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Zeynep Tufekci: There’s terrific news about the new Covid boosters, but few are hearing it

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Zeynep Tufekci: There’s Terrific News About The New Covid Boosters, But Few Are Hearing It
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For the first time, the United States is rolling out COVID-19 vaccines updated to match variants that are currently dominant, as well as the original strain. This bivalent character will provide a better response not just to the most threatening variants today but probably to future variants too, because when the immune system faces different versions of the same virus it generates broader protections overall.

This is terrific news, and there’s more. Not only will a booster with the new vaccines decrease the likelihood of infection and severe illness, and help reduce transmission of the virus, it could also decrease the likelihood of developing long COVID-19.

The bad news? The boosters are getting so little fanfare, and so much unfounded skepticism, that too few people might get them, and lots of people who need not get sick, suffer or die will get sick, suffer and die.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that a national survey found that 72% of respondents said they were likely to receive an updated booster. But to actually get them vaccinated requires making the boosters easily accessible and making sure people know about their benefits.

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Ashish Jha, said last week that people might consider getting the booster when they get flu shots, which many do in October and, barring a new variant curveball, think of it as an annual shot going forward. That’s fine if people do that, especially since many immunologists say it’s best to wait three to six months after one’s last vaccination or infection, and many people have had recent infections.

However, only about half of adults in the United States get the flu vaccine and most haven’t gotten the earlier COVID-19 boosters. Without a vigorous outreach program and promotion, millions of Americans who are not anti-vaxxers but could use a powerful nudge won’t get this helpful dose.

While booster rates have been dismal among Republicans, many of whom have adopted anti-vaccine stances, it is also many of the most vulnerable Americans, even those who got initial doses of vaccines, who are likely to be left behind. Those who haven’t gotten earlier booster shots despite having gotten earlier doses were more likely to lack health insurance, be Black or Hispanic, or be poorer and be less educated.

Meanwhile, funding for distributing these vaccines has dried up amid congressional gridlock — Democrats did not put new pandemic funding in the March spending package because it could cut into stimulus funds for states, and they now face Republican resistance to new pandemic funding. There will most likely be fewer of the dedicated vaccine outreach centers that were set up before.

Benjamin Mueller reported in The New York Times that local health departments are battling staffing shortages and the monkeypox outbreak, and playing catch-up with childhood immunizations. Plus, some health officials seem to believe that it’s enough to leave it up to individuals to seek these vaccines, mostly at private sites like pharmacies — there is only $550 million in vaccination spending allocated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency so far this year, compared with $8.5 billion last year.

Boosters are especially helpful for older adults or those with existing health issues — but such groups often face challenges navigating access. Last year, there were campaigns to bring vaccination to senior centers and convenient community locations, or to help people make it to vaccination centers or even get vaccinated at home. White House officials tell me they will keep trying to carry out such campaigns, but acknowledge it will be only to the extent that dwindling resources allow. Without such support, how many of those at most risk, who would otherwise be willing, will fail to get the booster?

While young, healthy people who have been vaccinated and had an uneventful breakthrough infection are at much less risk of severe illness even without a booster, they might prefer to avoid getting sick or reduce their risk of long COVID. But beyond the personal benefits: Despite common claims to the contrary, vaccines still help dampen spread, and boosters can further reduce transmission of the disease, including by reducing infections in the first place, and thus help protect especially the more vulnerable.

Another survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about a third of people who got vaccinated but not boosted said they had “not had the time to get it” as a reason — that response was highest among Hispanic adults, with 41% citing it. About another quarter of respondents mentioned side effects.

Paid time off following vaccination campaigns in workplaces, combining flu and COVID-19 vaccines, could overcome this obstacle. Jha tells me that the administration is already asking employers to carry out such steps, and it remains to be seen how many step up.

Then there’s the information gaps. Most of those who got vaccinated but not boosted (and about a third of those who don’t plan to get the updated booster) said they had enough protection from previous doses or past infections.

Many who did not get the previous booster, and many who don’t plan to get the updated one, say that they did not believe the boosters to be effective — a claim that is routinely made because omicron caused a lot of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated.

