Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine Proves Successful in South Africa

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 has had positive results in South Africa, the co-head of a trial, Glenda Gray, told reporters Friday.

A research study conducted from mid-February to May with upwards of 470,000 health workers showed positive results in those inoculated, and the country’s health regulator approved the single-shot J&J vaccine in Apri. It is being used in addition to Pfizer’s.

The study showed 91% to 96.2% protection against death, Gray said, and 67% efficacy against infection when the beta coronavirus dominated and 71% when the delta variant did.

As of Thursday, more than 8.3 million people had been vaccinated in South Africa.

Worldwide, about 4.3 billion people have been vaccinated.

Despite the introduction of new COVID-19 vaccines in recent months, however, the virus continues to spread across all parts of the world, primarily the highly contagious Delta variant, infecting a growing number of people and triggering a new round of strict social restrictions and lockdowns.

More than 20 months after the first cases were detected in Wuhan, China, the COVID-19 global pandemic has far surpassed 200 million total confirmed infections, including 4.2 million fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center data released Friday.

The United States tops the list with more than 35 million cases, including at least 600,000 deaths, followed by India, Brazil, France and Russia.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Olympics organizers report 29 new Games-related coronavirus cases.

Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.


Source: Voice of America


US Employers Add 943,000 Jobs in July, Beating Expectations

U.S. employers added more than 940,000 jobs in July, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday, beating analyst expectations and providing the latest sign the job market may be recovering from steep losses sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 943,000 jobs added last month topped the 850,000 from the previous month, despite a shortage of available workers.

July’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.4% from 5.9% the month before.

“While it is doubtless we will have ups and downs along the way as we continue to battle the delta surge of COVID, what is indisputable now is this: The Biden plan is working, the Biden plan is producing results and the Biden plan is moving the country forward,” said President Joe Biden at the White House Friday.

The president said his administration is the first in U.S. history to oversee an economy that added jobs “every single month in our first six months in office” and noted that “economic growth is the fastest in 40 years.”

The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine encouraged restaurants and other businesses to reopen after being forced to close for months after the pandemic began. But Biden warned there was more to be done not just on the economy, but also on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because of our success with the vaccination effort, this new delta variant wave of COVID-19 will be very different to deal with than the one that was underway when I took office,” Biden warned. “Yes, cases are going to go up before they come back down. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

The prospects of a strong monthly jobs report were bolstered Thursday when the Labor Department reported that 385,000 jobless workers filed for compensation, down 14,000 from the revised figure of the week before.

The U.S. said a week ago that the economy expanded at a 6.5% annual rate of growth from April through June, a slightly faster pace than in the first three months of the year.

The size of the U.S. economy – nearly $23 trillion – now exceeds its pre-pandemic level as it recovers faster than many economists had predicted during the worst of the business closings more than a year ago.

But the surging delta variant of the coronavirus is threatening to impair business activity in some regions of the U.S. and, as a result, analysts say the economy could cool somewhat in coming months.


The second quarter growth was fueled by widespread business reopenings, vaccinations for millions of people and trillions of dollars of government pandemic aid that was sent to all but the wealthiest American families. Some economists and many Republican lawmakers have warned of inflation risks sparked by record-high government stimulus.

“Inflation is skyrocketing & Americans are paying higher prices after Dems’ wild spending spree earlier this year,” Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota tweeted earlier this week.

The number of weekly unemployment benefit claims has tracked unevenly in recent weeks, but overall has fallen by more than 40% since early April, while remaining well above the pre-pandemic levels.

About 9.5 million people remain unemployed in the U.S. and are looking for work. There also are 9.2 million job openings, the government says, although the skill sets of the jobless do not necessarily match the needs of employers.

Some employers are offering cash bonuses to new hires.

State governors and municipal officials across the U.S. have been ending coronavirus restrictions, in many cases allowing businesses for the first time in a year to completely reopen to customers. That could lead to more hiring of workers.

But the number of new coronavirus infections recorded each day has increased by tens of thousands in recent weeks and is still growing, especially in parts of the U.S. where millions of people have, for one reason or another, resisted getting vaccination shots.

