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Pfizer: Vaccine works in kids ages 5 to 11

Pfizer said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will seek U.S. authorization for this age group soon — a key step toward beginning vaccinations for youngsters.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech already is available for anyone 12 and older. But with kids now back in school and the extra-contagious delta variant causing a huge jump in pediatric infections, many parents are anxiously awaiting vaccinations for their younger children.

For elementary school-aged kids, Pfizer tested a much lower dose — a third of the amount that’s in each shot given now. Yet after their second dose, children ages 5 to 11 developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength shots, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president, told The Associated Press.

The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience, he said.

“I think we really hit the sweet spot,” said Gruber, who’s also a pediatrician.

Gruber said the companies aim to apply to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for emergency use in this age group, followed shortly afterward with applications to European and British regulators.

Earlier this month, FDA chief Dr. Peter Marks told the AP that once Pfizer turns over its study results, his agency would evaluate the data “hopefully in a matter of weeks” to decide if the shots are safe and effective enough for younger kids.

Meanwhile, in a major easing of pandemic travel restrictions, the U.S. said Monday it will allow foreigners to fly into the country this fall if they have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test — changes replacing a hodgepodge of rules that had kept out many non-citizens and irritated allies in Europe and beyond where virus cases are lower.

The changes, to take effect in November, will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications and allow foreigners with work permits to get back to their jobs in the U.S.

Airlines, business groups and travelers cheered — though also calling the step long overdue.

“It’s a happy day. Big Apple, here I come!” said French entrepreneur Stephane Le Breton, 45, finally able to book a trip to New York City that had been put on hold over the virus restrictions.

The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by President Joe Biden that restrict travel by non-citizens who have in the prior 14 days been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travelers flying to the U.S. to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the U.S., as well as after they arrive home.

COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic did — about 675,000.

The U.S. population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country. But the COVID-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time.

“Big pockets of American society — and, worse, their leaders — have thrown this away,” medical historian Dr. Howard Markel of the University of Michigan said of the opportunity to vaccinate everyone eligible by now.

Like the Spanish flu, the coronavirus may never entirely disappear from our midst. Instead, scientists hope it becomes a mild seasonal bug as human immunity strengthens through vaccination and repeated infection. That could take time.

“We hope it will be like getting a cold, but there’s no guarantee,” said Emory University biologist Rustom Antia, who suggests an optimistic scenario in which this could happen over a few years.

For now, the pandemic still has the United States and other parts of the world firmly in its jaws.

While the delta-fueled surge in infections may have peaked, U.S. deaths are running at over 1,900 a day on average, the highest level since early March, and the country’s overall toll topped 675,000 Monday, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the real number is believed to be higher.

Winter may bring a new surge, with the University of Washington’s influential model projecting an additional 100,000 or so Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, which would bring the overall U.S. toll to 776,000.


Agriculture
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Snowball effect: Farmer dealing with eagle depredation still waits for reimbursement

MURTAUGH — Since April, Rocky Matthews has lost 60 sheep from confirmed eagle kills and another 15 have “just disappeared.”

“If I had no bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all,” Matthews said.

The depredation by bald eagles has reduced his lamb inventory, which in turn limited his ability to support the rest of his sheep operation. No lambs to sell meant there was no money to purchase corn seed. No corn crop meant no feed to harvest for animals. And with no cash, Matthews couldn’t purchase additional feed for the winter.

“It’s a snowball effect,” he said.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

An immature bald eagle, born last spring, flies near its nest Friday near Murtaugh Lake south of Murtaugh. Juveniles get their adult plumage at 4 or 5 years old. 

The one bright spot? The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP).

Under LIP, Matthews should be entitled to 75% of the market value for each confirmed kill. But he hasn’t seen a single dollar.

Typically, LIP applications are processed and approved by the local Farm Service Agency County Committee within 30 days, said a USDA spokesperson over email. That timeline can change, especially if the FSA is waiting for required documentation.