A straightforward message could rebut all of this: It’s true that variants can cause breakthroughs, but vaccines still prevent serious illness and death, and even more so with boosters.

Many European countries and Canada, for example, did a better job of making sure more of their population got boosters. Their cumulative death and illness tolls from the omicron wave are sharply lower than those of the United States, where only about a third of eligible adults had gotten boosters, compared with two-thirds of adults in many European countries. Canada, for example, had 80% fewer deaths from the omicron wave — a similar pattern holds globally. Countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have about 80% or more of their adult population boostered, and their death tolls are even lower.

Many might also be wondering why bother with one more shot since 68% of Americans have had two initial vaccination shots, some of those have had booster shots already, and most likely about 60% of the country got some level of immunity from an omicron infection.

Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist, told me that variants evolved to evade the first line of antibody protection generated by earlier vaccines or past infections, even though protections against severe disease remained fairly strong. But the new boosters can greatly decrease that evasion. When the initial vaccines were trialed, matching the strain that was then in circulation, they reported 90% to 95% protection against any symptomatic infection, which then declined against variants and with time. While exact numbers remain to be seen, all the immunologists I spoke with told me the updated boosters should again increase such protections.

Vaccines (and boosters) have already been shown to greatly reduce rates of long COVID among the infected, but obviously, if infection is avoided completely, that would directly sidestep the risk of long COVID. Shane Crotty, an immunologist, also noted that these boosters will probably further reduce the chances of more severe disease complications, which include long COVID, and says “the higher your level of immunity, the less viral replication you’re going to have, the less viral damage, the less likelihood of long COVID.”

And these new boosters can be expected to do even more, going forward — including better protection against future variants, by better training both antibodies and memory cells, which are different parts of the immune system. As Bhattacharya told me, being exposed to different versions of the virus (as will happen with these updated boosters) further deepens and broadens the kind of antibodies that get generated, including ones that can work against future variants. Marion Pepper, an immunologist, told me a new variant vaccine can also “create new, more diverse memory cells that will help protect from omicron variants and new variants that we have yet to encounter.”

Unfortunately we may face another problem we witnessed throughout the pandemic: public health officials or prominent media doctors casting doubt on the boosters by focusing on their imperfections rather than their immense benefits and worrying about public reaction — like concerns about “vaccine fatigue.”

When I hear that phrase, I wonder how it would have sounded in the spring of 2020 when we had field hospitals in Central Park in New York, bodies were stacked in trailers as funeral homes ran out of space and hospitals ran out of body bags.

I’ve never understood the second-guessing by public health authorities and doctors about how the public may or may not react. Why not just provide accurate, detailed information and make it easy to get vaccinated? That’s the best response to “vaccine fatigue,” even if committed anti-vaxxers might remain hard to reach.

It’s likely that last fall and winter, fewer people got boosters at least partly because some well-known scientists unfairly questioned the usefulness of the shots. There’s now a similar dynamic, with disproportionate attention on minor issues, like booster mandates in colleges. Blanket mandates are now less necessary for college students, though some dorms may apply them to protect medically frail students or to provide other students with options. But young people should still be informed of the benefits of boosters, and older and medically frail people should still be strongly reminded of the continuing risks posed by COVID-19. White House officials say they will roll out their own messaging campaign to counter the confusion — let’s hope it works.

There’s much research on vaccine messaging, but most of it comes down to establishing trust, being honest and transparent, and making vaccination easier. Our terrible health care system is a major impediment: Having a regular relationship with a doctor can be a key factor, but many Americans don’t have one. It’s not surprising that among all groups, it’s the uninsured who remain least likely to be vaccinated and boosted.

As has been shown throughout the pandemic, it’s vaccination, not vaccines, that saves lives — and many more would be vaccinated if given information and easy access. Not having tools against diseases that cause so much suffering is one tragedy, but having them remain unused should be an unacceptable one.

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Vikings bring back linebacker Ryan Connelly on practice squad

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Vikings Bring Back Linebacker Ryan Connelly On Practice Squad
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It was an eventful week for Ryan Connelly.

