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Pfizer-BioNTech Begins Clinical Trial of Omicron-Targeted Vaccine

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Pfizer-BioNTech Begins Clinical Trial of Omicron-Targeted Vaccine
Pfizer launched a clinical study of an Omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine. Mas Agung Wilis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers have begun testing modified shots targeting the Omicron variant as breakthrough infections keep surging worldwide, though it’s still unclear whether an Omicron-specific vaccine is needed.

Pfizer and BioNTech on Tuesday announced the initiation of a clinical trial of an Omicron-targeted vaccine. The study will evaluate the safety and efficacy of the new vaccine in up to 1,420 participants ages 18 to 55 across three cohorts assigned with different combinations of the current Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and an Omicron-based shot, the companies said.

“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement Tuesday.

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In an interview with CNBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the new vaccine will also target other COVID variants that are circulating. Bourla said earlier this month that Pfizer will have an Omicron-targeted vaccine by March if needed.

Moderna, the other mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer, began developing an Omicron-based booster in late November while testing three existing boosters against the variant. Clinical testing is expected to begin in February, or 60 to 90 days following the initial development, Moderna has said.

Last week, the CDC said three new studies found that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine was 90 percent effective at preventing hospitalization from Omicron 14 days after injection.

The data echoed findings from earlier research overseas, including studies in Germany, South Africa and the U.K. However, existing mRNA vaccines show reduced protection against mild symptomatic infection. A U.K. study published earlier this month found that a third booster shot was up to 75 percent effective at preventing Omicron symptoms two to four weeks after injection but only 45 percent to 50 percent effective after about 10 weeks.

The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa in late November and began spreading to the rest of the world in December. There has been debate over whether a variant-specific vaccine is needed. Data from South Africa has suggested that the spread of Omicron peaks at about four weeks and slows down rapidly after that.

Pfizer-BioNTech Begins Clinical Trial of Omicron-Targeted Vaccine

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DJ LeMahieu confident he can avoid trip to injured list

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DJ LeMahieu confident he can avoid trip to injured list

ST. PETERSBURG — DJ LeMahieu was able to hit after Thursday night’s Yankees win and is fairly confident he will be able to avoid the injured list.

“I don’t want to get too excited, but it’s definitely felt better as the day has gone on,” LeMahieu said. “I think that cortisone finally just took.”

LeMahieu had a cortisone shot in his left wrist on Tuesday. Before Thursday’s game he said the wrist had not improved enough. He admitted he might need to go on the IL. Thursday night, he was not available off the bench and the Yankees had just catcher Kyle Higashioka available.

“DJ was not available. Although it sounds like he’s doing a lot better in literally the last two hours,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “So we’ll see where we’re at. Kind of get together again tonight and see where we’re at in the morning.”

HICKS SCRATCHED

Aaron Hicks felt his right hamstring tighten during Wednesday’s game against the Orioles in the Bronx, but still tried to play Thursday. He had to be scratched less than an hour before first pitch, but he thinks he will be able to play on Friday.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be able to be there tomorrow and that’s what I’m planning on doing,” Hicks said.

The center fielder said he first felt it running to first base Wednesday. Boone said he asked Hicks to try and play Thursday, but after treatment he could not run at full speed.

The Yankees have gone through a bunch of injuries lately. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is on the COVID IL with a respiratory illness. Giancarlo Stanton is on the IL with an ankle injury.

NICE TO MEET YOU, YOU’RE BATTING EIGHTH

Matt Carpenter barely had time to put his bag down when he was called into a hitters meeting. The Yankees signed the former Cardinal and three-time All-Star before Thursday night’s game and when Hicks was scratched, he got rushed into the lineup.

“It was pretty crazy, I think I landed (in Tampa) at 3:20,” Carpenter said. “To be part of a huge win right away is pretty cool.”

Carpenter got hit by a pitch in the sixth and came around to score the Yankees first run of the night.

BRITTON AND GERMAN UPDATE

Zack Britton is expected to throw his first bullpen session since elbow reconstruction surgery on Tuesday, Aaron Boone said. The Yankees manager said he absolutely expects Britton to be back this season.

The lefty reliever was in the clubhouse before Thursday’s game. He has been recovering from left elbow reconstruction surgery in Tampa.

In other injury news, Yankees right-hander Domingo German, who has been rehabbing from a shoulder issue since spring training, has been facing live hitters in batting practice and is “close,” to getting a rehab assignment.

With the Yankees bullpen losing Aroldis Chapman (Achilles), Chad Green (Tommy John) and Jonathan Loaisiga (shoulder), German could possibly be a reinforcement when he is ready.