The number of new vaccinations had been falling in the U.S. but now is increasing again as more people see others in their communities hospitalized from the virus and their lives endangered.

More than 60% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.


Source: Voice of America


White House Weighs Proof of Vaccination for Foreign Visitors



The White House has confirmed that it is considering requiring foreign visitors to show proof of vaccination to potentially restart international travel.

Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told the Reuters news agency that multiple federal agencies are looking into the possibility.

The United States still has no timetable for resuming international travel given the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

The U.S. first imposed travel restrictions on China in January 2020. Since then, several other countries, including India and many in Europe, have faced similar restrictions.

Two issues facing a proof-of-vaccination plan are what would be considered proof and whether the U.S. would accept documentation from people who have been vaccinated with products that have not been approved in the U.S.

In contrast, at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is still seeing record numbers of migrants attempting to cross, proof of vaccine is not required before migrants are released into the U.S.


During the last week of July, about 7,000 migrants were released in the border town of McAllen, Texas, with 1,500 testing positive for COVID, according to the Washington Examiner.

The Biden administration is reportedly drawing up plans to vaccinate migrants, The Washington Post reported.



Source: Voice of America

Sydney Hits Record Number of New COVID-19 Cases


Australia continued Thursday to struggle against the delta variant of the coronavirus, with its largest city, Sydney, reporting a record daily number of new cases and the state of Victoria announcing a one-week lockdown.

Sydney, which is near the seventh week of a nine-week lockdown, reported 262 cases and five deaths in the past 24 hours.

So far, the country as a whole has seen relatively few cases and deaths, but vaccination rates are low, with only about 20% of people over 16 fully vaccinated.

Victoria’s lockdown was triggered by eight new cases.

“Nothing about this is optional. This is a lockdown. It will be enforced, for the best of reasons and the best purposes, to bring these case numbers down, under control so we can once again be open,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

All three of Australia’s biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – are currently locked down.

Some health officials told Reuters they expected more lockdowns until the country reached a higher vaccination rate.

Some feared the measures could force the country into its second recession in two years, because many are unable to work with so many businesses closed.



Source: Voice of America

Microsoft Is Latest Large US Employer to Require COVID-19 Vaccinations

Computer giant Microsoft became the latest large employer to require workers to provide proof of a coronavirus vaccination before entering its offices in the United States.

The Seattle Times reported the Redmond, Washington, company sent an email to its employees Tuesday, saying it would have a process to accommodate those employees who have medical conditions or other reasons that might prevent them from getting vaccinated.

The company also said it was pushing back the return of employees to the office by nearly a month, to October. 4. It said caregivers of people who are immunosuppressed or parents of children who are too young to receive vaccines could work from home until January. Microsoft has about 100,000 U.S. employees.

Microsoft is following the lead of other major U.S. employers requiring vaccinations for their employees. Tuesday, Tyson Foods, the biggest U.S. food company, said it was requiring all its employees to be fully vaccinated.

The federal government said in May it was legal for employers to require their workers to get vaccinated.


Source: Voice of America

Why Some Libertarians Support Vaccine Mandates

WASHINGTON – The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing proponents of America’s libertarian movement to question just what their philosophy demands of them.

Many libertarians, who champion individual freedom and are generally skeptical of government authority, have been outspoken in denouncing vaccine mandates and social distancing measures as an unwarranted intrusion on personal liberty.

But others are just as voluble in defending the measures, arguing that libertarian principles prohibit reckless behavior – such as going maskless in a crowded room – that puts innocent others at risk.

“There’s been a real split among libertarians about how to respond to the pandemic,” said Matt Zwolinski, a philosophy professor at the University of San Diego who runs the “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” blog.

“Some libertarians supported lockdowns, some libertarians supported face mask requirements, and some libertarians now are supporting vaccine mandates,” he said. “On the other hand, there are also a lot of libertarians who opposed in very strong terms all of those things.”

With large swaths of Americans declining to get vaccinated, the debate has real-world implications.  While many anti-vaxxers question the safety and efficacy of vaccines, opposition to vaccination is often couched in libertarian terms: It’s my body, my choice.

