Personal Health

This East Texas town had to boil its water on Thanksgiving as officials seek a solution to aging infrastructure

"An East Texas town must boil its water on Thanksgiving as officials seek a solution to aging infrastructure" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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ZAVALLA — The nearly 700 residents here must boil their water this Thanksgiving as the small East Texas town grapples with aging infrastructure that has left residents without safe water for 10 days this month.

The working-class town, 23 miles southeast of Lufkin, has had problems with its water system for years, but issues worsened this month when water pressure decreased so much that the city issued a boil-water notice on Nov. 14. Low pressure then turned into a complete stoppage for several days that caused schools and businesses to shut down. In trying to fix the problem, the city identified multiple infrastructure problems, including a malfunctioning vacuum pump and leaks in several water lines.

“It’s almost as if a tsunami has hit us,” said city councilwoman Kim Retherford. “It’s not given us any time to breathe.”

The situation in Zavalla is reflective of issues with water supplies statewide, as water infrastructure has aged and become increasingly vulnerable while the state’s population continues to grow. Rural towns in East Texas are particularly prone to issues with water quality and supply — according to data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, East Texas has experienced more boil-water notices in the past decade than any other area.

Rural communities’ water systems are often run by volunteers or city leaders who lack the technical knowledge to meet growing state and federal regulations. With limited funds, these communities also delay or forgo much-needed repairs.

“Everything you’re experiencing is a 20- or 30-year problem in the making that has come to a head,” Kelley Holcomb, Angelina & Neches River Authority general manager, said during an emergency City Council meeting this week. “You’re not going to get out of this cheap.”

In Zavalla, most of the city’s water has been restored, but the boil-water notice remains in effect. A lab in Nacogdoches will test water samples and determine if the notice can be lifted.

Angelina County Judge Keith Wright stepped in earlier this week and requested that the state assist Zavalla. The Texas Division of Emergency Management fulfilled the request, sending bottled water and deploying the Texas A&M Public Works Response Team.

Bert Nitzke, part of the team from A&M that formed earlier this year, said his team has repaired three leaks and is continuing to check all of the city’s water lines for a loss of pressure, which would indicate a leak.

At the emergency meeting this week, little progress was made in developing a long-term solution to the town’s water woes. The city’s public works director resigned this week, and few people in Texas have the particular license needed to work on the city’s largest well due to its close proximity to surface water.

At the meeting, the City Council voted to postpone assigning a contract to a licensed well-worker, and disgruntled residents expressed frustration.

“I work a lot of hours and all I want when I get home is a hot shower,” one resident said. “I’m here as a community member saying we don’t need to have this problem in the future. We need a team working on this.”

Community members suggested that the city apply for private grants to overhaul the entire water system.

Holcomb suggested that the city begin sourcing its water from Lufkin, a solution he said would take five years to implement.

“You’re not going to be able to solve your problems by yourself,” Holcomb said. “That stuff is old, it needs to be replaced — it needed to be replaced 20 years ago.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/11/23/east-texas-boil-water-notice-thanksgiving/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Republicans are giddy about 'owning the libs.' The citizens they govern pay a tragic price

If dying young appeals to you, here's a simple bit of advice: move to a state or county controlled by Republicans.

At first glance, the images below appear to be political maps. And in the most real sense of the word they are: the county-by-county differences shown by the map from Jeremy Ney's brilliant American Inequality Substack newsletter and the state-by-state screen shot from the CDC's NCHS below it.

Both reflect, in large part, decades of regional policy differences.

Long-lived parts of America have generally embraced progressive policies dating back to FDR's New Deal; the early-death parts of our country most often reflect conservative opposition to everything from the working-class wealth that unionization and higher minimum wages bring, to the availability of healthcare through Medicaid expansion.


https://substackcdn.com/image/fetch/w_1456,c_limit,f_webp,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/https%3A%2F%2Fbucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fpublic%2Fimages%2Feb553faf-565e-477b-948f-f746b7480c81_1240x1042.png
Source: American Inequality by Jeremy Ney on Substack

2019 Life Expectancy by State — Source: National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control

To zoom out ever farther, since many conservative policies affect the entire country, consider what happened to the health of our nation in the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution. It's particularly visible when you compare the outcomes of our healthcare system with other developed countries.

Our World In Data lays it out starkly, as you will see below. One of the proudest accomplishments of the neoliberal Reagan Revolution was—following a bill Nixon signed in 1973 that opened the door—overturning laws in state-after-state that required both hospitals and health insurance companies to run as non-profits.

Reagan also, in 1983, ordered the DOJ, FTC, and SEC to essentially stop enforcing anti-trust laws dating back to the 1891 Sherman Act, resulting in the "Mergers & Acquisitions Mania" that characterized the 1980s and inspired the "greed is good" movie Wall Street starring Michael Douglas.

Health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical manufacturers all morphed from regional and competitive organizations into giant, monopolistic predators.

Their profits exploded and our lifespans collapsed. Every year now, they spread hundreds of millions of dollars around Washington DC and state capitols to prevent regulation and maintain the status quo.

We are, quite literally, the only country in the world with a corrupt Supreme Court that has legalized this kind of a vicious attack on its citizens by a bought-off political party and their morbidly rich donors.

The Republicans on the Supreme Court call it "free speech" but every other nation in the world knows it's simply naked, criminal, political bribery.


Le vs health exp 2020 version
Source: Our World in Data

As you can see above, the average American spends more than twice as much on healthcare every year as do the citizens of any other developed country in the world. And, as the Reagan Revolution really bit hard in the 1980s and 1990s, our average lifespans collapsed while corporate healthcare profits exploded.

And it's not just death by lack of healthcare that skews these statistics: if you're concerned about being murdered, it's also a good idea to avoid states run by conservatives. As the centrist Third Way think tank noted last month:

  • "In 2020, per capita murder rates were 40% higher in states won by Donald Trump than those won by Joe Biden.
  • "8 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for the Republican presidential nominee in every election this century."

It's true of Red cities as well. Again, from Third Way:

"For example, Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat [sic] mayor, despite their comparable populations.
"In fact, the homicide rate in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco was half that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's Bakersfield, a city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted for Trump."

And don't even think about having sex in Red states: they generally lead America in sexually transmitted diseases, presumably because most have outlawed teaching sex education in their public schools.

The five states with the highest rates of Chlamydia infections are Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and New Mexico. The highest rates of Gonorrhea are in Mississippi, Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Speaking of schools, the states with the lowest educational attainment in the nation are entirely Red states. Ranked from terrible to absolutely worst, they are: Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Nevada, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

As giddy as Republicans are about "owning the libs," the citizens they govern pay a tragic price for the sport. They are literally dying as conservative politicians revel in their ability to cut taxes for the rich and suppress wages and healthcare for everybody else.

Republicans are about to take over the House of Representatives and begin their "investigations" into, well, anything that will distract from these terrible statistics. In the meantime, Americans, particularly those in Red states and counties, will continue to die at rates considered obscene by the standards of every other developed nation in the world.

Our next chance to put America back on track will be in two years, and we damn well better get ready.

'Seismic win': Michigan voters approve constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights

Michigan residents on Tuesday voted to enshrine abortion rights in the state's constitution, a major victory in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's deeply unpopular decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and amid a nationwide GOP assault on reproductive freedom.

The initiative, one of several abortion-related measures on the ballot across the country Tuesday, currently leads by a margin of 55.6% to 44.4% with 84% of the votes counted.

Approval of the ballot measure effectively spells the end of right-wing efforts to impose a draconian 1931 abortion ban in Michigan, where reproductive freedom advocates have been working for months to build support for the constitutional amendment as GOP officials did their best to tank it. The Reproductive Freedom for All campaign submitted more than 753,000 signatures in support of the amendment—a state record.

"Proposal 3's passage marks an historic victory for abortion access in our state and in our country—and Michigan has paved the way for future efforts to restore the rights and protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide," said Darci McConnell, Reproductive Freedom for All's communication director.

The amendment states that "every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care."

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that "this is a seismic win for abortion rights in a battleground state."

"This victory is also a win for people in the neighboring states of Indiana and Ohio, where abortion is banned," Northup added. "Until there is national legislation that protects abortion rights across the country, we will continue to work to ensure that state constitutions protect the right to abortion."

Passage of Proposal 3 in Michigan was one of several abortion rights victories Tuesday, as voters in a number of states approved reproductive freedom measures and fended off GOP-backed anti-abortion initiatives.

