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Updated: 1 hour 28 min ago

House fire displaces 4 people in Turnagain neighborhood of Anchorage

Mon, 2021-10-18 15:20

Anchorage fire fighters battle a blaze on Loussac Drive, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN)

A fire heavily damaged a home in Anchorage’s Turnagain neighborhood Monday morning and displaced four residents, Assistant Fire Chief Alex Boyd said.

Firefighters were called to the Loussac Drive home at 10:05 a.m. and when crews arrived five minutes later, large flames were visible, he said.

One person was home when the blaze began but managed to get out of the building safely with a pet, he said. No one was injured.

Thirteen fire units responded to the scene and crews were able to control the blaze by 11:39 a.m., Boyd said.

“It ended up having to be a defensive fire, meaning that we were not able to suppress the fire interior until it was knocked down outside,” he said.

The cause is under investigation, Boyd said.

Firefighters remained on scene Monday afternoon. Much of the roof had collapsed by then and the house’s white siding was charred.

Red Cross is providing assistance to the four occupants displaced by the blaze, Boyd said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

MAKING IT: Bringing carnival fun to Alaskans by road, rail and ferry

Mon, 2021-10-18 14:13

Pictured in the banner above: Jacqueline Leavitt and Chelsea Eckert of Golden Wheel Amusements (Josh Genuino / Alaska Dispatch News Creative Services)

If you've been on a carnival ride in Alaska, chances are it was Golden Wheel that made it happen. They transport rides, games and concessions all over the state, to iconic events like Fur Rendezvous and the Alaska State Fair, making sure families everywhere have the chance to enjoy festival fun and fair food.

Every year in Palmer at the Alaska State Fair, Golden Wheel Amusements takes special care to position their Ferris wheel so riders get an unobstructed view of the Matanuska Glacier as well as the perfect vantage point to survey the fair below.

"Who can blame Alaskans for wanting to be on the Ferris wheel and enjoy the view?" said Jacqueline Leavitt, who owns the three-generation Alaska business with Joe, her husband of 22 years.

Jacqueline and Joe serve as the bridge connecting Golden Wheel's founder and matriarch, Claire Morton, to their children who will one day hold the keys to the midway.

Spreading joy all over the state

By the end of each season, Golden Wheel has visited the communities where nearly 80 percent of all Alaskans live, according to Chase Eckert, Jacqueline's eldest son and the company's safety manager.

"We travel as far south as Ketchikan and as far north as Fairbanks," he said. "We are the only carnival that travels via road, rail and state ferry system."

Managing equipment transport logistics led the family to another business venture. They own and operate a trucking company, Diamond Ring, Inc.

Expanding their capacity for equipment leasing and trucking is next on their business to-do list. Additionally, decades of experience selling concessions has readied them to expand into catering. With each generation, the business that started with just a single ride, grows.

"We believe in the value of fun," Jacqueline said "You know, you go into these communities and the kids they cry when you leave and they draw pictures and say, 'Thank you.'"

The family tree

In 1966, Claire came to Alaska to pick up a ride she purchased with money she saved working at a carnival in Washington. Her intention was to bring the ride back to that carnival and work as an independent operator. Fur Rendezvous organizers, worried that they would be losing a meaningful addition to their festival, asked her to stay. She agreed, and her two young daughters, Jacqueline and Cathy, experienced their first winter in Alaska.

"It was a close-knit group back then. All the people knew that there was this family coming up to do the Fur Rendezvous, and people were really happy. Fur Rendezvous was a big deal back then," Jacqueline said, remembering their warm welcome from the community. "The Greens, from David Green Furs, they gave me and my sister fur parkas, because we were just little kids from Washington—I still have that little fur parka."

Jacqueline spent her childhood spinning cotton candy and traveling the state. She left Alaska and started a career in Washington, but was called back home to help her family. It turned out to be a decision that changed her life. When she returned to the carnival as an adult, it was there she met Joe.

Joe spent his early years on a ranch in South Dakota. At the age of 16, he ran away to join the carnival.

"He ran to the end of the field, and jumped on a carnival truck and ran away with the carnival," Jacqueline said. "He really did!" He eventually came to Alaska and began working for Jacqueline's mother. Now Jacqueline and Joe own the business and are making plans to pass it down to their children one day.

