July 10, 2020

Texas A&M College of Medicine is leading a consortium of research hospitals and medical schools in a Phase 4 trial to determine if the century-old tuberculosis vaccine can help blunt the damage from COVID-19, at least until a vaccine for the new coronavirus has been proven safe and effective.

"Scientists have known for decades that the tuberculosis vaccine, called bacille Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, improves immunity against some viruses," The Texas Tribune reported back in May, when the trial was just getting started. Jeffrey Cirillo, the Texas A&M microbial pathogenesis and immunology professor who is leading the trial, told Politico on Thursday that about 100 people have already been vaccinated, 200-300 more will get their shots over the next two weeks, and the goal is 1,800 subjects in the "randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial."

The TB vaccine has been used more than a billion times around the world, but it's not commonly used in the U.S., except to fight bladder cancer. The researchers at Texas A&M, Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard's School of Public Health, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are hoping the vaccine ramps up the immune system to fight off the disease, as it does the cancer cells. A similar trial is being conducted in the Netherlands.

The U.S. researchers will monitor the volunteers for six months, looking for statistically significant differences between those who get the BCG vaccine and the group that gets a placebo shot. "We're also doing a cognitive study in parallel to evaluate the cognitive effects of COVID-19," Cirillo told Politico's Myah Ward, using before-and-after MRIs and cognitive assessments to see if the vaccine reduces COVID-19's mental impairments. The vaccine is most effective in the first two to three years, he added, and if it is found to be effective, it could be used either as a stop-gap measure until a coronavirus vaccine arrives or in tandem with that vaccine to make it more effective. Peter Weber

2:14 p.m.

Could the Friends cast have been any more miserable in that fountain?

Courteney Cox spoke with Ellen DeGeneres on Thursday about filming the famous opening credits sequence for Friends, describing it as not a particularly enjoyable experience.

"We were in that fountain for a long time," she said. "Somebody thought that would just be really fun, and let me tell you what happens: it's not fun to be dancing in a fountain for hours and hours."

The shots of the cast in the fountain apparently took so long to get, Cox recalled Matthew Perry declaring, "Can't remember a time that I wasn't in this fountain." Good luck forgetting that every time you catch a rerun from now on. It must have felt like they were in there for a day, a week, a month, or even a year.

"It was fun," Cox added, "but not really." Brendan Morrow

1:42 p.m.

Twitter has brought down the ban hammer against accounts that imitated former President Donald Trump's new blog.

Twitter confirmed Thursday it has suspended @DJTDesk, an account that copied posts from Trump's web page "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump." The former president has been permanently suspended from Twitter, so the company said this account violated its policy against ban evasion.

"As stated in our ban evasion policy, we'll take enforcement action on accounts whose apparent intent is to replace or promote content affiliated with a suspended account," Twitter said, per Politico. Trump's team wasn't responsible for creating this account, The New York Post reports.

Twitter also suspended numerous other similar accounts that were sharing posts from the Trump blog, including @DJTrumpDesk, @DeskofDJT, and @DeskOfTrump1, Mashable reports.

Trump's new blog includes a feed with the former president's statements, and buttons on the side allow supporters to share them on Facebook and Twitter — even though Trump himself isn't allowed to post on either platform. According to Politico, Twitter says it's generally fine for users to share Trump's statements on their own pages as long as they don't break the platform's rules. But creating an entire account devoted to essentially replacing his is evidently a no-can-do. Brendan Morrow

12:36 p.m.

The Force wasn't with Michael B. Jordan when he auditioned for Star Wars.

The actor opened up to Variety this week about once auditioning for a role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens — and completely bombing.

"I think that was probably my worst audition to date," the actor said.

Jordan explained the extreme secrecy of J.J. Abrams' film threw him off, noting that "when you're reading for these high-level projects, there's never really any specificity in the sides."

"Everything's like super vague," he said. "Everything is in secret. Reading through, I just couldn't connect it. I definitely bombed that one for sure."

The Creed star was evidently going for the role that John Boyega ended up being cast in, which IndieWire notes Tom Holland says he also failed to get. In Holland's case, he apparently couldn't stop laughing during his audition at a woman making "bleep bloop bloop" sounds while trying to act like a droid.

"I obviously didn't get the part," Holland said. "That wasn't my best moment." Brendan Morrow

11:29 a.m.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) just signed the state's restrictive new voting bill into law, but local reporters who wanted to see him do so evidently had to tune into Fox News.

The Florida governor signed the controversial new law on Thursday morning that implements new restrictions on drop boxes and requires voters to sign up for mail-in ballots more often, among other measures, Axios reports. But DeSantis received additional criticism after signing it not in front of a whole group of reporters from various outlets, but live on Fox & Friends as an exclusive to the network.

"Local media outlets told CNN that they were not allowed to go inside the morning signing event and that it was a Fox News exclusive," CNN writes. This, according to The Washington Post, "came as a surprise to local journalists, who had arrived to cover the event."

