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10 things you need to know today: October 21, 2021

The FDA OKs Moderna, J&J boosters and mix-and-match vaccines, Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school massacre, and more


FDA OKs Moderna and J&J boosters, plus mix-and-match shots

The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it was authorizing the emergency use of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine boosters. The decision will make most fully vaccinated adults eligible for another shot to increase their protection against infection and severe COVID-19 after a recommended waiting period. The FDA also said people could get a booster made by a different company than the one that made their initial vaccine. "The availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against Covid-19 disease," said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster was approved previously for certain groups, including the elderly and those facing elevated risk. The decisions promised to help the Biden administration pursue its push to make boosters widely available.


Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty in Parkland school shooting

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the February 2018 massacre of students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Cruz, 23, then apologized to victims and their families. "I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day," he said in a Florida courtroom. "If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others." Cruz told the victims "I love you" and said it should be their decision "whether I live or die." He faces a minimum of life in prison and a maximum of the death penalty. The jury will make that decision in the upcoming penalty phase of his trial.


Senate Republicans block voting rights bill again

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill seeking to protect voting rights for the third time this year. All 50 members of the Democratic caucus voted to advance the legislation, but a GOP filibuster prevented the Senate from moving on to debate the legislation, which Democrats proposed to counter new restrictions on voting passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures after the 2020 elections. Democrats say the state laws make it harder for millions of Americans to participate in their government. Democrats now have little hope of passing the Freedom to Vote Act without changing the Senate's filibuster rule, which requires supporters of a bill to muster 60 votes to open debate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans were just doing what they had to do to stop Democrats' "radical agenda."


White House unveils plan for vaccinating children aged 5 to 11

The White House on Wednesday announced its plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines to children aged 5 to 11. The Biden administration will kick off the effort to get shots to the 28 million children in the age group as soon as federal health officials give emergency-use authorization for administering the reduced dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Biden administration expects that to come as soon as the first week of November. The government would distribute the specially packaged vaccine to more than 25,000 pediatricians' and other doctors' offices, pharmacies, hospitals, community health centers, and school and community clinics. Getting most of these children vaccinated "would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert.


Trump announces financial backing for his own social media platform

Former President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he has lined up investment money to launch a publicly-traded social media company and a new app, "Truth Social." Trump said the app would start an invite-only trial run in November and roll out nationwide in 2022. His investing partner is Digital World Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) incorporated in Miami in December 2020. Trump, who was banned by Facebook and Twitter after the Jan. 6 insurrection, and his investors said the venture's purpose is "to create a rival to the liberal media consortium and fight back against the 'Big Tech' companies of Silicon Valley." But Axios said the "bottom line" is that "there are not yet enough details to suggest that this deal has much legitimacy."


Taliban lines up support to call for U.N. donor conference

The Taliban on Wednesday got support from 10 regional powers for a proposal to hold a United Nations donor conference to get enough aid to help Afghanistan avoid economic collapse and a humanitarian disaster. Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, and five formerly Soviet Central Asian states backed Afghanistan's new rulers in their call for a U.N. conference on rebuilding the war-ravaged country, which still faces mounting attacks from a rival Islamic extremist group affiliated with the Islamic State. Representatives of the countries participating in the talks in Moscow said the conference should take place with the understanding that "the main burden … should be borne by the forces whose military contingents have been present in this country over the past 20 years," a reference to the United States and its allies.


Fortenberry pleads not guilty to lying about campaign donation

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges of lying to investigators about an illegal donation from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who allegedly arranged to funnel a $30,000 contribution to his 2016 reelection campaign. Fortenberry, who was first elected to Congress in 2005, made his first appearance in federal court via video conference. He has said he cooperated with the FBI as it looked into the donation by the businessman, Gilbert Chagoury. Prosecutors filed the charges in Los Angeles, where Fortenberry's campaign allegedly got the donation at an early 2016 fundraiser. Chagoury has admitted to funneling $180,000 to four candidates. It is illegal for foreign nationals to make such contributions to U.S. politicians.


Reports: Health problems from climate change getting worse

Heat deaths, infectious diseases, hunger, and other health problems linked to climate change are getting worse as global temperatures rise, according to two annual reports published Wednesday. "Rising temperatures are having consequences," said University of Washington environmental health professor Kristie Ebi, the co-author of a report commissioned by the medical journal Lancet. That report tracked 44 global health indicators and found that all of them are increasingly alarming, said Lancet Countdown project research director Marina Romanello, a biochemist. The reports — one global and one covering the United States — found that the amount of time that vulnerable populations experienced dangerous heat rose last year, with people over 65 facing a total of three billion more "person-day" exposures to extreme heat than they did on average from 1986 to 2005.


FBI, police find unidentified remains near Brian Laundrie's backpack

The FBI and local police found unidentified human remains near a backpack and other items belonging to fugitive Brian Laundrie in a North Port, Florida, nature reserve, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson said Wednesday. The remains were found in an area that recently was underwater. The FBI Tampa's Evidence Response Team is on the scene using "all available forensic resources" to process the site and identify the remains. The discovery came more than a month after Laundrie disappeared. He was last seen by his parents after he returned alone from a cross-country trip he took with his fiancée, van-life vlogger Gabby Petito. Her remains were later found at a campsite in a Wyoming national forest.


Brazil senators recommend criminal charges against Bolsonaro over pandemic

A Brazilian senate investigation on Wednesday recommended criminal charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The 11-member panel of senators, most from parties opposing the South American nation's president, said Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity for failing to prevent COVID-19 deaths and misusing public funds, backing away at the last minute from demanding murder and genocide charges. The report said Bolsonaro, who opposed lockdowns and social distancing, let COVID-19 spread in the hopes of pushing the country to herd immunity. Bolsonaro's supporters say the left is driving a witch hunt against him. The ex-army captain's critics say he is responsible for the country's COVID-19 death toll of more than 600,000, which is second only to the toll in the United States.


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