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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Last Updated May 11, 2021 at 12:14 am EDT

Pfizer COVID-19 shot expanded to US children as young as 12

U.S. regulators on Monday expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12, offering a way to protect the nation’s adolescents before they head back to school in the fall and paving the way for them to return to more normal activities.

Shots could begin as soon as Thursday, after a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. An announcement is expected Wednesday.

Most COVID-19 vaccines worldwide have been authorized for adults. Pfizer’s vaccine is being used in multiple countries for teens as young as 16, and Canada recently became the first to expand use to 12 and up. Parents, school administrators and public health officials elsewhere have eagerly awaited approval for the shot to be made available to more kids.

“This is a watershed moment in our ability to fight back the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice-president who’s also a pediatrician, told The Associated Press.

The Food and Drug Administration declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15. The agency noted there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 16 among kids given dummy shots. More intriguing, researchers found the kids developed higher levels of virus-fighting antibodies than earlier studies measured in young adults.

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Gaza militants, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian militants launched dozens of rockets from Gaza and Israel unleashed new air strikes against them early Tuesday, in an escalation triggered by soaring tensions in Jerusalem and days of clashes at an iconic mosque in the holy city.

Twenty-four people, including nine children, were killed in Gaza overnight, most of them in Israeli strikes. More than 700 Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and across the West Bank in 24 hours, including nearly 500 who were treated at hospitals. The Israeli military said six Israeli civilians were hurt by rocket fire Tuesday morning.

This round of violence, like previous ones, was fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, home to major holy sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The rival national and religious narratives of Israelis and Palestinians are rooted in the city, making it the emotional core of their long conflict.

In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighbourhood by Israeli settlers.

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States push jobless from virus recession to return to work

STOWE, Vt. (AP) — Eduardo Rovetto is hoping the state of Vermont’s reinstated requirement that people who are collecting unemployment benefits must seek work to qualify will help him hire enough staff for his restaurant in the resort town of Stowe.

After more than a year of coronavirus restrictions on his business, Piecasso Pizzeria & Lounge, he’s expecting a breakout summer tourism season. But like employers across the country, he’s worried he won’t have enough workers.

“We’ve been getting many excuses as to why not to return,” said Rovetto, who is offering a signing bonus of up to $600 to try to add 15 to 20 employees who agree to stay through the middle of October. “Obviously, it was a legitimate one with COVID, but, you know, I think that’s getting used less and less now. The vaccines are free; they are out there for anyone.”

Many employers are telling similar stories. Fourteen months after COVID-19 put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, the U.S. economy is rebounding and employers are desperate for workers.

The challenge was highlighted Friday when employers nationwide added 266,000 jobs, far fewer than expected, and businesses reported they couldn’t find people to fill the openings they have to keep up with the rapidly strengthening economic rebound.

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Watchdog says Capitol Police deficient at monitoring threats

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Capitol Police force was hobbled by inadequate intelligence gathering ahead of the Jan. 6 siege, the department’s watchdog told Congress on Monday, alarming lawmakers who are concerned for their own safety amid rising threats against members of Congress.

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton testified in the first of three House hearings this week on what went wrong during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Lawmakers are investigating the riots as they contemplate overhauling security, and Bolton has recommended that the Capitol Police create a new stand-alone division that would gather intelligence about threats and protect members similar to the way the U.S. Secret Service protects the president.

Many lawmakers are receiving threats and worry for their safety after the U.S. Capitol was so easily breached on Jan. 6 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who wanted to overturn the election. The rioters were hunting for lawmakers, calling out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Vice-President Mike Pence by name as they roamed the building and members fled the House and Senate. In a statement Friday, the Capitol Police said that there has been a 107% increase in threats against members of Congress this year compared to 2020 and “provided the unique threat environment we currently live in, the Department is confident the number of cases will continue to increase.”

A new inspector general report, one of several Bolton is preparing in response to the insurrection, said the department “has experienced issues” because of the increase in threats over the last five years and recommended the force hire more agents who are dedicated to assessing threats.

Bolton said there were multiple deficiencies that led to a lack of communication and guidance ahead of the siege. He said the department’s guidance on counterintelligence was “outdated or vague” — some so ancient that it referred to Blackberry communication devices, which are now rarely used.

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1.4B but no more? China’s population growth closer to zero

BEIJING (AP) — China’s population growth is falling closer to zero, government data showed Tuesday, adding to strains on an aging society with a shrinking workforce as fewer couples have children.

The population rose by 72 million over the past 10 years to 1.411 billion in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics announced after a once-a-decade census. It said annual growth averaged 0.53%, down by 0.04% from the previous decade.

Chinese leaders have enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worry the number of working-age people is falling too fast, disrupting efforts to create a prosperous economy. They have eased birth limits, but couples are put off by high costs, cramped housing and job discrimination faced by mothers.