Producers are required to provide evidence of losses. This can include proof of beginning and ending herd inventory, tax documents, third-party certification, or date-stamped pictures and videos of losses.

“We understand that there is a process but it’s past that process,” Matthews said. “I did everything I was supposed to.”

He submitted proof of herd inventory and a copy of the Wildlife Services depredation investigation report. Wildlife Services — part of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — handles such conflicts between humans and wildlife.

An investigator came out to his farm April 26 and filed a report in addition to performing necropsies, the equivalent of a human autopsy.

“The evidence basically just speaks for itself,” Jared Hedelius, state director for Wildlife Services, said in a telephone conversation.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Bald eagles fly around Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, near Murtaugh.

“All evidence collected is 99.9% indicative of eagle predation on lambs,” the official investigation report says. The report lists 20 confirmed kills and 30 probable.

The difference between Matthews’ numbers and Wildlife Services’ numbers is the number of sheep killed before or after the investigation or those that just disappeared, Hedelius said.

After such reports are filed, the wildlife services’ involvement is over and the case moves on to the county Farm Service Agency office.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Sheep hang out Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, near Murtaugh.

Eagle depredation cases are rare. Wildlife Services investigates one or two each year in Idaho.

Matthews is aware his case is unusual; he’s a member of the Twin Falls County Committee, the same body that signs off on LIP claims. Because of this, he has recused himself from the decision-making process.

“There is no reason for this to be months later and nothing has happened,” Matthews said. “I am hoping we (the committee) never treat other producers this way.”

The Times-News asked the agency why his case has yet to be approved.

“Due to privacy protocol, we cannot discuss application or payment status for individual producers,” a national USDA spokesperson wrote in an email to the Times-News.

The whole ordeal has taken a toll on the farming family. Matthews’ wife, Becca, continues to document their operations in YouTube videos.

“You can feel the pain in her voice as she’s recording some of those,” he said.

Matthews never expected his story to receive national attention. News outlets including The San Francisco Chronicle, Field and Stream, Montana Outdoor and Fox News retold his story in June after it was reported by the Times-News.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Bald eagles fly around Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, near Murtaugh.

Great Pyrenees dogs, bred to guard livestock, roam the Matthews property to protect the herd.

After the attacks, he moved the lambs inside a covered arena but the eagles continued to attack. Eventually, Matthews moved all the lambs to a neighbor’s property until they grew larger.

“No matter what you do, you can’t be everywhere at once,” Matthews said. “Other than building a cover to keep them in, I just don’t think there is much a guy can do.”

Friends of the family started a GoFundMe account to raise money for an enclosure to protect next year’s crop of lambs.

Matthews doesn’t want people to use his story to argue for fewer federal bald eagle protections.

“Out of respect for our symbol of freedom, I still believe that they need a higher level of protection than most protected animals.”


International
AP
Stocks drop most since May

Stocks on Wall Street closed sharply lower Monday, mirroring losses overseas and handing the S&P 500 index its biggest drop in four months.

Worries about heavily indebted Chinese real estate developers — and the damage they could do to investors worldwide if they default — rippled across markets. Investors are also concerned that the U.S. Federal Reserve could signal this week that it’s planning to pull back some of the support measures it’s been giving markets and the economy.

The S&P 500 fell 75.26 points, or 1.7%, to 4,357.73, its biggest drop since May. At one point, the benchmark index was down 2.9%, the biggest decline since last October. The S&P 500 was coming off two weeks of losses and is on track for its first monthly decline since January. The S&P 500 has gone an unusually long time without a pullback of 5% or more.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 614.41 points, or 1.8%, to 33,970.47. The blue-chip index was briefly down 971 points. The Nasdaq fell 330.06 points, or 2.2%, to 14,713.90. The Hang Seng, Hong Kong’s main index, dropped 3.3% for its biggest loss since July. European markets fell about 2%.

