In Brief: July 9, 2021

Pfizer to seek OK for 3rd vaccine dose; shots still protect

Pfizer is about to seek U.S. authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Thursday that another shot within 12 months could dramatically boost immunity and maybe help ward off the latest worrisome coronavirus mutant.

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Research from multiple countries shows the Pfizer shot and other widely used COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, which is spreading rapidly around the world and now accounts for most new U.S. infections.

Two doses of most vaccines are critical to develop high levels of virus-fighting antibodies against all versions of the coronavirus, not just the delta variant — and most of the world still is desperate to get those initial protective doses as the pandemic continues to rage.

But antibodies naturally wane over time, so studies also are underway to tell if and when boosters might be needed.

On Thursday, Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier.

First African American spelling bee champ breezes to win

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Whether dribbling a basketball or identifying obscure Latin or Greek roots, Zaila Avant-garde doesn’t show much stress. Now she has become the first African American winner in the 96-year history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 14-year-old basketball prodigy from Harvey, Louisiana, breezed to the championship on Thursday night. The only previous Black winner was also the only champ from outside the United States: Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.

Zaila said she was fully aware that people were watching her and dreaming of following in her footsteps.

“I’m hoping that within the next few years, I can see a little bit of an influx of African Americans, and not many Hispanic people, either, so I’m hoping to see them there, too,” she said.

The bee has long been a showcase for spellers of color. Nine of the 11 finalists were of South Asian descent, and Zaila’s win breaks a streak of at least one South Asian winner every year since 2008.

Report: 2 Seattle police officers broke law during DC riots

SEATTLE — Two Seattle police officers who were in Washington, D.C., during the Jan. 6 insurrection were illegally trespassing on Capitol grounds while rioters stormed the building, but they lied about their actions, a police watchdog said in a report released Thursday.

“They were both standing in the immediate vicinity of the Capitol Building in direct view of rioters lining the steps and climbing the walls,” the Office of Police Accountability said in its report, citing video evidence. “OPA finds it unbelievable that they could think that this behavior was not illegal, contrary to their claims at their OPA interviews.”

After the release of the OPA report, Chief Adrian Diaz said he will hold accountable any Seattle Police Department officer involved in the insurrection, including disciplinary action up to and including termination. He said he would make a decision within 30 days.

The four officers who were cleared by the OPA are on active duty, but the two found to have violated the law and policy have been placed on administrative leave, police spokesperson Valerie Carson said.

The OPA Discipline Committee, which includes the officers’ chains of command, employment counsel and OPA Director Andrew Myerberg, recommended that the two officers be terminated.

2 Haitian Americans detained in slaying of Haiti president

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Two men believed to be Haitian Americans — one of them purportedly a former bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port au Prince — have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Haiti’s president, Haitian officials said Thursday.

James Solages and Joseph Vincent were among 17 suspects detained in the brazen killing of President Jovenel Moïse by gunmen at his home in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday. Fifteen of them are from Colombia, according to Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police. He added that three other suspects were killed by police and eight others are on the run. Charles had earlier said seven were killed.

“We are going to bring them to justice,” he said as the 17 suspects sat handcuffed on the floor during a press conference Thursday night.

Late Thursday, Colombia’s government said six of the suspects in Haiti, including two of those killed, were retired member of Colombia’s army, though it didn’t release their identities.

The head of the Colombian national police, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, said President Iván Duque had instructed the high command of Colombia’s army and police to cooperate in the investigation.

From wire sources

Recovery workers vow not to let up in Florida condo collapse

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors in the rubble of a Florida condominium collapse vowed Thursday to keep up their search for victims until they cleared all the debris at the site.

Earlier, a fire official told family members at a meeting that crews “will not stop working until they’ve gotten to the bottom of the pile and recovered every single of the families’ missing loved ones,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said at an evening news conference. He did not identify the official, but said the families were grateful.

“This is exactly the message the families wanted to hear,” he said.

As the search continued, a Paraguayan official disclosed late Thursday that rescuers had found in the rubble the bodies of Sophia López Moreira, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady Silvana Abdo, and López Moreira’s husband Luis Pettengill and the youngest of their three children.

That South American nation’s foreign minister, Euclides Acevedo, told Paraguay’s ABC Cardinal radio station that the two other children and the family assistant are still missing.

Democrats bet on early Latino outreach to avoid ‘20 pitfalls

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — On a sweaty recent Thursday afternoon, Alex Berrios is instructing his team on how to get people to register to vote. Extend your hand, he says; it makes folks more likely to stop. Smile a lot, that works, too. But immediately take no for an answer so you don’t seem too pushy.

Berrios, co-founder of a new nonprofit, Mi Vecino, or “My Neighbor” has a lot riding on developing the right pitch. His group, which works out of a cramped office in the shadow of Disney World, is targeting Latino would-be voters. He was role-playing how best to approach them in front of Walgreens, amid games of dominoes at a senior center or outside El Bodegon, a supermarket chain specializing in Colombian products.

Fifteen months before the midterm elections, groups like his are mobilizing across the country — both Democrats who have enjoyed a historic Latino allegiance and Republicans emboldened by gains in 2020 — all trying to lock down the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

The stakes are high, particularly for Democrats who are counting on Latino votes as a vital part of a winning coalition for cycles to come. And few places are as central to that effort as Florida.

“We’re not selling cars here,” said Berrios, a onetime boxer who has “fighter” tattooed on his arm and is now vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re in the community and we’re staying.”

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Avenatti sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for extortion

NEW YORK — A tearful, repentant Michael Avenatti, the brash lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to 2 1/2 years in prison for trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening the company with bad publicity.

Avenatti, 50, rose to prominence by sparring publicly with Trump, but criminal fraud charges on two coasts disrupted his rapid ascent. He was convicted last year of attempted extortion and other charges in connection with his representation of a Los Angeles youth basketball league organizer who was upset that Nike had ended its league sponsorship.

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe called Avenatti’s conduct “outrageous,” saying he “hijacked his client’s claims” and “used those claims to further his own agenda, which was to extort millions of dollars from Nike for himself.”

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Avenatti, the judge added, “had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived the power of his platform to be. He had become someone who operated as if the laws and the rules that applied to everyone else didn’t apply to him.”

Before the judge spoke, Avenatti delivered emotional remarks, sometimes choking up and speaking through tears. “I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships and my life,” he said.

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