FDA expert panel endorses Moderna vaccine booster shot – as it happened

14 days ago

FDA expert panel endorses Moderna vaccine booster shot – as it happened

The Guardian

Today's recap

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) experts recommended a booster shot of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for high-risk groups and people older than 65. Next week, Moderna’s application to provide booster doses of its Covid-19 vaccine will move to a panel of independent experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Joe Biden is reportedly considering former FDA commissioner Robert Califf to once again lead the agency. The FDA has been without a permanent leader since Biden took office, and is currently being led by an acting commissioner who has been criticized for the mishandling of the opioid crisis as drug chief. Califf, who served in the Obama administration, has been criticized for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Biden urged the 66 million unvaccinated Americans to get a vaccine. Although vaccination rates have increased in recent days, he said the US must continue to vaccinate the unvaccinated. He said vaccine mandates “work, they work”, and mounting evidence shows they can increase vaccination rates by up to 20% for some employers.
  • The House committee investigating the 6 January insurrection is making first moves to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for defying its subpoena. Bannon, apparently on Trump’s instruction, refused to comply with his subpoena.
  • The attorney general, Merrick Garland, will make his first appearance before the House judiciary committee next week. The testimony is likely to touch on everything from a severe near-total abortion ban in Texas to voting rights and gun violence.

– Maanvi Singh, Lauren Gambino, Jessica Glenza and Joanna Walters

Updated

Lawmakers seek to rein in big tech with bills aimed at competition and liability

Kari Paul reports:

US lawmakers announced two major new proposals seeking to rein in the power of big tech, days after the revelations from a former Facebook employee spotlighted the company’s sweeping impact.

The first bill, proposed by a group of senators headed by Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Chuck Grassley would bar big tech platforms from favoring their own products and services.

The second bill, put forward by House Democrats, would remove some protections afforded tech companies by Section 230, a portion of the Communications Decency Act that exempts them from liability for what is posted on their platforms.

The proposals are part of a slew of bills from this Congress aimed at reining in tech firms, including industry leaders Facebook and Apple. Thus far, none have become law although one, a broader measure to increase resources for antitrust enforcers, has passed the Senate.

Klobuchar and Grassley’s bill would specifically prohibit platforms from requiring companies operating on their sites to purchase the platform’s goods or services and ban them from biasing search results to favor the platform. It is a companion bill to a measure which has passed the House judiciary committee and must pass both houses of Congress to become law.

Read more:

Dozens of climate activists arrested at Interior Department

Fifty-five climate activists, including Indigenous leaders, were arrested during a protest at the Interior Department, according to the organizers of People vs. Fossil Fuels. Both activists and security personnel were injured.

Activists said that tasers and batons were used against them. The protestors were demanding that Joe Biden halt approvals for fossil fuel projects and declare a national climate emergency. At the Interior Department, the Indigenous Environmental Network – which was leading the protest today – said Indigenous leaders were there to occupy the Bureau of Indian Affair, which is part of the department. They voiced opposition to Line 3, a tar-sands oil pipeline project that opponents say violates protected tribal land.

Biden reportedly considering former FDA commissioner Robert Califf to once again lead agency

Joe Biden is honing in on Robert Califf, the former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner under Barack Obama, as he considers nominees to lead the agency.

The FDA has been without a permanent leader since Biden took office, and is currently being led by an acting commissioner, Janet Woodcock, who has been criticized for her handling of the opioid crisis during her tenure as drug chief.

Califf served as FDA commissioner for about a year, during Obama’s second term. The Washington Post first reported that he is a top contender for the role once again. Although he was confirmed in 2016 with broad support, some senators including Bernie Sanders of Vermont have raised concerns over his ties to the healthcare industry.

“The country desperately needs an FDA leader who will reverse the decades-long trend in which the agency’s relationship with the pharmaceutical and medical device industries has grown dangerously cozier,” said Michael Carome, of the advocacy group Public Citizen. “Califf would not be that leader.”

OPINION: Merck wants Americans to pay $712 for a Covid drug that taxpayers helped develop

Guardian US columnist David Sirota writes:

Last week, we learned that Merck is planning to charge Americans 40 times its cost for a Covid drug whose development was subsidized by the American government. The situation spotlights two sets of facts that have gone largely unmentioned in the legislative debate over whether to let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices.