Their youngest son, Hayden, followed his parents' example and found love at the carnival, too. He met his wife, Alissa, at Golden Wheel. "Her mom and dad came to Alaska to work with us—her mom manages our food. Her dad manages our rides," said Jacqueline.

"And the tree grows," she added.


From left: Chase Eckert, Chelsea Eckert, Jacqueline Leavitt, Joe Leavitt, Hayden Leavitt, Alissa Leavitt, Alexis Leavitt, Clarie Morton (Illustration by Josh Genuino / Alaska Dispatch News Creative Services)

Changing with the times

Even as a kid, Jacqueline saw that launching a business in 1967 Alaska required grit. "[My mom] did things that we couldn't do," she said. "She worked so hard. She worked unceasingly."

As Alaska changed, Claire, and later Jacqueline and Joe, adapted their vision for Golden Wheel. During Claire's tenure, the years were focused on growth and building relationships and doing the best with what they had. Under Jacqueline and Joe, the focus has shifted to streamlining business practices, identifying their strategic vision, updating the rides and leading the way in setting safety standards for the state with the help of their sons.

Chase and Hayden went to Juneau this year to speak with lawmakers and lobby for increased regulation and tougher safety standards in Alaska for amusements, which include everything from Ferris wheels to ziplines. Why would an amusements company request increased compliance and government oversight?

"Because those are my friends and this is my home, and this is my family," said Jacqueline. "What would I do? I need, every single day, to know that I've done every single thing that I could to keep your children safe."

Employees regularly receive continuing safety education. "It's hard to have fun if you're not being safe," said Chase.

Choosing the family business

College was mandatory for Joe and Jacqueline's kids partly because of Grandma Claire's foresight to set up education savings accounts for each of her grandchildren, which she was faithful to feed. Claire only received an 8th grade education herself, so a college education was something she wanted to ensure for her grandchildren.

Jacqueline said, for her part, "I wanted them to have that education so that they could choose. So they didn't just have to be in the family business. The carnival can't be anybody's second choice. It's too difficult, there's too much on the line."

Chase is all in. He knows that the business is not entirely on his shoulders yet, but he also looks forward to continuing the legacy that was started by his grandmother and grown by his parents.

"We are excited to help provide a world class carnival and state fair experience to the communities we grew up in," he said. "We believe that Alaska deserves to have a carnival that supports Alaskan businesses, families and is willing to put the patrons' safety and enjoyment first."

The next 50 years

Joe and Jacqueline purchased the company from Claire in 2000, and turned to her to cover the financial gaps early in the transition. Now they've decided to take a different path.

"My mom is a very, very frugal person. Whatever we had was what we could afford. I never, until maybe the last three years, started taking commercial loan assistance," Jacqueline said. Working with their banker to secure financing has allowed the family to expand the business without jeopardizing Claire's well-deserved retirement. And while she may be retired, Jacqueline says her mom still comes to the carnival.

"If you're not around the carnival, then you're not around your family," she said.

The entire family understands the value they bring to the Alaska communities they visit. Chase's wife, Chelsea, coordinates events and special projects. She even tours with the company's mascot, Poly, a polar bear, to volunteer and share joy and messages about safety. They are the school business partner for Chugiak Elementary School, where, thanks to Golden Wheel, kids have the best field days.

Jacqueline said, "Bloom where you're planted … and planted, and planted." Because although they live a nomadic lifestyle, they find their extended family each time they set up the carnival.

Jacqueline added, “It’s just like this huge blend of people that maybe would never meet in a neighborhood, but they all meet at the fair.”


This article was produced by the creative services department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. Contact the editor, Jamie Gonzales, at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

Alabama man arrested in Anchorage on charges tied to Jan. 6 Capitol riot

Mon, 2021-10-18 14:02

Christian Manley has been charged for actions of his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol in Washington D.C. (Case evidence photo)

An Alabama man was arrested Friday in Anchorage on charges tied to his involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, federal authorities said.

Christian Matthew Manley, 26, is facing seven charges including assaulting officers, disorderly conduct and engaging in violence in a restricted building.

