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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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Looking for a Boost, Taiwan’s Oldest Political Party Turns to the Great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — 

Between internal strife, muddled campaign messages and a stance on China that has become a political liability, Taiwan’s oldest political party is deep in existential crisis.

The Chinese Nationalist Party, better known as the KMT, or Kuomintang, was founded in mainland China but went into exile in Taiwan in 1949. It ruled the island for 50 years before losing its grip on power.

The party has long pushed for closer ties with China, a position that has increasingly put it out of touch with a younger generation that identifies as Taiwanese and has grown wary of the Chinese Communist Party’s designs on the island.

Now the 110-year-old KMT is looking to a rising star to refurbish its image: Chiang Wan-an, who is favored to become the next mayor of Taipei — among thousands of local offices up for grabs in nationwide elections Saturday.

The charismatic 43-year-old former legislator and lawyer has billed himself as a thoroughly modern figure who can lead the party into the future. He supports same-sex marriage and lowering the voting age from 20 to 18. His handsome looks and young children haven’t hurt his appeal either.

At the same time, he claims deep roots in the party’s past as a great-grandson of the revolutionary Chiang Kai-shek.

It was under Chiang Kai-shek that the party fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. Waiting to someday take the mainland back, the KMT often using brutal means to suppress any political threats, finally lifting martial law in 1987as Taiwan began to democratize.

Ham radio, a niche hobby among older Taiwanese, has reemerged as a potential wartime tool as China’s military aggression grows.

Now, it’s the Communist Party that wants to retake Taiwan. In the face of growing aggression under President Xi Jinping, who considers the democracy of 23 million a part of China, much of the national political discourse has centered on the best way to defend the island.

President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, was reelected by a landslide in 2020, thanks to growing Taiwanese nationalism and anti-China sentiment. But this year, the KMT has enjoyed a boost of support that could help it clean up in local races.

The mayorship of Taipei is often a stepping stone to the presidency. According to recent polls, Chiang is leading independent candidate Huang Shan-shan, the former deputy mayor of Taipei, and the DPP’s Chen Shih-chung, who as minister of health and welfare oversaw Taiwan’s pandemic response.

“He is the young, fresher and slightly updated face that the KMT needs,” said Lev Nachman, a political science professor at National Chengchi University. “But one candidate does not a successful political strategy make.”

In local elections, cross-strait tensions take a backseat to more immediate concerns. The mayoral candidates have talked a lot about urban renewal, the rising cost of housing, subsidies for young parents and ways to make the city friendlier for pets. Chiang wants to improve health insurance for animals and expand programs to let them ride on public transportation.

He has also sought to capitalize on voters’ dissatisfaction with the Tsai administration, in particular pointing to a lack of transparency in its vaccine rollout early in the pandemic.

“This is a contest of values: democracy against the black box,” he declared at an election rally Saturday night. “Hard work against laziness, integrity against lies, light against darkness.”

In the crowd that night was Mark Chu, a 30-year-old IT worker who found the event to be a moving morale boost for KMT supporters. However, he couldn’t help but notice a distinct lack of people his own age.

“There’s a sense of distance between the KMT and young people,” Chu said. “They’re getting further and further away from mainstream ideas.”

But Chiang has managed to convince Bernie Hou, a 33-year-old public relations worker who has supported politicians from various parties over the years.

His decision to back Chiang is in large part a vote against the DPP for its handling of the pandemic. He also was impressed by Chiang’s performance during the mayoral debate.

“He has all the makings of a capital mayor,” Hou said. “And he looks very good.”

Still, even in local races, the strained relations between Beijing and Taipei are an unavoidable factor.

The ruling DPP leans toward independence for Taiwan and has taken a confrontational stance toward China, an approach that appeals to those who came of age under Taiwan’s democracy and rebuke Beijing’s calls for unification. Those voters are leery of giving too much leeway to an authoritarian regime that has threatened to fulfill its territorial claims by force.

The president, whose term ends in 2024, has recently stepped up efforts to capitalize on those fears. But her calls to resist China have failed to translate into broader support for the DPP this election.

“It’s a tough balancing act,” said Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist with Australia National University’s Taiwan Studies Program. “DPP has been riding on the wave of its Taiwanese nationalism card since 2014 and is inevitably facing a degree of voter fatigue.”

The KMT wants to maintain the status quo of Taiwan’s democratic governance, but favors a friendlier relationship with Beijing. Its support comes largely from older generations, who associate the party with their Chinese identities and mainland roots. A minority within the party still hope to see reunification with China.

As the KMT grapples with how to appease both its traditional base and reach a new one, Chiang could help bridge that gap.