Fact one: Americans are facing not merely expensive drugs but prices that are examples of outright profiteering.

Fact two: in many cases, the medicines we are being gouged on are those that we the public already paid for.

These facts show us that pharma-bankrolled Democrats trying to kill drug pricing measures aren’t just bought and paid for in this particular skirmish – they are foot soldiers in the pharmaceutical industry’s larger multi-decade campaign to seal off and rig America’s alleged “free market”.

First, there’s the price point of drugs. It’s not merely that Americans are paying the world’s highest prices for pharmaceuticals, it’s that in many cases, we are paying prices that aren’t even close to what consumers in other countries pay.

A new Public Citizen analysis shows that the 20 top-selling medicines generated almost twice as much pharmaceutical industry revenue in the United States as in every other country combined. Sure, compared with others, Americans may buy a lot of prescription drugs, but this study reflects something much bigger at play: pharma-sculpted public policies that allow drug price levels to go beyond profits and into profiteering.

That term “profiteering” is important here because drugmakers aren’t losing lots of money in other countries where they sell medicines at lower prices.

Read more:

Covid vaccines for US children are coming, but challenge will be persuading parents

Melody Schreiber reports:

Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11 are inching closer to authorization in the US, with possible availability as soon as early November, and experts are already looking to the next hurdle: actually getting the shots in those young arms.

Only one-third of parents plan to vaccinate their children as soon as the vaccines are ready, the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation has found. Another third of those surveyed want to wait and see how the rollout goes.

“What’s going to be actually more challenging, beyond having the infrastructure to be able to administer the Covid-19 vaccines, is ensuring that parents feel comfortable vaccinating their children,” Syra Madad, an infectious disease epidemiologist and senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health + Hospitals, told the Guardian.

About half of children 12 and older have been vaccinated in the months since the vaccines were given the green light for those ages.

Vaccinating people of all ages is a crucial part of ending the pandemic, said Dr Saad Omer, an infectious disease epidemiologist and director of the Yale Institute for Global Health.

“We will not be able to get out of this pandemic without vaccinating children – both for their own sake and for the sake of having overall protection,” he added.

Read more:

An FDA advisory panel recommended booster doses for some Americans on Thursday.
An FDA advisory panel recommended booster doses for some Americans on Thursday. Photograph: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

Let’s break down the FDA advisory panel’s recommendation about who should get booster shots and why:

  • First, “It’s important to remember that the vaccines still provide strong protection against serious outcomes” such as hospitalization and death from Covid-19, said FDA vaccine chief Dr Peter Marks.
  • The panel recommended the booster doses for people who are older than 65, work or live in high-risk settings, or have health problems that might make them susceptible to severe Covid-19.
  • That recommendation was made in part on the Israeli experience, where Pfizer booster doses were given to people older than 60.
  • The recommendation was for this group of people to receive the booster dose at least six months after they received both doses of the original vaccine series (typically, two doses spaced 28 days apart).
  • Moderna booster shots will be half the dose of the original vaccine series – 50-micrograms v 100-micrograms. The goal is to make booster doses with less reactogenicity – or side effects.
  • This is not the last hurdle for Moderna boosters. The FDA will issue a formal decision on whether to approve booster shots based on experts’ recommendations. They don’t always take experts’ advice, but most of the time they do. As well, a complimentary panel of experts who advise the CDC will consider the evidence on Moderna booster shots next week.
  • US leaders stress booster shots are not the first line of defense in the pandemic. They can help maintain protection for vulnerable people who are already vaccinated, but work must continue to vaccinate 66 million more Americans.

There will be more booster news in the coming days:

  • On Friday, the same independent panel of experts who advise the FDA will consider whether it is safe and effective for Americans to have a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That decision will then also go to a complimentary CDC panel for consideration.
  • Expert advisors to the FDA and CDC will then consider vaccines for children aged 5-12 years old later this month, an advisory panel sure to be watched closely by parents all over the country.

Mark Warner, a Democratic senator of Virginia, as well as the state’s gubernatorial candidate Terry Mcauliffe, have urged the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to pass the $1tn infrastructure bill and notch a win while negotiations drag on over the size and scope of Biden’s larger social spending package. The Virginia Democrats believe it could boost the party’s efforts in the state ahead of elections next month.

