Science

Shots for Kids Get Closer, US Strategy Evolves, and More Coronavirus News

Shots for kids near approval, more vaccine mandates go into effect, and the US’s pandemic strategy evolves. Here’s what you should know:

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Headlines

Pfizer and BioNTech ask the FDA to approve shots for younger kids

Yesterday Pfizer-BioNTech asked the FDA to issue an emergency use authorization for its vaccine in kids ages 5 to 11. The drugmakers are submitting relevant data, including information on how it will formulate the two pediatric doses, which are each one-third of those given to adults. The agency is tentatively scheduled to discuss this in an October 26 meeting, and a CDC advisory panel meeting has been scheduled for November 2 and 3, which means shots for children in this age group could be available shortly after that. Many parents are eager to get their kids vaccinated and experts have said that inoculating younger Americans is a key step in ending this pandemic.

Even once these shots are approved, though, distributing them is likely to be a challenge both logistically and politically. Pediatric practices haven’t universally signed up to offer vaccines but parents are likely to want kids to get their shots somewhere familiar. And administering them at schools, while it could streamline the process, would likely stoke controversy.

More vaccine mandates go into effect despite pushback

President Biden’s calls for vaccine mandates have intensified lately, and in a speech yesterday he reiterated that his administration sees the shots as instrumental in beating the pandemic. In recent weeks more employers and districts have put mandates in place, and so far it seems as though the number of workers missing vaccine deadlines is relatively small. As more mandates go into place, more people are seeking religious exemptions to avoid getting shots. Legally, though, challenges to mandates have played out differently in different courts, creating confusion.

What will it take to convince everyone to get vaccinated? Experts have been trying to identify the kind of messaging that will be most effective. So far, there’s no one clear answer. And while mandates are great for boosting compliance, they’re not a perfect solution.

The Biden administration continues to finesse its pandemic mitigation strategy

The Biden Administration’s booster shot plan has been fraught from the outset, and some outside health experts are reportedly calling on the White House to scale it back. But this week Johnson & Johnson asked the FDA to approve a booster dose of its vaccine, saying that this second shot has proven to improve protection against disease. The FDA will soon review this evidence as well as consider whether to allow J&J recipients to receive a second shot from a different drugmaker.

It’s no secret that this pandemic has laid bare the gaping holes in America’s public health preparedness, and even at this stage new concerns crop up regularly. For instance, as flu season approaches experts have warned that it’s more important than ever this year to get a flu shot to avoid what some are calling a potential “twindemic.” Another important public health step this week was the White House’s decision to purchase $1 billion worth of at-home rapid tests. This is a meaningful indicator that the Biden Administration is taking testing seriously, which is a critical component of mitigating the virus’s spread.

Daily Distraction

It can be hard to train robots to do awkward, everyday tasks just by writing up software. So researchers are sending them through obstacle courses to teach them to navigate the real world.

Something to Read

It’s hard to overstate the impact Frank Herbert’s Dune had on the world of science fiction. In a new interview with WIRED, his son Brian discusses the book’s enduring legacy, and why the new film version may well be its definitive adaptation.

Sanity Check

It’s never too late to learn a new tune. Whether you’re a seasoned musician or picking up an instrument for the first time, here are some of our favorite tools for learning music.

One Question

Has pandemic-induced remote learning created privacy issues for kids?

Unfortunately, yes. When tens of millions of students went remote in the spring of 2020, schools lent laptops and tablets to kids who didn’t have them. But it turns out that many of those devices had monitoring software installed on them. Some say that this created a two-tier system in classrooms, where students using school devices were more at risk of facing disciplinary action and had their activity more hindered than their peers. One report found that Black and Hispanic families were more likely to use school-issued technology, and thus more likely to be monitored. This dynamic harms individual kids, and also has the potential to significantly impact the broader learning environment.


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