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Nov 23, 2021

Axios AM

Hello, Tuesday. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,196 words ... 4½ minutes. Edited by Zachary Basu.

1 big thing — Booster snafu: Shots lagged data

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Federal officials waited months before making all adults eligible for COVID booster shots — meaning millions in America lack the strongest possible protection for Thanksgiving, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • Why it matters: The confusing process delayed what has now become a critical effort to stave off another wave of the pandemic.

Where it stands: 41% of vaccinated Americans 65+ have received a booster shot, as have 19% of all vaccinated adults, per the CDC.

  • "Some of us were there several months ago," David Kessler, chief science officer of Biden's COVID response, told Axios. "Some wanted more data. In the end, there’s a convergence of opinions. It's the way an open scientific public health process should work."

Reality check: Most vaccinated people, even without a booster, still have very strong protection against serious illness or death. But the booster drastically increases defenses against even mild infections.

What happened: Preliminary data released months ago suggested a significant decline in vaccines' effectiveness at preventing infection, although they held up well against severe disease.

  • Based on that data, the Biden administration had hoped to begin allowing booster shots in September for any American adult who was at least eight months removed from their second dose.
  • The CDC and the FDA opted instead to only authorize boosters for seniors, people with high-risk medical conditions and people at high risk of infection. Last week, boosters were opened to everyone at least six months after their initial shots.

In the meantime, red and blue states alike decided to ignore the CDC and open up booster eligibility on their own.

  • Millions of people who weren't technically eligible for boosters got them anyway.

Between the lines: The U.S. drug approval process — with its insistence on high-quality data and careful expert reviews — is the world's gold standard precisely because it moves deliberately. Regulators have been trying to figure out how to adapt that system to a fast-moving pandemic.

  • Some federal officials, as well as many outside experts, said there wasn't enough data to make a broad booster recommendation earlier.
  • Early on, many public health experts also argued that it was unethical to give Americans a third shot while much of the rest of the world awaited their first.
  • Data from Israel, which embraced boosters beginning last summer, has been key to making the case that boosters are needed.

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2. This could be big: Fear for Ethiopian capital
Ethiopia's House of Peoples' Representatives approves state of emergency, in Addis Ababa on Nov. 4. Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is sounding the alarm over the deteriorating security situation in Ethiopia, where the government in Addis Ababa has called on civilians to arm themselves against rebels marching on the capital.

  • Why it matters: The collapse of Ethiopia — a major African country with a population of 115 million — could cause a massive humanitarian crisis and destabilize the entire region, Axios' Zachary Basu writes.

In the northern region of Tigray, there have been credible reports of ethnic cleansing and the government using starvation as a weapon of war. Now the Tigrayan rebels are on the offensive and reportedly within 200 miles of the capital.

  • The State Department has issued multiple advisories and held a series of briefings to hammer the same message: There will be no Kabul-style airlift, and U.S. citizens need to get out now while commercial flights are still available.
  • Non-emergency staff at the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa was ordered to leave in early November. The embassy has not been fully evacuated, but that could change in instant.

Between the lines: The Tigray People's Liberation Front, an ethnic nationalist group that ruled Ethiopia until 2018, is no Taliban.

  • But the potential for street violence, arbitrary detentions, supply shortages, and lessons from Afghanistan are driving the Biden administration to take extra precautions.
3. Axios-Ipsos poll: Turkey roulette
Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll. Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Two in three Americans will celebrate this Thanksgiving with friends or family outside their immediate households, managing editor Margaret Talev writes from the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

  • About half of those say their gatherings could include unvaccinated people.

Why it matters: We're more conscious of what we don't know about our fellow diners.

Party split: 67% of U.S. adults surveyed said they'll see friends or family outside their households. That's 73% of Republicans, 70% of independents — but just 63% of Democrats.

  • 41% of Republicans expect to spend the holiday with someone who's unvaccinated — compared to 17% of Democrats.

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4. Pic du jour
Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden visited Fort Bragg, N.C., last evening to celebrate Friendsgiving with military families as part of Joining Forces.

5. NASA's 911 for asteroids

Illustration: Trent Joaquin/Axios

SpaceX is set to launch a NASA spacecraft on a mission to learn how to change the course of an asteroid in deep space, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer writes.

  • Why it matters: The mission — the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) — will test the technology needed to redirect a dangerous asteroid if one is ever found on course with Earth.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is expected to launch DART at 1:21 a.m. ET tomorrow.

  • NASA will stream live coverage of the launch starting at 12:30 a.m. ET.

How it works: DART will make its way to a tiny asteroid (a moonlet), named Dimorphos, that orbits the larger asteroid Didymos.

  • DART, which will weigh about 1,345 pounds at launch, will slam into Dimorphos in fall of 2022 to see if it can shift the moonlet's course.

This is a test: The asteroid isn't in danger of hitting Earth.

Words to live by: "The right time to deflect an asteroid is as far away from the Earth as we can," Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer for NASA, said during a news conference.

6. 1 for the road: Our most vegan Thanksgiving

A vegan "turkey" Thanksgiving meal. Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Vegan bakers and chefs are enjoying unprecedented demand, as households prepare to cater to a growing number of vegans, vegetarians and "flexitarians," Axios Local reporters found around the country.

Whole Foods told Axios that its research shows 58% of Americans hosted guests who follow a special diet in the past year.

  • Whole Foods offers a Vegan Meal for 2 — cremini mushroom roast with mushroom gravy, miso-creamed greens, coconut sweet potato casserole, jalapeño cornbread dressing and pumpkin curry soup.

In D.C., Doron Petersan, the owner of vegan bakery Sticky Fingers and vegan restaurant Fare Well, says her locations have gotten twice as many orders for Thanksgiving meals in 2021 than in 2020.

  • In Minneapolis, The Herbivorous Butcher increased production of its vegan "turkey roasts" to more than 1,000 this year to meet growing demand, co-owner Kale Walch told Axios. The shop, which ships, sold out of its "turkey-free feast" packages by early November.
  • In Chicago, Joanne Lee Molinaro's "Korean Vegan Cookbook" has dominated foodie conversations and bestseller lists this fall.
  • In Austin, Melissa Morky wrote on the Austin Vegans Facebook group: "Anyone know of a store that still has the Tofurky roast? ... It's been out of stock everywhere we have looked so far."

Axios' Ben Montgomery edited this report, with contributions from Monica Eng, Paige Hopkins, Asher Price and Torey Van Oot.

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