“What’s happened here is that the list of risks has finally become too big to ignore,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty at a seasonally challenging time for markets.”

The worries over Chinese property developers and debt have recently centered on Evergrande, one of China’s biggest real estate developers, which looks like it may be unable to repay its debts.

The fear is that a potential collapse there could send a chain reaction through the Chinese property-development industry and spill over into the broader financial system, similar to how the failure of Lehman Brothers inflamed the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession. Those property companies have been big drivers of the Chinese economy, which is the world’s second-largest.

If they fail to make good on their debts, the heavy losses taken by investors who hold their bonds would raise worries about their financial strength. Those bondholders could also be forced to sell other, unrelated investments to raise cash, which could hurt prices in seemingly unrelated markets. It’s a product of how tightly connected global markets have become, and it’s a concept the financial world calls “contagion.”

Many analysts say they expect China’s government to prevent such a scenario, and that this does not look like a Lehman-type moment. Nevertheless, any hint of uncertainty may be enough to upset Wall Street after the S&P 500 has glided higher in almost uninterrupted fashion since October.

Besides Evergrande, several other worries have been lurking underneath the stock market’s mostly calm surface. In addition to the Fed possibly announcing that it’s letting off the accelerator on its support for the economy, Congress may opt for a destructive game of chicken before allowing the U.S. Treasury to borrow more money and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on the global economy.

Regardless of what the biggest cause for Monday’s market swoon was, some analysts said such a decline was due. The S&P 500 hasn’t had even a 5% drop from a peak since October, and the nearly unstoppable rise has left stocks looking more expensive and with less room for error.

All the concerns have pushed some on Wall Street to predict upcoming drops for stocks. Morgan Stanley strategists said Monday that conditions may be ripening to cause a fall of 20% or more for the S&P 500. They pointed to weakening confidence among shoppers, the potential for higher taxes plus inflation to eat into corporate profits and other signs that the economy’s growth may slow sharply.

Even if the economy can avoid that worse-than-expected slowdown, Morgan Stanley’s Michael Wilson said stocks could nevertheless drop about 10% as the Fed pares back on its support for markets. The Fed is due to deliver its latest economic and interest rate policy update on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Stifel strategist Barry Bannister said he expects a drop of 10% to 15% for the S&P 500 in the final three months of the year. He cited the Fed’s tapering of its support, among other factors. So did Bank of America strategist Savita Subramanian, as she set a target of 4,250 for the S&P 500 by the end of the year. That would be a 4.1% drop from Friday’s close.

Technology companies led the broader market lower. Apple fell 2.1% and chipmaker Nvidia dropped 3.6%.

Banks posted big losses as bond yields slipped. That hurts their ability to charge more lucrative interest rates on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.31% from 1.37% late Friday. Bank of America fell 3.4%.

Oil prices fell 2.3% and weighed down energy stocks. Exxon Mobil fell 2.7%.

Smaller company stocks were among the biggest losers. The Russell 2000 fell 54.67 points, or 2.4%, to 2,182.20.

Airlines were among the few bright spots. American Airlines rose 3% to lead all the gainers in the S&P 500. Delta Air Lines rose 1.7% and United Airlines added 1.6%.

Cryptocurrency traders also had a rough day. The price of Bitcoin fell nearly 8% to $43,717, according to Coindesk.

Investors will have a chance for a closer look at how the slowdown affected a wide range of companies when the next round of corporate earnings begins in October. Solid earnings have been a key driver for stocks, but supply chain disruptions, higher costs and other factors could make it more of a struggle for companies to meet high expectations.

“The market’s biggest strength this year could become its biggest risk,” Arone said.


Local
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Chobani is making peanut butter to fight hunger

TWIN FALLS — Chobani is venturing into another new grocery store aisle.

On Monday, the food company announced its latest product, peanut butter flavored spreads.

Locally, the product will be available on shelves at Target. The spreads will not be made at the Twin Falls factory.