During an FBI interview in July, a person said Manley was involved in the riot, according to a criminal complaint written by an Alabama FBI agent. At a later date, officials showed the person photos from the riot and they confirmed Manley was pictured, the complaint said.


Christian Manley has been charged for actions of his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol in Washington D.C. (Case evidence photo)

In photos attached to the complaint, Manley can be seen wearing what appears to be a bulletproof vest and carrying a large backpack. In the photos, many of which were screenshots from security cameras in an archway of the Capitol’s lower west terrace, Manley is seen spraying officers with pepper spray and throwing the empty canister at the officers.

Another rioter handed him a metal rod, which he then threw at officers, the complaint said. He also tried to force open a door as officers tried to defend the entrance, the complaint said.

Cellphone records showed Manley’s phone was in the area of the Capitol during the time of the riots, the complaint said.

Manley was arrested Friday and is being held at the Anchorage Correctional Center, according to court records.

It was not immediately clear why he was in Alaska, said Lisa Houghton, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska. Manley’s last known residence is listed in the complaint as Elkmont, Alabama, although a Facebook page appearing to belong to Manley lists his residence as Anchorage.

Manley will appear in court Tuesday morning in Anchorage, but the case will be prosecuted out of the District of Columbia, Houghton said.

Manley is one of more than 600 people across the country to be arrested in connection to the Capitol insurrection. Aaron Mileur of Wasilla was arrested in March for his alleged part in the riot, and an Anchorage-raised man who goes by the name “Baked Alaska” online was arrested in January.

Trump questioned in lawsuit over treatment protesters by his campaign security team

Mon, 2021-10-18 13:21

Lawyer Benjamin Dictor speaks to reporters after helping to depose former President Donald Trump in New York, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Trump is in New York City to provide a videotaped deposition in a case about his security team's crackdown on a protest during the early days of his presidential campaign in 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) (Seth Wenig/)

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump was questioned Monday in a deposition for a lawsuit brought by protesters who say his security team roughed them up in the early days of his presidential campaign in 2015.

Trump testified under oath behind closed doors at Trump Tower in New York City for several hours, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said. Video of the deposition will be played for a jury if the case goes to trial.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Benjamin Dictor, said Trump was questioned on a variety of topics, including comments he’s made at campaign rallies in which he appeared to encourage security personnel to treat protesters harshly.

Trump’s demeanor in answering questions matched that of his public persona while president and the session proceeded like most depositions, Dictor said. The lawyer declined to go into detail about how Trump handled the questioning and refused to characterize his testimony before presenting the case to a jury.

A message seeking comment was left with a lawyer representing Trump in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, brought by five New Yorkers of Mexican origin, alleges that Trump’s bodyguards violently attacked them outside his eponymous Manhattan skyscraper on Sept. 3, 2015 as they protested negative comments Trump made about Mexico and Mexican immigrants.

Trump is a defendant in the lawsuit, along with his company, the Trump Organization, his presidential campaign and security personnel.

Among other demands, the plaintiffs want the real estate mogul turned former commander-in-chief to pay punitive damages, arguing he should have known the security personnel would act in a “negligent or reckless manner.”

Trump’s lawyers resisted having him sit for the deposition. While he was in office, they argued that there must be “exceptional circumstances” to depose a high-ranking government official.

Bronx Judge Doris Gonzalez, who is presiding over the case, rejected that argument, saying it didn’t apply because Trump was being called to answer for conduct outside of office.

Letter: Disappointed

Mon, 2021-10-18 13:17

I was very disappointed in the Assembly meetings on the mask issue, with so many people testifying in a rude and abusive manner. Since so many participants were not wearing masks, this was a potential super-spreader event.

According to the newspaper, several people in attendance booed a doctor after he gave testimony regarding the safety of wearing a mask while we are in a pandemic. I was wondering if these people would boo the doctor when he or she was leaning over them with a mask on, trying to save their life from this virus. More than 700,000 Americans have died from this virus — close to the total population of Alaska.

As to the persons wearing the Star of David during the testimony, I can only say that they are not aware of the atrocities the Nazis committed during World War II. Not only did the Nazis murder six million Jewish people, but also gypsies and anyone who was disfigured or had a disability. To compare wearing a mask to stop the spread of this virus to the Holocaust during World II is beyond ludicrous.

