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CDC endorses COVID booster for millions of older Americans

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and MIKE STOBBE

AP – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday endorsed booster shots for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans, opening a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against COVID-19.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday.

The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected.

The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health-care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus.

But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week. The category she included covers people who live in institutional settings that increase their risk of exposure, such as prisons or homeless shelters, as well as health care workers.

The panel had offered the option of a booster for those ages 18 to 49 who have chronic health problems and want one. But the advisers refused to go further and open boosters to otherwise healthy front-line health care workers who aren’t at risk of severe illness but want to avoid even a mild infection.

The panel voted 9 to 6 to reject that proposal. But Walensky decided to disregard the advisory committee’s counsel on that issue. In a decision several hours after the panel adjourned, Walensky issued a statement saying she had restored the recommendation.

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said in a statement late Thursday night. “At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

Experts say getting the unvaccinated their first shots remains the top priority, and the panel wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal.

All three of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. are still highly protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, even with the spread of the extra-contagious delta variant. But only about 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the population.

“We can give boosters to people, but that’s not really the answer to this pandemic,” said Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University. “Hospitals are full because people are not vaccinated. We are declining care to people who deserve care because we are full of unvaccinated COVID-positive patients.”

Thursday’s decision represented a dramatic scaling back of the Biden administration plan announced last month to dispense boosters to nearly everyone to shore up their protection. Late Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration, like the CDC panel, signed off on Pfizer boosters for a much narrower slice of the population than the White House envisioned.

The booster plan marks an important shift in the nation’s vaccination drive. Britain and Israel are already giving a third round of shots over strong objections from the World Health Organization that poor countries don’t have enough for their initial doses.

Walensky opened Thursday’s meeting by stressing that vaccinating the unvaccinated remains the top goal “here in America and around the world.”

Walensky acknowledged that the data on who really needs a booster right away “are not perfect.” “Yet collectively they form a picture for us,” she said, “and they are what we have in this moment to make a decision about the next stage in this pandemic.”

The CDC panel stressed that its recommendations will be changed if new evidence shows more people need a booster.

The CDC advisers expressed concern over the millions of Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots early in the vaccine rollout. The government still hasn’t considered boosters for those brands and has no data on whether it is safe or effective to mix-and-match and give those people a Pfizer shot.

“I just don’t understand how later this afternoon we can say to people 65 and older, ‘You’re at risk for severe illness and death, but only half of you can protect yourselves right now,’” said Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University.

About 26 million Americans got their last Pfizer dose at least six months ago, about half of whom are 65 or older. It’s not clear how many more would meet the CDC panel’s booster qualifications.

CDC data show the vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness for all ages, but there is a slight drop among the oldest adults. And immunity against milder infection appears to be waning months after people’s initial immunization.

For most people, if you’re not in a group recommended for a booster, “it’s really because we think you’re well-protected,” said Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Public health experts not involved in Thursday’s decision said it is unlikely people seeking third doses at a drugstore or other site will be required to prove they qualify.

Even with the introduction of boosters, someone who has gotten just the first two doses would still be considered fully vaccinated, according to the CDC’s Dr. Kathleen Dooling. That is an important question to people in parts of the country where you need to show proof of vaccination to eat in a restaurant or enter other places of business.

Among people who stand to benefit from a booster, there are few risks, the CDC concluded. Serious side effects from the first two Pfizer doses are exceedingly rare, including heart inflammation that sometimes occurs in younger men. Data from Israel, which has given nearly 3 million people — mostly 60 and older — a third Pfizer dose, has uncovered no red flags.

The U.S. has already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Grassley announces he’ll seek 8th term in U.S. Senate

BY 

RADIO IOWA – U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley announced at 4 o’clock this morning that he is running for re-election.

Grassley’s campaign account on Twitter features a GIF of the Senator running, plus a photo of Grassley in a corn field, with a sentence quoting Grassley as saying he “has a lot more to do, for Iowa.” During an interview with Radio Iowa earlier this month, Grassley said he was gauging the opinions of Iowans on the topic.

“The latter is very difficult to determine because I don’t have just a few people say, ‘You ought to retire, ‘ and maybe those are people who want me to retire because they want to elect a Democrat,” Grassley said. “I don’t know their motives, but I get a lot of people who encourage me to run and say: ‘We need your common sense there.’ That’s very encouraging.”