His father Hsiao-yan, a former vice premier and foreign minister, was born with the surname Chang, but he changed it after gathering evidence that he was the illegitimate grandson of Chiang Kai-shek. Though some still doubt that claim, his son changed his last name too.

Older KMT members revere the former generalissimo for his contributions to Taiwan’s industrial development and his experiences fighting Japanese and Communist forces. Younger Taiwanese see him as an emblem of the island’s authoritarian past.

The Chiang Kai-shek legacy has come under greater scrutiny in recent years amid initiatives to compensate the families of victims that suffered under his reign and remove statues glorifying him.

Chiang Wan-an has at times found himself caught in the middle. Earlier this year he advocated for removing Chiang Kai-shek’s name from a famous memorial hall in Taipei. But he dropped the proposal after KMT supporters criticized him for diminishing his own history and Chinese identity.

“Leaning too far into his family background is a risk,” said Brian Hioe, a founding editor of the Taiwan-based media outlet New Bloom. “Now there is much more backlash against these second generations and political dynasties.”

The bigger challenge for the KMT looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election may be persuading voters that it can adeptly navigate cross-strait relations without acceding to pressure from Beijing.

Watching Chiang greet voters in Taipei on Monday, Wendy Chang, a 25-year-old visiting home from studying business in the Netherlands, said he seems more modern than the traditional KMT candidates. Nonetheless, she has a hard time swallowing the party’s friendlier attitude toward China.

“I feel like Taiwan’s elections ultimately are all about cross-strait relations,” she said.

Yang is a Times staff writer and Shen a special correspondent.

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Original Post: latimes.com

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The Times Podcast: Mexico’s Unique, Binational Soccer Fans

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Right now, the eyes of much of the world is on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as 32 teams fight for national pride. One team is Mexico, whose unique fanbase sets it apart from the world. With loyalties to both Mexico and the United States, it’s a representation of resilience, controversy and so much more.

Today, we examine the phenomenon. Read the full transcript here.

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Original Source: latimes.com

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A New Foreign Policy Headache for Biden As Israel Forms Its Most Right-wing Government Ever

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WASHINGTON — 

The Biden administration is grappling with how to deal with a new Israeli government that will be the most right-wing in that country’s history and may stand in the way of core U.S. goals for the Middle East.

The new government will be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, who was ousted from the job just a year ago and is on trial for corruption. To regain the position, Netanyahu formed an alliance with controversial political figures known for their extreme anti-Arab views, likely dooming any peace deal with Palestinians.

Dealing with the Netanyahu-led government will pose major challenges for the Biden administration, which desires a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and broader acceptance of Israel in the Arab world.

Republicans in the U.S. who are eager to cast themselves as true friends of Israel are sure to question any Biden administration criticism of the new government.

Netanyahu and the GOP have grown closer over the past decade, undermining decades of bipartisan support for Israel.

In 2015, Netanyahu, whom congressional Republicans had invited to address a joint session of Congress, used the speech to criticize President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Former President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, delighting Netanyahu. Just this week, Netanyahu delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a partisan group.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a long record of extreme anti-Arab rhetoric, is promised the post of national security minister in Israel’s new government.

Netanyahu and President Biden have both said that U.S. support for Israel should remain bipartisan.

Netanyahu’s new allies may make that difficult, however. Some U.S. officials have already privately indicated they will not meet with Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezazel Smotrich, two likelymembers of Netanyahu’s government.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich advocate recognizing illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where most Palestinians live, and eventually annexing most or all of that territory. They oppose a separate Palestinian state. Netanyahu needs their support to cement a majority in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. Their support could also help him pass a law that would allow him to dodge his corruption trial.

The two men have also called for a far harsher crackdown on Palestinian militants and their supporters, including strict curfews in Palestinian villages, mass deportations and targeted killings of terrorism suspects. They have advocated making it easier for Israeli security forces to use live ammunition against Palestinian protesters who throw stones.

Ben-Gvir has also expressed affinity for the late ultra-nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose ideology the Anti-Defamation League has described as reflecting “racism, violence and political extremism” and whose organization until recently was listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

For years, Ben-Gvir had a poster of Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli American terrorist and Kahane disciple who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron in 1994, hanging in his home, according to Israeli media. In 2007, an Israeli court convicted Ben-Gvir of incitement to racist violence and support for a terrorist organization.

Israel has sworn in its most religious and right-wing parliament after nearly four years of political deadlock and five elections.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich want to head the ministries of public security and defense, respectively, portfolios that have the closest contact with U.S. officials. On Friday, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party announced an agreement for Ben-Gvir to become security minister.

