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Ultra-Vaxxed Israel’s Crisis Is a Dire Warning to America

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Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

JERUSALEM—The massive surge of COVID-19 infections in Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries on earth, is pointing to a complicated path ahead for America.

In June, there were several days with zero new COVID infections in Israel. The country launched its national vaccination campaign in December last year and has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 80 percent of citizens above the age of 12 fully inoculated. COVID, most Israelis thought, had been defeated. All restrictions were lifted and Israelis went back to crowded partying and praying in mask-free venues.

Post-Vaccine Israel Reopens With a Party

Fast forward two months later: Israel reported 9,831 new diagnosed cases on Tuesday, a hairbreadth away from the worst daily figure ever recorded in the country—10,000—at the peak of the third wave. More than 350 people have died of the disease in the first three weeks of August. In a Sunday press conference, the directors of seven public hospitals announced that they could no longer admit any coronavirus patients. With 670 COVID-19 patients requiring critical care, their wards are overflowing and staff are at breaking point.

“I don’t want to frighten you,” coronavirus czar Dr. Salman Zarka told the Israeli parliament this week. “But this is the data. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images</div>

Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

What happened?

The complex and sobering truth is that no single policy or event brought Israel to this crisis, Hagai Levine, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor of epidemiology, told The Daily Beast. A deadly set of circumstances came together to put Israel on the precipice, most of which can be summed up as: “We are still in the midst of a pandemic, and there is no silver bullet.”

“All the vectors have influenced the rise in morbidity,” he said.

But the principal causes of Israel’s current predicament are the dominance of the extremely infectious Delta variant, which was carried into the country by Israelis returning from foreign vacations during the weeks in which Israel dropped all restrictive measures—along with the worrisome decrease in vaccine efficacy after about six months.

Israel vaccinated its population almost exclusively with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which received full FDA approval on Monday and remains the gold standard for the prevention of severe illness due to the coronavirus.

But in early July, with citizens over the age of 60 almost completely vaccinated, Israeli scientists began observing a worrisome rise in infections—if not in severe illness and death—among the double-vaccinated.

Fully vaccinated people with weakened immune systems appeared particularly vulnerable to the aggressive Delta variant.

By mid-July, Sheba Hospital Professor Galia Rahav began to experiment with booster shots for oncology patients, transplant patients, and the hospital’s own staff. A group of 70 elderly vaccinated Israelis with transplanted kidneys were the first to receive a third dose.

The success of Rahav’s trials in boosting immunity at about the sixth-month mark contributed to the Centers for Disease Control decision, announced last week, to begin offering booster shots to Americans in September.

In order to keep severe illness and the number of COVID deaths down, and avoiding a fourth national lockdown, Israel has embarked on an aggressive effort to provide all adults with boosters in a matter of weeks.

As of this week, all Israelis over 30 will be eligible to receive booster shots. By the end of the month, they are expected to be universally available to anyone over the age of 12 who received their second vaccine five months or more ago.

The World’s First Booster Jab Rollout Is Here. This Is What Happened.

Israel will then reconfigure its Green Passports, granting them only to the triple-vaccinated, and limiting their validity to six months. In anticipation of this change, the number of unvaccinated Israelis getting their first shots has tripled since the beginning of August.

The World Health Organization has asked wealthy countries to halt all third vaccines for a period of two months, hoping that a moratorium will allow poorer countries, where few citizens have received even a first inoculation, to catch up. The United States rejected the call and Israel has ignored it.

Asked what has brought Israel to peak transmission even as the country has already provided third doses of vaccines to 1.5 million citizens, Rahav, who has become one of the best known faces of Israel’s public health messaging, sighed, saying, “I think we’re dealing with a very nasty virus. This is the main problem—and we’re learning it the hard way.”

“It is a combination of waning immunity, so that inoculated people get reinfected, and at the same time the very transmissible Delta variant,” Rahav said, adding that Israelis lacked the discipline to revert to mask usage as the numbers began rising. “But it is not an Israeli problem,” she added. “It is everywhere.”