In California and Vermont, states where abortion is currently legal, voters approved ballot measures to affirm support for reproductive freedom in their states' constitutions.

Voters in Montana and Kentucky, meanwhile, are poised to defeat anti-abortion measures that would further roll back their reproductive rights.

"Voters are rejecting the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe and issuing a clarion call that they want their rights constitutionally protected," said Northup. "When people can vote directly on abortion in a non-partisan ballot initiative, abortion rights win."

A 'highly contagious' COVID subvariant has scientists worried about the 'next wave of infections': report

President Joe Biden drew some criticism from health experts in September after saying, during an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” that “the pandemic is over.” Biden acknowledged that “we still have a problem with COVID,” but Dr. Megan L. Ranney — an emergency care physician in Providence, Rhode Island — responded, in a September 18 tweet, that although the “fatality rate is way down,” it is inaccurate to say that the pandemic is “over” when there are still “400 deaths a day.”

Nonetheless, Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s vaccination push has been a success in the United States. Although it is quite possible to be infected with COVID-19 even if one has been fully vaccinated and received booster shots, most of the “breakthrough” infections are not life-threatening. Biden and Fauci were both infected with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, but they suffered only minor illnesses.

In an article published by the Daily Beast on October 11, reporter David Axe takes a look at a new COVID-19 subvariant that doctors and scientists are worried about: BQ.1.1.

READ MORE: How gonorrhea became more of a drug-resistant 'superbug' during the COVID-19 pandemic

“As the wave of COVID infections from the highly-contagious BA.5 subvariant finally subsided back in late July, new subvariants were already competing for dominance — and the opportunity to drive the next wave of infections,” Axe explains. “A little over two months later, epidemiologists are close to naming a winner. In the United Kingdom, infections from a highly mutated subvariant called BQ.1.1 are doubling every week — a rate of growth that far exceeds other leading subvariants. In the U.S., BQ.1.1 is spreading twice as fast as its cousin subvariant BA.2.75.2.”

Axe continues, “That means BQ.1.1 is very contagious. But that’s not the subvariant’s most alarming quality. What’s most worrying is that it also evades certain antibodies. In fact, BQ.1.1 seems to be the first form of COVID against which antibody therapies — evusheld and bebtelovimab, for instance — don’t work at all.”

Axe adds, however, that “the best vaccines still work against BQ.1.1.”

“Highly contagious and immune-evasive, BQ.1.1 is poised to take advantage of an increasingly vulnerable global population as antibodies from vaccinations and past infection gradually wear off in coming months,” Axe reports. “The question isn’t whether a fresh wave of infections is coming. It’s exactly when.”

READ MORE: Trump wanted to display Superman shirt after being discharged from hospital for COVID: Haberman book

A common talking point among anti-vaxxers is that if COVID-19 vaccines worked, there wouldn’t be so many “breakthrough” infections. But vaccines, whether they’re for COVID-19 or the flu, don’t promise to totally eliminate “breakthrough” cases. Rather, vaccines are effective when: (1) infections are less likely to occur, and (2) the infections that do occur tend to be less severe. President Biden, Fauci, First Lady Jill Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris were all “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases, but none of them had really serious infections or needed to be hospitalized.

Axe reports, “Fortunately, the latest mRNA boosters from Moderna and Pfizer are still highly effective against BQ.1.1. There’s a good reason for this. Moderna and Pfizer formulated the new bivalent boosters specifically to provide immunity against BA.5. BQ.1.1 is a form of BA.5, albeit with additional mutations. Of course, the bivalent boosters only help if you get them.”

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019. According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the pandemic has since killed more than 6.5 million people worldwide, including over 1 million in the United States.

READ MORE: 'Nothing to hide': Fauci reacts to GOP pledge to investigate his handling of the COVID pandemic

Major US insurance companies stole billions from taxpayers in overbilling scam

Numerous major U.S. health insurance companies have made as much as $25 billion in profits by fraudulently billing the U.S. government for nonexistent healthcare charges, according to a New York Times report.

By 2023, nearly half of the estimated 64 million people on Medicare — the government’s national health insurance program for people over 65 and young people with disabilities — will have a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan. The MA plans, managed by private insurance companies, receive payments from the U.S. government for managing people’s care.

Whistleblowers, federal officials, and an inspector general accused some of the biggest insurers of fraudulently overbilling the government by falsely reporting patient ailments. The accused companies include UnitedHealth, Humana, CVS Health, Kaiser Permanente, Cigna, and others. Most of the programs’ large insurers have also been accused of fraud in court.

Two decades ago, congressional Republicans created MA “to encourage health insurers to find innovative ways to provide better care at lower cost,” the Times wrote. However, the MA program now costs more money per patient than those enrolled in Medicare.

Journalist Natalie Shure explained how the scam works.

“Privatized Medicare plans cherry-pick healthier enrollees, fudge medical records to make them look as sick as possible, coax doctors into tacking on extra sham diagnoses to bill for, and pay themselves a profit on top of it,” she wrote, noting that the insurance companies often refuse to provide additional treatment to these allegedly sick patients. “Medicare Advantage shouldn’t exist.”

As the Times reported, “The government now spends nearly as much on Medicare Advantage’s 29 million beneficiaries as on the Army and Navy combined.” The private insurers have pocketed anywhere from $12 billion to $25 billion through fraudulent claims in 2020, the Times reported.

Even though officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have been given congressional permission to “reduce the insurers’ rates in response to evidence of systematic overbilling,” the Times added, “CMS has never chosen to do so.”

Nearly 80 percent of U.S. House members recently signed onto a letter “to protect the [MA] program from policies that would undermine” its stability, Common Dreams reported. Many of these politicians receive donations from insurance companies.

In April, the Biden administration announced that, next year, MA insurers will receive one of the largest payment increases in the program’s history, the publication added.

Progressive politicians, activists, and healthcare advocates have argued that MA is merely part of an effort to privatize Medicare entirely, a move that would potentially allow private insurance companies to fleece U.S. taxpayers for additional billions.

Florida parents and doctors revolt after student-athletes asked to report 'history of menstrual periods'

In Florida schools, student athletes have to report a variety of health conditions — from allergies to fainting spells — if they sign up to play for the season. And if they are female athletes, according to Palm Beach Post reporter Katherine Kokal, they are “being asked” to report something else as well: their “history of menstrual periods.”

“The information is reported on athletes' annual physical form, which they are required to fill out with a physician and turn in to their school's athletic director,” Kokal explains. “The questions have been put to students across the state for two decades, most often on a written form on paper, but this fall, when some districts took the form to a digital platform kept by a third party, parents and doctors began raising red flags.”

Kokal adds, “Their concerns have been heightened both by a shifting political landscape criminalizing abortions and scrutinizing transgender athletes and the growing threat to medical privacy in a digital age. All of the forms — whether paper or digital — are subject to subpoena.”

READ MORE: How Roe's reversal has supercharged abortion rights activists: conservative

One Florida-based physician who finds this objectionable is Dr. Michael Haller, a pediatric endocrinologist and Gainesville resident. Haller told the Post, “I don’t see why (school districts) need that access to that type of information. It sure as hell will give me pause to fill it out with my kid.”

Kokal notes that “abortion rights advocates who stress reproductive privacy in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade worry that women's menstrual history may be used to prosecute them if they terminate a pregnancy.”

Privacy concerns in Florida schools were addressed during a testy school board meeting in mid-August. Parents, The Recount noted, “erupted with outrage over the invasion of privacy.”

Haller told the Post, “I think we're all on edge right now.”

READ MORE: 'A massive miscalculation': Lindsey Graham's proposed abortion ban ignites the political spectrum

'This is personal for me': Researchers say abortion helps Democrats with swing voters — but how much?

Seven or eight months ago, many Democratic strategists feared that the 2022 midterms would bring a massive red wave like the red waves that plagued President Bill Clinton in 1994 and President Barack Obama in 2010. But that was before the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical-right majority handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and overturned Roe v. Wade after 49 years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still believes that Republicans are likely to “flip” the U.S. House of Representatives, but he considers the U.S. Senate a toss-up.

In an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on September 30, Rich Thau (president of the research firm Engagious and a moderator for the Swing Voter Project) and Susie Pieper (an Engagious intern and student at Haverford College in the Philadelphia suburbs) examine the effect that the abortion issue could have with swing voters in the 2022 midterms. The Dobbs decision, according to Thau and Pieper, definitely helps Democrats among swing voters. But the burning question is: How much?

