Briefs: Another highly effective' vaccine

File photo: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state. Blinken speaks during a 2016 press conference in Myanmar, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Blinken, who is on a two-day visit to Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Associated Press

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state

The Associated Press

LONDON — AstraZeneca said Monday that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90 percent effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is easier to distribute than some of its rivals.

The results are based on interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca. No hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 were reported in those receiving the vaccine. 

"These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives," Oxford University Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the trial, said in a statement. "Excitingly, we've found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90% effective.'' 

AstraZeneca is the third major drug company to report late-stage results for its potential COVID-19 vaccine as the world anxiously waits for vaccines that will end the pandemic that has killed almost 1.4 million people. Pfizer and Moderna last week reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were almost 95% effective.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate doesn't have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute, especially in developing countries. All three vaccines must be approved by regulators before they can be widely distributed.

Trump aims to box in Biden abroad, but it may not work

WASHINGTON — On its way out the door, the Trump administration is enacting new rules, regulations and orders that it hopes will box in President-elect Joe Biden's administration on numerous foreign policy matters and cement President Donald Trump's "America First" legacy in international affairs.

Yet, the push may not work, as many of these decisions can be withdrawn or significantly amended by the incoming president when he takes office on Jan. 20.

In recent weeks, the White House, State Department and other agencies have been working overtime to produce new policy pronouncements on Iran, Israel, China and elsewhere that aim to lock in Trump's vision for the world. Some have attracted significant attention while others have flown largely under the radar.

And, while Biden could reverse many of them with a stroke of the pen, some will demand the time and attention of his administration when it comes into power with a host of other priorities that perhaps need more urgent attention.

The most recent of these moves took place this past week as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made what may be his last visit to Israel as secretary of state and delivered two announcements in support of Israel's claims to territory claimed by the Palestinians.

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team's planning.

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration's bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.

In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America's top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.

Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Coons' departure from the Senate would have come as other Democratic senators are being considered for administrative posts and the party is hoping to win back the Senate. Control hangs on the result of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

Trump's legal team cried vote fraud, but courts found none

PHILADELPHIA — As they frantically searched for ways to salvage President Donald Trump's failed reelection bid, his campaign pursued a dizzying game of legal hopscotch across six states that centered on the biggest prize of all: Pennsylvania.

The strategy may have played well in front of television cameras and on talk radio to Trump's supporters. But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly rejected their claims of vote fraud and found the campaign's legal work amateurish. 

In a scathing ruling late Saturday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann — a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania — compared the campaign's legal arguments to "Frankenstein's Monster," concluding that Trump's team offered only "speculative accusations," not proof of rampant corruption.

The campaign on Sunday filed notice it would appeal the decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a day before the state's 67 counties are set to certify their results and send them to state officials. And they asked Sunday night for an expedited hearing Wednesday as they seek to amend the Pennsylvania lawsuit that Brann dismissed.

Trump's efforts in Pennsylvania show how far he is willing to push baseless theories of widespread voter fraud, even as the legal doors close on his attempts to have courts do what voters would not do on Election Day and deliver him a second term.

China tests millions after coronavirus flare-ups in 3 cities

BEIJING — Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week.

As temperatures drop, large-scale measures are being enacted in the cities of Tianjin, Shanghai and Manzhouli, despite the low number of new cases compared to the United States and other countries that are seeing new waves of infections. 

Many experts and government officials have warned that the chance of the virus spreading will be greater during the cold weather. Recent flare-ups have shown that there is still a risk of the virus returning, despite being largely controlled within China.

On Monday, the National Health Commission reported two new locally transmitted cases in Shanghai over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to seven since Friday. China has recorded 86,442 total cases and 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. 

The two latest cases confirmed in Shanghai were close contacts of another airport worker who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in November. On Sunday night, the city's Pudong International airport decided to test its workers, collecting 17,719 samples through the early hours of Monday morning. Plans call for testing others in surrounding communities if further cases are detected.

Inequality 'baked into' virus testing access as cases surge

The day after Amanda Serulneck found out she might have been exposed to COVID-19, she visited a rapid testing center in New Jersey but was turned away because they ran out of tests. 

She returned at 7 a.m. the next day. After waiting for an hour, officials said they had run out again. On her third try, Serulneck and her friend called several testing centers before driving for an hour to one with availability.

Lines for free COVID-19 tests stretch for blocks and hours in cities where people feel the dual strain of the coronavirus surge and the approaching holidays. But an increasing number of pop-up clinics promise visitors instant results — at a cost. Some charge $150 or more for a spot at the front of the queue.

While her friend who lacked insurance had to pay $125 for the test, Serulneck's price was only $35. The real cost came from the two days she had to take off from work, she said.

"People are just trying to get by, and they can't be taking off work for a week to wait for results," said Serulneck, who works at a spa. "People need rapid testing to be available and affordable."

Reports: Israeli PM flew to Saudi Arabia, met crown prince

JERUSALEM — Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.

Hebrew-language media cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, flew to the Saudi city of Neom on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, according to data from website FlightRadar24.com. The flight traveled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.

The Israeli prime minister's office did not respond to requests for comment. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for comment, nor did its state-run media immediately acknowledge Netanyahu's reported visit. 

Pompeo traveled with an American press pool on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince.

Trump campaign legal team distances itself from Powell

WASHINGTON — Perhaps Sidney Powell has gone too far for even Rudy Giuliani this time.

The Trump campaign's legal team moved to distance itself Sunday from the firebrand conservative attorney after a tumultuous several days in which Powell made multiple incorrect statements about the voting process, unspooled unsupported and complex conspiracy theories and vowed to "blow up" Georgia with a "biblical" court filing.

"Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity," Giuliani and another lawyer for Trump, Jenna Ellis, said in a statement.

There was no immediate clarification from the campaign and Powell did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

The statement hints at further tumult for a legal team that has lost case after case in contested states as it works to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election. Law firms have withdrawn from cases, and in the latest blow, a federal judge dismissed on Saturday night the Trump campaign's effort to block the certification of votes in Pennsylvania in a blistering ruling that described the arguments as "strained" and "unsupported by evidence."

Trump election challenges sound alarm among voters of color

DETROIT — When longtime Detroit community advocate Frank McGhee watched two Republican canvassers vote against certifying election results in the majority Black city, he was furious.

McGhee, 58, has spent more than two decades working with Detroit youth and educating them on the electoral process. He said it was "outrageous" to see hard-fought Black voter-mobilization efforts threatened.

"I thought, these are the ultimate executioners, if you will, put in place so that quietly they could take what belongs to us," he said.

President-elect Joe Biden was in part powered to victory in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia by Black voters, many of them concentrated in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta where he received a significant share of their support. Since Election Day, President Donald Trump and his allies have sought to expose voter fraud that simply does not exist in these and other overwhelmingly Black population centers. 

Such a plainly racist strategy to contest the election could erode Black voters' trust in elections. Voting-rights advocates say they stand ready to beat back any efforts to water down the Black vote. But fears persist that Trump's allies will undermine democracy and disenfranchise Black Americans and other voters of color.

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