Former New Zealand prime minister and pandemic prep leader says we’re unprepared for the next one

Former New Zealand prime minister and pandemic prep leader says we’re unprepared for the next one

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

If another pandemic happens, the world will again be unprepared.

That’s the bleak assessment of former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who co-chaired the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, after the U.N. General Assembly held a high-level summit aimed at heading off another pandemic. The upshot: Have another meeting.

Other pandemic experts who tracked months of negotiations on the 13-page declaration adopted by the assembly’s 193 member nations were disappointed, too.

“I think it’s fair to say that the declaration is a missed opportunity,” Clark said in an interview with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level leaders’ meeting. “It has many pages and paragraphs and only one firm commitment and that is to hold another high-level meeting in three years’ time.”

Clark who addressed last week’s summit, is the newest member of the group of former world leaders founded by the late Nelson Mandela known as The Elders. She said a key problem is the declaration’s main focus on health.

The COVID-19 pandemic killed some 24 million people, but it also set back U.N. goals for 2030 on a wide variety of issues including eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring a quality secondary school education for every child and achieving gender equality, she said. Clark also ticked off the catastrophic economic impacts of the pandemic: a $25 trillion loss to the global economy, and debt and default enveloping many developing countries.

Listening to health ministers, the majority of speakers at the summit, Clark said many of them missed the point: Pandemics don’t impact just health; they impact many different facets of people’s lives, and government operations.

“It was clear that they should have been taking the overarching view,” she said. But “they went down quite a narrow track to talk about health.”

The declaration that was adopted did signal the importance of taking action to prepare for the next pandemic. In its “Call to Action,” the General Assembly’s political declaration commits countries “to scale up our effects to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”

To do this, it calls for actions starting with strengthening regional and international cooperation “at the highest political levels and across all relevant sectors.” The aim, it said, should be “to overcome inequities and ensure that sustainable, affordable, fair, equitable, effective, efficient and timely access” to vaccines and other medical countermeasures is possible — and to ensure high-level attention across many sectors.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the U.N. World Health Organization, called the declaration “a historic milestone.” He welcomed the commitment by leaders to provide the clout and direction needed so WHO, governments and others can support “the global health emergency health architecture that the world needs.”

The Pandemic Action Network, a coalition of over 350 organizations focused on preventing and tackling future pandemics, agreed that it was “a historic moment” for leaders to signal the importance of collective action. Nevertheless, it wasn’t roundly complimentary.

“Although we are pleased that they overcame geopolitical tensions that threatened the passage of any declaration, we remain disappointed by the compromise text that lacked clear resolve,” the network said in a statement. The political declaration, the network said, “was a missed opportunity for leaders to make ambitious commitments to prevent the next pandemic and enshrine accountability for the future.”

The Pandemic Action Network, Clark and others were also critical that most leaders attending the General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting sent their health ministers to the summit and didn’t come themselves.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tried and failed to get the 20 major world economies to coordinate a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic after it started in early 2020.

While rapid testing and the quick development of vaccines are notable achievements, the U.N. chief said, he also bemoaned a lack of preparedness, a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest and vaccine hoarding by the richest nations.

“We must not repeat the mistakes of the past when the next pandemic strikes — as we all know it will — and other health threats emerge,” Guterres said.

Clark said the panel she co-chaired with former Liberian president and Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf advocated strong leadership and establishment of a global health threats council appointed by the General Assembly, with representatives from the world’s regions. That, Clark said, would be “a voice for ongoing mobilization of political momentum and will for preparedness and response, and for financing.”

Guterres has called world leaders to a “Summit of the Future” at their annual global meeting next September. Clark said he has put on the agenda the idea of a leader-level body for complex emergencies. If that group could prepare not only for pandemics but food, security and climate emergencies as well, she said, “there could be some possibility in this.”

“But if it’s an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, it can’t do the job required,” she said.

Right now, “we’re well into this the cycle of panic and neglect,” Clark said. “We’ve been through the panic with COVID. Now we’re in the neglect.”

“If there’s another outbreak of a pandemic tomorrow, we’re no better prepared,” she said, “and arguably worse off.”


Edith M. Lederer, chief U.N. correspondent for The Associated Press, has been covering international affairs for more than 50 years.