The Vikings on Thursday signed the linebacker to the practice squad. That came after Connelly, an Eden Prairie native, was activated off the physical unable to perform list Tuesday and then waived Wednesday. He rejoined the Vikings immediately after clearing waivers.

Connelly, in his fourth NFL season, first joined the Vikings in 2020 after being waived by the New York Giants. He got into 14 games in 2020 and 12 in 2021 for Minnesota before suffering a torn ACL last December.

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Youth is served: Heat’s Nikola Jovic still awaiting his . . . high school final exam

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Youth Is Served: Heat’s Nikola Jovic Still Awaiting His . . . High School Final Exam
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Nikola Jovic had the Miami Heat locker room abuzz after Thursday night’s 109-80 exhibition victory over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, and for more than the first-round pick out of Serbia closing with 10 rebounds and five assists.

Instead, it was the reaction to what coach Erik Spoelstra had revealed moments earlier about the skilled 6-foot-10 19-year-old.

“He’s extremely unique,” Spoelstra said, before turning his attention to Friday night’s exhibition against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. “And he’s so young. To put it in perspective, he’s still waiting to do his final exam to graduate from high school, and doing that over Zoom.”

Wait? What?

That essentially was the reaction from teammates, once Spoelstra’s revelation circulated.

Backup center Dewayne Dedmon was taken aback, with the 33-year-old big man incredulous about a teammate young enough to have yet to complete high school.

Jovic: “I was supposed to finish it this summer.”

Dedmon: “Supposed to?”

Jovic: “I’m finishing.”

Dedmon: “So you not even graduated high school?”

Jovic: “I’m finishing it right now.”

Dedmon: “And you in the NBA?”

Jovic: “Yeah.”

Dedmon: “You know you can’t go from high school to the pros?”

Jovic: “You can do it from Europe.”

Dedmon: “Apparently.”

With that, head shaking, Dedmon headed for the team bus, leaving his Serbian teammate to explain.

“They were doing it when I was doing the draft workouts,” he said of his high-school finals while he was working in Miami ahead of the June draft, “so I didn’t have time, especially because of the time difference.”

There will, Jovic said, be a diploma.

“It’s not that hard,” he said of his lone remaining test. “I need to take it. I don’t have time to take it right now.”

But he has reason to make sure it is completed sooner rather than later.

“My mom,” he said, “she wants me to finish school.”

While the NBA draft rule is written with high school in mind, it actually requires a player to be at least 19 in his draft year. Jovic was born June 9, 2003.

“As soon as I get some time, I’ll do it,” he said, having been in Miami since August preparing for his inaugural NBA season after playing professionally in Europe, “as soon as I get in contact with my teachers and stuff. Like I said, the time difference.”

And there will be more.

“I”m really glad I’m finishing it now,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing something else after this, some college or something.”

All of which made his comments about his first NBA road game all the more fascinating.

“In high school, I used to go home and watch some of those guys on TV or on YouTube,” he said, “and to play against them is different.”

As in this year in high school.

To Spoelstra, it is a whole new world with the lithe 205-pound No. 27 pick.

“We’ve had a lot of different developmental projects over the years,” he said. “He’s a little bit of a unique one. We haven’t had a European so young. But his skill set is unique. Because of his size, he’s really just starting his weight lifting program with us for the last six weeks. So we won’t even see the benefit of that until next summer.

“But his ability to handle, to shoot, to put the ball on the floor, he’s a really good passer. That’s probably, at this point, his best skill. And he’s developing all the rest of it.”

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N.D. man pleads guilty to murder charges in deliberate Minnesota crash that killed 2 teens

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N.d. Man Pleads Guilty To Murder Charges In Deliberate Minnesota Crash That Killed 2 Teens
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A Grand Forks, N.D., man pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder for the deaths of two teenagers in a head-on crash that occurred last year in northeastern Minnesota.

Valentin Mendoza IV, 21, pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the third degree — perpetrating eminently dangerous act and evincing depraved mind. He used the Norgaard plea, which is used when the defendant has no recollection of the event.

Mendoza maintained not-guilty pleas for the four other charges: two counts of second-degree murder — with intent (not premediated), and two counts of criminal vehicular homicide — operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.