Grassley celebrated his 88th birthday on Friday. He is one of seven senators who are in their 80s and Grassley said his age is no reason to retire from the Senate.

“Don’t you think octogenarians need some representation, too?” Grassley said, with a laugh. “That’s kind of a tongue in cheek answer, but don’t you think you need a little institutional knowledge around?”

Grassley said he’s had his annual physical, is healthy and goes for a run before sunrise six days a week. Grassley could face a GOP Primary challenger next year, as Republican State Senator Jim Carlin of Sioux City announced earlier this year he’s running for the U.S. Senate. Two Democrats have announced they’re seeking a spot on the 2022 ballot to challenge Grassley. Abby Finkenauer of Cedar Rapids is a former member of the U.S. House. Dave Muhlbauer of Manilla is a former Crawford County Supervisor.

Chief Justice Christensen speaks in Oskaloosa

The Iowa Supreme Court was in Oskaloosa Thursday(9/23).  The Court heard oral arguments of an appeal of a case at George Daily Auditorium.  Earlier in the day, Chief Justice Susan Christensen spoke to a group of Oskaloosa High School students about the law and pursuing one’s dreams.  Justice Christensen talks about the Supreme Court going on the road, so to speak.

“This gives, I think, rural Iowa an opportunity..or some cities that are further away from Des Moines…(a chance) to come and see what we do and how a case is presented to the Iowa Supreme Court.  I think it’s a blast.  I come from a small community.  I’m from Harlan, which is just 5000.  And when we go to communities that aren’t huge urban areas, I feel at home.”

On Friday (9/24), various Iowa Supreme Court Justices will speak at William Penn University, as well as schools in Colfax-Mingo, Grinnell and Williamsburg.

Friday high school football preview

The Oskaloosa High football team opens district play Friday night (9/24) when the Indians travel to Clear Creek-Amana.  The Indians are in a Class 4A district with two ranked teams: Cedar Rapids Xavier and Newton. Three other teams in the district, Clear Creek-Amana, Cedar Rapids Washington and Oskaloosa all received votes in the Associated Press rankings.  And there’s Pella, which is always a strong program.  Oskaloosa Coach Brett Doud looks forward to the challenge of district play.

“That’s one great thing about football is…you don’t play 100 games a year or 30 games a year, you play nine games.  And the fact that we’re going to play five games the rest of this year and every single game is going to give us a test in one way or another.  That’s the way it should be.”

Oskaloosa comes in with a 4-0 record, Clear Creek-Amana is 3-1.  You can hear Indians football tonight on KBOE-FM.  Pregame coverage starts at 7:15 with the kickoff at 7:30.

There’s another big high school football battle Friday night in Pella.  This one in Class 1A, as sixth-ranked Pella Christian hosts fourth-ranked Sigourney-Keota.  Both teams are 4-0 on the season.  You can hear the Cobras and Eagles on KMZN AM & FM with pregame coverage at 6:45 and AJ Helgeson with the play-by-play at 7.

Friday’s other HS football:

Pella @ Newton

Davis County @ EBF

North Mahaska @ Belle Plaine

Southeast Warren @ Montezuma

Albia @ PCM

Madrid @ Lynnville-Sully

Washington @ Grinnell

Pekin @ Columbus Junction

Creston @ Knoxville

Melcher-Dallas @ Twin Cedars

Cedar Rapids Prairie @ Ottumwa CANCELLED due to coronavirus

Tensions grow as US, allies deepen Indo-Pacific involvement

By DAVID RISING

BANGKOK (AP) — With increasingly strong talk in support of Taiwan, a new deal to supply Australia with nuclear submarines, and the launch of a European strategy for greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. and its allies are becoming more assertive in their approach toward a rising China.

China has bristled at the moves, and the growing tensions between Beijing and Washington prompted U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the weekend to implore U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to repair their “completely dysfunctional” relationship, warning they risk dividing the world.

As the U.N. General Assembly opened Tuesday, both leaders chose calming language, with Biden insisting “we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” and Xi telling the forum that “China has never, and will never invade or bully others or seek hegemony.”

But the underlying issues have not changed, with China building up its military outposts as it presses its maritime claims over critical sea lanes, and the U.S. and its allies growing louder in their support of Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, and deepening military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

On Thursday, China sent 19 fighter jets toward Taiwan in a large display of force after the island announced its intention to join an 11-nation Pacific trade group, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, that China has also applied to join.