“An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, which overturned Roe v. Wade,” Thau and Pieper explain. “Concurrently, an overwhelming majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in at least some cases. But how will these views translate to voting behavior among swing voters? This month, as part of our Swing Voter Project, we asked focus groups of Trump-to-Biden voters across North Carolina what’s changed for them when it comes to their likely voting behavior in the wake of the Dobbs decision.”

READ MORE: Why Lindsey Graham’s anti-abortion bill is a major 'gift to Democrats': conservative

Abortion rights, according to Thau and Pieper, are a high priority for the swing voters that the Swing Voter Project spoke to in North Carolina. But they have other priorities as well.

“Among eleven North Carolinian swing voters, nine said that Dobbs would be a top-three issue for them in the midterms, which seems significant,” Thau and Pieper report. “Except that issue matrixes are often complicated: Earlier in the same focus groups, we asked which one issue in the news concerns them the most — and only one said abortion. We have seen similar results in recent months, where abortion is a leading issue, but it competes with various others — such as inflation and gun violence — for the top concern.”

Alana, a 26-year-old swing voter from Dover, North Carolina, told researchers, “I was registered as a Republican. I still am right now, but I’ll be switching completely to Democrat. As I say, most Republicans are the reason why this happened, and I just can’t stand by and agree with something that has affected myself, my family, and friends so much. It’s just something that has upset me greatly.”

Abortion is clearly a major issue for Kayla, a 34-year-old swing voter from Mocksville, North Carolina who told researchers, “I was registered unaffiliated. I didn’t see myself as a Republican or a Democrat, but I would vote for a Republican if I thought that candidate had my views for the economy. But nah, I’m leaning left completely. And this is personal for me. So, I’m probably going to end up registering as a Democrat from here on out.”

READ MORE: 'This is a powder keg': Lindsey Graham’s abortion ban splits Republicans over the issue of states' rights

The Swing Voter Project found that some of the swing voters were leaning towards pro-choice Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley in North Carolina’s 2022 U.S. Senate race. A Civitas/Cygnal poll released in late September found Beasley and Ted Budd, the Donald Trump-backed Republican nominee, in a virtual dead heat. However, Beasley trailed Budd by 3 percent in an Emerson College/The Hill poll released on September 20.

“We won’t know the electoral impact of Dobbs until the votes are counted,” Pieper and Pieper observe. “But this month’s focus group suggests that with swing voters, the issue salience is high and helpful to Democrats.”

READ MORE: Georgia swing voters don’t view ‘abortion v. inflation’ as a ‘simple binary choice’

'A simple yes or no': Fetterman demands Oz share position on GOP’s proposed federal abortion ban

Moments after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the campaign of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman—the Democratic nominee for the key battleground state's open U.S. Senate seat—challenged Dr. Mehmet Oz, his GOP opponent, to clarify where he stands on reproductive freedom.

"Would you vote for Sen. Graham's bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks?" Fetterman spokesperson Joe Calvello asked Oz, a super-wealthy, right-wing celebrity television doctor backed by former President Donald Trump. "It's a simple yes or no question."

"'It should be left to the states' is not a real answer," Calvello added, preemptively shutting down what has become Republicans' typical response on the campaign trail since the U.S. Supreme Court's reactionary majority eliminated the constitutional right to abortion earlier this summer. GOP candidates' standard retort looks increasingly deceptive now that Graham has once again proposed a federal abortion ban.

"The people of Pennsylvania deserve to know how Oz would vote on this bill if he were in the U.S. Senate," said Calvello. "They deserve to know where he stands when it comes to an issue as fundamental as reproductive rights."

"John Fetterman's position on this issue is crystal clear," he continued. "John believes abortion is a decision that should only be made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Washington. In the Senate, he will proudly cast the 51st vote to scrap the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade into law."

Oz did issue a statement after Graham unveiled his proposal to outlaw abortion throughout the U.S. after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But he refused to take a position on the bill, saying that he would "want to make sure that the federal government is not involved in interfering with the state's decisions on the topic."

In response, Fetterman said that "a federal abortion ban would sure seem to interfere with a state's decision on the topic of abortion."

"When you're a senator, you actually have to take positions," said Fetterman. "You have to take votes—sometimes hard votes."

"This isn't some TV show," he continued. "This matters. These are people's lives."

"Dr. Oz and his team need to stop the spin and stop the bullshit," Fetterman added. "This is a bill that he would actually have to vote on. Oz needs to tell us—yes or no, would you support this bill?"

Fetterman offered to "help him out and go first: I'm a HELL NO."

In a statement, Indivisible's national political director Dani Negrete said that "we would like to thank Sen. Graham for making it crystal clear to voters today that Republicans are running on a national abortion ban in these midterms."

"It's telling that even as MAGA candidates in competitive races like Blake Masters and Mehmet Oz are trying to hide their extreme positions on abortion, Republicans in Congress are already moving ahead with legislation that would restrict freedoms in all fifty states and cost untold lives," said Negrete.

"If Republicans gain control of Congress in November," Negrete added, "we can expect to see them fight harder for even more extreme restrictions on this essential freedom."

Fetterman was not the only Democratic Senate hopeful to sound the alarm about the GOP's crusade for a national abortion ban, which researchers have estimated would lead to a 24% increase in maternal mortality in the U.S.—already a much more dangerous place to be pregnant compared with other high-income countries.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who is narrowly leading the polls in Ohio's pivotal U.S. Senate race, quickly shared a campaign ad showcasing his far-right opponent J.D. Vance's support for completely ending access to abortion care.

"Vance would all too happily vote to jam [Graham's bill] through and codify the biggest act of governmental overreach in our lifetime," Ryan tweeted. "We can't let him get there."

On Monday night, when it became clear that Graham planned to soon unveil his abortion ban legislation, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes—the Democratic nominee in the crucial swing state's U.S. Senate race—warned, "This is what will happen if we don't expand our Democratic majority in the Senate, abolish the filibuster, and codify Roe."

"Everything is on the line this November," he added.

In a Tuesday statement, Barnes pointed out that his opponent, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), has a long history of supporting the GOP's assault on reproductive freedom, including:

  • fighting to uphold Mississippi's law banning abortion after 15 weeks;
  • calling the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade "the correct decision" and "a victory";
  • saying that if people don't like the abortion laws in their state they "can move"; and
  • co-sponsoring every version of Graham's abortion ban for the last ten years.

"Ron Johnson's willingness to compromise women's freedoms and put their lives at risk is disqualifying," said Barnes. "Once again, he's proving how out of touch he is with our lives and our values."

Like Ryan, Barnes and Fetterman are currently out-polling their respective Republican opponents but by wider margins.

The three candidates are widely viewed as the Democrats with the best chances to flip seats in the Senate. Such an outcome could help their party retain, and possibly expand, its razor-thin majority in the upper chamber.

"The stakes have never been higher," Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said Tuesday. "This election is critical. It's going to take all of us."

This piece has been updated to include a statement from Mandela Barnes as well as John Fetterman's response to the statement Mehmet Oz released regarding a 15-week federal abortion ban.

Dinner versus truth: The problem with Facebook’s content warnings

The decision to prioritize our own comfort and convenience by looking away might feel easier, but it comes at a terrible cost.

Facebook’s algorithm is considering two sponsored posts that feature the same chicken. In the first post, she is alive and struggling, confined in a tiny cage, on her way to her premature death. In the second, she is dead, beheaded, and roasted. Can you guess which post was approved? It turns out that Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is deceiving its consumers in more ways than one.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

There’s a strange and troubling disconnect between the food we’re happy to see on our plate and the true story of the living animal who eventually becomes that food—often under painful and distressing circumstances. A drumstick was once the leg of a living chicken who did not want to die. But Facebook only allows one of these images to be advertised. A clue: It’s the one intended to appeal not to your head or your heart, but rather to your stomach.

Ads are placed on Facebook feeds by animal rights organizations like The Humane League, the group I work for, to raise awareness about the reality of factory farming. These ads depict chickens raised for food (commonly known as broiler chickens) and their experiences on factory farms. But Facebook’s algorithm often rejects those ads under its “sensational content” policy. Facebook requires posts that share “violent” or “graphic content” information and images to come with a content warning, which cannot be included in paid ads.

The miserable, tortured lives endured by chickens raised for human consumption are upsetting from beginning to end. Broiler chickens live under some of the most brutal conditions experienced by any nonhuman animal. When they hatch, chicks are packed on conveyor belts leading to forced immunizations as well as mutilations, which often include severing beaks, toes, and combs without pain relief. They live in indoor sheds among hundreds of thousands of other birds, in cramped and often filthy conditions.

