December 2, 2020

Britain will start vaccinating its elderly and health care workers next week against COVID-19, and the U.S. is expected to approve two vaccines for emergency use in the next few weeks, but it's going to be a "slow walk to normalcy," Renuka Rayasam writes at Politico. With vaccines in hand, "the first phase of the global pandemic will be over by New Year's Eve," but "2021 should be a year of small victories, each one inching us back toward pre-pandemic life." After speaking with vaccine experts Mark Slifka and Peter Hotez, Rayasam came up with a sketch of how 2021 may play out.

The first two vaccines expected to get FDA approval, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, both require two doses administered three to four weeks apart. The federal government will likely recommend that front-line health care workers and long-term care residents be given first access to the vaccine, but the first group won't be fully vaccinated until January.

There will be milestones throughout 2021, and "if everything goes as planned — the vaccines are safe, they provide lasting immunity, there are enough doses, and they get distributed properly — the second phase of the global pandemic will end a year from now," Politico reports. But most adults will likely have access to the vaccine by the end of May, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert. By that point, more vaccines will likely be approved, as will new treatments to reduce COVID-19 deaths, and we'll have more safety data.

The tipping-point month may end up being October, however, when "Goldman Sachs analysts are predicting that vaccinations will be available to kids," Rayasam writes. "Right now drug companies have not yet tested COVID vaccines on children under the age of 12 (or pregnant women), saying they want to wait until there's more safety data available for adults." But by October, she adds, "schools will close because of snow storms and not COVID outbreaks and kids can go trick-or-treating." Read more at Politico. Peter Weber

3:52 p.m.

Shortly after police detained Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was recovering from a poisoning allegedly carried out by Russia's FSB spy agency, President-elect Joe Biden's incoming National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called for the anti-corruption activist's immediate release.

Sullivan said the Kremlin's actions were a "violation of human rights" and "an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard."

The forceful statement quickly drew attention from members of the U.S. media, who compared it to the Trump administration's generally more lax approach to Moscow.

Sullivan also beat the current White House to the punch — there's been no word on the Navalny situation from President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, or National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien as of yet. Tim O'Donnell

2:46 p.m.

Despite security concerns, the plan is still for President-elect Joe Biden to take the oath of office on the West Front of the United States Capitol during Wednesday's inauguration ceremony, incoming White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said Sunday during an appearance on ABC's This Week.

Bedingfield said that doing so would reflect American "resilience" following the deadly riot at the Capitol earlier this month, when a pro-Trump mob violently forced its way into the building.

Bedingfield also provided a glimpse of what may be in Biden's inaugural address. She didn't get into specifics, but her expectations mirrored those of other advisers, who anticipate Biden will call for unity and "lay out a positive, optimistic vision for the country." Tim O'Donnell

2:14 p.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reiterated his belief that his Republican colleagues in the Senate should not embrace what he considers "an unconstitutional impeachment" of President Trump.

Speaking with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on Sunday morning, Graham said Trump is facing a "scarlet letter" impeachment that's driven by the "radical left," calling on President-elect Joe Biden and the GOP to put a stop to it. The biggest risk of following through, Graham argued, is the destruction of the Republican Party. If the party "wants to move forward, President Trump's gonna be the most important voice ... for a long time."

That said, Graham did issue a warning for Trump, as well. When asked about the possibility of Trump pardoning people involved in the deadly siege of the United States Capitol — the impetus for Trump's impeachment — Graham said he hopes "we don't go down that road" because it "would destroy" Trump.

1:37 p.m.

Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and fierce critic of the Kremlin, flew back to Moscow following five months in Berlin, where he was recovering after he was allegedly poisoned by Russia's FSB spy agency. At airport border control, Navalny kissed his wife goodbye before Russian law enforcement promptly detained him, as expected.

Moscow's prison service said it had orders to arrest Navalny because he violated conditions after an embezzlement conviction. Navalny, one of Russian Putin Vladimir Putin's top rivals, has maintained the charges were politically motivated. Still, while he was always aware of his impending detainment, he told reporters it never crossed his mind not to return home to Moscow. "This is my home," he told reporters who traveled with him. "I'm not scared of anything."