“I think the president ought to tell the House that we ought to deliver the infrastructure bill,” Warner told CNN.

But House progressives have said they would tank the infrastructure bill if it not passed in tandem with the bigger package.

Psaki was asked twice about these comments but would not engage. She reiterated that the White House is committed to passing both bills and would do so when they had the votes to move the bills.

Ending the briefing on a humorous note, she confirmed that the president is following the Texas governor’s race but that he has made no calls to the actor Matthew McConaughey to urge him to run.

McConaughey is reportedly considering challenging the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, with whom Biden and the White House have repeatedly tangled. It’s far from clear if McConaughey is serious about running for office and if he did, what party he would join to do so.

Updated

Psaki demurred when asked if she believes Congress would pass his social spending plan by Pelosi’s 31 October deadline and before he leaves for the Glasgow summit at the beginning of next month. She said she would not comment on the timeline, but reiterated that the “time is unending and we feel that it is time to move forward.”

She said president Biden and senior level officials have been engaged and in constant communication with lawmakers over the bill, including key centrist holdouts, senators Sinema and Manchin. She would not provide details on their outreach.

Related to the White House’s decision to hand over documents related to the January 6 attack on the US capitol, a reporter asked Psaki whether the administration was potentially opening a “pandora’s box” for future presidents who may have political motivations for making public information traditionally kept private about their predecessor.

“I can assure you ... that this president has no intention to lead an insurrection on our nation’s Capitol,” Psaki replied. She said they don’t see it as a breach of decorum given the extraordinary nature of the attack on US democracy.

In response to a question about the White House chief of staff Ron Klain’s “retweets,” a source of constant chatter and criticism, Psaki said his social media habits are “not a top priority”.

She was asked again about comments by US climate envoy John Kerry to the Associated Press, in which he said failure to pass the social spending package would be “devastating” and akin to “President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement.”

Psaki said that the global climate summit beginning on 1 November in Glasgow was an important international summit, but insisted the US could maintain its leadership role even if negotiations were still ongoing over the sweep of Biden’s agenda.

“None of our objective – or the president’s climate agenda – begins or ends on November 1st and 2nd or the week after,” she said.

The White House has not yet provided a date for when borders would open to travelers from Europe. Pskai said the timeline remains “early November” and refused to give a specific date.

Updated

White House press secretary Jen Psaki began Thursday’s briefing by touting new jobs figures, crediting the president’s administration with creating 5 million jobs in the 8 months since Biden took office.

“Growth is up, wages are up and our unemployment is down below 5%,” Pskai said. “We know there’s more work to do.”

She also highlighted an announcement made earlier on Thursday, ahead of Biden’s meeting with Kenya’s leader, president Uhuru Kenyatta, that the US will donate 17 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine to the African Union.

Asked if Biden can be a credible messenger at COP26 without passage of his Build Back Better plan, which is the centerpiece of his climate agenda, Psaki said “absolutely.”

She said the rest of the world was watching closely, but understood that the Congress was working through the legislative process.

On senate majority leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to bring voting rights legislation up for a vote on Monday, when it is expected to succumb to a Republican filibuster, Psaki vowed to keep pressing. “It’s not an option not to do it,” Psaki said.

Though Biden has said it is a priority, she did not mention filibuster reform, which many activists believe is the only way an evenly-divided senate will advance voting rights legislation. The bill, a compromise plan cobbled together by senator Joe Manchin, is Democrats main response to a sweep of bills in Republican-controlled state legislature to make voting harder.

Updated

Next week, Moderna’s application to provide booster doses of its Covid-19 vaccine will move to a panel of independent experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In general, the FDA advisory panel reviews safety and efficacy, while the CDC panel makes practice recommendations.

On Friday, we will see a similar debate from the FDA’s expert advisory panel about whether to provide a booster shot for Johnson & Johnson.

The FDA and CDC recently recommended people older than 65 and people aged 18-65 working in high-risk jobs should receive a Pfizer booster dose at least six months after their initial two-dose series of vaccines.

Prior to the boost dose debate, experts at both agencies recommended people with compromised immune systems receive a third dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna.