According to our “pilot in command,” the mayor; he simply doesn’t know what to do regarding the virus spreading in Anchorage. I suggest that he take the advice of the CDC and doctors and visit a hospital ICU. This is not rocket science but medical science.

Alaska is now in a crisis standard of care with so many unvaccinated COVID patients in the hospital. Please, let’s all get together and defeat this virus by wearing masks to protect not only yourself, but your family and neighbors, by social distancing and getting vaccinated. Otherwise, we will be living with the virus and the various variants for years to come.

— Bob Reupke

Anchorage

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Letter: Pandemic affects us all

Mon, 2021-10-18 13:16

I am sorry for commentary writer Heidi Young’s pain and loss of her beloved mother, Barbara Huber Earley, as she died alone in Montana in November 2020 from COVID-19. I read her obituary, scrolled through online pictures, and thought about her life and the loss to her family.

Though we’ve never met, I have empathy and compassion for Heidi and the millions of people around the world who have experienced loss during the pandemic. Her story could have been mine, except insert a loved one dying of cancer in Washington earlier this year; we made the choice to stay in Alaska and not travel outside to say our goodbyes as to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and chance new variants. We thought of others, not only ourselves, in this decision and the choices we continue to make — work remotely when we can, use curbside pickup, socialize outdoors with friends, etc.

Two weeks ago, I received my own cancer diagnosis, which will require surgery. For the first time since 2019, my husband and I will get on a plane this week to seek treatment Outside. This is a decision we did not make lightly. However, with the virus rampant in our state, and maskless people choosing their “freedom” to do what they want regardless of what is best — in my opinion — for the common good, I do not feel safe having surgery in Alaska, even though I am vaccinated and wear a mask. My reasons? A weary, overworked hospital staff, unfamiliar hospital workers being shipped to our state, rationing care, breakthrough COVID infections due to high community spread, a community in turmoil regarding masks, and my own anger and stress — during one of my scans, five clients in an Anchorage waiting room wore the masks provided by the front desk under their chins, noses, and one, a new mother with infant on her hip, never put it on.

Thanks to Heidi for her commentary and inspiring me to publicly share how the actions of others during this pandemic affects many of us on a very personal level.

— Sue Goodglick

Anchorage

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Letter: Thanks, Paul Jenkins

Mon, 2021-10-18 13:00

I have read Paul Jenkins’ columns for years and always appreciated them. His column in last Sunday’s paper expressed my feelings precisely on the responsibility of citizens to get vaccinated and wear masks in public places.

While no one likes the idea of government mandating anything that inhibits our perceived freedoms, like some TSA requirements, wearing seatbelts or driving the speed limit, sometimes it’s necessary if we aren’t responsible enough to do it of our own accord. Thank you.

— Brenda Hewitt

Anchorage

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Letter: Thoughts on the mask mandate

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:58

Thank you to those Assembly members who voted for the mask mandate. They are the courageous and strong leaders Alaskans need in a crisis.

Mayor Dave Bronson should know that true leaders make informed decisions and vote accordingly. Those decisions they make are based on facts, not social media posts or dogma. Coronavirus doesn’t yield to government decrees or political views. Science is not a democracy that we can vote to accept or not accept. Truth doesn’t need a vote.

Citizens of Anchorage and others who came to the Assembly meetings to protest the mask mandate, please stop the name-calIing. Look outside yourselves and step out of the misinformation bubble. Please listen to the scientists and also to those who have had COVID and conquered it.

Believe me, you don’t want this dreadful disease. I have seen people who have had COVID-19 and lived to tell the tale. It is a disease I don’t want to get. I’m doing everything in my power to keep myself, my loved ones and even those unmasked folks I don’t know safe by wearing a mask. Also, I believe our Constitution mandates it: “In order to form a more perfect union … promote the general welfare …”

— Barbara Gazaway

Anchorage

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Letter: Snake oil remedies

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:56

I read that Sen. Lora Reinbold has tested positive for COVID-19. I hope she has a safe recovery. What I can’t fathom is that as an outspoken critic of COVID vaccines and mask mandates, she is OK with taking an animal anti-parasitic medication which is not recommended for COVID-19.

