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After what’s felt like a long, long wait, an FDA advisory panel yesterday voted to recommend the Pfizer COVID vaccine for kids ages 5-11. Plus: understanding who is eligible for a COVID booster, and who has access to one.

  • Also, what the Sudanese coup says about democracy worldwide.
  • And, meatless meals make it into public school lunches.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

NIALA BOODHOO:

Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

We’ve made it to Wednesday, it’s October 27th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: what the Sudanese coup says about democracy worldwide. Plus, meatless meals make it into public school lunches.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: who’s eligible for covid boosters and first shots - including kids.

--

After what’s felt like a long, long wait… an FDA advisory panel yesterday has voted to recommend the Pfizer COVID vaccine to kids ages 5-11.

Axios health care editor Tina Reed, this is a big deal, right?

TINA REED: Yes. So a lot of parents have been really eagerly watching this. And one of my big takeaways from the FDA advisory committee was that they were really cognizant of that. And while they really didn't want their vote to ultimately turn into vaccine mandates for kids under 12, they did want to make sure parents have the option to get this for their kids. And I think that's going to be a theme to watch as this heads to the CDC next year.

NIALA: Tina will be back with the show Friday to answer your questions about the rollout of the vaccine for kids -- text your questions to (202) 918-4893.

Meanwhile, there’s still a lot of confusion about who is eligible for a covid booster, and who has access to one. So I called up Julie Rovner, Chief Washington Correspondent for Kaiser Health News and host of KHN’s What the Health podcast… Julie: who exactly should be getting a covid booster right now?

JULIE ROVNER: They're recommended for people who are over 65 and there is some evidence that immunity in that category starts to wane after six months. People who were at high risk for severe COVID, so people under age 65 who have underlying conditions and people who are exposed on the job, frontline workers, people who work in healthcare settings in long-term care facilities. Then the people who got J and J there's about 15 million of those people, if you got the single shot J and J you probably should get a booster and you probably should get a booster if you really want to be safe with one of the MRN vaccines of Pfizer or Moderna.

NIALA: What does the science say about how much of a difference boosters make in terms of protection from COVID?

JULIE: Well, of course it depends on the science that you're looking at, but in general, boosters do increase your antibody load. The problem is, that's not the only thing that protects you from getting COVID. We've seen these breakthrough cases and that's also part of the debate, is like the vaccines aren't really supposed to prevent against breakthrough cases, they're supposed to prevent against severe infection and people ending up in the hospital. And they've done a very good job at doing that. And that's the big question, as your immunity starts to wane, the likelihood of your getting infected may go up, but the likelihood of your getting infected and getting severely ill and ending up in the hospital, the vaccines seem to be doing a really good job at that even after some of the immunity starts to wane. And that's what the debate's been about the boosters. There's some underlying concerns about, are we actually using doses that could be better served by being used by people in other countries who haven't gotten first doses yet?

NIALA: Of course everyone's being encouraged to also get a flu shot right now. Is it okay to get a flu shot and a booster at the same time?

JULIE: That is one thing that doctors say that you can go ahead and get a flu shot and your COVID booster at the same time so you don't have to sit at the back of the drug store twice, like I’m gonna have to do!

NIALA: Julie Rovner is the host of the What the Health podcast. Thank you as always Julie.

JULIE: Thank you.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with a dispatch from Chicago on its introduction of meatless public school lunches.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

NIALA: Meatless meals aren’t just a trend amongst major fast-food chains like Panda Express and Burger King, they are also becoming popular school lunches for children in school districts across the country. And Chicago Public Schools are the latest to add plant-based meals with their meatless Thursdays. Axios reporter Monica Eng is here to tell us how the introduction of their meatless sloppy Joe went last week. Hey, Monica!

MONICA ENG: Hey, Niala

NIALA: First, why did Chicago public schools make this change?

MONICA: Well, they said they wanted to do it in the name of sustainability. And that makes sense, because meat is really hard on the environment. And when you serve about 270,000 meals a day, it can really add up if you've got a, let's say three or four ounce meat patty in each one of those meals.

NIALA: And is it also cheaper?

MONICA: Oh, it's a lot cheaper. Buying lentils is cheaper than buying beef and chicken and uh, any other animal product.

NIALA: And is this in response to parents or children requesting this?