An independent panel of experts who advise the FDA has recommended seniors and certain workers receive a “booster” dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine.
An independent panel of experts who advise the FDA has recommended seniors and certain workers receive a “booster” dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Updated

FDA experts endorse Moderna vaccine booster shot

An independent group of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended a booster shot of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for high-risk groups and people older than 65, the AP reports.

Former President Trump will be forced to testify in a lawsuit in New York, alleging his Trump Tower security guards assaulted people protesting his 2016 campaign-trail comments about Mexican immigrants.

One of the attorneys questioning Trump, Benjamin N Dictor, said he would question the former president Monday, the Washington Post reported.

I will be conducting the examination of Donald Trump under oath, at Trump Tower,” Dictor said in a written statement. “We look forward to presenting the video record of his testimony to the jury at his trial.”

Federal prosecutors have filed charges against a powerful Los Angeles councilman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and a former University of Southern California (USC) dean, alleging a major bribery scheme in which Ridley-Thomas promised to steer contracts to USC if the school awarded his son a scholarship and teaching job.

The 20-count indictment, the latest in a series of major corruption scandals engulfing the LA city council, alleges that in 2017 and 2018, Ridley-Thomas, who was then serving on the LA board of supervisors, offered to award public funds to USC’s School of Social Work. In exchange, Marilyn Louise Flynn, then the dean of the social work school, pledged to give the politician’s son a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship job, the US attorney’s office said.

Ridley-Thomas is a prominent lawmaker in the city who has helped craft a new controversial law restricting where unhoused people can sleep outside. Flynn’s attorney said she had not committed any crime, and Ridley-Thomas’s lawyer did not respond to inquiries, according to the LA Times.

One LA former council member is currently in prison after he pleaded guilty to lying about gifts he had received, and another former councilman is facing trial in a racketeering and bribery case.

On Wednesday, in an unrelated case, the California attorney general also filed tax fraud charges against the executive director of SEIU California, the state’s largest labor union, and her husband, alleging that the couple filed false tax returns and owe the state $140,000. The director resigned from her position after the charges were announced.

Former key operator in Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and in his subsequent White House team, Steve Bannon was due to give a deposition today behind closed doors to the special House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Bannon had been subpoenaed but, apparently on Trump’s instruction, refused to turn up. Former Trump administration aide Kash Patel was also supposed to appear for questioning but failed to do so.

Tomorrow, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino are expected to appear on Capitol Hill in similar fashion to answer subpoenas from the committee.

Yesterday, the committee issued a subpoena to top Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark, escalating its inquiry into the former president’s efforts to reinstall himself in office despite his resounding election loss, and Clark’s role relating to anything involving the January insurrection.

The Guardian first revealed last week that such senior aides were poised to defy subpoenas.

Betting persons would surely deem it likely that the committee will vote at their Tuesday meeting overwhelmingly to proceed with pursuing Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress.

“The reason why some of these witnesses, people like Steve Bannon, who have been public about their contempt for Congress feel they can get away with it is for four years, they did,” committee member Adam Schiff said yesterday, on MSNBC.

CNN added that:

Schiff, who also chairs the Intelligence Committee, noted that Bannon had refused to cooperate with the House’s Russia investigation during the Trump administration because he “would never be held in contempt.””He would never be prosecuted by the Trump Justice Department. But those days are over. And I view that not only as essential to our investigation but I also view this, the enforcement of the rule of law, as an early test of whether our democracy is recovering,” the California Democrat added.

Adam Schiff: “We’re not messing around here.”

Never one to underplay a moment, January 6 committee member Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, who’s been saber-rattling like mad in recent days, has tweeted about the committee’s move towards a process aiming to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt.

Here is the background to the start of the process, as set out by committee chairman Bennie Thompson, Democratic congressman of Mississippi.

Any person who willfully refuses to provide testimony or documents subpoenaed by Congress, including committees of the House, is potentially liable for contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. §§ 192, 194. Contempt of Congress is a crime that may result in a fine and between one and twelve months imprisonment.