DeSantis' decision to make this bill signing a Fox exclusive drew criticism from reporters, with CBS News' Kathryn Watson writing, "If I worked at Fox, I would refuse to cover the bill signing unless all my colleagues at other outlets could. It's the right thing to do." The New York Times' Maggie Haberman also wrote, "Can't say I've ever heard of an act like a bill signing being treated like a commodity to trade with Fox."

The Society of Professional Journalists' Florida chapter also slammed the move, with its president saying, "Actions like this openly defy against a free press. We condemn DeSantis' office barring journalists from doing their job for the sake of good TV." A Fox News spokesperson in a statement said that Fox & Friends "did not request or mandate" that the governor's event or interview "be exclusive to Fox News Media entities." Brendan Morrow

10:06 a.m.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta is calling out Fox News' Tucker Carlson for his latest "dangerous" vaccine comments.

Carlson during a segment on his highly-rated Fox show on Wednesday cited a federal reporting system to baselessly suggest COVID-19 vaccines could be responsible for 30 deaths in the United States every day. But PolitiFact writes that not only is this an "open system, where anyone can submit a report," but the system warns users that its reports shouldn't be used "on their own to determine whether a vaccine caused or contributed to a particular illness." Indeed, radiologist Pradheep J. Shanker writes that "the vast majority" of the complications found in the system "are likely not from the vaccine," noting, "If you had a vaccine today, and then had a heart attack unrelated to the vaccine, your death would be in" the system.

With this in mind, Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, on Thursday blasted Carlson's "reckless" and "dangerous" segment and said it's "absolutely not true" that 30 people are dying from COVID-19 vaccines every day.

"It's absolutely, 100 percent false," Gupta said. "The problem is that it continues to stir up this vaccine hesitance, or outright vaccine reluctance. It is so frustrating."

Gupta, who recently revealed his uncle died from COVID-19 amid India's surge in coronavirus cases, pointed to the fact that this same reporting system found a "one-in-a-million" chance of an adverse reaction to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as evidence the CDC isn't somehow overlooking over two dozen daily deaths from vaccines. He added that "we could be in a much better position" in the pandemic "if it were not for people like Tucker Carlson." Carlson previously drew criticism after baselessly speculating that COVID-19 vaccines might not work "and they're simply not telling you that."

CNN host John Berman put things far more bluntly, asking of Carlson, "Does he want his viewers to live?" Brendan Morrow

8:42 a.m.

Tucker Carlson was right: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is living in the Washington, D.C., penthouse of Republican pollster and messaging maven Frank Luntz, and it does sound like a pretty sweet deal. Carlson was tipped off to the roommate arrangement, and McCarthy confirmed it Tuesday, telling Fox & Friends he has "rented a room from Frank for a couple of months, but don't worry, I'm back to — going back to where I normally am, on my couch in my office. But, yes, we pay fair market rate"

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler looked into Luntz's apartment, and it's actually a 7,000-square-foot, 12-bedroom, 16-bathroom amalgamation of 4 three-story penthouses Luntz purchased for nearly $4.3 million in August and September 2018 and merged in November 2019. The homeowner's association fees on the four units is $4,976 a month, Kessler calculates, citing Redfin.

Neither McCarthy nor Luntz responded to the Post's request for comment, but a McCarthy spokesman told the Daily Wire the minority leader "calculated the fair market value amount at $1,500/month" to rent an "approximately" 400-square-foot room in Luntz's penthouse. Kessler's Apartments.com search found that a comparable studio or one-bedroom would run about $5,000 a month. Regardless, he writes, "besides the 'room' he rented, McCarthy would have had access to a 24/7 concierge, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, a media room, a business center, and a party room with a bar and pool table."

"This is quite a deal, especially considering that Luntz has talked about how he's on the road all the time," Politico muses. "Imagine paying $1,500 a month for what is essentially a mansion carved into a high-rise? It's good to be the minority leader!"

Carlson was less amused by the "sleazy and corrupt" arrangement. "Kevin McCarthy promises Republicans he shares their values" and "will fight for them against permanent Washington, the forces that would like to destroy their lives," he said. "And at the end of the day, Kevin McCarthy goes home to Frank Luntz's apartment in Penn Quarter and laughs about it." Peter Weber

8:31 a.m.

Early data indicates Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, the company says.

Moderna released this data on Thursday along with its first-quarter earnings, CNBC reported. An initial analysis of a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents between 12 and 17 years old "showed a vaccine efficacy rate of 96 percent," the company said. The vaccine was also "generally well tolerated," and the "majority of adverse events were mild or moderate in severity." Like Pfizer, Moderna also said Thursday it plans to apply for full FDA approval of the vaccine this month.

The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly on the verge of authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between 12 and 15 years old, allowing the vaccine to expand to this key age group ahead of the next school year. In March, Pfizer said a trial showed its vaccine was 100 percent effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15, demonstrating "robust antibody responses." President Biden earlier this week said his administration's COVID-19 vaccination efforts are set to enter a "new phase," which includes vaccinating kids between 12 and 15 pending FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has also said it expects to seek authorization of its vaccine for kids between 2 and 11 this September, and Moderna says a phase 2 study of its vaccine in children 6 months to 11 years old is ongoing. Brendan Morrow

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