Biden has gotten the updated COVID-19 vaccine and the annual flu shot, the White House says

Biden has gotten the updated COVID-19 vaccine and the annual flu shot, the White House says

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

President Joe Biden has gotten the updated COVID-19 vaccine and annual flu shot, the White House said Saturday.

The White House physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a memo that Biden received both shots on Friday. O’Connor said Biden, 80, also was vaccinated several weeks ago against the respiratory illness known as RSV.

“As we enter the cold and flu season, the President encourages all Americans to follow his example and to check with their healthcare provider or pharmacist to assure that they are fully vaccinated,” O’Connor wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month endorsed the new COVID-19 shot for everyone 6 months and older. The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has faded, but there are still thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths in the United States each week.

Experts worry that immunity from previous vaccinations and infections is fading in many people, and a new shot would save many lives.

First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month but experienced only mild symptoms.

The CDC recommends that people who have COVID-19 and are in isolation should wait to get vaccinated until there symptoms are gone and isolation guidelines have been met. Children and adults who have multisystem inflammatory syndrome should wait to get vaccinated until recovering from being sick and 90 days have passed since the diagnosis, according to the CDC.

Biden administration announces $600M to produce COVID tests and will reopen website to order them

Biden administration announces $600M to produce COVID tests and will reopen website to order them

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is providing $600 million in funding to produce new at-home COVID-19 tests and is restarting a website allowing Americans to again order up to four free tests per household — aiming to prevent possible shortages during a rise in coronavirus cases that has typically come during colder months.

The Department of Health and Human Services says orders can be placed at starting Sept. 25, and that no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service.

Twelve manufacturers that employ hundreds of people in seven states have been awarded funding and will produce 200 million over-the-counter tests to replenish federal stockpiles for government use, in addition to producing enough tests to meet demand for tests ordered online, the department said. Federal officials said that will help guard against supply chain issues that sparked some shortages of at-home COVID tests made overseas during past surges in coronavirus cases.

Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, said the website will remain functional to receive orders through the holidays and “we reserve the right to keep it open even longer if we’re starting to see an increase in cases.”

“If there is a demand for these tests, we want to make sure that they’re made available to the American people for free in this way,” O’Connell said. “But, at this point, our focus is getting through the holidays and making sure folks can take a test if they’re going to see Grandma for Thanksgiving.”

The tests are designed to detect COVID variants currently circulating, and are intended for use by the end of the year. But they will include instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates, the department said.

The initiative follows four previous rounds where federal officials and the U.S. Postal Service provided more than 755 million tests for free to homes nationwide.

It is also meant to complement ongoing federal efforts to provide free COVID tests to long-term care facilities, schools, low-income senior housing, uninsured individuals and underserved communities which are already distributing 4 million per week and have distributed 500 million tests to date, the department said.

O’Connell said manufacturers would be able to spread out the 200 million tests they will produce for federal use over 18 months. That means that, as demand for home tests rises via the website or at U.S. retailers when COVID cases increase around the country, producers can focus on meeting those orders — but that they will then have an additional outlet for the tests they produce during period when demand declines.

“We’ve seen every winter, as people move indoors into heated spaces, away from the outside that, over each of the seasons that COVID’s been a concern, that we have seen cases go up,” O’Connell said.

She added that also “there’s always an opportunity or chance for another variant to come” but “we’re not anticipating that.”

“That’s not why we’re doing this,” O’Connell said. “We’re doing this for the fall and winter season ahead and the potential for an increase in cases as a result.”

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that the “Biden-Harris Administration, in partnership with domestic manufacturers, has made great strides in addressing vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain by reducing our reliance on overseas manufacturing.”

“These critical investments will strengthen our nation’s production levels of domestic at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and help mitigate the spread of the virus,” Becerra said in a statement.

Opponents of COVID restrictions took over a Michigan county. They want deep cuts to health funding

Opponents of COVID restrictions took over a Michigan county. They want deep cuts to health funding

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

The fastest growing county in Michigan has seen its local government transformed in the wake of backlash to pandemic restrictions, and the new commissioners — claiming COVID is over — are threatening to cut millions of dollars from the county’s health department.

Local public health officials say the potential loss of funding could severely impact several essential services, including vaccines, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted infections. These proposed cuts also come after the board attempted to replace the county’s top health official, sparking a monthslong legal battle.

