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US Health Panel Recommends Booster Shot for Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

A panel of U.S. health advisers has recommended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorize a second shot of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who has received the single-dose inoculation.

The panel expressed concerns Friday that Americans who received the shot are not as protected as those who were given a two-dose vaccination from drugmakers Pfizer or Moderna.

Last month, the FDA authorized a third booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine for seniors as well as adults who are at high risk for COVID-19. On Thursday, the FDA advisory panel recommended a similar course of action for Moderna boosters, except using lower doses.

Johnson & Johnson is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved in the United States that is only one dose. Initially, it was hailed for its ability to take effect quickly, but soon ran into concerns that it led to a rare blood clot disorder and a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. It is now facing criticism that it is less effective than rival brands.

Only about 15 million Americans received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of 188 million Americans who are fully vaccinated.

In other developments Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would accept mixed-dose coronavirus vaccines from international travelers. It has said it would allow travelers to have received any vaccine authorized for use by the FDA or the World Health Organization.

Earlier in the day, the White House said it would lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for international travelers who are fully vaccinated on Nov. 8.

In France, health officials ended a policy Friday of allowing free COVID-19 tests for everyone in an effort to persuade people to get vaccinated. Now, only those who have been vaccinated, who have a prescription from a doctor, or minors will be allowed to take free tests while others will have to pay.

Health ministry data Friday showed COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the country, with 6,099 new cases up from last Friday’s 4,470 cases.

South Africa said Friday it would start vaccinating children between the ages of 12 and 17 next week using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The government is trying to meet a goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by December.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said Friday they have submitted data to the European Union’s regulatory agency to approve their coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11. The companies have already taken a similar step with U.S. regulators.

In Italy, officials made health passes mandatory for all workers Friday. The passes must show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection in order to work.

Scattered demonstrations were held across the country to protest the new rules, including 6,000 protesters in the northeastern port of Trieste.

And in Russia, the coronavirus task force said the daily number of new coronavirus infections and deaths surged to another record Friday. It reported 32,196 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 999 deaths in the previous 24 hours. 



US Cautious Over Claims Key IS African Leader Is Dead

Claims from Nigeria that the leader of one of the fastest-growing Islamic State terror group affiliates is dead are being met with extreme caution in the United States.

Officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department said Friday they were aware of accounts that Islamic State West Africa Province leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi had been killed, but some said it was too early to say anything for sure.

“We are aware of the reports but note that unconfirmed reports in the past have proven unfounded,” one senior administration official told VOA on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

“That said, ISIS-West Africa remains a threat to peace and stability in the region,” the official added, using another acronym for the terror group.

Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, General Lucky Irabor, first announced the death of al-Barnawi at a news conference in Lagos on Thursday.”

I can authoritatively confirm to you that Abu Musab is dead,” Irabor said, offering no other details.

Some media outlets suggested al-Barnawi had been killed in clashes with rival factions, but such claims could not be independently verified.

Al-Barnawi is the son of Mohammed Yusuf, who founded the rival terror group, Boko Haram. In 2016, when most of Boko Haram split with Islamic State, al-Barnawi was appointed the leader of the faction that remained loyal.

The U.S. named al-Barnawi a “specially designated global terrorist” in 2018, citing the risk he posed to U.S. national security.

For years, al-Barnawi’s IS West Africa had been battling Boko Haram for supremacy in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. But al-Barnawi’s group seemed to finally gain the upper hand in May when its forces surrounded Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau following a battle in the Sambisa Forest.

According to accounts posted online by IS and later confirmed by Nigerian and U.S. officials, Shekau, who, like al-Barnawi, was reported dead multiple times, eventually blew himself up rather than be taken alive.

According to U.S. military officials, Shekau’s death has since led to a rapid expansion for IS West Africa.

“ISWA (IS West Africa) has pretty much consolidated the vast majority of Boko Haram fighters,” one official told VOA, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

As a result, IS West Africa’s ranks have grown substantially, from about 2,500-3,000 fighters to about 5,000 fighters.

Intelligence from United Nations member states has also warned of IS West Africa’s growing ambitions.

A report by a U.N. sanctions monitoring team in July said the group was “expected to seek to extend its area of operations towards Maiduguri, Nigeria.”

The report further warned that IS West Africa was increasingly targeting “foreign interests” on the border with Niger.


More recent intelligence suggests that in some ways, al-Barnawi’s group is succeeding.

IS West Africa “is now a large and very capable presence,” the coordinator of the U.N. sanctions monitoring team, Edmund Fitton-Brown, told a security conference in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday.

“(It) also has a, as it were, a spoke or side affiliate known as IS Greater Sahara, which is active to the west broadly in the Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali border area,” he said. 


Everything we know about Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro so far

Google‘s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro will officially be launched on October 19, and in typical fashion, we know a ton of details about the phones well before their release. That’s in part due to unintentional leaks, but also because Google itself has already told us a ton of information about the device’s hardware. There’s a lot to be excited about with the Pixel 6, as it seems Google is taking hardware for the first time since… well, ever. Pixel phones have always been vehicles to show off Google’s software and AI chops as opposed to hardware showcases,  but…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Former Boeing Pilot Pleads Not Guilty in 737 Max Crashes

A former Boeing chief technical pilot, accused of deceiving federal regulators evaluating the company’s 737 MAX jet, was charged with fraud on Friday, pleaded not guilty and was released, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in northern Texas said. 

Mark Forkner, 49, was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on six counts of scheming to defraud Boeing’s U.S.-based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars for the plane maker. 

According to the indictment, Forkner provided the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aircraft Evaluation Group with “materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” about a new part of the flight controls for the Boeing 737 MAX, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). 

The MCAS, a software feature designed to automatically push the airplane’s nose down in certain conditions, was tied to two fatal crashes of the 737 MAX over a five-month period that killed 346 people. The FAA grounded the plane for 19 months, an action which was lifted in November 2020. 

A lawyer for Forkner said he should not have been charged and was not responsible for the two fatal Boeing crashes. 

“If the government takes this case to trial, the truth will show that Mark did not cause this tragedy, he did not lie, and he should not be charged,” lawyer David Gerger said in a statement. 

Gerger called on people who worked at Boeing, the FAA or an airline “to help the truth come out. Please contact us, get us a message, do not be intimidated.” 

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment. 

In January, Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in fines and compensation after reaching a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department over the MAX crashes, which cost Boeing more than $20 billion.


US Announces $20 Million Aid Package for Central America, Mexico

The United States on Friday announced an additional $20 million package of humanitarian aid for Mexico and Central America. 

The aid will “help meet urgent humanitarian needs for the nearly 700,000 asylum-seekers, refugees, and vulnerable migrants in Central America and Mexico,” the State Department said in a press release. 

Specifically, the money will go toward shelter, health care, legal assistance and mental health services, the State Department said. 

The U.S. has provided more than $331 million in aid to Central America and Mexico in Fiscal Year 2021, making it the “largest single donor of humanitarian aid in Central America and Mexico and to asylum-seekers, refugees, and vulnerable migrants in the region.” 

The move comes as the Biden administration announced it will comply with a court order and resume, in mid-November, an immigration program commonly referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” which was started by former President Donald Trump. 

That program requires asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico until they have a U.S. court hearing. 

In June, Biden ended the program, formally called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), but a federal court in August overruled the administration. 

Biden is reportedly looking to make another effort to rescind the program.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.