Spacewalking Astronauts Prep Station for New Solar Wings

Spacewalking astronauts ventured out Sunday to install support frames for new, high-efficiency solar panels arriving at the International Space Station later this year.NASA’s Kate Rubins and Victor Glover put the first set of mounting brackets and struts together, then bolted them into place next to the station’s oldest and most degraded solar wings. But the work took longer than expected, and they barely got started on the second set before calling it quits.Rubins will finish the job during a second spacewalk later this week.The spacewalkers had to lug out hundreds of pounds of mounting brackets and struts in 2.5-meter (8-foot) duffel-style bags. The equipment was so big and awkward that it had to be taken apart like furniture, just to get through the hatch.Some of the attachment locations required extra turns of the power drill and still weren’t snug enough, as indicated by black lines. The astronauts had to use a ratchet wrench to deal with the more stubborn bolts, which slowed them down. At one point, they were two hours behind.”Whoever painted this black line painted outside the lines a little bit,” Glover said at one particularly troublesome spot.”We’ll work on our kindergarten skills over here,” Mission Control replied, urging him to move on.With more people and experiments flying on the space station, more power will be needed to keep everything running, according to NASA. The six new solar panels — to be delivered in pairs by SpaceX over the coming year or so — should boost the station’s …

FDA Approves Johnson & Johnson Vaccine for Use in US

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally authorized the use of the Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine Saturday, clearing the way for shots to go into arms as early as Monday.The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85% effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to data from a study that spanned three continents. The shot kept its protection even in the countries where the South African variant is spreading.The one-and-done inoculation has been eagerly awaited by health officials who want to speed vaccinations in a race against the coronavirus and its worrisome mutations. As of Saturday evening, more than 28.5 million Americans have had COVID-19 and nearly 512,000 have died from the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.Biden: Don’t let upPresident Joe Biden praised the “exciting news for all Americans” in a statement Saturday evening but urged Americans not to let their “guard down now.”“I want to be clear: This fight is far from over,” he said. “I urge all Americans — keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced and keep wearing masks. As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse.”An FDA advisory panel unanimously endorsed the vaccine Friday, paving the way for the agency’s authorization.Edmond Lomas III receives his COVID-19 vaccination at Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, Feb. 27, 2021.The one-dose vaccine is the third coronavirus inoculation approved by the FDA, after …

Third US COVID Vaccine on Verge of Approval

The U.S. moved a step closer Friday to having another vaccine in its coronavirus arsenal, after an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration unanimously endorsed Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID vaccine.Formal authorization for the vaccine could come in the next few days. The one-dose vaccine would become the third coronavirus inoculation approved by the FDA after the two-dose vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.Members of the Congressional Black Caucus went on television Friday to encourage African Americans to receive the COVID-19 inoculations.“We’re looking at historic fear of vaccines and a fear of the health care industry,” said Rep. Barbara Lawrence, a Democrat from Michigan.Black and Latino communities are being inoculated at lower rates in the U.S. than their white counterparts, public health officials say.Meanwhile, Britain’s Trades Union Congress says in a study that the pandemic has provided a “mirror to the structural racism” in Britain, with the unemployment rate for communities of color double that of their white contemporaries during the pandemic.Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports early Saturday more than 113 million global COVID infections with more than 2.5 million deaths.The U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of coronavirus infections with more than 28 million cases, followed by India with over 11 million infections and Brazil with more than 10 million.Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change has issued a report titled The New Necessary: How We Future-Proof for the Next Pandemic that calls for international cooperation in the future to …

New Zealand Supporting Drone Project to Monitor Rare Dolphins

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday her government is supporting a new project using drones designed to monitor and protect the Maui dolphin, one of the world’s rarest marine mammals.  Maui dolphins are found only in a small stretch of ocean off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and current estimates suggest there are only 63 adult members of the species left.  The new Māui Drone Project is a one-year collaboration between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), nonprofit wildlife technology organization MAUI63 and the World Wildlife Fund-New Zealand.  The project is designed to use the small, unmanned vehicles to find and track Maui dolphins, fly over them without disturbing them, and collect data on their habitat, population size and other behaviors.  Ardern told reporters the drones will allow government agencies and others to focus conservation efforts where they are needed most to protect the animals.”We have drawn basically geographical areas where we have restricted certain types of fishing, but this will help us understand where they are, their movements, where the extra protections are required,” she said. Maui dolphins are the smallest of the world’s dolphin species, measuring less than two meters long, and weighing up to 50 kilograms. Unlike other dolphins, they have distinctive round dorsal fins, and short snouts. They breed slowly, adding only one individual dolphin per year, and have relatively short lifespans, facts which may have contributed to their decline.    …

US Advisers Endorse Single-shot COVID-19 Vaccine From Johnson & Johnson

U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to quickly follow the recommendation and make Johnson & Johnson’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans. After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. If the FDA agrees, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday. More than 47 million people in the U.S., or 14% of the population, have each received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays because of winter storms.While early Johnson & Johnson supplies will be small, the company has said it can deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine protects against the worst effects of COVID-19 after one shot, and it can be stored up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to handle than the previous vaccines, which must be frozen. EffectivenessOne challenge in rolling out the new vaccine will be explaining how protective the Johnson …