A national public health expert said the situation is unique in the U.S. and a threat to the entire public health field — especially going into an election year when health officials and their department could again become political targets.

“Of the hundreds, maybe thousands of public health officials who were fired during the pandemic, I’m trying to find a single example where they’ve retaliated against the entire department like this,” said Lori Freeman, the executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “I’m hoping this isn’t the start of a new trend of retroactive punishment against public health departments.”

More than than 300,000 people live in Ottawa County, making it Michigan’s seventh largest county. Millions visit its miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan and the renowned tulip and coast guard festivals. The county is also home to furniture maker Herman Miller.

The political battle here began in fall 2021, when the group Ottawa Impact, founded by Joe Moss and Sylvia Rhodea, supported an unsuccessful lawsuit against the county over a mask mandate. Then the group ran a slate of candidates against Republican incumbents and won eight of 11 seats on the county board of commissioners — Moss and Rhodea included.

At the new board’s first meeting, they voted to close the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office and change the county’s motto to “Where Freedom Rings.” They fired the county administrator and appointed John Gibbs, a former far-right congressional candidate who has since repeatedly declared that “COVID is over.”

The new majority also voted to replace administrative health officer Adeline Hambley, who oversees the public health department, with a candidate who had no previous public health experience.

“It’s pretty clear now that they were always hyper-focused on really going after the health department,” said Ottawa County Commissioner Jacob Bonnema, who was elected as part of Ottawa Impact but has since distanced himself. He added that he’s OK with reducing funding for departments when it’s not “completely indiscriminate”

While some county officials quietly left their positions under the new regime, Hambley stayed — and sued the new commissioners for “termination in violation of public policy.” A judge temporarily blocked the commissioners from removing Hambley, saying she can’t be fired without “just cause.”

Then late last month, with the legal battle as a backdrop, Hambley said she was given 48 hours to propose a budget that would cut the county’s general contribution for the next year in half — $6.4 million to $2.5 million. She took to social media, saying the cuts could effectively shutter the department.

“It’s hard to believe that the budget cut isn’t retaliatory both for frustration at COVID actions that they don’t agree with and not being able to remove me for a political appointee,” Hambley told The Associated Press.

Hundreds of people rallied outside of the health department in support of Hambley after the warnings, which Gibbs and Moss have called “media theatrics.”

On Sept. 5, the commission released a new budget proposal with $4.3 million from the general fund — still about $2 million less than Hambley had asked for — and requested the department decline all grant funding related to COVID-19.

Under the current proposal, a family planning program that also provides things like cancer screenings for those without insurance would see its budget reduced by 40%. Money that goes toward STI testing would be cut by 44%, and a mobile dental health clinic that goes to places like schools and jails would lose nearly 20% of its funding.

Moss told the AP in an email that no other department saw similar cost increases in the past several years, “nor did they respond to the pandemic in the same way the health department did.” He added he supports “public health efforts that respect constitutional freedoms and parental rights.”

The final vote on the health department’s budget is scheduled for Sept. 26 — and it has the public’s attention. More than 100 community members turned out for Tuesday’s public hearing on the health budget, with many speakers criticizing the commissioners’ actions towards Hambley and the department.

“You were all elected with a moral obligation and duty to serve all the people of the county, including those with the greatest needs,” a Grand Haven resident said. “You should not be at war with your health providers.”

The Network for Public Health Law and the National Association of County and City Health Officials filed amicus briefs in support of Hambley’s lawsuit last month. NAACHO typically reserves that for legal action with national implications.

And Freeman said her organization is keeping a close eye on Ottawa County: “This isn’t something we want on the books for other county commissioners to consider in the future.”


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Republicans raise the specter of widespread COVID-19 mandates, despite no sign of their return

Republicans raise the specter of widespread COVID-19 mandates, despite no sign of their return

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

As Americans fend off a late summer COVID-19 spike and prepare for a fresh vaccine rollout, Republicans are raising familiar fears that government-issued lockdowns and mask mandates are next.

It’s been a favorite topic among some of the GOP’s top presidential contenders. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters that people are “lurching toward” COVID-19 restrictions and “there needs to be pushback.” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott posted online that the “radical Left” seeks to bring back school closures and mandates. And former President Donald Trump urged congressional Republicans to stop the Biden administration from bringing back COVID-19 “mandates, lockdowns or restrictions of any kind.”