Contempt of Congress begins with a “formal action” by the Select Committee, i.e., a business meeting at which a contempt report is adopted. If a witness fails to appear, produce documents, or refuses to answer any question “pertinent to the question under inquiry,” the Select Committee then writes a report documenting the inquiry, the attempts to accommodate the witness’s production or testimony, and the failure by the witness to appear, produce, or answer a pertinent question. The report also contains the text of the resolution recommending the full House hold the witness in contempt.

After the Select Committee has adopted a contempt report, it is referred to the House for a vote and, upon its adoption, the Speaker certifies the report to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. Under 2 U.S.C. § 194, following such certification it is the “duty” of the United States Attorney to “bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”

Updated

House Capitol attack committee moves to hold Steve Bannon in contempt

The special House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection by extremist supporters of then-president Donald Trump is making its first moves to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for defying its subpoena to face questions in front of the committee.

Other figures are said to be negotiating with the committee over depositions in Congress, but Bannon has dug his heels in.

The congressional committee, led by Democrat Bennie Thompson, will convene a meeting on Tuesday, October 19, to vote on adopting a contempt report against Bannon.

The House committee wants to know exactly what Trump and senior figures in and around his administration were saying and doing in the run up to the attack on the Capitol and during the hours-long onslaught on Congress, during which rioters attempted to hunt down figures such as Republican vice president Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, amid fears lawmakers and congressional staffers could be killed. Five people died on the day, including police officers and a number of the rioters.

The break-in occurred towards the end of the Trump presidency, seeking (in vain) to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory over the Republican incumbent.

Capitol attack.
Capitol attack. Photograph: José Luis Magaña/AP

Thompson just issued a statement, saying:

Mr. Bannon has declined to cooperate with the Select Committee and is instead hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely. The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt. I’ve notified the Select Committee that we will convene for a business meeting Tuesday evening to vote on adopting a contempt report.

“The Select Committee will use every tool at its disposal to get the information it seeks, and witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed. All witnesses are required to provide the information they possess so the Committee can get to the facts. We’re grateful to the many individuals who are voluntarily participating and to witnesses who are complying with subpoenas, including several who met the deadline to begin producing materials to the Select Committee. We’re moving ahead quickly to get answers for the American people about what happened on January 6th and help secure the future of American democracy.”

Don’t mess with Bennie. Chair of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack Bennie Thompson walks outside the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, last month.
Don’t mess with Bennie. Chair of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack Bennie Thompson walks outside the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, last month. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Updated

Guardian climate reporters today laid out the stakes at the upcoming climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

By the end of this year the world will have burned through 86% of the carbon “budget” that would allow us just a coin flip’s chance of staying below 1.5C. The Glasgow COP talks will somehow have to bridge this yawning gap, with scientists warning the world will have to cut emissions in half this decade before zeroing them out by 2050.

“2.7C would be very bad,” said Michael Wehner, who specializes in climate attribution at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who explained that extreme rainfall would be up to a quarter heavier than now, and heatwaves potentially 6C hotter in many countries. Amanda Maycock, an expert in climate dynamics at the University of Leeds, added that much of the planet will become “uninhabitable” at this level of heating. “We would not want to live in that world,” she said.

A scenario approaching some sort of apocalypse would comfortably arrive should the world heat up by 4C or more, and although this is considered unlikely due to the belated action by governments, it should provide little comfort.

Every decision – every oil drilling lease, every acre of the Amazon rainforest torched for livestock pasture, every new gas-guzzling SUV that rolls onto the road – will decide how far we tumble down the hill. In Glasgow, governments will be challenged to show they will fight every fraction of temperature rise, or else, in the words of Greta Thunberg, this pivotal gathering is at risk of being dismissed as “blah, blah, blah”.

“We’ve run down the clock but it’s never too late,” said Rogelj. “1.7C is better than 1.9C which is better than 3C. Cutting emissions tomorrow is better than the day after, because we can always avoid worse happening. The action is far too slow at the moment, but we can still act.”

Biden, again, urges Americans to get vaccinated citing progress

That very short briefing is already over. Biden did not take any questions, but he did focus on a few key areas.

  • Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are down nationally, and in the majority of US states.
  • Biden, again, urged the 66m unvaccinated Americans to get a vaccine. Although vaccination rates have increased in recent days, he said the US must continue to vaccinate the unvaccinated.
  • He said vaccine mandates “work, they work”, and mounting evidence shows they can increase vaccination rates by up to 20% for some employers. He urged more employers to put them in place.
  • Biden said booster shots will continue to protect those who are already vaccinated, and that scientific advisors will soon consider vaccines for children. He urged parents to get kids vaccinated when it is their time.
  • He also said it’s critical to keep in-person schools open with additional safety precautions such as mask mandates.

“Now is not the time to let up, we have a lot more to do,” said Biden. “We’re in a very critical period”.

President Joe Biden delivers an update on the Covid-19 response and vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus.
President Joe Biden delivers an update on the Covid-19 response and vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Updated

Scientific advisors will consider vaccines for children in next few weeks

Parents have anxiously awaited the approval of vaccines for children ages five to 12 years old. Now, Biden has said he expects scientific advisors to consider the safety and efficacy of vaccines for children soon.

This is largely in line with expectations, as advisors tentatively planned to meet in late October. A decision could come after Halloween.

“I’m calling on more parents to get their children vaccinated when eligible.”

“Please get vaccinated, that’s how we put this pandemic behind us and accelerate economic recovery,” said Biden.

Updated

Biden: 'We have to do more' to reach the unvaccinated

As Biden begins his Covid-19 briefing and almost immediately promotes vaccine mandates.

“Now is not the time to let up, we have a lot more to do. We’re in a very critical period,” said Biden. He said daily case rates, hospitalizations and deaths are all down across the country.

“We have to do more to vaccinate the 66 million unvaccinated people in America,” said Biden. “The vaccine requirements we started rolling out in the summer are working, they’re working”.

“Vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us”.

Joe Biden gives an update on the Covid-19 response and vaccination program, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Joe Biden gives an update on the Covid-19 response and vaccination program, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Biden is now beginning his Covid-19 briefing. Here we go.

Updated

Democratic leadership presented members with a $2.5tn compromise on a massive social spending bill that would provide funding for everything from childcare to housing to expanded health benefits, the Huffington Post reported.

The number is still higher than what two Senate hold outs – Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin – have said they would vote for.

As with any bill of such historic proportions, not every member will get everything he or she wants,” said Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer in a letter to the caucus on Thursday, while senators were in their home states. “I deeply appreciate the sacrifices made by each and every one of you.”

Updated

People read the morning newspapers reporting a statement issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta following reports that he is among more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of secret financial accounts, in the low-income Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya.
People read the morning newspapers reporting a statement issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta following reports that he is among more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of secret financial accounts, in the low-income Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Brian Inganga/AP

Joe Biden is expected to provide a Covid-19 response update soon. Later this afternoon, the US president will also meet with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, in part to discuss, “the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems.”

Biden came into office calling for a global minimum tax to make sure corporations pay their fair share of taxes. However, since then, the Pandora Papers revealed how the global, shadow financial system has allowed billionaires to avoid tax, including and especially in South Dakota.

Biden is meeting with Kenyatta, who entered office as an opponent of corruption. The Pandora Papers leak revealed that Kenyatta has amassed $30m in offshore wealth, including in London.

Here’s more from the AP:

Kenyatta is one of more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of secret accounts revealed in recent reports known as the Pandora Papers. He and his relatives have some $30 million in offshore holdings, according to reporting by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The consortium obtained millions of leaked documents that detail the hidden wealth of prominent world leaders, politicians, corporate executives and celebrities. Kenyatta has denied wrongdoing.

Biden was expected to address the “elephant in the room” during his afternoon meeting in the Oval Office with Kenyatta and senior Kenyan officials, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has been vocal about what he sees as “inequalities” in the international financial system.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t meet with people you have disagreements on,” Psaki said. “We have a range of interests in working with Kenya and working with them on issues in Africa, in the region, and that will be the primary focus.”

Updated

Attorney general to testify before House committee

Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a lawsuit to block the enforcement of a new Texas law that bans most abortions in September.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a lawsuit to block the enforcement of a new Texas law that bans most abortions in September. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, will make his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee next week. The testimony is likely to touch on everything from a severe near-total abortion ban in Texas to voting rights and gun violence.

Garland is scheduled to testify 21 October. His appearance was first reported by Politico.

