Good morning. It's Tuesday, Dec. 29, and we're covering a third coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, a high-profile sentencing in Saudi Arabia, and more. Have feedback? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regulators in the United Kingdom may approve a COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford as early as today, according to reports. The UK would be the first to green light the vaccine, and the drug would become the third available in the country to fight the coronavirus, with vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna already being administered.
AstraZeneca's CEO Pascal Soriot said yesterday its vaccine was comparable to the two already-approved vaccines, which have shown 95% efficacy. Clinical trials of AstraZeneca's drug raised eyebrows when a mistake in dosing revealed a half dose-full dose regimen was 90% effective, while two full doses were only 62% effective. Soriot hinted at unpublished data confirming the more positive results.
The vaccine utilizes a modified chimpanzee virus carrying a snippet of genetic material that encodes the coronavirus' spike
protein (how it works). Once in the body, the slice of code replicates, prompting an immune response that also protects against the coronavirus. It can be stored for months in standard refrigerators, greatly simplifying distribution and offering a significant advantage over the two currently available vaccines which must be kept at ultracold temperatures.
Approval in the UK may spur US regulators to accelerate their timeline.
About 11.5 million doses have been distributed in the US between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with almost 16 million to be shipped by the end of the week (track here). More than 2.1 million people have received their first dose.
Overall, the US has reported 19.3 million total cases, with 334,963 deaths, as of this morning (see data).
One of Saudi Arabia's best-known women's rights activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison yesterday. While al-Hathloul was formally accused of undermining state security, supporters say the sentence is a reprisal for her political advocacy in the kingdom. The 31-year-old activist was an early leader in the movement to end a ban on women driving, posting videos of
herself driving years before the prohibition was dropped in 2018. Al-Hathloul was detained and allegedly tortured in 2018, and has remained in prison for two years while the case proceeded. It is unclear whether she will receive credit for time served, though a judge reportedly suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence.
The case has shined a spotlight on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has sought to portray himself as a reformer while still receiving international backlash for numerous human rights violations.
House Overrides Veto
The House voted 322-87 yesterday to override a veto by President Trump of the recently passed defense authorization bill, with the Senate appearing likely to follow suit today. Such an outcome would mark the first time Congress rejected a veto by the president during his tenure—a feat which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers to accomplish.
Passed every year since 1961, the National Defense Authorization Act is an annual policy bill (PDF) laying out priorities for national defense and related activities. Unlike appropriations bills, the legislation does not provide funds, but rather authorizes programs (federal budget 101)—in this case, $741B worth of activities. Among other items, the president objected to renaming bases honoring Confederate figures and the absence of an amendment to an internet liability law known as Section 230.
Separately, the House voted on a proposal for $2,000 direct stimulus payments, though the Senate is unlikely to approve the measure.
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>Actress Lori Loughlin released from prison after two-month sentence for involvement in college admissions scandal; Loughlin will now serve two years of supervised release(More)
>Armando Manzanero, prolific Mexican musician and composer who won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, dies at 85 from COVID-19(More)
>Washington Football Team releases 2019 first-round pick quarterback Dwayne Haskins a week after his second COVID-19 protocol violation(More) | Music City Bowl canceled after Missouri pulls out over COVID-19 cases (More)
>Music-induced emotions can be inferred by brain scans, study shows; researchers identify the neural circuitry involved in the emotional response to sound (More)
>Large bumblebees are capable of memorizing the locations of the best flowers, with study linking the capacity to remember to bee size; may reflect each bee's role within the
colony, with large bees transporting heavy batches of nectar (More)
>Neural network algorithm can interpret and convert whole-body scans into high-resolution, 3D images in seconds; replacing the time-consuming task of analyzing complex image data (More)
Business & Markets
>US stock markets up (S&P 500 +0.9%, Dow +0.7%, Nasdaq +0.7%) as all indices reach fresh record highs on stimulus bill signing (More)
>Federal Aviation Administration releases drone guidance, allowing small drones to fly over humans and at night; guidance is a critical step for commercial drone delivery (More)
>Chinese tech giant Alibaba sees shares fall 8% after China’s central bank criticizes business practices of Ant Group payments platform (More)
Politics & World Affairs
>Nashville officials release police body camera footage from first responder at the scene of a Christmas morning suicide bombing that injured three(More)
>Longtime foe Eritrea is aiding Ethiopia in its war against factions in the country's northern Tigray region; an estimated 1,000 civilians have been killed
since early November (More)
>Central Ohio police officer fired after hearing into the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man holding a cellphone; Tuesday's shooting was the area's second such incident in December (More) | Attorneys argue suspect in Illinois bowling alley shooting that killed three suffers from PTSD from military service
Stop Sanitizing Everything
Bloomberg Businessweek | Caroline Winter. One of the reasons humans are increasingly susceptible to illnesses may be that our indoor environments—where many in the West spend the bulk of their waking day—don't have enough good germs. (Read)
The Family With No Fingerprints
BBC | Mir Sabbir. A look at a Bangladeshi family with one of the rarest documented genetic mutations—a condition that leaves males without fingerprints. (Read)
Historybook: President Andrew Johnson born (1808); Texas becomes the 28th US state (1845); US Army kills over 250 Lakota people at Wounded Knee (1890); Actress Mary Tyler Moore born (1936).
"Pain nourishes courage. You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you."
- Mary Tyler Moore
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