“This country is a democracy that elected a leadership and I intend to work with them,” the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, said in an interview with Israeli media, adding quickly: “That said, we have to stand up for the things that we believe in, that’s what American values are about. We have a very strong ally in the state of Israel, but there will be times when we will articulate where we believe our differences are.”

Nides and other U.S. officials have stated that the two countries’ points of disagreement include expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the possible annexation of the territory.

“The administration will have to decide what the real red lines are,” said Michael Koplow, a senior analyst with the Israel Policy Forum, a U.S.-based pro-Israel organization that advocates the two-state solution. “This will test U.S. boundaries on all fronts.”

Negotiations to form the government are underway and could take days or even weeks. A fair amount of horse-trading is part of the process, so it remains unclear which politicians will assume which posts. Netanyahu offered Smotrich the Finance Ministry instead of Defense, according to Israeli media, but Smotrich has so far given no indication he will budge from his initial demand.

“We provide nearly $4 billion a year to the Defense Ministry … and do we want to put our money in the hands of these guys?” said Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel who now teaches at Princeton University. “I’d say no.”

Netanyahu is reported to be considering Ron Dermer as his foreign minister. Dermer served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States starting in 2013 and through the Trump administration, with which he was especially friendly. He arranged Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress. Dermer’s appointment would be a “poke in the eye” for Biden, Kurtzer said.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defamed his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, and must pay damages to Netanyahu and his family, a court rules.

Republicans remain eager to criticize anything short of unquestioning support for Israel from the Biden administration. After the Israeli government revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had launched an inquiry into the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh near the West Bank city of Jenin, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) demanded Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland and “everyone involved in this debacle” be “fired or impeached.”

Multiple investigations by independent human rights and journalism organizations have concluded that an Israeli soldier probably fired the shot that killed the veteran journalist. Israel eventually acknowledged one of its soldiers was likely responsible. No one has been disciplined.

If the new Israeli government decides to try to annex the West Bank, it would jeopardize the Abraham Accords, a deal brokered under the Trump administration that opened business and some diplomatic ties between Israel and several Persian Gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, that had previously refused to recognize Israel’s existence.

The UAE’s entry into the agreement was predicated on Netanyahu, in his previous stint as prime minister, backing away from plans to annex West Bank territory.

“If they push too far, it will foreclose any movement forward” in regional relations, said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. envoy for the Middle East now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Miller thinks Biden and Netanyahu will attempt to avoid overt conflict to safeguard their own domestic and global positions: “Biden wants to avoid a public wrestling match with Netanyahu,” Miller said, while Netanyahu “craves the international stage and is intending to strut on it.”

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Publicly, U.S. officials remain cautious, saying they want to see what kind of government Netanyahu ultimately forms, reiterating their “ironclad” commitment to Israel while emphasizing American “values” that include freedom and prosperity “in equal measure” for Israelis and Palestinians.

“The administration is right to be concerned … and to telegraph those concerns,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview. He is one of several Democratic lawmakers who are firm supporters of Israel but have raised alarms over potential members of the new government. These include Sen. Bob Melendez of New Jersey, who chairs the committee, and California Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Northridge).

But Ben-Gvir further alienated Biden administration officials by taking an electoral victory lap at a memorial service for Kahane, who was assassinated more than 30 years ago.

“Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent — there is no other word for it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in unusually strongly worded comments. “We remain concerned by the legacy of Kahane and the continued use of rhetoric among violent right-wing extremists,” he said.

Ben-Gvir has reached an agreement with Netanyahu that would allow him to vastly expand police powers and remove officers from oversight by other legal authorities.

Naming a person who has been convicted of terrorism-related charges to head Israel’s national police force has alarmed numerous Israelis.

“It means that the police will become politicized to favor the extreme right,” the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz said in an editorial this week. “Those who are supposed to be safeguarding democracy have turned into soldiers at the service of politicians. That’s what happens when those accused and convicted of crimes take control of the institutions charged with maintaining law and order.”

The prospect of a Ben-Gvir-run police force has also alarmed American supporters of Israel. Ben-Gvir “has promised a no-holds-barred crackdown on terrorism and increased police and border security presence,” Yulia Shalomov, a fellow at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council think tank, said in a recent web appearance. His party “has consistently stoked domestic ethnic and societal tensions,” she said.

Netanyahu’s right-wing partners will also push for other legislation that would not only have an impact on Palestinians and Arabs. They have threatened to criminalize homosexuality and to ban non-Orthodox Jews from Israeli citizenship. Many U.S.-born Jews are members of more progressive branches of the faith, such as Reform or Conservative Judaism, and might not be able to obtain Israeli citizenship under the proposed laws.

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Original Article: latimes.com

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