All profits from the new product will go to Edesia Nutrition, a nonprofit that fights hunger. Edesia produces Plumpy’Nut, a fortified peanut-butter paste that is used to treat malnutrition.

The Chobani line is called “Chobani Ends Child Hunger.”

“Childhood hunger in the U.S. and malnutrition globally are dual crises, and we have the opportunity and the responsibility to take additional action through this beautiful partnership,” said Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya.

The new product line will include spreads for adults and babies. The adult spreads have jar and squeeze pack options. The flavors include: peanut butter, cookie dough peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter.

Nationally, the line will be at a variety of retailers including: Stop and Shop, Wegmans, Publix, Harris Teeter, Target and FreshDirect.

Chobani now has a wide variety of products outside of yogurt including cold brew coffee, coffee creamers, oat products and probiotic drinks.


Idaho’s annual March for Life takes place every January near the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. This rally took place in 2017.


Local
This Idaho ICU doctor’s touching message went viral. Here’s what he told his coworkers

Dr. Kenneth Krell, 71, was driving to East Idaho’s largest intensive care unit in Idaho Falls on a Saturday.

It was supposed to be his day off. He had been working shifts of 36 hours, with 12 hours off. But when he received a phone call saying the ICU was overwhelmed, he immediately agreed to come in.

“Driving in, it just occurred to me how beleaguered our staff seemed and what remarkable people they are,” Krell told the Idaho Statesman by phone Friday. “We have been through a lot. And we keep persevering.”

After arriving at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, he made his way to the staff whiteboard and scrawled a message to his coworkers.

“In the end what sustains us, and what we will remember about having survived this madness, are the remarkable people who endured this with us, the best of humanity — all of us — who demonstrated the best of our calling. We endured this together, and supported each other. We saved lives and lost lives, and we did both with compassion and competence. We will not forget this.”

Krell’s words struck a chord. And not just at his hospital. A colleague shared a photo of the note on Facebook, which was then shared further by others. A photo of the note has been viewed more than 1.3 million times and liked 20,000 times on Twitter. The message has made its way to Instagram and a page for nurses on Reddit.

MESSAGE REACHES HEALTH CARE WORKERS ACROSS THE U.S.

FACEBOOK 

A note to hospital staff written by Kenneth Krell, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center intensivist, was shared by thousands. 

Many of those moved by Krell’s words were people who identified themselves online as health care workers. Some said they were brought to tears, while others said they planned to post the message in their own hospital.

“This captures perfectly how we all feel,” tweeted Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, a respiratory specialist in Indiana. “Upset that we are in this mess. And nevertheless bolstered by the challenge. And thankful for those who are battling with us.”

Krell has been a relentless advocate for preventive COVID-19 measures in East Idaho, home to some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. While talking about his coworkers, whom he calls “the most remarkable people,” he choked up and stopped for a moment.

The pandemic has only gotten harder for them, he said. He recalled the early era of the pandemic when they were treated like heroes. He remembered when his staff still had hope that a vaccine would bring things back to normal.

Those days seem long ago.

“I think we all have some commonality that the public (is no longer) our allies,” Krell said. “But, in instances that are surprising, patients sometimes have some real hostility. They say they couldn’t have COVID, that this is all a lie, even as we’re getting ready to intubate them.”

HOSPITAL STAFF LEAN ON EACH OTHER AS COVID-19 CASES RISE

A number of people on social media commented that Krell’s message was something you’d expect to hear “working in a war zone,” not a rural Idaho hospital. Twitter users said its tone sounded “like a battle speech,” “like a combat unit,” and “what you say about people pinned down by enemy fire in a foxhole, not hospital staff.”

“I don’t know, I don’t have any experience with war,” Krell said of those comments. “I do know that my friends who have been in battle tell me that what gets them through an actual war isn’t some higher philosophy of some greater cause. But rather, it’s the soldier standing next to you that you want to protect. It feels like that for us in health care.”


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