MONICA: Well, they say it was for sustainability reasons. I happen to think it was cost cutting, but they will not say.

NIALA: And do we know how reflective this is of other school districts across the country implementing similar programs, especially if it's a cheaper alternative?

MONICA: So they're doing it in a lot of districts across the country, but they usually call it meatless Mondays. At Chicago public schools, they're calling it plant-forward Thursdays. They actually started in September, but the big rollout of the lentil Joe was just last week.

NIALA: And how did the rollout for the lentil Joe go?

MONICA: I put out an APB to all CPS parents through Facebook to please tell me how their kid liked it. And I heard some interesting answers. Like they served hot dogs at my kid's school today. Or at one school, they served something that tasted like a sloppy Joe, but it tasted like real meat in there. And I'm still waiting to hear back from Chicago public schools about why they would be serving something like that on a plant-forward Thursday.

NIALA: Were you able to track down any students who tried it?

MONICA: I was able to find one young man, Alex Bernstein, the editor-in-chief of the Lane Tech Champion, which was the school newspaper I wrote for when I went to Lane Tech many eons ago. And he found the lentil joe and he took a picture of it and it looked a lot different from a vegetarian sloppy joe at another school -- it really looked like lentils -- and he gave me this review.

ALEX BERNSTEIN (STUDENT): Well, the appearance was less than appealing and the texture was definitely a little bit weird as could be expected by putting lentil beans in between two hamburger buns. Overall, I would say, it was pretty decent on par with school lunch food.

NIALA: Student journalism at its finest.

MONICA: That’s right.

NIALA: That's Axios’ Chicago reporter, Monica Eng. Thanks, Monica.

MONICA: Thank you.

NIALA: The military in Sudan took control of the country in a coup on Monday, threatening Sudan’s progress toward democracy. Several protesters have been killed and many more injured following the dissolution of the government. Axios world editor Dave Lawler has the latest and why it matters -- hi Dave.

DAVE LAWLER: Hi, Niala

NIALA: Dave, I have to say, it's pretty alarming when you read that the military is saying the prime minister hasn't been kidnapped or assaulted or tortured. Where is he?

DAVE: So, yeah, the prime minister was taken as this coup was taking place to the home of general Albert Hahn, who is the general in charge of the ruling council in the country. And also the guy behind the coup. So the prime minister was detained in the home of this general. He now, according to CNN, has been returned to his own home under a military guard. He has not been able to get much out in terms of his whereabouts and his sentiments, but his supporters are saying that people should rise up against this coup and demonstrate peacefully.

NIALA: What role have the Sudanese people played in all of this?

DAVE: So if we go all the way back to 2018, 2019, there were mass protests in Khartoum and across Sudan against the previous regime of Omar Al-Bashir, who was a dictator who was in power for three decades. One of the world's really most brutal dictators. He was deposed, basically as a result of these mass protests. And the military and basically civilian politicians agreed to share power during a three plus year transitional period, where part of the way along there, and the military started to send signals that it was very unhappy with the civilian leadership. And obviously we're now seeing Sudanese people returning to the street to reject what the military has decided to do since the coup took place on Monday.

NIALA: Dave, you've brought up before that we are at a state where many democracies are in a precarious position across the world. Is this yet another example of that?

DAVE: We've really seen a string of military coups this year, that's something that has kind of returned to global headlines as a phenomenon. And we have seen other countries, in the region just across the border in Ethiopia, for example, that seemed like they were heading in more democratic directions, not long ago, but have since hit much choppier waters. And so, unfortunately what we're seeing in Sudan is part of a global pattern.

NIALA: Actually, Axios’ world editor, Dave Lawler. Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo -- thanks for listening, stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper

Minnesota leads most of nation in booster shots

Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Minnesota is beating most of the nation when it comes to booster shots, but there's work to be done.

Why it matters: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain high and Omicron is here.

  • While many questions about the new variant remain unanswered, experts say vaccines, including booster shots six months out, are still our best bet at preventing severe illness and death.

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

FDA approves AstraZeneca COVID drug for people with immune problems

Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for an AstraZeneca COVID-19 antibody drug for people with compromised immune systems.

Why it matters: The drug, Evusheld, is the first antibody therapy authorized in the U.S. to prevent coronavirus symptoms before virus exposure.