Why do people shy away from proven, safe vaccines — more than 6.6 billion doses worldwide and 404 million doses in the U.S. with hardly any serious side effects — and take unproven or dangerous drugs such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine? It truly boggles my mind there is such a disconnect between believing in scientific proven remedies versus half-baked and dangerous ideas. How about trying snake oil next?

— Michael Terrance Archer

Anchorage

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Letter: Pandemic entertainment

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:54

Are you bummed out by the isolation and confusion caused by COVID-19 ? Are you tired of all the reruns and crazy ads on TV and the internet? Want some real excitement and comedy for a change?

Just attend an Anchorage Assembly meeting.

— Hank Warren

Eagle River

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Letter: The mayor is unfit

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:51

With the Bronson administration, we have seen campaign finance violations, cronyism, no-bid contracts, incompetence, probable malfeasance, a disregard for science, medical advice, inciting a mob at Assembly meetings, a disregard for ethics, procedural laws, the separation of powers in government, common sense and common courtesy, all in just over 100 days.

As a resident of Eagle River, I do not support the views or behavior of Jamie Allard in any way. She does not represent my values or beliefs. While I disagree with Crystal Kennedy on most issues, I appreciate her thoughtful and polite responses.

The mayor and his administration have demonstrated that they are not capable of the leadership necessary for governing the municipality.

— Ray Cammisa

Eagle River

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Letter: No mask mandates

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:49

No to each and every mask mandate; the whole thing is a joke. Let it go, man up, be smarter than a mask.

The Assembly is stupid and power-hungry.

— Nicholas Danger

Anchorage

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Letter: Bronson veto override

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:46

Mayor Dave Bronson’s response to the Assembly overriding his veto on the mask mandate was absolutely rich with hypocrisy. Let’s look at Bronson’s own words and break it down:

”The nine members who voted for this mask mandate ignored the public process, shut down public testimony, shut out the people, and decided that they (not you or your health care provider) will make decisions about your personal health. It’s just another effort by our Assembly to force the citizens of Anchorage to do their will and silence those who desire to exercise their right to petition their government.” Ignored the public process, shut down public testimony, shut out the people? There was more than a week of public testimony that devolved into little more than a circus sideshow. After day two, it was obvious that Bronson, Amy Demboski, Jamie Allard and all their minions were trying to thwart the “public process” by trying to drag this out. For them to claim that thwarting the public process was what the Assembly did is the very definition of gaslighting.

”… that they will make decisions about your personal health.” It ain’t about your personal health, it’s about my personal health. Masks protect me from you. Why is that so hard to get in your head?”… just another effort by our Assembly to force the citizens of Anchorage to do their will and silence those who desire to exercise their right to petition …” They didn’t silence anything. The infantile, vitriolic and just plain bad behavior was tolerated by the Assembly for more than a week. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, more to be gained by this obscene display of ugliness.

The Assembly did the right thing.

— Richard Girouard

Anchorage

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Letter: A fresh breeze for governor

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:36

Thank you, Les Gara! The commentary on the opinion page Oct. 7 in the ADN was spot on. What a refreshing breeze through a very stale political atmosphere to read his thoughts on how the state should be running and how the present administration is playing politics to the detriment of Alaska and many of its citizens. Most of us are aware of this. If you have not read the article, I encourage you to do so.

When Gara first entered Alaska politics, I begin reading his articles on issues of the time, and was impressed. When he threw his hat into the gubernatorial ring for the next election, I wanted to refresh myself on his past stands to see if I remembered him correctly. Going into the archives of the ADN and other news sources and rereading, I was not disappointed.

As always, I found him to be articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, professional and willing to buck opposing political headwinds when those views just didn’t seem right. His experience in the Legislature has given him the knowledge of how the system works, and, he has the compassion, ability and desire to be an exceptional governor for all Alaskans. His heart and mind are in the right place. I personally can’t think of anyone I would rather see as governor of Alaska than Les Gara.