“Governors say things like, ‘We expect citizens to be responsible and make their own choices, and it’s not the role of government to tell people what to do,’ ” said Justin Bernstein, a philosophy professor at Florida Atlantic University who has advised the Centers for Disease Control on vaccine allocation and distribution.

This is a view that is widely shared by many card-carrying libertarians. One of the staunchest critics of government-mandated vaccination is Dave Smith, a comedian and a rising figure in the Libertarian Party. Although he doesn’t question the effectiveness of vaccines, Smith, who is mulling a presidential run as a Libertarian Party candidate in 2024, sees vaccine mandates as an infringement on individual liberty.

“On a purely principled level, I believe you own yourself, and once you concede that you don’t own yourself, on the practical level, you’re going to get a lot of really bad outcomes from that, and egregiously immoral ones,” Smith told the libertarian “Reason TV” last week.

Yet as important as the right to “bodily autonomy” is to libertarianism, other libertarians say it doesn’t justify exposing others to the virus.  These libertarians defend mandatory vaccination not by reason of promoting public good but on the ground that vaccine refusal puts others, including those who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons, at risk.

Libertarian philosopher Jessica Flanigan has likened vaccine refusal to firing a gun into the air on Independence Day, inadvertently injuring innocent bystanders.

“Citizens do not have the right to turn themselves into biological weapons that expose innocent bystanders to undue risks of harm.” Flanigan wrote in a 2014 journal article, “ADefense of Compulsory Vaccination.”  “Mandatory vaccination policies are therefore justifiable in most cases because citizens do not have a right to remain unvaccinated.”

Other libertarian academics have advanced similar arguments in defense of measures that require vaccination as a condition for admission into public buildings or events.

“Libertarians have the view that we have limits to how much risk of harm we can impose upon other people,” said Jason Brennan, a libertarian philosopher at Georgetown University who made the “libertarian case for mandatory vaccination” in a 2016 journal article.

“The real complicated question is: At what point do we think other people are imposing a sufficiently high risk of harm onto third-party bystanders that the people imposing that risk can be interfered with as a way of protecting others?” Brennan said in an interview.

With COVID vaccines widely available, however, the case for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate has grown weaker, Brennan said. Vaccine resisters, Brennan said, voluntarily put themselves at risk.

“Part of the complication is the people who want to be immune are mostly immune and the people who aren’t immune, most of them aren’t really a high risk,” Brennan said, noting that the virus has been found to be less dangerous for children than adults – an assertion the delta variant is putting to the test.

The debate over vaccines comes as a growing number of colleges, universities and businesses around the country have announced vaccine mandates.  Although the federal government’s authority to impose a national vaccine mandate is in question, the U.S. military is considering requiring military personnel to get vaccinated.

Last month, eight Indiana University students sued the school over its vaccine mandate, claiming it violated their constitutional rights. While rejecting “blind deference to the government” on matters of public health, a federal judge later dismissed the lawsuit, delivering vaccine advocates a major victory.

Some libertarians hailed the judge’s relatively narrow ruling.

“If you’re a libertarian, you take individual liberty really seriously, and so even if you think that we can restrict liberty by forcing people to get vaccines, you want to use as gentle a hand as you can in that mandate,” Zwolinski said.


Zwolinski said the rift among libertarians over vaccine mandates reflects a similar divide over social distancing measures during the pandemic.

“You find basically the same people on the same side of the debate no matter what the specific restriction is,” Zwolinski said.

While academic libertarians are generally supportive of vaccine mandates and other restrictions, “popular movement-based libertarians” such as activists and members of Congress tend to oppose them, Zwolinski said.

But libertarian support for vaccine mandates doesn’t appear to be limited to academic circles.  A recent Reddit thread titled “Where do libertarians stand on vaccine mandates?” prompted hundreds of comments, the responses in equal measure critical and supportive.

“It is the right of an individual to make the choice for themselves. If they want to die, they are free to do so,” one commentator wrote.

Another wrote, “I don’t view vaccine mandates as too much of an infringement on liberty.  It’s got zero cost to the individual and there are obvious externalities to not being vaccinated.”



Source: Voice of America