If the plea agreement is accepted by the court, Mendoza will be sentenced to 180 months for one charge and 150 months for the other. He will serve the sentences consecutively, for a total of 330 months, or 27.5 years.

According to an affidavit in the case, around 3:08 p.m. June 17, 2021, the East Grand Forks Police Department was dispatched to a two-vehicle head-on collision. The crash occurred on Highway 220, about a mile north of Polk County Road 19 in Polk County, Minn.

Mendoza was located in a red 2004 Ford Ranger pickup with severe damage on the front driver’s side; the vehicle was tipped over onto the passenger’s side. Police noted the speedometer was locked at 75 miles per hour and the posted speed limit for that location is 45 miles per hour. Mendoza was transported to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

The other vehicle was a white 2007 GMC Envoy, which also had severe damage to the front driver’s side. The speedometer was locked at 65 miles per hour. Two male juveniles were identified; both were unresponsive and severely injured, according to the affidavit. The two boys were removed from the vehicle and transported to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

At the hospital, the Minnesota State Police spoke to Mendoza’s mother, who said Mendoza was bipolar and had a history of making “suicidal comments.” According to the affidavit, Mendoza’s mother received a call from his girlfriend that day, stating Mendoza sent her a Snapchat video at 3:05 p.m. In the video, Mendoza was driving and said he was going to take his own life.

After analyzing the scene of the collision, Minnesota state trooper Adam Rochlin determined the Envoy had been traveling southbound on Highway 220 and the pickup was traveling northbound at the time of the crash. The roadway was noted as straight and flat, marked with a yellow center line, dry and clear of defects or damage.

“There were no tire or brake marks near the point of impact of the collision,” the affidavit says. The pickup crossed the center line and struck the Envoy head-on.

On June 23, 2021, one of the juveniles died from his injuries after being removed from life support. On June 29, 2021, the other juvenile died from his injuries.

Mendoza’s sentencing is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14.

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Amy Klobuchar confirms she’ll see fourth Senate term in 2024

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Amy Klobuchar Confirms She’ll See Fourth Senate Term In 2024
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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator, says she plans to seek a fourth term in two years.

A Klobuchar spokeswoman confirmed the Democrat’s intentions in a statement to the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis-based newspaper reported on Thursday.

“As the Senator has made clear, she loves her job serving the people of Minnesota and is planning on running for re-election,” spokeswoman Jane Meyer said in a statement, which followed a recent Politico article noting the large number of Democratic-held Senate seats on the ballot in 2024.

Klobuchar ran an unsuccessful campaign for president in 2020. With President Joe Biden planning to seek re-election in 2024, Klobuchar will back him, Meyer confirmed to the Minneapolis newspaper.

The 62-year-old senator was first elected to the Senate in 2006. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School, she previously served as the Hennepin County attorney.

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‘I’m coming back. Give me some time’: Ben Simmons, Nets preach patience after ugly loss to Heat

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‘I’m Coming Back. Give Me Some Time’: Ben Simmons, Nets Preach Patience After Ugly Loss To Heat
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As fans slowly filed out of the Barclays Center after the Nets’ second consecutive preseason blowout loss to an Eastern Conference playoff opponent — this time a 109-80 defeat to the Miami Heat after Monday’s 19-point thumping from the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers — the in-arena DJ played an all-too familiar tune.

“Don’t worry. Be happy.”

It’s easy to worry after Thursday’s poor performance, a game two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant said he “didn’t like anything” about except the team leaving with no injured players. Poor defense and offensive miscues aside, Ben Simmons’ unwillingness to attack the basket underscored the Nets’ inability to take care of the basketball or generate quality offense against one of the NBA’s premier defenses.

Especially in a game both Kyrie Irving (paternity leave) and Joe Harris (sore ankle) watched from the sidelines.

Simmons, however, said there are some things he isn’t yet comfortable doing — like “getting to the rim, getting hit and hitting” other players — because he’s only a few months removed from offseason back surgery. He is confident, and so are his teammates and his head coach, about a  return to a more aggressive version of himself as he shakes off the rust associated with 480 days away from NBA basketball and works to get into a better place after getting a microdiscectomy to alleviate the pain stemming from the herniated disk he suffered after the trade to Brooklyn.