Updated

The FDA panel considering whether to recommend a third half-dose of the Moderna vaccine, called a “booster” to hopefully boost immunity, is hearing from Israeli scientists. They presented evidence showing boosters may help curb severe disease in people older than 60. Israeli data has provided among the strongest arguments in favor of boosters.

However, reporters at STAT note one of the lingering questions that will not be answered by today’s hearing – will immunity wane again after a booster dose? Or will a single booster grant long-term protection?

This is “the $1m question that I don’t have the answer to,” said Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s director of public health services, to the FDA advisors.

An independent panel of experts is considering whether to recommend a booster dose, or third shot, of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
An independent panel of experts is considering whether to recommend a booster dose, or third shot, of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

Updated

In a new letter to Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer said they must try again to advance a sweeping voting protections in the Freedom to Vote Act. The law is a reaction to Republican states, which had advanced voting restrictions on the back of falsehoods about voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Here’s more from the AP:

If the Republican senators have ideas “on how to improve the legislation, we are prepared to hear them, debate them, and if they are in line with the goals of the legislation, include them in the bill,” Schumer said.

He challenged Republicans not to oppose the measure, blocking it with a filibuster, and “at the very least, vote to open debate.”

A test vote is expected next Wednesday.

Prospects appear dim for the Freedom to Vote Act, a revised effort by Democrats to advance one of their signature legislative efforts this year — protecting and enhancing the nation’s patchwork of state-run election systems. The push for an overhaul comes as Texas and other states are putting in place new voting laws that critics argue are a return to Jim Crow-style restrictions making it difficult to cast ballots, especially in Black and minority communities.

A key Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has led the effort to revise an earlier version of the bill that ran into stiff GOP opposition. He, too, had concerns with its scope. But it is doubtful Manchin’s effort on the now-scaled back bill will win over many Republican supporters.

In the evenly-split 50-50 Senate, Democrats hold only the most slim of majorities. Support from Republicans is needed to reach the 60-vote threshold to advance the bill past the opposition.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has decried the entire effort as a federal takeover of state-run election systems.

Storm clouds roll in over the U.S. Supreme Court.
Storm clouds roll in over the U.S. Supreme Court. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

A presidential commission to examine whether to add more seats or impose term limits on the nine-justice supreme court is expected to release an early draft report today. Biden setup the commission in April.

Calls to add members to the court came after Donald Trump was able to confirm three new conservative justices to the court, effectively creating a 6-3 conservative super majority. One seat filled by Trump was a seat left empty during the Obama administration, which the former president was unable to fill because Senate Republicans would not consider Obama’s nomination.

Here’s more on the importance of the court from Reuters, which begins considering major cases this fall:

The Supreme Court during its current term is considering major cases in which its conservative majority could restrict abortion rights and widen gun rights, alarming liberals.

Republicans have opposed the idea of expanding the number of justices, which they call “court packing.” Democrats have said the current makeup of the court no longer represents the will of the U.S. electorate.

The last time court expansion was seriously pursued was in the 1930s by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt after a conservative court impeded his policies aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily briefing that the commission will release draft materials on Thursday ahead of a public meeting on Friday, with an eye toward submitting its final report next month.

“They will then form their final report and submit it to the President in mid-November,” Psaki added. “These have not been submitted to the White House for edits or feedback... we’re not going to comment on it – or the President wouldn’t comment on it – until a report is final and he has the chance to review it.”

Updated

Reuters: Biden will meet Pope Fracis at Vatican

President Joe Biden will meet with Pope Francis on 29 October before attending a two-day summit of G20 leaders in Rome where he hopes to reach agreement on a Global Minimum Tax of 15%, a White House official told Reuters.

On the second foreign trip of his presidency, Biden will then attend the UN climate conference known as COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1-2 November and announce “key actions” on the conference’s top themes, including goals for fighting climate change and forest and land use, the official said.

Biden’s visit to Italy and Britain for meetings with major world leaders is meant to signal that the US is re-engaging with international groups after four years of Republican former President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies.

But the trip comes amid international frustration over the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan, a rift with top ally France over a submarine deal with Australia, and question marks over the US ability to meet Biden’s climate goals as lawmakers within his own Democratic Party haggle over his multi-trillion-dollar legislative agenda.