Over the years, the meat industry has bred birds to grow unnaturally large, all so that consumers can get more meat per meal. The birds grow so large, so fast that their bodies can’t support their own weight, resulting in painful conditions and broken bones. Finally, chickens suffer through their final moments in a slaughterhouse, usually after only 47 days of life—drastically shorter than their typical lifespan of up to seven years. Slaughterhouse deaths are frequently haphazard and inhumane. The techniques used to knock out a bird before her death often fail, and many chickens venture wide awake and conscious to their own slaughter.

It’s not a surprise that telling these animals’ stories provokes horror and sadness—it’s not exactly the kind of content you might be excited to see on a morning scroll of your social media feed. I understand the rationale behind Facebook’s sensational content policy. But isn’t it ironic that while Facebook rejects The Humane League’s ads, companies selling chicken products are free to advertise the final result of a broiler chicken’s tragic life?

Cheerful young people celebrate over meals of chicken sandwiches; a family digs into a fried chicken bucket. These ads aren’t just limited to Facebook—you’ll find them everywhere both online and off, from a YouTube ad to a billboard at a bus stop. Facebook and companies like it deem these images as harmless advertising. But underneath the happy feasting lies the grim story of an animal in pain.

The painful truth is that behind the everyday images of meat consumption that most people barely register, cruelty and violence prevail. If more people knew about the reality behind the chicken they eat every day—whether purchased at a fast-food chain or bought from the supermarket—they could play a more active role to end this suffering by making more conscious food or life choices.

If this were to happen, for example, then some people might consider a vegan lifestyle; others could campaign for serious change and reform in the way broiler chickens are raised. It’s part of the reason why animal protection organizations work to open people’s eyes to the ways animals are treated to end up on the table. But the very nature of the violent treatment means that social media algorithms like the ones used by Facebook restrict the ability of organizations like mine to inform people about the cruelty suffered by animals behind the meat they eat for their meals. It’s a catch-22 that chickens and other farm animals are paying for.

It also reveals a broader problem that goes beyond the sponsored posts that Facebook’s algorithm allows animal rights organizations like ours to promote. It’s about the choices we make around our food consumption. Most people are kind and empathetic: Of course, we don’t want to see a chicken in pain over our morning coffee. But that chicken is in pain, whether or not we choose to see her. The decision to prioritize our own comfort and convenience by looking away might feel easier, but it comes at a terrible cost.

If a chicken experiences enough violence that we have to flag her story with a content warning, doesn’t that make it obvious that we should not be putting her through the experience in the first place? Unlike other upsetting content that might be flagged with a warning, the way we treat animals farmed for food is not a failure of the system of industrial agriculture, but rather is a feature of it—one baked right in with the herbs and spices.

That means that it’s not simply Facebook’s algorithm that needs review, nor the question of what makes content palatable. After all, consider the flip side of this coin: Those who understand the truth about how chickens raised for meat are typically treated before their deaths might consider an ad featuring a chicken dinner to be worthy of a content warning. But content warnings alone won’t change anyone’s mind or lead to productive conversations between the two groups triggered by the finished meat product or the story behind it. It also raises larger questions about how we can take more responsibility for the food we consume by being aware of the torture animals go through because of the flawed system that is the meat industry. It will take work to get more people to reconnect those two images—the chicken before her death and the chicken after. And that work is an essential part of reforming the system that encourages cruelty and pain in the name of profit and convenience.

Author Bio: David Marten is a senior web developer at The Humane League.

How OB-GYNs are 'at the forefront' of the fight for abortion rights

The demise of Roe v. Wade, according to abortion rights activists, is not only problematic for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies or seeking abortions — it is also a huge problem for pregnant women in red states. OB-GYNs are seriously worried about the legal risks they could face as those states move ahead with new anti-abortion laws and abortion restrictions.

Some abortion rights activists have been saying that, from a legal standpoint, it could be much safer for OB-GYNs to practice in a deep blue state like Massachusetts or California than in a deep red state such as Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi.

OB-GYNs, historically, haven’t been known for being especially political. But in an article published by Politico on August 22, journalists Alice Miranda Ollstein and Megan Messerly take a look at some of the ways in which OB-GYNs have been speaking out in post-Roe America.

READ MORE: How Roe's reversal has supercharged abortion rights activists: conservative

“Red state lawmakers rushing to pass new abortion restrictions are being stymied by an unexpected political force: OB-GYNs,” Ollstein and Messerly report. “These physicians — many of whom have never before mobilized politically — are banding together in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, lobbying state lawmakers, testifying before committees, forming PACs, and launching online campaigns against proposed abortion restrictions. Legislators who are themselves physicians are using their medical backgrounds to persuade colleagues to scale back some of the more restrictive and punitive portions of anti-abortion laws being considered.”The Politico reporters go on to cite specific examples of OB-GYNs speaking out about abortion-related bills in their states.

“In Nebraska, OB-GYNs’ advocacy scuttled attempts to pass abortion restrictions in a summer special session, and the Republican-controlled legislature has punted the issue until early next year,” according to Ollstein and Messerly. “In West Virginia and Indiana, doctors secured smaller wins, stripping provisions out of bills that would have imposed harsher criminal penalties on physicians and patients, and ensuring exemptions for cases of rape, incest and threats to the health of the pregnant person…. The new groups’ early successes in some of the nation’s most conservative states signal the power they hope to wield in the coming months — raising money for abortion-rights candidates in the midterms and lobbying lawmakers in state capitals when new sessions convene next year — as well as in years to come.”

According to Ollstein and Messerly, OBGYNs are also, post-Roe, “at the forefront of legal battles over abortion access, taking the witness stand in Michigan and submitting briefs to courts in Idaho and Texas this week about how restrictions could harm their patients.

“As lawmakers debate how much to restrict the procedure — including in South Carolina, where the House later this month is expected to take up a bill banning abortion in all cases except to prevent death or serious bodily impairment — doctors are becoming increasingly vocal,” Ollstein and Messerly observe. “They argue the laws will have devastating consequences, drive physicians out of the state, worsen existing OB-GYN shortages and strain the medical system.”

READ MORE: The post-Roe dynamics of abortion: report

According to Democratic Nebraska State Sen. Adam Morfeld, this amount of political participation by OBGYNs is unprecedented.

Morefeld told Politico, “In my eight years in the legislature, I have never seen medical providers organize themselves in the way they did for this. They came together in the past for Medicaid expansion and other things, but that was mainly through existing associations and professional lobbies. Those are powerful, too, but not as powerful as hearing directly from individual doctors who have to make life-and-death decisions every day.”

According to Anne Banfield — an OB-GYN who practiced in a rural area of West Virginia in the past — OBGYN shortages have been a problem in rural countries, and new abortion laws could make those shortages even worse.

Banfield told Politico, “Not only are we going to say we want you to come to this tiny rural town, but we’re also going to say, maybe you can and maybe you can’t practice the full scope of your specialty, and maybe you’ll get arrested for trying to provide appropriate care to your patients. That’s a really hard mountain to climb.”

READ MORE: Abortion opponents are in denial about real-life post-Roe 'horror stories': columnist

Ron Johnson challenger says senator is 'bought and paid for' by Big Pharma

The campaign of Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, declared Tuesday that the Republican incumbent "is bought and paid for by Big Pharma."

That charge came in response to Johnson's Monday comments about Medicare negotiating the cost of certain prescription drugs, which is included in the Inflation Reduction Act that U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law Tuesday afternoon.

Appearing on "The Brian Kilmeade Show," Johnson told the Fox News host that "when you start punishing the pharmaceutical industry, you're gonna have less innovation; you're gonna have fewer lifesaving drugs. That's not a good thing."

Barnes—who won the Democratic primary last week—said Tuesday that "while Ron Johnson is worried about protecting the bottom lines of big pharmaceutical companies, I'm worried about working families across Wisconsin who are forced to choose between putting food on the table or affording the medication they need."

"For over a decade, Ron Johnson has put big corporations and his wealthy donors before the working people he was elected to represent," he asserted. "In the Senate, I'll hold Big Pharma accountable and ensure every Wisconsinite has a fair shot."

The progressive Democrat's campaign also highlighted recent reporting by The Cap Times that Johnson, while chairing the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in 2018, "declined to subpoena Teva Pharmaceuticals as part of a Democrat-led investigation of the drugmaker's role in the opioid epidemic." In the months that followed, the company donated to both Johnson's campaign and an affiliated political action committee (PAC).

Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning told the Madison-based newspaper that the "senator appreciates the support that people offer, but he doesn't personally track who gives what, and donations never impact his views on issues or how he votes." She added that asking about Teva's contributions "is another politically motivated hit job by the corporate media and cheered on by their allies in the Democrat Party."

Barnes' campaign, meanwhile, said Tuesday:

Ron Johnson has a long history of selling out Wisconsinites in favor of his large corporate donors. Earlier this year, Johnson justified sending 1,000 good-paying, family-sustaining jobs out of Wisconsin by claiming, "It's not like we don't have enough jobs here in Wisconsin." Reporting later showed the company shipping jobs out of state, Oshkosh Corp., "ranks seventh among Johnson's top career contributors."

Johnson, a businessman, was elected to the Senate in 2010 and won a second term in 2016.

In his bid to replace Johnson, Barnes has secured the support of various progressives groups across Wisconsin and the nation along with local, state, and federal elected officials, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

On the healthcare front, Barnes backs not only drug pricing reforms like those in the new law but also putting the United States on a path to universal healthcare by passing Medicare for All legislation at the federal level.

"In the richest nation in the world," the candidate says in a campaign video, "no one should be going bankrupt because of their medical bills."

'What the hell is wrong with them?' GOP senators kill $35 cap on insulin

Senate Republicans on Sunday successfully stripped a proposed $35 per month cap on out-of-pocket spending on insulin for patients enrolled in private insurance from the tax and climate bill making its way through the Senate.

The Senate parliamentarian had earlier ruled that the provision, sponsored by Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, is not primarily related to the federal budget and thus not eligible for a reconciliation bill. The ruling gave Republicans a chance to kill the proposal.

Waiving the rules required 60 votes to succeed. Only seven Republicans sided with Democrats to keep the insulin cap in the bill with a 57-43 vote.

“Republicans have just gone on the record in favor of expensive insulin,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden said. “After years of tough talk about taking on insulin makers, Republicans have once against wilted in the face of heat from Big Pharma. Fortunately, the $35 insulin copay cap for insulin in Medicare remains in the bill, so seniors will get relief from high insulin costs. I will continue working to deliver lower insulin costs to all Americans.”

"Republicans just forced out of the reconciliation bill a $35/month out-of-pocket cap for insulin users with private health insurance. What the hell is wrong with them? Really, what the hell is wrong with them?" said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen in a tweet.

Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr.,representing the 9th District of New Jersey, said in a tweet "Here are the McConnell republican senators who just killed capping insulin at $35. Republicans told millions of Americans who use insulin to go to hell. Remember their names."

“Diabetic Americans are being used as political props to play partisan politics while 1 in 4 of us must ration the insulin we need to survive [because] both parties in Congress refuse to regulate insulin’s price,” tweeted Laura Marston, an intellectual property attorney and a patient advocate for affordable insulin.



Virologist tackles monkeypox vaccine questions

Monkeypox isn’t going to be the next COVID-19. But with the outbreak having bloomed to thousands of infections, with cases in nearly every state, on Aug. 4, 2022, the U.S. declared monkeypox a national public health emergency. One reason health experts did not expect monkeypox to become so widespread is that the U.S. had previously approved two vaccines for the virus. Maureen Ferran, a virologist at Rochester Institute of Technology, has been keeping tabs on the two vaccines that can protect against monkeypox.

1. What are the available monkeypox vaccines?

Two vaccines are currently approved in the U.S. that can provide protection against monkeypox, the Jynneos vaccine – known as Imvamune/Imvanex in Europe – and ACAM2000, an older smallpox vaccine.

The Jynneos vaccine is produced by Bavarian Nordic, a small company in Denmark. The vaccine is for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox disease in adults ages 18 and older who are at high risk for infection with either virus. It was approved in Europe in 2013 and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019.

The Jynneos vaccine is given in two doses four weeks apart and contains a live vaccinia virus. Vaccinia normally infects cattle and is a type of poxvirus, a family of viruses that includes smallpox and monkeypox. The virus in this vaccine has been crippled – or attenuated – so that it is no longer able to replicate in cells.

This vaccine is good at protecting those who are at high risk for monkeypox from getting infected before exposure and can also lessen the severity of disease post-infection. It is effective against smallpox as well as monkeypox. Until the recent monkeypox outbreak, this vaccine was primarily given to health care workers or people who have had confirmed or suspected monkeypox exposure.

A circular mass of squiggly lines.

Both the Jynneos and ACAM2000 vaccines use the vaccinia virus, shown here, to produce immunity to smallpox and monkeypox.

CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith

The ACAM2000 vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2007 for protection against smallpox disease. This vaccine is also based on vaccinia virus, however the version of the vaccinia virus in the ACAM2000 vaccine is able to replicate in a person’s cells. Because of this, the ACAM2000 vaccine can be associated with serious side effects. These can include severe skin infections as well as potentially life-threatening heart problems in vulnerable people. Another potential issue with the ACAM2000 vaccine is that it is more complicated to administer compared to a normal shot.

The U.S. government has over 200 million doses of ACAM2000 stockpiled in case of a biological weapon attack of smallpox. But despite the adequate supply of the vaccine, ACAM2000 is not being used to vaccinate against monkeypox because of the risk of serious adverse side effects. For now, only designated U.S. military personnel and laboratory researchers who work with certain poxviruses may receive this vaccine.

2. How effective are these vaccines?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there is not yet any data available on the effectiveness of either vaccine in the current outbreak of monkeypox. But there is older data available from animal studies, clinical trials and studies in Africa.

A number of clinical trials done during the approval process for the Jynneos vaccine show that when given to a person, it triggers a strong antibody response on par with the ACAM2000 vaccine. An additional study done in nonhuman primates showed that vaccinated animals that were infected with monkeypox survived 80% to 100% of the time, compared with zero to 40% survival in unvaccinated animals.

Another use of the Jynneos vaccine is as a post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, meaning the vaccine can be effective even when given after exposure to the virus. Because the monkeypox virus incubates in a person’s body for six to 14 days, the body of someone who gets the Jynneos vaccine shortly after being exposed will produce antibodies that can help fight off infection and protect against a serious monkeypox case.

The ACAM2000 data is older and less precise but shows strong protection. Researchers tested the vaccine during an outbreak of monkeypox in central Africa in the 1980s. Although the study was small and didn’t directly test vaccine efficacy, the authors concluded that unvaccinated people faced an 85% higher risk of being infected than vaccinated people.

3. Does a smallpox vaccine protect against monkeypox?

According to the CDC, a previous smallpox vaccination does provide some protection against monkeypox, though that protection wanes over time. Experts advise that anyone who had the smallpox vaccine more than three years ago and is at increased risk for monkeypox get the monkeypox vaccine.

People lining up for monkeypox vaccines.

In California and New York City, demand for vaccines has been high among at-risk communities.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

4. Who should get vaccinated?

At the national level, anyone who has had close contact with an infected person, who has a weakened immune system or who had dermatitis or eczema is eligible for a Jynneos vaccine.

Some state and local governments are also making vaccines available to people in communities at higher risk for monkeypox. For example, New York City is allowing men who have sex with men and who have had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days to get vaccinated.

5. What is the supply like for the Jynneos vaccine?

As of July 29, 2022, a little over 300,000 doses have been shipped to points of care or administered, with another 700,000 already allocated to states across the U.S. However, demand is far outpacing supply. Public health officials acknowledge that vaccine supply shortages have resulted in long lines and clinics having to close when they run out of vaccines. The issues have been magnified by technical problems with online booking systems, particularly in New York City.

To help boost supply, the U.S. has ordered nearly 7 million doses of the Jynneos vaccine, which are expected to arrive over the coming months.

6. What about just using one dose of Jynneos?

Although federal health officials advise against withholding the second dose, some places – including Washington, D.C., and New York City – are withholding the second dose until more become available. This strategy is being used in Britain and Canada as well to vaccinate as many people as possible at least one time.

A previous study reported that a single shot of the Jynneos vaccine protected monkeys infected with monkeypox and that this protection lasted for at least two years. If this holds up in the real world, it would support withholding second doses in favor of immunizing more Americans. This would be key as many health experts expect the virus to continue spreading, furthering increasing demand of the vaccine.The Conversation

Maureen Ferran, Associate Professor of Biology, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden Administration to declare monkeypox a public health emergency: report

President Joe Biden's administration is preparing to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

"The declaration would come from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is expected to discuss the plan at an afternoon briefing, said two officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment," according to the Post. "The health secretary is planning a second declaration empowering federal officials to expedite medical countermeasures, such as potential treatments and vaccines, without going through full-fledged federal reviews. That would also allow for greater flexibility in how the current supply of vaccines is administered, the officials said."

