In Brief: April 7, 2021

EU agency confirms AstraZeneca vaccine/clot link

ROME — A top official at the European Medicines Agency says there’s a causal link between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots, but that it’s unclear what the connection is and that the benefits of taking the shot still outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

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Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper on Tuesday that the European Union’s medicines regulator is preparing to make a more definitive statement on the topic this week.

Asked about Cavaleri’s comments, the EMA press office said its evaluation “has not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing.” It said it planned a press conference as soon as the review is finalized, possibly Wednesday or Thursday.

Based on the evidence so far, Cavaleri said there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the dozens of rare blood clots that have been reported worldwide amid the tens of millions of AstraZeneca shots that have been given out.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between AstraZeneca vaccines and the very rare cases of blood clots associated with a low level of platelets,” Cavaleri was quoted as saying.

Navy medic shoots two US sailors; is killed on base

FREDERICK, Md. — A Navy medic shot and wounded two U.S. sailors at a military facility Tuesday, then fled to a nearby Army base where security forces shot and killed him, police and Navy officials said.

Authorities said they had yet to determine what drove the 38-year-old shooter to open fire at the facility, located in an office park in Frederick, Maryland.

“We’re still trying to sort through stacks of paper … to figure out exactly what the motive would be,” said Frederick Police Lt. Andrew Alcorn.

The shooter shot the sailors with a rifle inside the facility at the Riverside Tech Park on Tuesday morning, causing people inside to flee, said Frederick Police Chief Jason Lando.

The shooter was a Navy medic assigned to Fort Detrick but lived in town, then drove to the base, where gate guards who had been given advance notice told him to pull over for a search, said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley. But he immediately sped off, making it about a half-mile into the installation before he was stopped at a parking lot by the base’s police force. When he pulled out a weapon, the police shot and killed him, Talley said.

Arkansas lawmakers enact transgender youth treatment ban

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday made the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth, enacting the prohibition over the governor’s objections.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to override GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure, which prohibits doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment.

Opponents of the measure have vowed to sue to block the ban before it takes effect this summer.

Hutchinson vetoed the bill Monday following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide. The ban was opposed by several medical and child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“This legislation perpetuates the very things we know are harmful to trans youth,” Dr. Robert Garofalo, division head of adolescent and young adult medicine at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, told reporters on a press conference call held by the Human Rights Campaign. “They’re not just anti-trans. They’re anti-science. They’re anti-public health.”

Myanmar forces arrest comedian, break up doctors’ protest

YANGON, Myanmar — Authorities in Myanmar arrested the country’s best-known comedian on Tuesday as they continue to crack down on people they accuse of helping incite nationwide protests against February’s military coup.

The comedian Zarganar was taken from his home in Yangon by police and soldiers who arrived in two army vehicles, fellow comedian Ngepyawkyaw said on his own Facebook page. Zarganar, 60, is a sharp-tongued satirist who has been in and out of prison since he was active in a failed 1988 popular uprising against a previous military dictatorship. He is also well known for his social work, especially arranging assistance for victims of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

From wire sources

In the past week, the junta has issued arrest warrants for about 100 people active in the fields of literature, film, theater arts, music and journalism on charges of spreading information that undermines the stability of the country and the rule of law. It was not immediately clear what Zarganar, whose real name is Maung Thura, has been charged with.

Many ordinary protesters and activists are also being arrested every day, according to numerous reports on social media.

In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, security forces used stun grenades and fired guns Tuesday to break up a march by medical workers who have defiantly continued to protest almost every day against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s takeover set back Myanmar’s gradual return to democracy after five decades of military rule.

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Study: Drought-breaking rains more rare, erratic in US West

BILLINGS, Mont. — Rainstorms grew more erratic and droughts much longer across most of the U.S. West over the past half-century as climate change warmed the planet, according to a sweeping government study released Tuesday that concludes the situation is worsening.

The most dramatic changes were recorded in the desert Southwest, where the average dry period between rainstorms grew from about 30 days in the 1970s to 45 days between storms now, said Joel Biederman, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, Arizona.

The consequences of the intense dry periods that pummeled areas of the West in recent years were severe — more intense and dangerous wildfires, parched croplands and not enough vegetation to support livestock and wildlife. And the problem appears to be accelerating, with rainstorms becoming increasingly unpredictable, and more areas showing longer intervals between storms since the turn of the century compared to prior decades, the study concludes.

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The study comes with almost two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. beset by abnormally dry conditions. Warm temperatures forecast for the next several months could make it the worst spring drought in almost a decade, affecting roughly 74 million people across the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Water use cutbacks, damaged wheat crops, more fires and lower reservoirs in California and the Southwest are possible, weather service and agriculture officials have warned. Climate scientists are calling what’s happening in the West a continuation of a “megadrought” that started in 1999.