Alexei Makarin, the deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, told Bloomberg that Navalny could have stayed in Germany, but in that case the Russian people "would quickly lose interest in him." Now, the anti-corruption activist may be seen as a "symbol of resistance behind bars and a big risk for Putin."

Navalny's wife and lawyer, however, opted to wait behind passport control where Navalny was taken, which reportedly suggests there's a chance he'll be released "with a writ of summons."

As far as the United States is concerned, if Russia does continue to hold Navalny, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul argues it will be the first big foreign policy test for the Biden administration. Tim O'Donnell

12:45 p.m.

Israel has vaccinated at least 25 percent of its population against the coronavirus so far, which leads the world and makes it "the country to country watch for herd effects from" the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, says infectious disease expert David Fishman. Recently, the case rate in Israel appears to have declined sharply, and while there could be a few reasons for that, it's possible the vaccination effort is beginning to play a role.

One study from Clalit that was published last week reports that 14 days after receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, infection rates among 200,000 Israelis older than 60 fell 33 percent among those vaccinated compared to 200,000 from the same demographic who hadn't received a jab.

At first glance, Fishman writes, that might seem disappointing since clinical trials suggested the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. But he actually believes the 33 percent figure is "auspicious." Because vaccinated and non-vaccinated people are mingling, there could be "herd effects of immunization." In other words, when inoculated people interact with people who haven't had their shot, the latter individual may still be protected because the other person is. On a larger scale, that would drive down the number of infections among non-vaccinated people, thus shrinking the rate gap between the two groups.

More data needs to come in, and Fishman thinks "we'll know more" this week, but he's cautiously optimistic about how things are going. Tim O'Donnell

11:56 a.m.

In the immediate aftermath of President-elect Joe Biden's victory in November, the leaders of President Trump's re-election campaign told him he had about a five to 10 percent chance of picking up enough outstanding votes in Georgia and Arizona and win a legal challenge against election practices in Wisconsin, which would overturn the results, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports in part of his series on the final two months of Trump's presidency.

Trump initially told his campaign aides — including campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller, and deputy campaign manager Justin Clark — that it was worth a shot, but he was simultaneously listening to another plan presented by attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell that was steeped in conspiracy theories.

The campaign team's plan might not have much going for it in the long run, but they believed, per Axios, that "a serious search for a path to 270 electoral votes through credible legal challenges" was under way. That illusion was reportedly shattered when Giuliani, Powell, "and a swelling conspiracy crew marched into the room" for a meeting.

Things, unsurprisingly, did not go well, and whenever the two groups met, the conversation would begin with the campaign's legal strategies before Giuliani and Powell tok over. Swan reports that "bewildered campaign aides would look around the table at one another, silently asking what the hell was going on" before one person would "invariably shuffle out of the room." Every few minutes, another would follow until they all reconvened safely in Stepien's office down the hall. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

11:26 a.m.

Luke Mogelson, a veteran war correspondent and contributing writer for The New Yorker, captured what appears to be the "clearest" footage yet of the deadly riot at the United States Capitol earlier this month.

Mogelson attended (in a journalistic capacity) President Trump's rally on Jan. 6, which preceded the pro-Trump mob's march to and breach of the capitol. He followed the rioters into the building and filmed a group that entered the empty Senate chamber. They began taking photos of documents in the room as part of a self-declared "information operation." One man said he was attempting to find something that he could "use against these scumbags," while another said he thought Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) "would want us to do this."

In a later scene, Mogelson witnessed Jake Angeli, otherwise known as Q Shaman, sitting in Vice President Mike Pence's chair, as a lone Capitol Police officer tried unsuccessfully to get him to move. He also gathered footage from outside the Capitol, including a large crowd aggressively forcing its way into the building, as well as a man telling people around him to "start making a list, put all those names down" and "start hunting them down one by one."

The New Yorker notes that although the footage was "not originally intended for publication, it documents a historic event and serves as a visceral complement to Mogelson's probing, illuminating" written feature. Read the full report here and watch the complete footage here. Tim O'Donnell

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