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency – its most critical classification – on July 23rd. New York, California, Illinois, and other countries have also made similar proclamations.

READ MORE: Why monkeypox is an emergency but not a reason to panic

"Federal leaders have spent weeks debating whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, and officials said that Thursday’s planned announcement is part of a broader push to contain the virus. The announcement follows the White House’s decision this week to name Robert J. Fenton Jr., a longtime official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the coordinator of the national response to the virus," the Post noted.

The virulent pathogen – which is endemic to Africa – has been spreading throughout at least seventy countries since late spring, and health experts are still struggling to understand why. The outbreak was first identified in England.

As of today, more than 6,600 cases have been reported in the United States, and that figure – believed to be significantly undercounted due to a lack of testing – has been doubling roughly every eight days. Although the vast majority of infections are non-fatal, the disease can still cause a serious flu-like illness, pain, and scarring from blisters. Transmission occurs during close personal contact or from contaminated surfaces, including clothing.

Vaccine rollout, meanwhile, has been a challenge. Inoculations are limited in supply and have been primarily reserved for high-risk populations.

READ MORE: Marjorie Taylor Greene attacks gay men to sell monkeypox T-shirts

"Federal officials have identified about 1.6 million people as highest risk for monkeypox, but the U.S. has only received enough Jyennos doses to fully cover about 550,000 people," per the Post.

Despite the clear dangers to public health, officials have been split on whether declaring an emergency is a wise idea.

"Some Biden officials have previously argued that declaring an emergency for monkeypox would call attention to the growing outbreak and strengthen the nation’s overall response. For instance, the emergency declaration can be used to compel hospitals to report more data about their monkeypox patients, and enable the Food and Drug Administration to expedite medical countermeasures that might otherwise take months or years to undergo traditional regulatory reviews," the Post explained.

It added that "Becerra’s decision to declare monkeypox an emergency could raise political complications for the White House, which has faced calls from advocates to declare gun violence a public health emergency and climate change a national emergency. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and reproductive health rights groups have also lobbied the administration to declare access to abortion a public health emergency in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and led to new abortion restrictions around the nation."

READ MORE: 'They’re going to abuse those powers': DeSantis attacks states for declaring emergencies over monkeypox cases

Long COVID-19 may be caused by overactive immune systems

Viruses that cause respiratory diseases like the flu and COVID-19 can lead to mild to severe symptoms within the first few weeks of infection. These symptoms typically resolve within a few more weeks, sometimes with the help of treatment if severe. However, some people go on to experience persistent symptoms that last several months to years. Why and how respiratory diseases can develop into chronic conditions like long COVID-19 are still unclear.

I am a doctoral student working in the Sun Lab at the University of Virginia. We study how the immune system sometimes goes awry after fighting off viral infections. We also develop ways to target the immune system to prevent further complications without weakening its ability to protect against future infections. Our recently published review of the research in this area found that it is becoming clearer that it might not be an active viral infection causing long COVID-19 and similar conditions, but an overactive immune system.

Long COVID-19 patients can experience persistent respiratory, cognitive and neurological symptoms.

The lungs in health and disease

Keeping your immune system dormant when there isn’t an active infection is essential for your lungs to be able to function optimally.

Your respiratory tract is in constant contact with your external environment, sampling around 5 to 8 liters (1.3 to 2 gallons) of air – and the toxins and microorganisms in it – every minute. Despite continuous exposure to potential pathogens and harmful substances, your body has evolved to keep the immune system dormant in the lungs. In fact, allergies and conditions such as asthma are byproducts of an overactive immune system. These excessive immune responses can cause your airways to constrict and make it difficult to breathe. Some severe cases may require treatment to suppress the immune system.

During an active infection, however, the immune system is absolutely essential. When viruses infect your respiratory tract, immune cells are recruited to your lungs to fight off the infection. Although these cells are crucial to eliminate the virus from your body, their activity often results in collateral damage to your lung tissue. After the virus is removed, your body dampens your immune system to give your lungs a chance to recover.

An overactive immune system, as in the case of asthma, can damage the lungs.

Over the past decade, researchers have identified a variety of specialized stem cells in the lungs that can help regenerate damaged tissue. These stem cells can turn into almost all the different types of cells in the lungs depending on the signals they receive from their surrounding environment. Recent studies have highlighted the prominent role the immune system plays in providing signals that facilitate lung recovery. But these signals can produce more than one effect. They can not only activate stem cells, but also perpetuate damaging inflammatory processes in the lung. Therefore, your body tightly regulates when, where and how strongly these signals are made in order to prevent further damage.

While the reasons are still unclear, some people are unable to turn off their immune system after infection and continue to produce tissue-damaging molecules long after the virus has been flushed out. This not only further damages the lungs, but also interferes with regeneration via the lung’s resident stem cells. This phenomenon can result in chronic disease, as seen in several respiratory viral infections including COVID-19, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold.

The immune system’s role in chronic disease

In our review, my colleagues and I found that many different types of immune cells are involved in the development of chronic disease after respiratory viral infections, including long COVID-19.

Scientists so far have identified one particular type of immune cells, killer T cells, as potential contributors to chronic disease. Also known as cytotoxic or CD8+ T cells, they specialize in killing infected cells either by interacting directly with them or by producing damaging molecules called cytokines.

Killer T cells are essential to curbing the virus from spreading in the body during an active infection. But their persistence in the lungs after the infection has resolved is linked to extended reduced respiratory function. Moreover, animal studies have shown that removing killer T cells from the lungs after infection may improve lung function and tissue repair.

A legion of immune cells work together to remove invading pathogens.

Another type of immune cells called monocytes are also involved in fighting respiratory infections, serving among the first responders by producing virus- and tissue-damaging cytokines. Research has found that these cells also continue to accumulate in the lungs of long COVID-19 patients and promote a pro-inflammatory environment that can cause further damage.

Understanding the immunological mechanisms underlying long COVID-19 is the first step to addressing a quickly worsening public health problem. Identifying the subtle differences in how the same immune cells that protect you during an active infection can later become harmful could lead to earlier diagnosis of long COVID-19. Moreover, based on our findings, my team and I believe treatments that target the immune system could be an effective approach to manage long COVID-19 symptoms. We believe that this strategy may turn out to be useful not only for COVID-19, but also for other respiratory viral infections that lead to chronic disease as well.The Conversation

Harish Narasimhan, PhD Candidate in Immunology, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Moderna revenue reveals pandemic has been 'lucrative smash-and-grab' for Big Pharma

As Moderna reported higher-than-expected revenue driven entirely by sales of its publicly funded Covid-19 vaccine, health equity campaigners on Wednesday renewed calls for pharmaceutical companies to waive patent protections in order to share their lifesaving technology with developing countries.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna reported $4.7 billion in second-quarter sales—a 9% increase over the same period last year—despite taking a nearly half-billion-dollar hit for write-downs on expired or soon-to-expire vaccine doses. Nearly all of the company's revenue came from sales of its Covid-19 vaccine, its only product on the market—and one whose development was funded entirely by U.S. taxpayers and contributions from private donors.

CNBC reports Moderna is also sitting atop an $18 billion cash pile, and intends to buy back $3 billion worth of its own stock. Furthermore, the company last week announced a $1.74 billion agreement with the U.S. government to supply up to 300 million doses of an updated Covid-19 vaccine for use against the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

"Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine was developed totally by public funding. Yet the company has been allowed to make huge profits while doing next to nothing to ensure equitable access for people in lower-income countries," Mohga Kamal-Yanni, policy co-lead for the People's Vaccine Alliance, said Wednesday. "For the company's newly created billionaires, this pandemic has been a lucrative smash-and-grab operation."

Among the at least nine new billionaires created by pandemic-related capitalism are Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, Moderna co-founder Noubar Afeyan, and immunologist and Moderna founding investor Timothy Springer.

Moderna has been widely criticized for selling its vaccines mostly to wealthier countries, even as billions of people in the Global South lack access to the lifesaving inoculations over two and a half years into the pandemic. The company has also come under fire for massively overcharging for its vaccine doses.

Like other pharmaceutical companies and almost all wealthy nations, Moderna long opposed a waiver for parts of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a proposal by India and South Africa—supported by more than 100 nations—that would lift some patent protections to allow developing countries to produce and distribute vaccines. A narrowly crafted World Trade Organization deal ostensibly meant to address vaccine inequities was condemned as a "sham" by activists earlier this year.