Her conclusion should give pause to American authorities, who face school reopenings as, at best, only 50 percent of eligible adults have been fully vaccinated.

Unlike New Zealand, which aims for zero community transmission of the coronavirus, and imposes lockdowns when even a single positive case is identified, Israeli authorities have opted for a model they are calling “living with corona.”

“Israel really is a pioneer,” Levine, the former chairman of the nation’s Association of Public Health Physicians, said, referring to the groundbreaking vaccination campaign and the country’s efforts, currently underway, to fully reopen schools on Sept. 1 while keeping in place measures aimed at preventing school-driven outbreaks, such as the one that closed the nation down last summer.

“We’ve achieved a plan that is not hermetic,” Zarka, the coronavirus czar, told a local radio station. “Clearly there will be cases of illness at schools… [but] shutting oneself up at home and closing the school system isn’t exactly the solution.”

He has asked the government to impose stricter limitations on the size of cultural and sports events until the incidence of the coronavirus declines.

“Each country has to assess its own epidemiology,” Levine said, “its culture, its public health, the public’s confidence in its health authorities.” Referring to New Zealand, he added that “we can all learn from other countries, but you can’t copy paste other countries’ methods.”

Israel was forced to make quick decisions and in a time of great uncertainty. Levine was among the public health officials who expressed doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s untested move towards nationwide booster vaccination, but he told The Daily Beast that the latest statistics, showing that only 0.2 of the first 1.1 million recipients of the third jab were infected with the coronavirus, proved it had been a “brave decision.”

The last week has shown a significant reduction in morbidity among triple-vaccinated Israelis over the age of 70—the first group to receive the booster.

Like the other experts, Rahav supports schools reopening, but noted that thanks to upcoming Jewish holidays, which will close schools in about 80 percent of the country, Israel will once again be uniquely positioned to serve as a huge laboratory.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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India tests nuclear-capable missile amid tensions with China

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NEW DELHI (AP) — India has test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles) from an island off its east coast amid rising border tensions with China.

The successful launch on Wednesday was in line with “India’s policy to have credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to no first use,” said a government statement.

The Agni-5 missile splashed down in the Bay of Bengal with “a very high degree of accuracy,” said the statement issued on Wednesday night.

Beijing’s powerful missile arsenal has driven New Delhi to improve its weapons systems in recent years, with the Agni-5 believed to be able to strike nearly all of China.

India is already able to strike anywhere inside neighboring Pakistan, its archrival against whom it has fought three wars since gaining independence from British colonialists in 1947.

India has been developing its medium- and long-range nuclear and missile systems since the 1990s amid increasing strategic competition with China in a major boost to the country’s defense capabilities.

Tension between them flared last year over a long-disputed section of their border in the mountainous Ladakh area. India is also increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s efforts to heighten its influence in the Indian Ocean.

Talks between Indian and Chinese army commanders to disengage troops from key areas along their border ended in a stalemate earlier this month, failing to ease a 17-month standoff that has sometimes led to deadly clashes. India and China fought a bloody war in 1962.



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Friedman, Dodgers facing decisions on FAs, Bauer this winter

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Andrew Friedman is headed into an offseason filled with crucial decisions involving the Los Angeles Dodgers’ big-name free agents, a rebuild of the starting rotation and Trevor Bauer’s future with the team.

As always, Friedman is guided by the ultimate goal of the monied Dodgers, saying, “The number one objective is to put ourselves in the best position to win in 2022.”

After coming within two wins of reaching the World Series for the fourth time in five years, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations defined the team’s postseason as “our struggle to consistently score runs.”

“We needed someone to step up and pull an Eddie Rosario,” Friedman said, referring to the Atlanta Braves left fielder who was named MVP of the NL Championship Series.

“After we made the Trea Turner deal, in my opinion, one through eight, it was the deepest and best lineup I’ve been around. But it didn’t quite play like that over those two months. It was a little bumpier than I would’ve expected,” he said Wednesday. “Figuring out the why of that is the hard part.”