“It’s been a year,” Simmons said after posting four points, four assists and 10 rebounds to go with six turnovers on the night. “I’m coming back. Give me some time.”

Still, there were some plays that raised eyebrows more than others.

Simmons, for example, had a 10-inch height advantage on Heat guard Kyle Lowry and had the mismatch with a one-on-one on the high post. Instead of looking to power to the rim against the smaller opponent, he threw the ball back out to Durant on the perimeter.

When Durant immediately gave the ball back to Simmons — a sign for Simmons to take advantage of the mismatch and get to the rim — Simmons took one dribble towards the paint and shoveled a pass to Royce O’Neale on the opposite wing.

O’Neale, a capable marksman, missed the lightly contested three.

Then there were the back-to-back turnovers with just over two minutes to go in the first quarter.

Reserve lead guard Edmond Sumner threw an entry pass to Simmons, who posted up Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler on the baseline. Sumner then cut along the baseline behind Simmons to the rim, and Simmons floated a pass over his head under the basket.

The pass was tipped away and intercepted, leading to a Miami fast break.

On the very next possession, Simmons advanced the ball up the floor against second-year two-way signing Marcus Garrett. Markieff Morris screened Garrett at the three-point line and Simmons pushed within two feet of the foul line.

And then he flung a pass to O’Neale in the left wing. This time, Garrett was in position and made a play to get possession of the ball.

Some of Simmons’ passes were predictable because Simmons didn’t — and doesn’t — look to score often. Durant said the team “definitely” wants Simmons “to be more aggressive and look to score, especially if he’s got a small wing in the post,” and when he “has an advantage going downhill in transition.”

But he also knows how long of a layoff it’s been for Simmons and that Thursday only marked his second game back.

“I think he’s just finding his rhythm again. He hasn’t played in a long time, and to throw you back up in there with the game going fast?” Durant said. “You can play pickup all you want, but once you put someone in the game, all that stuff goes out the window.

“So, he’s getting his legs, (a) quick move here and he’s figuring it out. It’s only going to get better from here.”

Simmons admitted there needs to be more of a balance for when he looks to set his teammates up for shots versus when he looks to score on his own.

“Looking at the box score, I took three shots, which is definitely not enough,” he said. “Obviously offensively, I want to get to the post more, get some more touches down low, be more aggressive, get to the rim, get to the free throw line, which I didn’t do tonight.”

Nets head coach Steve Nash said he expects Simmons to grow in his aggression putting pressure on the rim. He also, rightfully, noted Irving and Harris’ absences put more pressure on Simmons to create by taking two floor spacers off the court.

“He’s gonna get more attempts. Right now obviously it’s a little clunky for us,” Nash said. “Ben will be fine. He’ll improve, he’s gonna get better every night, and he’s gonna be an engine for us and a big part of what we do. So I’m not really worried about him, but it is a process.

“He hasn’t played for a long time and he’s also assimilating to a new group. That takes time, it’s not gonna be perfect, and it probably won’t be any time soon. But if we can keep improving every day that’s all we ask for.”

Two preseason games isn’t full cause to be worried, but the Nets — other than glimpses of unrealized potential — haven’t given fans much to be happy about, either.

Durant finished with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor but showed some frustration when he accidentally threw the ball away attempting to get the ball to O’Neale, kicking off a Heat fast break and putting them on the line.

Nash warned things would look ugly early as the Nets adjust to both new rotations and new schemes, and ugly described their loss to the Heat on Thursday. It’s only preseason, but the same can be said for the two other Eastern Conference contenders who have blown the cap off the Barclays Center.

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JKSSB Final Selection List-cum-Allocation of Cadres & Departments for remaining Class-IV Posts

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JKSSB Final Selection List-cum-Allocation of Cadres & Departments for remaining Class-IV Posts

JKSSB Final Selection List-cum-Allocation of Cadres & Departments for remaining Class-IV Posts under the provisions of the Jammu & Kashmir Appointment to Class-IV (Special Recruitment) Rules, 2020, advertised vide Notification No. 01 of 2020 dated 26.06.2020.

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