Moderna's pledge last year to build a Covid-19 manufacturing facility in Africa was dismissed by activists as largely a public relations stunt meant to thwart patent waiver efforts and marginalize a World Health Organization (WHO) messenger RNA (mRNA) technology transfer initiative in South Africa.

"Now Moderna is threatening the world's response to future pandemics," Kamal-Yanni said. "Broad patents filed by the company in South Africa could derail a WHO and African Union project aimed at responding to global health crises by rolling out mRNA vaccines made in low- and middle-income countries."

On Wednesday, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign noted that more than 100 manufacturers in low- to middle-income countries "have been identified with potential to produce mRNA vaccines," while urging Moderna to share its vaccine technology "for Covid and for the future."

Alain Alsalhani, vaccines pharmacist at MSF's Access Campaign, tweeted that "mRNA technology has important potential to beat back not just Covid but other epidemics. We should refuse to allow half of the world to get served first while the rest of the world looks on empty-handed."

Messenger RNA vaccines—which work by instructing cells to produce recognizable copies of viral protein against which the immune system can develop antibodies—are simpler and faster to make than alternatives, and can be adapted to combat not only new Covid-19 variants but also other diseases including HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. Moderna and others are also exploring potential mRNA monkeypox vaccines.

"In the Covid-19 pandemic, world leaders have allowed pharmaceutical companies to place extraordinary profits ahead of saving lives," said Kamal-Yanni. "And we have seen the huge impact on life and livelihoods in lower-income countries that is far more than in rich countries. Unless we change course, the world's response to a crisis like monkeypox will be just as brutally unequal."

Conservative explains how 'forced birth' laws will kill American women

Over the years, countless abortion rights activists have warned that overturning Roe v. Wade would create a surge in women dying from illegal and dangerous back-alley abortions, which were common before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Roe decision in 1973. But back-alley abortions are by no means the only reason why pregnancies, planned or unplanned, could prove dangerous or fatal for American women now that the High Court, after 49 years, has overturned Roe with its widely protested ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Conservative Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin, in her July 27 column, lays out some of the many reasons why planned or unplanned pregnancies could become more dangerous for women in the post-Roe United States.

“No health-care provider or researcher on maternal health would ever use the term ‘pro-life’ in reference to the forced-birth movement,” Rubin argues. “We know with great certainty that abortion bans present a serious threat to the lives of women. Indeed, a 2012 study calculated that the risk of death from pregnancy is 14 times that of abortions, which are exceptionally safe thanks to advances in medicine. We also know the risk of death from pregnancy is also three to four times greater for Black women, because of higher rates of poor health and poverty, more limited access to health care and discrimination by health-care providers.”

READ MORE: How the 'unprecedented' Supreme Court leak made efforts to lobby conservatives on Roe 'all but impossible': report

Unlike other pro-choice columns that have been published since the Dobbs decision, Rubin doesn’t focus heavily on illegal or back-alley abortions. Instead, she describes a variety of other reasons why post-Roe “forced birth” will be potentially dangerous for American women, from poverty to lack of health insurance to weak or inadequate maternal care to OB-GYNs who are now afraid to do their jobs.

Amanda Stevenson, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a leading researcher on abortion bans, projected in a study published last year, based on 2017 data, that if the United States had a nationwide abortion ban, there would be a 21 percent increase in pregnancy-related deaths,” Rubin explains. “Deaths among non-Hispanic Black people would increase 33 percent. In fact, Stevenson shared with me a pre-print version of an update to that study with 2020 data, which shows even worse numbers: A national ban would result in a 24 percent increase in deaths for all women and a 39 percent for non-Hispanic Black women.”

Rubin continues, “The reasons for the increases in death arise primarily from two factors. First, with more births, we will get more maternal deaths. Second, the composition of the population of women giving birth will include more Black women, who are disproportionately represented in the population of patients seeking an abortion and who are more likely to die from pregnancy. Moreover, the states that seek to ban abortion are the same that rank among the worst in a slew of health indicators — overall health, infant mortality, rates of insurance among low-income women and disparity in health between Blacks and Whites.”

Rubin notes that “many” of the red states that are outlawing abortion now that Roe has been overturned “have not expanded Medicaid.”

READ MORE: Even if Griswold stands, states are likely to ban contraception

“In other words, states looking to force women to have birth have the sickest women and worst health outcomes,” Rubin observes. “The bans will also contribute to more deaths in other ways. If doctors feel compelled to wait until a woman is at immediate risk of death before performing an abortion —

e.g., in cases of ectopic pregnancies or a membrane rupture — there will be more ‘near misses.’ Accordingly, there will more deaths, Stevenson tells me.”

Rubin warns that the post-Roe landscape in the U.S. will also be dangerous for pregnant women who aren’t even seeking abortions.

“Even among women not seeking abortions,” the columnist notes, “the risk of death will increase. The Texas Tribune reports: ‘Abortion-inducing medication is the most common method used by Texans to terminate pregnancies, according to Texas Health and Human Services. But it also has a broad range of other uses in obstetrics and gynecology, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, including medical management of miscarriage, induction of labor, cervical dilation before surgical procedures, and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage.’ To the extent doctors worried about criminal liability hesitate to use these drugs, women’s health and lives will be at risk.”

Rubin adds, “In sum, when courts decide that women cannot make critical decisions for themselves and that the impact of abortion on their lives doesn’t matter, they become not only second-class citizens, but are also at greater risk of death. Call it anti-woman or pro-maternal death, but please don’t call the forced-birth movement ‘pro-life.’”

READ MORE: With Roe overturned, Clarence Thomas is now preparing for a full-frontal assault on contraception, gay rights

Anti-abortion laws could create a dangerous shortage of badly needed maternal care: report

For decades, defenders of abortion rights have been warning that if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, it would create chaos in the United States’ medical system — and sure enough, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical-right majority having overturned Roe after 49 years, states are starting to see that chaos.

Journalist Jessica Glenza, in a report published by The Guardian on July 8, examines the effects that the end of Roe and abortion bans or restrictions at the state level are having on maternal care in general. Glenza does some stellar reporting and explains why anti-abortion laws endanger the health of pregnant women who aren’t even seeking abortions.

Glenza cites Louisiana as an example of a state where “the race to criminalize doctors who allegedly provide abortions” could “worsen maternal health in America, as criminal penalties across the U.S. redefine where and how doctors are willing to practice.”

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“In turn,” Glenza reports, “that is likely to worsen a leading reason some states are more dangerous places to give birth: lack of hospitals, birthing centers and obstetricians…. The severe criminal penalties and extraordinary civil liability doctors are exposed to under such anti-abortion statutes could become fundamental to how and where healthcare providers decide to practice.”

Glenza notes that Louisiana’s anti-abortion “trigger law” — that is, an anti-abortion law designed to go into effect if Roe were ever overturned — “allows for fines of up to $250,000 and 15 years in prison for wrongly inducing an abortion.” And doctors who don’t even perform abortions are fearful of offering maternal health care in anti-abortion states if, for example, a woman suffers a miscarriage and a prosecutor blames them for it.

Lisa M. Wayne, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), has been inundated with calls from medical associations and attorneys who, according to Glenza, are “trying to sort out the kind of legal exposure they may face state-to-state.”

Wayne told The Guardian, “Forget the fines — people are afraid to go to prison. Nobody wants to sign up thinking their freedom or liberty is going to be interfered with.”

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According to Dr. Jen Villavicencio of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion bans will likely cause “even greater workforce challenges in certain areas, particularly if obstetrician-gynecologists are unable to live and work in states with restrictive abortion laws.” And in an affidavit, Dr. Nina Breakstone — who practices emergency medicine in Terrytown, Louisiana — said, “Frankly, I am worried I could go to prison just for handling a miscarriage as I always have.”

In a different affidavit, New Orleans-based OB-GYN Rebecca Perret warned, “Providers like myself are left with absolutely no direction on how to resume their practice or what, if any, of their actions may subject them to prison time and enormous fines.”

If an OB-GYN has spent a fortune attending medical school and is still paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, the last thing they need is the fear of criminal liability — which will make practicing in a state with abortion protections, such as Massachusetts or California, much safer, from a legal standpoint, than practicing in a deep red state like Louisiana.