The turbulence began well before the postseason.

Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Bauer went on paid administrative leave in early July under MLB’s joint domestic violence and sexual assault policy. MLB is conducting its own investigation and has yet to announce any findings. Bauer, through his representatives, has denied any wrongdoing.

Asked if Bauer will pitch for the team again, Friedman said they remain in the same position as before.

“It’s being handled by the league office,” he said. “Whatever they decide, we’ll have to figure out from there what makes the most sense for us.”

If MLB suspends Bauer, it could create a domino effect on the team’s payroll plans.

“The extent of it, I don’t know yet,” Friedman said.

The Dodgers began the season with eight starters and tried to get through the postseason with just Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and 20-game winner Julio Urías. The lack of depth was exposed by the team’s decisions to use Scherzer in relief in Game 5 of the NL Division Series and Urías out of the bullpen in Game 2 of the NLCS that left both pitchers tired in their later starts.

“We’re got a really good group of young starting pitchers coming,” Friedman said, citing Mitch White, Andre Jackson, Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Landon Knack. “Gives us a really strong foundation of depth.”

Friedman and the front office have decisions to make on such key veterans as Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen and Chris Taylor, who will become free agents after the World Series.

“We’ll do everything we can to keep as many of this group together,” Friedman said, “but not standing in the way of a great opportunity and I’m sure there will be for different people.”

Kershaw, the 33-year-old three-time Cy Young Award winner, reinjured his left arm not long after returning from over a two-month absence for the same issue and wasn’t available to pitch in the postseason.

“He just wants to feel good again and get to the point where he’s healthy,” Friedman said.

Kershaw has spent his entire 14-year career in Los Angeles, where he’s been the longtime face of the franchise.

“There’s something nostalgic and great about Kersh playing for one team and winning another championship and having a parade,” Friedman said.

Offseason moves would be impacted if no agreement on a collective bargaining agreement is reached before the current deal expires Dec. 1.

“We need to be prepared accordingly,” Friedman said.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports





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Trump Jr. Gets A Reality Check After Comparing U.S. To Communist Czechoslovakia

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Donald Trump Jr. was ridiculed this week after he likened shortages of certain products in the U.S. under President Joe Biden to living in communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s.

Trump Jr. made the remarks during conversation Saturday on Newsmax with Sebastian Gorka, a right-wing media personality and former aide to Donald Trump.

Gorka asked Trump Jr. to discuss the “empty shelves” and backlog of cargo ships in California due to supply-chain issues, given his “perspective” as someone who, “as a child, traveled behind the Iron Curtain and saw real socialism.”

“When conservatives say, ‘They’re socialists. The Democrats have gone radical,’ this isn’t an exaggeration, is it? You’ve seen it, Don,” Gorka added.

Trump Jr.’s mother, Ivana Trump, grew up in Czechoslovakia before moving first to Canada and then the U.S. in the 1970s. He told Gorka his Czech grandparents wanted him to understand the “freedoms and blessings we have here” in the U.S.

“So I traveled with them there every summer, you know, six, eight weeks. I’ve waited in those bread lines,” said Trump Jr., whose father was estimated to be worth more than $1 billion in the 1980s. “We’re starting to see the empty shelves that I experienced then in communist Czechoslovakia in the ’80s in America right now.”

Grocery stores in the U.S. are having problems stocking certain products due to the coronavirus pandemic, a worker shortage and shipping congestion at the Port of Los Angeles.

Some social media users and conservative media personalities have shown images of empty shelves to attack Biden over the supply-chain issues. However, some of these images have turned out to be photos from years ago.

Trump Jr. was slammed on social media for the absurd comparison. A number of people also pointed out that last year, at the peak of the pandemic during the Trump administration, shelves in stores across the country were stripped bare of certain essentials and people lined up for miles in their cars or for blocks on foot to get aid from food banks.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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