On Friday, Biden hosts the leaders of Japan, India and Australia for an in-person Quadrilateral Security Dialogue for broad talks including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, but also how to keep the Indo-Pacific, a vast region spanning from India to Australia, “free and open,” according to the White House.

It comes a week after the dramatic announcement that Australia would be dropping a contract for conventional French submarines in favor of an Anglo-American offer for nuclear-powered vessels, a bombshell that overshadowed the unveiling of the European Union’s strategy to boost political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific.

“One thing is certain, that everyone is pivoting toward the Indo-Pacific,” said Garima Mohan, an Asia program fellow with the German Marshall Fund think tank.

As partners pursue moves that play to their own strengths and needs, however, the past week has underscored the lack of coordination as a networked security strategy develops, she said.

“Not everyone has the same threat assessment of China,” she said in a telephone interview from Berlin.

The EU policy emphasizes the need for dialogue with Beijing, to encourage “China to play its part in a peaceful and thriving Indo-Pacific region,” while at the same time proposing an “enhanced naval presence” and expanded security cooperation with regional partners.

It also notes China’s increased military buildup, and that “the display of force and increasing tensions in regional hotspots such as in the South and East China Sea, and in the Taiwan Strait, may have a direct impact on European security and prosperity.”

Germany, which has close economic ties to China, got a wake-up call last week when China rejected its request for a port call for the frigate Bavaria, which is currently conducting maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific.

“China is telling them this inclusive approach is not going to work, so in a way it’s a rude awakening for Berlin,” Mohan said. “You have to take a position, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and if you have an Indo-Pacific strategy … you can’t make it neutral.”

Other EU countries, most notably France, have also sent naval assets for exercises in the Indo-Pacific, and Britain has had a whole carrier strike group conducting exercises for several months as London pursues the new tilt toward the region recommended by a recent British government review of defense and foreign policy.

China’s Foreign Ministry said after rejecting the Bavaria’s port call that it remained “willing to carry out friendly exchanges with Germany on the basis of mutual respect and mutual trust,” but made clear it was displeased with the increased naval presence in the region.

“Individual powers… have repeatedly dispatched military aircraft and warships to the South China Sea for some time in the name of exercising freedom of navigation to flex muscle, stir up trouble and deliberately provoke conflicts on maritime issues,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “China’s determination to safeguard national and territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests is unwavering, and will continue to properly handle differences with the countries concerned through consultations and negotiations.”

Beijing was less reserved in its reaction to the submarine deal with Australia, under which the U.S. and Britain will help Canberra construct nuclear-powered submarines, calling it “highly irresponsible” and saying it would “seriously damage regional peace and stability.”

In signing the pact with the U.S. and Britain, Australia canceled a $66 billion deal with France for diesel-powered submarines, infuriating Paris, which recalled its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra and suggested it calls into question the entire cooperative effort to blunt China’s growing influence.

While clearly irked by the surprise deal, many observers have suggested that the vociferous reaction from France may be more directed toward a domestic audience, where President Emmanuel Macron faces a reelection bid early next year.

But there was clear disappointment that the U.S. seemed to be ignoring France’s own engagement in the region by not informing them in advance, said Laurence Nardon, an expert at the French Institute for International Relations.

“There was a way to do this while keeping Europeans in the loop,” she said. “The Indo-Pacific is important for the EU too; it’s not one or the other.”

In a call with Macron late Wednesday, Biden reaffirmed “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” according to a joint statement.

More than just a decision to pursue nuclear submarines, the deal was a clear signal of Australia committing long term to being in the U.S. camp on China policy, said Euan Graham, an expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

“The submarine decision represents an emphatic doubling down on the Australia-U.S. alliance by both countries,” he said in an analysis of the deal.

As the pact was introduced, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison alluded to the long-term nature, saying “at its heart, today’s announcements are about the oldest of friendships, the strongest of values and the deepest of commitment.”

The submarine deal seems likely to exacerbate the ongoing trade war between China and Australia, and Australia is hoping to strike a free trade deal with Quad partner India to help offset the economic impact.

While the European strategy outline will take time, the plan provides clarity in how the EU is prepared to work with the U.S. and its allies in the region — something that has been lacking in the past.