— Dennis Bromley

Anchorage

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Letter: The Assembly and the next election

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:33

The ADN opinion page has recently reflected the understandable outrage at the misbehavior of the anti-mask crowd at Assembly meetings, and the role of the Bronson administration in that misbehavior. I would like to add one additional viewpoint that I have not yet seen in print, and that is the connection between these activities and the most recent mayoral election. Let us recall that Bronson supporters last spring intimidated and threatened municipal election workers, which was the most shameful event in this city that I can recall, until now.

Now we see the same people intimidating and abusing elected officials at public meetings over an issue that, in a rational world, should not be particularly divisive.  

This thuggish behavior is becoming a pattern. Rather than speak to the issue, the mob makes it personal, attacking individual Assembly members — as they intimidated individual election workers. The behavior is more intensely outrageous when we see the abuse of powerful Holocaust symbols, and then the fact that the city manager, Amy Demboski, who is sick with COVID-19, likely delivered that virus to any number of unmasked people in crowded spaces. Demboski is doing exactly what the ordinance is trying to prevent.

I asked the new mayor, in a paper letter, to act to protect election workers before the next election, through city ordinance and using uniformed officers. Mayor Dave Bronson did not reply.  

It is obvious to me that the Bronson-Allard-Demboski trio intends to undermine the democratic processes of this city, and that they will accomplish that by abusing democratic processes in order to undermine them. The rest of us must find a way to prevent that from happening. Using municipal ordinances to protect election workers would be one step forward.

— Clarence Crawford

Anchorage

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Letter: Nonsensical cat policies

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:26

To the jerk trapping cats in the Spenard area, you can go and take a long walk off a short pier. My cat is an indoor/outdoor one. He has been roaming Spenard streets for more than 8 years, with no problems. Now someone has decided to trap these cats and turn them over to the animal shelter off Tudor.

When I went there, I was schooled by the heartless and curt employee that cats have to stay in their yard — what nonsense! That the first time a cat is brought in, there is no ticket to the owner. After that, if your cat is caught and brought in, it will be a $100 ticket; after that $200; after that $300. And all subsequent ones will be $300 after that. Since my cat cannot be locked up, nor do I have the means to keep him the yard, I have to forfeit him over to the shelter — because I will let him out; it is too cruel to keep a cat locked up, and insane to try to do it. So they had just bought themselves a cat.

It was a sad day, for Sterling and myself. I had to learn the hard way the heartless polices and people in Spenard, and at the shelter, who want to punish cats for being part of our culture, lifestyle and city. And worst of all, it was a sad and tragic day for Sterling. He will be incredibly missed.

— Stevien Douglas

Anchorage

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Why COVID booster shots haven’t been tweaked to better match coronavirus variants

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:12

Richard Laslow, 86, of Plum, Pa., prepares to receive a COVID-19 booster shot at Allegheny General Hospital on Pittsburgh's North Side on Sept. 23, 2021. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) (Steve Mellon/)

More COVID-19 booster shots may be on the way -- but when it’s your turn, you’ll get an extra dose of the original vaccine, not one updated to better match the extra-contagious delta variant.

And that has some experts wondering if the booster campaign is a bit of a missed opportunity to target delta and its likely descendants.

“Don’t we want to match the new strains that are most likely to circulate as closely as possible?” Dr. Cody Meissner of Tufts Medical Center, an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, challenged Pfizer scientists recently.

“I don’t quite understand why this is not delta because that’s what we’re facing right now,” fellow adviser Dr. Patrick Moore of the University of Pittsburgh said last week as government experts debated whether it’s time for Moderna boosters. He wondered if such a switch would be particularly useful to block mild infection.

The simple answer: The FDA last month OK’d extra doses of Pfizer’s original recipe after studies showed it still works well enough against delta -- and those doses could be rolled out right away. Now the FDA is weighing evidence for boosters of the original Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“It’s less churn and burn on the manufacturing” to only switch formulas when it’s really necessary, said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks.

But Pfizer and Moderna are hedging their bets. They’re already testing experimental doses customized to delta and another variant, learning how to rapidly tweak the formula in case a change eventually is needed -- for today’s mutants or a brand new one. The tougher question for regulators is how they’d decide if and when to ever order such a switch.

