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U.S. Gives Final Clearance to COVID-19 Shots for Kids 5 to 11

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday fired the starting gun on a campaign to inoculate the nation’s 28 million elementary-school-age children against COVID-19, recommending the broad use of kid-size doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Shots into little arms are expected to begin this week. Pfizer already is shipping the first orders, featuring vials with distinctive orange caps, to states and pharmacies across the country.

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 will get two shots of vaccine — at one-third the dosage of shots for teens and adults — administered three weeks apart.

The CDC estimates that if the vaccine is widely used, 600,000 new coronavirus infections could be prevented between now and next March, and the current decline in new cases would accelerate.

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said she was thrilled to extend the protection already enjoyed by 193 million Americans to a group whose lives have been upended by the 20-month pandemic.

“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated,” Walensky said, adding that Tuesday will go down as “a monumental day in the course of the pandemic.”

The CDC’s recommendation applies universally to 5- to 11-year-olds, regardless of whether they’ve had a previous coronavirus infection or have an underlying medical condition that would put them at heightened risk for a serious case of COVID-19.

“As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walensky said.

In California, the shots won’t be available until they are cleared in an additional review by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, a coalition of public health experts from California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. That might take an additional day to complete.

The CDC action came just hours after a panel of independent advisors issued a full-throated endorsement of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for young children. After briefings that cast the vaccine as more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in 5- to 11-year-olds, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to recommend its use in all children in that age group.

“Based on our expertise and the information that we have, we’re all very enthusiastic,” said committee member Dr. Beth Bell, a professor of global health at the University of Washington.

After the votes were in, several members of the panel said they were eager to vaccinate youngsters in their families.

“I am going to take my child to get this,” said Veronica McNally, an attorney in West Bloomfield, Mich.

Dr. Sarah S. Long, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Drexel University, said the CDC action makes three of her nine grandchildren eligible for the vaccine. “By this time next week,” she noted, only her youngest grandchild will be unvaccinated.

“I am very supportive of this recommendation to its fullest extent as a ‘should’ — not a ‘maybe’ — for all children in this age group,” she added.

While children are much less likely than adults to become severely ill from a coronavirus infection, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll in this age group.

Theirs is the group most likely to be hospitalized with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, in which the immune system responds to a SARS-CoV-2 infection by attacking healthy tissue. By early October, a total of 2,316 elementary-school-age kids in the U.S. had been hospitalized with MIS-C.

In all, 8,300 5- to 11-year-olds have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 94 have died, according to the CDC. Roughly two-thirds of those who have landed in the hospital had some chronic health condition that put them at higher risk, such as asthma, obesity, heart problems or a compromised immune system. But one-third were entirely healthy before their bout with severe COVID-19.

And after a challenging school year marked by distance learning and modified classroom protocols, the summer saw things get worse. During a six-week period between late June and mid-August, as the Delta variant established itself across the U.S., COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased five-fold.

Even after mild infections, at least 7% of kids in this age group appear to suffer from long COVID — a mysterious condition in which symptoms — including cough, muscle aches, breathing problems and difficulty concentrating — can linger for months.

Children have played an important role in spreading the virus because they can carry and transmit it even when they do not have symptoms. The CDC estimates that if recent transmission trends continue, the vaccination of just nine children in this age group would prevent one new infection, and vaccinating 2,213 would spare one child from hospitalization.

With its vote Tuesday, the CDC’s advisory panel brushed aside concerns over cases of vaccine-related myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. The condition is rare — it has been detected in 877 U.S. residents younger than 30 who received the Pfizer vaccine or a similar one made by Moderna, out of 86 million doses administered to people in that age group. The condition typically resolves with over-the-counter medications and rest, and none of the cases have been fatal.

Last week, however, concerns over how this rare vaccine side effect would affect a cohort of prepubescent children caused several advisors to the Food and Drug Administration to suggest that a more limited rollout of the vaccine would be a safer bet.

Pfizer’s clinical trials in 5- to 11-year-olds picked up plenty of cases of fatigue, headache and sore arms. But they did not detect signs of myocarditis — and were unlikely to do so, given their limited size.

Dr. Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told members of the CDC panel he believed myocarditis was “less likely” to be seen in younger children after vaccination than it has been in teens and young adults. “Classic” myocarditis, which sometimes develops in the wake of an infection, is rarely seen in prepubescent children, suggesting that hormonal changes may play a role, he said.

Irrespective of a patient’s age or gender, Oster added, “getting COVID is much riskier to the heart” than getting vaccinated to prevent it. Asked whether the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine outweigh its risks for young children, his answer was unambiguous.

“In my opinion, yes,” Oster said.