“There’s a lack of understanding on the U.S. side of why Europe is interested in the Indo-Pacific and exactly what kind of role it wants to play,” Mohan said in a podcast on the issue. “There’s also a lack of understanding of the U.S. approach.”

In the outline of the strategy, the EU broadly looks to pool its resources for greater effect, and to work more closely with the Quad countries, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and others.

It also envisions enhancing current operations, such as the Atalanta anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa and in the western Indian Ocean, and the expansion of the EU maritime security and safety mission in the wider Indian Ocean area, which has already been broadened to Southeast Asia.

“The European assessment is very realistic about what they can and cannot do in the region,” Mohan said. “It’s about making sure the resources, the spending, that’s done right and has an impact.”

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Associated Press writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

Watchdog group says Axne, 6 other House members didn’t disclose stock trades

BY 

A non-profit called the Campaign Legal Center has filed an ethics complaint against Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne and six other House members, accusing the group of “failing to report stock trades in a timely manner.”

National Public Radio was first to report Axne, a Democrat for West Des Moines, along with three other Democrats and three Republicans in the House were being cited by the group. A law passed in 2012 requires members of congress to file a public report when they buy and sell stock. According to the Campaign Legal Center, Axne didn’t report any stock transactions in 2019 and 2020.

A spokesperson for Axne said the congresswoman has publicly disclosed her assets, but “does not personally manage or execute the stock trades” for her retirement account or accounts she has with her husband or her small business. Axne’s spokesperson said the congresswoman will “take all necessary steps to ensure disclosures of stock trades are accurate and in accordance with the law.”

The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party said it is clear Axne “hid stock trades from public scrutiny” and he called her explanation for he lapse “a pathetic excuse.”

Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from Ottumwa, is updating her financial disclosure form after the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported she failed to list her $25,000 salary as a state senator on the document. A spokesman for Miller-Meeks told the Gazette the congresswoman had no outside income, assets or liabilities to disclose.

Statesmen football plays Missouri Valley in Homecoming game

It’s Homecoming week at William Penn University.  The Statesmen football team hosts Missouri Valley Saturday afternoon (9/25) looking to boost their 1-3 record.  Statesmen Coach Todd Hafner wants his team to play a complete game on Saturday.

“Each of the last two weeks, we’ve had a quarter in the game where we just didn’t play very well.  In order to win in this conference and win games consistently, you have to play games for four quarters.  So we’re working on that.  We’re working on our kids.  This week, the mentality has come out right when we start practice, whether we’re stretching or in individual or whatever we’re doing, we’re competing and hopefully we can carry that over to Saturday and play a four quarter game.”

Missouri Valley comes in with a 2-2 record.  Kickoff time Saturday is 2:30 at Statesmen Community Stadium.  Tickets for that game must be purchased in advance online at StatesmenAthletics.com/ticketing.

Also at Saturday’s Homecoming game, three new members will be inducted into the William Penn University Athletics Hall of Fame.  Kris Miller is the second all-time leading scorer in Statesmen men’s basketball history and also ranks in the school’s top ten as a sprinter in track.  Clint Peery was a linebacker from 2005-07.  And the late Garey Smith coached the Statesmen women’s basketball team to 238 victories over 18 seasons, including three conference championships, two NCAA Division III regional titles and five NCAA Division III national tournament appearances.

Iowa Supreme Court comes to Oskaloosa

The Iowa Supreme Court will be in Oskaloosa Thursday (9/23).  The Court will hear oral arguments in an appeal of a case Thursday night at 7 at George Daily Auditorium.  The public is invited to this hearing.  Also on Thursday, Chief Justice Susan Christensen will speak at Oskaloosa High School.  Then on Friday (9/23), justices will speak at William Penn University, as well as schools in Colfax-Mingo, Grinnell and Williamsburg.

‘Soul-crushing’: US COVID-19 deaths are topping 1,900 a day

By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH

AP – COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have climbed to an average of more than 1,900 a day for the first time since early March, with experts saying the virus is preying largely on a distinct group: 71 million unvaccinated Americans.

The increasingly lethal turn has filled hospitals, complicated the start of the school year, delayed the return to offices and demoralized health care workers.

“It is devastating,” said Dr. Dena Hubbard, a pediatrician in the Kansas City, Missouri, area who has cared for babies delivered prematurely by cesarean section in a last-ditch effort to save their mothers, some of whom died. For health workers, the deaths, combined with misinformation and disbelief about the virus, have been “heart-wrenching, soul-crushing.”