President Biden will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, ahead of a summit on a global minimum tax of 15%.
President Biden will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, ahead of a summit on a global minimum tax of 15%. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Updated

Covid-19 vaccine doses, boosters or otherwise, are free to the American public because the taxpayers, through the federal government, purchased doses from manufacturers in emergency contracts early in the pandemic.

Similarly, Merck wants to sell its new anti-viral drug which combats Covid-19 to the US government, but at an extraordinary mark-up. The development of the drug was subsidized by taxpayers, and costs $17.74 to produce. Merck wants to charge the US government $712 for the medicine.

This is a common pattern, as The Guardina’s David Sirota writes today.

A study from the National Academy of Sciences tells that story: the federal government spent $100b to subsidize the research on every single one of the 200-plus drugs approved for sale in the United States between 2010 and 2016.

What’s more, Sirota writes, “a new Public Citizen analysis shows that the 20 top-selling medicines generated almost twice as much pharmaceutical industry revenue in the United States as in every other country combined.”

The drugmaker applied this week to the FDA for emergency use authorization, which would likely precede the longer process of seeking full approval for the drug.

Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon is scheduled to appear before the House committee investigating the 6 January riot at the Capitol today. However, his attorney has already said he will not comply, citing executive privilege.

Now, the question is whether the House committee will refer Bannon to the Department of Justice for potential criminal contempt charges related to his refusal to appear.

Also notable, is Bannon has made high-profile public appearances, even as he refuses to appear before the committee. He hosted a rally where Trump called in to praise Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and repeat falsehoods about the 2020 election. Youngkin was not present.

“We’re gonna build the wall. We’re going to confront China,” Bannon said to cheers, the Washington Post reported. “We’re putting together a coalition that’s gonna govern for 100 years.”

The event began with the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag present at the Capitol Riot on 6 January, which one speaker called, “the peaceful rally with Donald J Trump”.

Steve Bannon at an election rally in Richmond, Virginia Wednesday.
Steve Bannon at an election rally in Richmond, Virginia Wednesday. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

Updated

Notably, even though Moderna asked the panel to consider whether to give a “booster”, (or third dose) to people aged 18 and older, the panel posted a question considering whether to give it to people aged 65 and older.

That echoes the recommendation the panel gave for Pfizer booster shots. While the panel was initially asked to consider boosters for the general public, and the administration pushed for the same, experts ultimately recommended boosters for a much smaller population of older Americans and people at risk of severe Covid-19.

Nurse Elyse Isopo receives Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine booster at Teaching Center LIJ Medical Center. The CDC recommended boosters for people older than 65, between 18-65 at risk of severe Covid-19, and for people who work in frontline occupations such as healthcare providers.
Nurse Elyse Isopo receives Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine booster at Teaching Center LIJ Medical Center. The CDC recommended boosters for people older than 65, between 18-65 at risk of severe Covid-19, and for people who work in frontline occupations such as healthcare providers. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/REX/Shutterstock

Independent advisors to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will also consider whether to recommend a “booster”, or third dose, of the Moderna vaccine for people aged 18 and older. On Friday, they will consider whether to recommend a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Experts with the Vaccines and Related Biological Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will consider whether the booster doses are safe and effective at least six months after people completed their first series of two shots. Moderna asked experts to consider giving people a half-dose of their vaccine, in hopes it will trigger fewer side effects than the first series of doses people received.

Covid-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death. The hope is that a third dose, or booster, would even further protect people from Covid-19, as some experts have argued early evidence shows protection from mild to moderate illness wanes.

Notably, there is scientific debate about whether waning immunity to mild and moderate disease will necessarily equate to less protection from hospitalization and death.

Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) has asked wealthy countries to hold off on boosters for one years, until more people globally can get initial doses. Globally, demand far outstrips supply. Africa is the least vaccinated continent, with just 7.3% of the population having received at least one dose.

Good morning and welcome to the Guardian US politics liveblog...

Today we’re watching the House committee investigating the 6 January Capitol attack, where lawmakers have subpoenaed former advisors to the Trump administration.

Legislators are eyeing whether former Trump administration adviser Steve Bannon will continue his game of chicken with lawmakers, a game that could eventually lead to criminal contempt charges if he continues to refuse to testify before the committee and supply them with documents.

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