One Dose of Pfizer Vaccine Reduces Transmission, Study Finds

Three new British studies show the Pfzier-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is considered a two-dose vaccine, reduced transmission of the virus after one dose, particularly in people who had previously tested positive. One study conducted by Britain’s University of Cambridge Hospital and published Friday suggests a single dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine can reduce by four times the number of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections. According to researchers, that indicates the vaccine could significantly reduce the risk of transmission of the virus from people who are asymptomatic, as well as protecting others from getting ill. Lead researcher on the study, Cambridge University Hospital Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mike Weekes, said, “This is great news – the Pfizer vaccine not only provides protection against becoming ill from SARS-CoV-2 but also helps prevent infection, reducing the potential for the virus to be passed on to others.” The study has not been peer reviewed but researchers say they published ahead of that review because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic. Two other studies, published late Thursday in the British medical journal The Lancet, indicate a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is enough to protect people who have had COVID-19 from getting it again.   The studies were conducted by the University College London and Public Health England, and the Imperial College of London. In other news regarding the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug administration late Thursday said the vaccine can be kept at conventional freezer temperatures for …

Experts Warn Crime Gangs Capable of Selling Fake Vaccines

International crime fighting agencies say organized crime groups have all the networks and methods needed to smuggle falsified, substandard and stolen COVID-19 vaccines across Africa.     Interpol crime intelligence analyst John-Patrick Broome said, as is the case in the rest of the continent, criminal gangs in East Africa import fake medicines from Asia, mostly China and India. The fake drugs often lack any active ingredients and many actually have harmful substances, he said.     “Illicit medications are primarily entering the market in eastern Africa through … avoidance of regulations, there’s violence-based criminality and there’s corruption as well, and corruption which is at a number of different levels,” Broome said.     China and India are expected to produce much of Africa’s vaccine supply.  That’s already a “big red flag,” says Nigerian journalist Ruona Meyer, whose work has exposed government officials and pharmaceutical company executives working with criminals to distribute falsified medicines in West Africa. Both countries are known as sources for faked pharmaceuticals.  Meyer says there won’t be enough vaccines, and as infection rates and deaths spike in some countries, criminals will introduce fakes into supply chains.  FILE – A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets in New Delhi, India, April 9, 2020.She points out they did that easily with chloroquine, when demand for the anti-malarial drug skyrocketed last year after it was touted as a coronavirus treatment.     “So, you had people who started producing fakes. You had people who started breaking down these routes. You had cases …

WHO Deems Human Spread of H5N8 Bird Flu Low

The World Health Organization on Friday said there is low risk of human-to-human spread of the H5N8 strain of bird flu, after a case of the virus being transmitted to people was recorded Feb. 20 in Russia.     The WHO statement comes after seven workers were infected at a poultry plant in Astrakhan, near the Volga river. According to Russian state media, the workers became mildly unwell with sore throats.     “All seven people… are now feeling well,” said the Anna Popova, head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog.   She added that adequate measures were taken quickly to stop the spread of the virus and that there were no signs of transmission between humans.   “All close contacts of these cases were clinically monitored, and no one showed signs of clinical illness,” said Popova.     According to WHO, outbreaks of the same strain were reported last year in poultry or wild birds in Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Russia.     Avian flus typically only affect birds and there are multiple strains of bird flu.     A separate strain, H1N1, spread worldwide among humans in 2009 and 2010, leading to the WHO declaring it an influenza pandemic. The outbreak was mild among humans but deadly among poultry.     Most cases of human infection come from contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with infected bird saliva, nasal secretions, or feces.  …

Former British PM Blair Readies Blueprint for Tackling Next Pandemic

A former British prime minister has prepared a blueprint for world leaders to use to manage the next pandemic.     Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change has issued a report titled The New Necessary: How We Future-Proof for the Next Pandemic that calls for international cooperation in the future to identify and test for any new outbreak.  The report also called on countries to work together to produce vaccines.       Blair told The Guardian, “Had there been global coordination a year ago, I think we could have shaved at least three months off this virus,” in a reference to the outbreak of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.     Blair also called on Britain to take a leadership role in establishing an international health security infrastructure to ensure global cooperation for any future pandemics.     South Korea began its coronavirus vaccine campaign Friday, focusing its initial inoculation efforts on nursing home residents and staff.     U.S. President Joe Biden hosted an event at the White House Thursday honoring the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccination administered in the country.   “Fifty million shots in just 37 days since I’ve become president,” Biden told reporters at the event, noting that despite extreme weather conditions, the United States is on track to surpass his promise to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days in office.  Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 8 MB480p …

Vaccination ‘Passports’ May Open Society, but Inequity Looms

Violet light bathed the club stage as 300 people, masked and socially distanced, erupted in gentle applause. For the first time since the pandemic began, Israeli musician Aviv Geffen stepped to his electric piano and began to play for an audience seated right in front of him.“A miracle is happening here tonight,” Geffen told the crowd.Still, the reanimating experience Monday night above a shopping mall north of Tel Aviv night was not accessible to everyone. Only people displaying a “green passport” that proved they had been vaccinated or had recovered from COVID-19 could get in.The highly controlled concert offered a glimpse of a future that many are longing for after months of COVID-19 restrictions. Governments say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will smooth the way to travel, entertainment and other social gatherings in a post-pandemic world.But it also raises the prospect of further dividing the world along the lines of wealth and vaccine access, creating ethical and logistical issues that have alarmed decision-makers around the world.’Left behind’Other governments are watching Israel churn through the world’s fastest vaccination program and grapple with the ethics of using the shots as diplomatic currency and power.Inside Israel, green passports or badges obtained through an app are the coin of the realm. The country recently reached agreements with Greece and Cyprus to recognize each other’s green badges, and more such tourism-boosting accords are expected.Anyone unwilling or unable to get the jabs that confer immunity will be “left behind,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.“It’s really …