Dr. Juanita Chinn of the National Institute of Child and Human Health Development told The Guardian, “Where you live matters. A geographic barrier in the ability to access care will likely only heighten the risk of experiencing a severe maternal morbidity event or a maternal mortality.”

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Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department, fears that being pregnant in Louisiana will — thanks to a shortage of adequate maternal care resources — become increasingly dangerous in the months ahead.

In a court paper, Avegno warned, “I am concerned maternal mortality rates will only get worse if the trigger ban (goes) into effect…. One of the main reasons women are more likely to die in Louisiana is because they are forced to travel long distances for care in many areas of the state due to lack of healthcare providers.”

In an affidavit, Dr. Valerie Williams, a New Orleans-based OB-GYN and an assistant professor at Louisiana State University Healthcare Network, cited a specific example of a maternal health expert who decided against Louisiana for legal reasons.

“When helping find a replacement for my former position,” Williams said, “an amazing candidate applied who was very motivated to practice in Louisiana. Once she heard Louisiana has trigger bans with severe penalties for physicians, however, she backed out.”

READ MORE: How the Supreme Court’s ‘disastrous’ decisions are eroding ‘democratic governance’ itself: author

Ohio GOP allows anti-vaxxers to advance effort for broad constitutional amendment banning medical mandates

If anti-vaxxers are successful, enshrined into the Ohio constitution will be a ban on any entity, including the state, requiring vaccinations – not only against COVID but against any of the 20 or so diseases the CDC recommends every person be inoculated against by their 18th birthday.

With the help of Republicans, anti-vaxxers are working to place a ballot initiative before voters next year that not only would ban medical mandates like vaccines, but would ban any medical requirements, and would make a private company’s choice to only serve those vaccinated against deadly diseases like COVID-19 illegal.

“If passed, Ohio would become the only state in the nation with an explicit ban of vaccine mandates in its constitution,” the Ohio Capital Journal reports. “It would mark a major step backward for public health, dampen an already sluggish COVID-19 vaccination effort in Ohio, and nix a practice of mandating vaccination that traces back through early American history.”

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“The Ohio Ballot Board — a bipartisan panel controlled by Republicans — allowed organizers of the ‘Medical Right to Refuse’ amendment to begin gathering the 443,000 voters’ signatures required to place the referendum on a ballot. Organizers said they’re hoping to put the issue to voters in May 2023.”

The proposed ballot initiative to change Ohio’s constitution includes this passage:

“No law, rule, regulation, person, employer, entity, or healthcare provider shall require, mandate or coerce any person to receive or use a medical procedure, treatment, injection, vaccine, prophylactic, pharmaceutical, or medical device nor shall the aforementioned discriminate against the individual who exercises this right.”

That would mean parents would no longer be required to inoculate their school-aged children against any of the 20 or so diseases, some deadly, the CDC recommends vaccinations for, including polio, chickenpox, influenza, Hepatitis A and B, Rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae type b, Streptococcus pneumonia, Measles, mumps, rubella, Human papillomavirus (HPV), Meningococcal Disease, Pneumococcal disease, Dengue fever, or COVID-19.

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The proposed initiative also includes this crucial line: “An individual’s right to refuse any medical procedure, treatment, injection, vaccine, prophylactic, pharmaceutical, or medical device shall be absolute.”

The Ohio National Guard, local school districts, medical facilities, hospitals, laboratories, restaurants – any public or private employer would be unable to protect their staff by requiring vaccinations or masks.

Organizers will have to obtain at least 443,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Roe’s demise is increasing interest in vasectomies — which Obamacare doesn’t cover: report

With the U.S. Supreme Court having overturned Roe v. Wade and ended federal protection for abortion rights, it’s only a matter of time until far-right Christian fundamentalists go after contraception as well. Justice Clarence Thomas himself is calling for the High Court to “reconsider” Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 ruling that made access to contraception a federally protected right for married couples; so is Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Certainly, that type of extremism isn’t characteristic of all Christians. There are plenty of Catholics and Mainline Protestants who use contraception. But on Christianity’s lunatic fringe, far-right White evangelicals oppose anything that prevents a pregnancy, be it birth control pills, IUDs, condoms, tubal ligations or vasectomies — which, according to Vox reporter Kenny Torrella, are enjoying an uptick in interest online now that abortion is becoming illegal or greatly restricted in a long list of states.

One of the challenges of getting a vasectomy, Torrella stresses in an article published by Vox on July 1, is paying for it. Torrella notes that the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, fully covers birth control pills but not vasectomies.

READ MORE: Roe's overturning commands ‘forced socialism’ in response to ‘forced births’: journalist

Torrella observes, “In early May, after the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade leaked, Google searches for vasectomies spiked — and then spiked again in late June when the final decision was handed down on June 24…. Despite the sudden interest in the term, chances are it won’t lead to a wave of vasectomies.”

The Vox journalist notes that Bobby Najari, a urologist at New York University’s Langone Health, is seeing what Torrella describes as a “modest” increase in vasectomy consultations. But the Vox reporter adds, however, that according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tubal ligations for women were three times as common as vasectomies for men in the U.S.

Torrella explains, “Much of the sterilization gap can be explained by the simple fact that the burden to prevent pregnancy in the U.S. — like the burden of managing childbirth and reproduction more generally — disproportionately falls on people who can become pregnant…. Simply making vasectomies more accessible and less expensive could shift some of the burden soon, at the moment when it is most needed.”

The reporter continues, “The overturning of Roe v. Wade will severely restrict or practically eliminate abortion access in over 20 states, which will disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. With Republicans gearing up to further restrict access to abortion and potentially contraception, and Democrats’ options to fight back limited, modest measures like increasing access to vasectomy care could be a previously underutilized route for change and serve to level some of the playing field of birth control.”

According to Planned Parenthood, the cost of a vasectomy in the United States can be “anywhere between $0 and $1000,” depending on the type of health insurance one has. Some men in the U.S. can expect full coverage if they want a vasectomy; most can’t.

“If you want to get a vasectomy, you’ll probably have to pay at least some of it out of pocket,” Torrella explains. “Obamacare doesn’t require insurers to fully cover the procedure, and health insurance plans vary on how much of the procedure they’ll pay for. Plus, millions of Americans still lack any kind of health insurance. Congress could help to close the sterilization gap.”

Torrella adds, “The Affordable Care Act required insurers to cover a few categories of preventive services without cost-sharing, including women’s health care; Congress could pass a law requiring the ACA to cover contraception for all genders, or expand the law’s requirements to include preventive services for men.”

Ted Cruz sparks Twitter debate as GOP freaks out over Elmo’s 'COVID shot' on Sesame Street

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is not pleased with Sesame Street's latest segment featuring Elmo getting his COVID vaccination in wake of the United States' announcement authorizing vaccines for children under the age of 5.

According to The Washington Post, the segment which was shared online on Tuesday, June 28, featured toddler-aged Elmo describing his vaccination experience. Elmo's father, Louie also chimed in.

“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine. Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice,” Louie said in the clip. “I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love.”

The Texas senator took to Twitter with a retweet of the clip and a scathing opinion of it as he criticized the long-running children's broadcast. Cruz expressed concern as he claimed the show allowed Elmo to “aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5.” He added, “You cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”

Cruz's remarks opened the door for more critical comments. Dr. Vincent Ianelli tweeted, "I have a question! Why does Texas lead the country in pediatric COVID deaths? #tweetiatrician"

Another user tweeted, "If you want scientific evidence regarding the vaccines, then you should have been supporting science from the beginning of the pandemic."

"Wow, you're being more proactive about this than you were about elementary school kids getting shot up in your state. Nice priorities!" another user tweeted.

The Republican lawmaker's remarks follow the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) granting of emergency-use authorization of COVID vaccines for younger children. This is Cruz's second attack on Sesame Street as he also expressed disapproval of Big Bird being vaccinated. Last year, he criticized the popular bird which led to a mocking comedy sketch featured on Saturday Night Live.

"My wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy,” Big Bird, who is portrayed as a 6-year-old, said after being vaccinated. In response to the segment, Cruz argued that the scene was a form of “government propaganda.” However, President Joe Biden commended Big Bird tweeting, “Good on ya, @BigBird. Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep your whole neighborhood safe.”

In wake of the criticism leveled toward the series, Jeanette Betancourt, the Sesame Workshop senior vice president of U.S. social impact, released a statement.

“Many parents understandably have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines for young children, and we want to encourage them to ask questions and seek out information,” Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, said in a statement.

“With help from Elmo and his dad Louie, we want to model real conversations, encourage parents’ questions, and help children know what to expect,” she added.

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