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David Banuelos’ impact with St. Paul Saints extends off the field

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David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

The backgrounds of Saints players feature a wide variety of honors and accolades from high school, college and earlier minor league stops.

Such notoriety for 25-year-old catcher David Banuelos includes being one of the three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award (given annually to the best collegiate catcher) in 2017 while playing for Cal State Long Beach. Banuelos’ recognized talents led to him being selected in the fifth round of that year’s draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Being recognized for his work off the field has proven to be equally gratifying. Banuelos was the recipient of the Twins’ annual Harmon Killebrew Award in 2018, given to players on all levels of the organization for their community work.

David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

“I love giving back to the community,” said Banuelos, who has continued his community work in the Twin Cities, prior to Thursday night’s 8-1 win over Indianapolis at CHS Field. “It’s something I was always appreciative of growing up.

“You can make a big impact in a person’s life just with the title that you have. Just taking a couple of seconds out of your day can make a little kid’s day — or year. I’m grateful for being in the position to be able to talk to kids and have a positive impact.”

The award has extra meaning to Banuelos due to the fact that one of his friends back in his native Ontario, Calif., is Killebrew’s grandson.

“It was a really cool award to win because I know the family personally,” Banuelos said. “His mom congratulated me as well for winning an award that was named after her father.”

Banuelos credits his own parents with instilling in him the willingness to give back whenever he can.

Interestingly, Banuelos’ middle name is Clemente, the surname of baseball’s greatest humanitarians, Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Following his death, Major League Baseball established the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player for his commitment to community service.

While Banuelos was not named after Clemente (it’s his father’s first name), the Pittsburgh Pirates legend has had an impact on him, especially being in a position of influence.

“People like that inspire you to do things (to help),” Banuelos said, “because there are bigger things in the world than baseball. When people like us can give back to the community they appreciate those kind of things.”

Banuelos’ community work usually involves kids, and he and his wife, Jessica, have a son, Ezekiel, who just turned 1. Being a father also has impacted Banuelos’ life, including on the field.

“The way I think has completely changed,” he said. “I control my temper a little more now on the field. It’s made me think twice before I do things — maybe three times. Because there are consequences to everything.”

BRIEFLY

Royce Lewis moved over from his customary shortstop to play third base on Friday. He made a diving stop behind the bag and threw out the hitter in the fifth. He also had two hits, drove in a run and stole a base.

Alex Kirilloff had a two-run home run, a double and an RBI single. Spencer Steer also homered.

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

By STEFANIE DAZIO

Irma Garcia’s family was already reeling from her death in the Texas school shooting that targeted her fourth grade classroom and killed her co-teacher and 19 students.

Then, a mere two days after the attack, her grieving husband collapsed and died at home from a heart attack, a family member said.

Joe Garcia, 50, dropped off flowers at his wife’s memorial Thursday morning in Uvalde, Texas, and returned home, where he “pretty much just fell over” and died, his nephew John Martinez told The New York Times.

Married for 24 years, the couple had four children.

Martinez told The Detroit Free Press that the family was struggling to grasp that while the couple’s oldest son trained for combat in the Marine Corps, it was his mother who was shot to death.

“Stuff like this should not be happening in schools,” he told the newspaper.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed Joe Garcia’s death to The Associated Press. AP was unable to independently reach members of the Garcia family on Thursday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut — remained under investigation, with authorities saying the 18-year-old gunman had no known criminal or mental health history.

The rampage rocked a country already weary from gun violence and shattered the community of Uvalde, a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border.

The Garcias loved to barbecue, 48-year-old Irma wrote in an online letter to her students at Robb Elementary School. Irma enjoyed listening to music and traveling to Concan, a community along the Frio River about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Uvalde.

The couple’s oldest child, Cristian, is a Marine. The couple’s other son, Jose, attends Texas State University. Their eldest daughter, Lyliana, is a high school sophomore, while her younger sister is in the seventh grade.

The school year, scheduled to end Thursday, was Irma’s 23rd year of teaching — all of it at Robb. She was previously named the school’s teacher of the year and was a 2019 recipient of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education from Trinity University.

“Mrs. Irma Garcia was my mentor when I began teaching,” her colleague Allison McCullough wrote when Irma was named teacher of the year. “The wealth of knowledge and patience that she showed me was life changing.”

For five years, Irma co-taught with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.

The suspect, Salvador Ramos, was inside the classroom for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.

“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” Mireles wrote last year in an online letter to incoming students.

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Associated Press journalist Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

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