“The radical Democrats are trying hard to restart COVID hysteria,” Trump told supporters in Rapid City, South Dakota, during a recent campaign stop. “I wonder why. Is there an election coming up by any chance?”

While some individual schools and colleges have implemented temporary mask requirements, there is no sign that anyone in federal or state leadership is considering widespread COVID-19 restrictions, requirements or mask mandates. The administrations of several Democratic governors denied that any such moves are even under discussion. The overriding sentiment is to leave the decisions to individuals.

“No COVID-19 public health restrictions or mask requirements are being considered by the Murphy administration,” said Christi Peace, spokesperson for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

“There are no impending mass lockdowns or mask mandates for New Mexico,” said Jodi McGinnis Porter, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Public Health.

It was largely the same message from Democratic governors’ offices in several other states that responded to an inquiry about whether any COVID-19 mandates were under consideration. That included Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan and Oregon.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, made clear his opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns as well as mask and vaccine mandates when he was campaigning for office last year: “This is an area where I think folks got it wrong,” he said of school and business shutdowns.

In the two most populous Democratic-led states, California and New York, the state health departments recommend getting the updated vaccine, but have no requirements for the shot or mask wearing. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was asked during a news conference Wednesday about whether she would consider mask or vaccine mandates: “We are in a place where we’re seeing low numbers; not requiring such actions today,” she said.

Elisabeth Shephard, spokesperson for Oregon’s Democratic governor, Tina Kotek, noted that the federal public health emergency for the virus outbreak ended in May.

“Currently, COVID-19 lockdowns and mask mandates are not being discussed and the governor has no plans to institute these measures,” she said.

Still, the misleading narrative has proven a convenient scare tactic for Republicans in their efforts to woo voters who see Democrats as oppressive leaders targeting their freedoms.

The GOP presidential hopefuls hammering this message in the last week join a chorus of conservative lawmakers and far-right pundits who have spent the last month warning that tyrannical COVID-19 measures are looming.

In August, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed an anonymous “high-level manager in the TSA” and an unnamed “Border Patrol-connected” source told him that Transportation Security Administration workers would soon need to wear masks and that COVID-19 lockdowns would return in December.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the claims were “utterly false,” but they still were amplified by influential Republicans, including Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who posted on X that she wrote to the TSA demanding answers.

Later last month, when a Black liberal arts college in Atlanta announced it had reinstated a temporary mask mandate in response to student infections, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, posted on X that “Americans have had enough COVID hysteria. WE WILL NOT COMPLY!”

The school, Morris Brown College, has since lifted the requirement but is keeping in place other policies, including contact tracing and temperature checks on campus.

Some of the outcry from conservatives has been in response to President Joe Biden’s comments last month on COVID-19’s recent uptick, which has led to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths nationwide — though a fraction of what the country saw in past surges.

“As a matter of fact, I signed off this morning on a proposal we have to present to the Congress a request for additional funding for a new vaccine that is necessary — that works,” Biden told reporters during a visit to South Lake Tahoe. “And tentatively — not decided finally yet — tentatively, it is recommended that, it will likely be recommended that everybody get it no matter whether they’ve gotten it before or not.”

The CDC on Tuesday endorsed those new shots for everyone 6 months and older, and the vaccines will be available at pharmacies, health centers and some doctor offices as soon as this week.

Still, the Biden administration does not plan to implement any new vaccine or mask mandates, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the administration’s thinking.

Reinstated mask requirements across the country have so far been limited to a handful of local schools and businesses. One example is a Maryland elementary school that required students who were exposed in a classroom’s outbreak to wear masks at school for 10 days.

But these isolated measures have sparked outrage from conservatives who have used them to energize their supporters.

Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio last week unveiled the “Freedom to Breathe Act,” a bill that would block the federal government from imposing mask mandates for domestic flights, public transit and schools. His call for unanimous passage of the bill failed, with Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts calling it a “red herring” meant to deflect from the GOP’s prioritization of “gimmicks over people.”

Greene, the Republican from Georgia, introduced a companion bill in the House. She has said she won’t vote to avoid a government shutdown unless the government ends coronavirus mandates, which have already largely been reversed.

Misinformation experts say there’s a strategy to Republicans’ foreboding claims about impending mandates: They remind voters of the negative feelings they had early in the pandemic — and associate those with Democrats.