Reflecting the issue’s sensitivity, the statistics agency took the unusual step last month of announcing the population grew in 2020 but gave no total. That looked like an effort to calm companies and investors after The Financial Times reported the census might have found a surprise decline.

China, along with Thailand and some other developing Asian countries that are aging fast, faces what economists call the challenge of whether it can grow rich before it grows old.

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California expands drought emergency to large swath of state

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday expanded a drought emergency to a large swath of the nation’s most populous state while seeking more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending as one of the warmest, driest springs on record threatens another severe wildfire season across the American West.

The Democratic governor said he is acting amid “acute water supply shortages” in northern and central parts of California as he called again for voluntary conservation. Yet the state is in relatively better shape than it was when the last five-year drought ended in 2017, he said, as good habits have led to a 16% reduction in water usage.

His emergency declaration now includes 41 of 58 counties, covering 30% of California’s nearly 40 million people, and he said a further expansion is likely as conditions worsen. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the state and the American West is in extensive drought just a few years after California emerged from the last punishing multiyear dry spell.

“We’re staring down at what could be disastrous summer and fall, with the potential of communities running out water, and fires,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, who accompanied Newsom to the announcement made before a Central Valley reservoir with a deep bathtub ring of dry earth surrounded by browning grass.

Like most of the state’s extensive interconnected system of reservoirs and canals, the San Luis Reservoir is at less than 60% of its seasonal average as scarce winter rain and snow turns to a dry summer that Newsom said is imperiled by climate change.

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Vatican warns US bishops over get-tough Communion proposals

The head of the Vatican’s doctrine office is warning U.S. bishops to deliberate carefully and minimize divisions before proceeding with a possible plan to rebuke Roman Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden for receiving Communion even though they support abortion rights.

The strong words of caution came in a letter from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addressed to Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB will convene for a national meeting June 16, with plans to vote on drafting a document on the Communion issue

There is division among the bishops, with some pressing for Biden and other Catholic public figures to be excluded from Communion over their abortion stance, and other bishops warning that such a move would be politically polarizing.

Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

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NASA spacecraft begins 2-year trip home with asteroid rubble

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — With rubble from an asteroid tucked inside, a NASA spacecraft fired its engines and began the long journey back to Earth on Monday, leaving the ancient space rock in its rearview mirror.

The trip home for the robotic prospector, Osiris-Rex, will take two years.

Osiris-Rex reached asteroid Bennu in 2018 and spent two years flying near and around it, before collecting rubble from the surface last fall.

The University of Arizona’s Dante Lauretta, the principal scientist, estimates the spacecraft holds between a half pound and 1 pound (200 grams and 400 grams) of mostly bite-size chunks. Either way, it easily exceeds the target of at least 2 ounces (60 grams).

It will be the biggest cosmic haul for the U.S. since the Apollo moon rocks. While NASA has returned comet dust and solar wind samples, this is the first time it’s gone after pieces of an asteroid. Japan has accomplished it twice, but in tiny amounts.

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Amid outcry, NBC says it will not air Golden Globes in 2022

NEW YORK (AP) — Amid growing pressure on the Hollywood Foreign Press Association from studios, stars and large swaths of the film industry, NBC said Monday that will not air the Golden Globes in 2022, putting in doubt the viability of one of Hollywood’s oldest and most-watched award shows.

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch Monday that Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

In a statement, NBC said it believes the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — which is facing possible boycotts over the inclusiveness of its membership from Netflix, Warner Bros. and many Hollywood actors — is committed to reform. But change can’t come quickly enough for next year’s Globes.

“However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” the network said. “As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes. Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, long a subject of ridicule from even its own telecast hosts, has come under fire following an investigative report in February by The Los Angeles Times that recounted the organization’s questionable record on diversity — including, presently, no Black members among its roughly 90 voting members.

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Westbrook breaks Robertson’s NBA triple-double record

ATLANTA (AP) — Oscar Robertson’s NBA record of 181 triple-doubles had stood since 1974 and was once thought to be untouchable — until Russell Westbrook surpassing it became inevitable.

Westbrook got it done Monday night, hardly a surprise given that he’s averaging a triple-double this season and this was his 36th, including seven in his last eight games.

“I normally don’t like to pat myself on the back but tonight I will just because I’m so grateful for the ones before me and so blessed to the man above to allow me to go out and do it,” Westbrook said. “I take this job very seriously and I’m super grateful for my teammates and coaches on my journey so far.”

The 32-year-old Westbrook, in his 13th season overall and his first with the Washington Wizards, completed his 182nd triple-double when he grabbed his 10th rebound with 8:29 remaining in the game against the Atlanta Hawks. He finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 21 assists and missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer as the Wizards lost 125-124.

Although triple-doubles happen more frequently than in Robertson’s era thanks to the pace of the contemporary NBA game, Westbrook has no peer for how routinely he fills the stat sheet. Magic Johnson is third all-time with 138 triple-doubles. Jason Kidd finished his career with 107, and LeBron James is the closest among active players with 99.

The Associated Press

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