidelines this week specifically for how vaccinated Americans can safely alter their behaviors and live their lives safely without endangering themselves or other individuals who are still waiting to be vaccinated. 

The recommendations are expected to tell vaccinated individuals that they can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals. Two senior White House officials involved in drafting these guidelines spoke with the press about these projected guidelines. 

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Fully vaccinated people will still be asked to wear masks and social distance in public until a greater herd immunity is met. It’s expected that these new guidelines will officially be released this Thursday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently hinted at the possibility of new CDC rules during a press conference this week. 

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated. Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk — the relative risk — is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home,” Fauci explained. 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the director of the CDC who spoke at the same conference as Fauci and warned that vaccinated Americans still need to be vigilant when it comes to abiding by health and safety procedures in public. 

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“While we may have guidance at the individual level, as Dr. Fauci has suggested, I think we all need to keep our eye on the fact that we’re not out of the woods yet.” 

Average daily coronavirus cases have fallen by roughly 65% since the start of January, however, new cases are still steadily appearing at an average rate of about 70,000 per day. “If Americans suddenly decided that because cases are going down, they felt more comfortable eating inside at a restaurant or socializing outside their pods, we could potentially erase the reductions that have been made over the past few weeks,” Dr. Kate Langwig, an infectious-disease ecologist, said. 

For now, Walensky wants Americans to know that “the goal is not to sort of open up travel just because vaccinations are scaling up. Instead, the Biden administration has set its sights on making sure that we are in a place to be out of this pandemic within President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office — roughly by the end of April. However, at 70,000 cases per day, we’re not in that place right now.”

“The setting in a home of a small group of people having dinner together, all of whom are vaccinated, is very different when you step out the door and go into a society that has 70,000 new infections per day,” Fauci said.

Mars Perseverance Rover Reveals Secret Parachute Message And Other Features 

NASA shared a video this week which showed off what it looks like when a spacecraft lands on Mars for the first time. The video showed the Perseverance Mars rover deploying a large and colorful orange-and-white parachute which many were quick to notice had a hidden message in it. 

Allen Chen is the entry, descent, and landing lead for the rover who spoke with the media this past Monday regarding the hidden message and how quick the public was able to pick up that the pattern on the parachute was more than just a randomly colorful design.  

“You might notice the pattern that’s on the parachute here. Distinct patterns are useful in helping us determine the clocking orientation of the parachute. Also, the contrasting sections can be useful in tracking different portions of the parachute as it inflates.  In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts and our engineering can inspire others. Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose. So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work.”

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Adam Steltzner is the rover’s chief engineer who tweeted out his shock that the internet was able to take on Chen’s challenge and decode the message in less than 6 hours of it’s initial posting on Twitter. The parachute’s hidden message included the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory motto “Dare Mighty Things,” as well as GPS coordinates for JPL in Pasadena, California. 

According to Stelzner the messages were embedded in the parachute using binary code within the white and orange triangles of fabric. The inner part of the parachute includes the “Dare mighty things” motto, with each word hidden in an expanding ring of the triangles. The band around the parachute is where the GPS coordinates can be found as well. 

The motto initially was taken from the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

The rover was also built by the team at JPL, which is where the mission is being managed. Ian Clark is the rover’s systems engineer and was the one who came up with the binary code message on the parachute. 

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“The brainchild of Ian Clark- who has done anything the project asked him to do, whether it was lead, develop, and execute a supersonic parachute test program, prove the cleanliness of the sampling system, or support EDL operations. All around sharp and selfless dude,” Chen tweeted.

The Perseverance rover has plenty of other hidden secrets as well, which NASA claims will slowly be revealed the longer the rover is on Mars. For example, the rover contains silicon chips containing the names of nearly 11 million people who participated in the “send your name to Mars” campaign. The chips also include 155 essays submitted by students who entered a contest to name the rover. 

The Perseverance rover also has a metal plate dedicated to health care workers combating the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to media reports, “on the rover’s deck is a symbol-laden calibration target for Mastcam-Z, or the rover’s pair of zoomable cameras. The calibration target includes color swatches to adjust the cameras’ settings, but also symbols of a man and a woman, a fern, a dinosaur, a rocket traveling from Earth to Mars, a model of the inner solar system, DNA and cyanobacteria, which is one of the earliest forms of life on Earth. 

The target also includes the motto “Two Worlds, One Beginning” on it, which refers to the concept that Earth and Mars were created from the same dust, unifying us and every other planet within our solar system.