“Wearing a mask doesn’t have to be connected to anxiety, fear, anger and other strong emotions, but for many people it is,” said Lisa Fazio, a Vanderbilt University psychology professor who studies the spread of false claims. “No one wants to go back to those feelings, so Republicans are trying to tie those negative feelings and memories to their political opponents.”

Meanwhile, some of the Republican-led states where state leaders are railing against COVID-19 measures have been the hardest hit by the recent surge. Data shows Mississippi had the highest COVID-19 death rate per 10,000 people in the last week of August.

Early that week, the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, pledged to block any widespread restrictions, posting online that the state would “live in self-determination, not top-down fear.”


Associated Press data journalist Nicky Forster and writers Joey Cappelletti, Mike Catalini, Jill Colvin, John Hanna, Maysoon Khan, Seung Min Kim, Steve LeBlanc, Morgan Lee, Marc Levy, Lisa Mascaro and Andrew Selsky contributed to this report.


The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

CDC panel recommends updated COVID vaccines. Shots could be ready this week

CDC panel recommends updated COVID vaccines. Shots could be ready this week

WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

Americans may soon be able to get an updated COVID-19 vaccine.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday endorsed the new shots for everyone 6 months of age and older. The agency’s director is expected to sign off on the panel’s recommendation. The vaccines could be available this week.

The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has faded, but there are still hundreds of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths in the U.S. each week. Hospitalizations have been increasing since late summer, though the latest data indicate infections may be starting to level off, particularly in the South.

Still, experts worry that immunity from previous vaccinations and infections is fading in many people, and a new shot would save many lives.

Doctors hope enough people get vaccinated to help avert another “tripledemic” like last year when hospitals were overwhelmed with an early flu season, an onslaught of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and yet another winter coronavirus surge.

Here is what you need to know about the new COVID-19 shots:



The Food and Drug Administration approved the updated shots for adults and children as young as age 6 months. FDA said starting at age 5, most people can get a single dose even if they’ve never had a prior COVID-19 shot. Younger children might need additional doses depending on their history of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations.

The CDC decides how best to use vaccines and makes recommendations for U.S. doctors and the general public. The agency’s panel of outside exerts recommended the updated COVID-19 shots by a vote of 13-1. The no vote came from a panel member who had argued that the new shots should initially be recommended only for older people and others at greatest risk of severe illness. But other panel members said all ages could — and should — benefit.

“We need to make vaccination recommendations as clear as possible,” said one panel member, Dr. Camille Kotton, an infectious diseases doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.


The new vaccine will be available at pharmacies, health centers and some doctor offices. Locations will be listed on the government’s website. The list price of a dose of each shot is $120 to $130, according to the manufacturers. But federal officials said the new COVID-19 shots still will be free to most Americans through private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. For the uninsured or underinsured, the CDC is working with health departments, clinics and certain pharmacies to temporarily provide free shots.

On Tuesday, a Pfizer official said his company expected to have doses available at some U.S. locations as early as Wednesday.


Similar to how flu shots are updated each year, the FDA gave COVID-19 vaccine makers a new recipe for this fall. The updated shots have a single target, an omicron descendant named XBB.1.5. It’s a big change. The COVID-19 vaccines offered since last year are combination shots targeting the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version, making them very outdated.

Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax all have brewed new supplies, and the FDA on Monday approved shots from Pfizer and Moderna. Novavax’s updated vaccine is still under review.


Health officials are optimistic, barring a new mutant. As expected, XBB.1.5 has faded away in the months it took to tweak the vaccine. Today, there is a soup of different coronavirus variants causing illness and the most common ones are fairly close relatives. Recent lab testing from vaccine makers and other research groups suggest the updated shots will offer crossover protection.

Earlier vaccinations or infections have continued to help prevent severe disease and death but protection wanes over time, especially against milder infections as the virus continually evolves. The FDA did allow seniors and others at high risk to get an extra booster dose last spring. But most Americans haven’t had a vaccination in about a year; only about 20% of adults ever received the combo version.


Yes. The CDC says there is no difference in effectiveness or side effects if people get those vaccines simultaneously, although one in each arm might be more comfortable. The CDC urges a yearly flu shot for pretty much everyone ages 6 months and up. The best time is by the end of October.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.