As the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine begins to roll into doctors’ offices and pharmacies, monitoring systems set up by the CDC and FDA will scour medical records and hotline reports to watch for any uptick in myocarditis among newly vaccinated kids. Several CDC advisors said they were reassured by experts’ evolving view of myocarditis, as well as the federal government’s vigilance in tracking it.

“We do understand that people have legitimate concerns, and they have lots of questions,” Bell said. She encouraged those with lingering doubts to discuss the issues with their pediatricians or other trusted advisors and “do what they need to do to feel comfortable with their decisions.”

In a survey conducted in September for the CDC, 35% of parents of 5- to 11-year-olds said they would “definitely” get their child vaccinated once the shots were available, and 26% said they would “probably” do so.

Among parents who were unsure, 45% expressed concerns about long-term side effects, 28% were worried about cardiac side effects in particular, and roughly 25% said they simply don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, 1 in 10 said they did not view COVID-19 as a threat.

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Article: latimes.com

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Why Mexico’s President Is Promoting a Recall Against Himself

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MEXICO CITY — 

Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech.

He urged the Mexicans packed into the Zócalo to participate in an April referendum to decide whether they want to boot him from office more than two years early.

“None of, ‘They chose me for six years and I can do whatever I want,’” López Obrador said at the rally Wednesday to mark his midterm. “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”

The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.

Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.

Families and marching bands making their way to the Zócalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired López Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.

“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo León with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”

Supporters of López Obrador hold banners in support of the president at Mexico City’s Zócalo.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.

So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. (That tally includes signatures that will be discarded because they are duplicates or have other irregularities.)

Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. López Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.

“He does conceive his power as being a function of people reiterating their support actively,” said Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”

Since taking office, López Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.

President López Obrador gives an address to mark the midpoint of his term.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.

Critics also are concerned about López Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. In Mexico, such statements by public officials are generally barred during the election season.

But the president’s vision of transformational change continues to resonate among many voters who view him as a paternal figure. López Obrador is in constant dialogue with his electorate, holding press conferences every morning that last hours.

“The figure he has constructed of an honest man, an honorable man, an incorruptible man — that helps him in a society that is used to seeing terribly corrupt politicians,” said René Torres-Ruiz, a political scientist at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Even if enough signatures are gathered, hurdles to a referendum remain. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.

Ariadna Gomez, left, and another volunteer collect signatures for a referendum on whether Mexico’s president should continue.

(Leila Miller / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase López Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.

“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.

Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote López Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.

Luis Cházaro, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told The Times that the referendum “has been transformed into a promotional tool for the party.” He does not plan to participate.

In Coyoacán, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”

Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.

“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,’” she said.

A supporter of López Obrador listens to his speech at a rally to commemorate the president’s midterm.

(Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He also sees the referendum as “a type of manipulation,” suspicious of why the president has contradicted the National Electoral Institute, saying it has enough funding to hold a vote he himself has fought for.

María de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support López Obrador without hesitation.

Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. If she needs to skip one, she’ll track it down later on YouTube. She also listens to summaries in case she’s missed something.

Before López Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City.

She called López Obrador a “simple” man who has won her confidence with his anti-corruption platform. She eagerly described how his government has set money aside for youth job training and expanded welfare payments to the elderly.

“He’s given us back our dignity,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”

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Original Post: latimes.com

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Op-Ed: the U.S. Shouldn’t Ignore Mexico’s Ongoing Human Rights Catastrophe

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On Dec. 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reached the halfway point of his six-year term. Since his election in 2018, López Obrador has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.

The United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy. President Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to “transform” Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.

López Obrador inherited a human rights catastrophe. When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year. But he has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.

Even so, López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base. He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation.

He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a “neoliberal” or “conservative,” nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, Indigenous communities who oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.

He has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority. He recently decreed that his government’s construction and infrastructure projects would be automatically granted permits without any review and that as matters of “national security,” would be exempted from transparency rules.

He has also gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional. His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen. López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated.

In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as “neoliberalism” and the “privatization of public goods.”

The U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law came into stark relief in June, when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and met with him. At the end of the trip, a journalist asked the vice president if the United States was concerned about López Obrador’s hostile attitude toward the media and civil society.

Harris initially responded that she had urged the Mexican president to respect the independence of the judicial system, the press and civil society. However, hours later, her spokesperson issued a correction to the Spanish wire service EFE, saying the vice president had been confused; she and the Mexican president had only discussed immigration and the economy, nothing else.

López Obrador will be in office for another three years. His coalition still controls both houses of Congress and he has made it clear that he is willing to amend the constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals. Unless the circumstances change, there are no signs he intends to alter his course.

José Miguel Vivanco is Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Tyler Mattiace is a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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Source: latimes.com

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Photos: As Roe Vs. Wade Challenged, Demonstrators Gather Outside Supreme Court

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Juanito Estevez, of Freeport, N.Y., holds a cross as he and abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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Article: latimes.com

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