Twenty-two people died in one week alone at CoxHealth hospitals in the Springfield-Branson area, a level almost as high as that of all of Chicago. West Virginia has had more deaths in the first three weeks of September — 340 — than in the previous three months combined. Georgia is averaging 125 dead per day, more than California or other more populous states.

“I’ve got to tell you, a guy has got to wonder if we are ever going to see the end of it or not,” said Collin Follis, who is the coroner in Missouri’s Madison County and works at a funeral home.

The nation was stunned back in December when it was witnessing 3,000 deaths a day. But that was when almost no one was vaccinated.

Now, nearly 64% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And yet, average deaths per day have climbed 40% over the past two weeks, from 1,387 to 1,947, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Health experts say the vast majority of the hospitalized and dead have been unvaccinated. While some vaccinated people have suffered breakthrough infections, those tend to be mild.

The number of vaccine-eligible Americans who have yet to get a shot has been put at more than 70 million.

“There is a very real risk you’ll end up in the hospital or even in the obituary pages,” Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, said to the unvaccinated. “Don’t become a statistic when there is a simple, safe and effective alternative to go out today and get vaccinated.”

Many low-vaccination communities also have high rates of conditions like obesity and diabetes, said Dr. William Moss of Johns Hopkins. And that combination — along with the more contagious delta variant — has proved lethal.

“I think this is a real failure of society and our most egregious sin to be at this stage where we have hospitals overwhelmed, ICUs overwhelmed and hitting this mark in terms of deaths per day,” Moss lamented.

New cases of the coronavirus per day in the U.S. have dropped since the start of September and are now running at about 139,000. But deaths typically take longer to fall because victims often linger for weeks before succumbing.

In Kansas, 65-year-old cattleman Mike Limon thought he had beaten COVID-19 and went back to work for a few days. But the virus had “fried” his lungs and he died last week, said his grandson, Cadin Limon, 22, of Wichita.

He said his grandfather didn’t get vaccinated for fear of a bad reaction, and he hasn’t gotten the shot either for the same reason, though serious side effects have proved extremely rare.

He described his grandfather as a “man of faith.”

“Sixty-five is still pretty young,” the young man said. “I know that. It seems sudden and unexpected, but COVID didn’t surprise God. His death wasn’t a surprise to God. The God I serve is bigger than that.”

Cases are falling in West Virginia from pandemic highs, but deaths and hospitalizations are expected to continue increasing for as many as six more weeks, said retired National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who leads the state’s coronavirus task force.

Dr. Greg Martin, who is president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and practices mostly at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, said the staff is buckling under the strain.

“I think everyone in 2020 thought we would get through this. No one really thought that we would still be seeing this the same way in 2021,” he said.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon activated the state’s National Guard on Tuesday to provide assistance to hospitals dealing with a surge of COVID-19 patients.

In Oklahoma, Hillcrest South Hospital in Tulsa is among several medical centers around the country to add temporary morgues. Deaths are at an all-time high there, at three to four times the number it would see in a non-COVID-19 world, said Bennett Geister, hospital CEO.

He said the staff there, too, is worn out.

“They didn’t sign up to be ICU nurses only to have people pass away on them,” he said. “They signed up to be ICU nurses to take people to recovery and heal people from the brink of death.”

Oskaloosa sports results from Tuesday

Oskaloosa’s volleyball team suffered its first Little Hawkeye Conference loss of the season Tuesday (9/21) as 11th ranked Pella defeated the fourth-ranked Indians three sets to one in Pella.  Oskaloosa won the opening set 25-19, then Pella took the next three by scores of 25-21, 25-23 and 25-20.  Unofficially, Faith DeRonde had 18 kills for the Indians, with Aubree Blanco recording six blocks.  Pella’s Bailey Van Voorst had a team high 14 kills.  Oskaloosa and Pella are both 3-1 in Conference play.  Osky’s next game is Monday night (9/27) at Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.

Switching to cross country, Oskaloosa’s boys and girls both finished second at a race in Mount Pleasant Tuesday.  Sage Adam led the Indians’ girls with a second place overall finish.  And in the boys’ race, Patrick DeRonde finished second overall.  The Indians next meet is next Tuesday at Knoxville.

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