What we know so far:

CURRENT VACCINES ARE WORKING EVEN AGAINST DELTA

Vaccines used in the U.S. remain strongly effective against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, even after the delta variant took over, but authorities hope to shore up waning protection against less severe infection and for high-risk populations. Studies show an extra dose of the original formulas revs up virus-fighting antibodies that fend off infection, including antibodies that target delta.

MIGHT A DELTA-SPECIFIC BOOSTER WORK EVEN BETTER?

Vaccines target the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. Mutations in that protein made delta more contagious but to the immune system, it doesn’t look all that different, said virus expert Richard Webby of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

That means there’s no guarantee a delta-specific booster would protect any better, said University of Pennsylvania immunologist John Wherry. Waiting for studies to settle that question -- and if necessary, brewing updated doses -- would have delayed rolling out boosters to people deemed to need them now.

Still, because delta is now the dominant version of the virus worldwide it almost certainly will be a common ancestor for whatever evolves next in a mostly unvaccinated world, said Trevor Bedford, a biologist and genetics expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

A delta-updated vaccine would “help to provide a buffer against those additional mutations,” he said. Bedford is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press Health and Science Department.

TWEAKING THE RECIPE

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a piece of genetic code called messenger RNA that tells the body to make harmless copies of the spike protein so it’s trained to recognize the virus. Updating the formula merely requires swapping out the original genetic code with mRNA for a mutated spike protein.

Both companies first experimented with tweaked doses against a mutant that emerged in South Africa, the beta variant, that has been the most vaccine-resistant to date, more so than the delta variant. Lab tests showed the updated shots produced potent antibodies. But the beta variant didn’t spread widely.

Now the companies have studies underway of fully vaccinated people who agreed to test a booster dose tweaked to match delta. Moderna’s studies also include some shots that combine protection against more than one version of the coronavirus -- much like today’s flu vaccines work against multiple influenza strains.

The mRNA vaccines are considered the easiest kind to tweak but some other vaccine makers also are exploring how to change their recipes if necessary.

WHY STUDY UPDATED SHOTS IF THEY’RE NOT YET NEEDED?

Moderna’s Dr. Jacqueline Miller told an FDA advisory panel last week the company is studying variant-specific boosters now to learn if they offer advantages, and to be ready if they’re needed.

And Penn’s Wherry said it is critical to carefully analyze how the body reacts to updated shots because the immune system tends to “imprint” a stronger memory of the first virus strain it encounters. That raises questions about whether a subtly different booster would prompt a temporary jump in antibodies the body’s made before -- or the bigger goal, a broader and more durable response that might even be better positioned for the next mutations to come along.

NO RULES YET FOR MAKING A SWITCH

“What is the tripping point?” asked Webby, who is part of a World Health Organization network that tracks influenza evolution. “A lot of what is going to need to go into that decision making is just going to be learned by experience, unfortunately.”

Bedford said now is the time to decide what drop in vaccine effectiveness would trigger a formula change, just as is done with flu vaccines every year.

That’s important not just if a dramatically worse variant suddenly develops. Like many scientists, Bedford expects the coronavirus to eventually evolve from a global crisis into a regular threat every winter -- which might mean more regular boosters, maybe even yearly in combination with the flu shot.

Timing between shots matters, too, Wherry noted.

“Your boostability may actually improve with longer intervals between stimulation,” he said. While scientists have learned a lot about the coronavirus, “the story’s not finished yet and we don’t know what the last chapters say.”

Letter: Don’t show shots

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:06

There are probably many reasons why many people are not getting vaccinated. Seems one reason, obvious to me, may be just plain fear of shots! Feeding this fear is the incessant showing of dozens of people being jabbed in the arms on national television. I know people with a deathly fear of needles. Too much of anything can be counterproductive. I have had my shots, but I still kind of wince every time I am shown another closeup of an arm being jabbed on my TV. I can see nothing well-intended by that. So why the national practice of feeding that fear?

— Dennis Lattery

Chugiak

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Biden administration asks Supreme Court to pause Texas abortion law during battle over constitutionality

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:04

FILE - This Sept. 3, 2021, file photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington. The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to block the Texas law banning most abortions, while the fight over the measure’s validity plays out in the courts. The law has been in effect since September, aside from a district court-ordered pause that lasted just 48 hours. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to block the Texas law banning most abortions, while the fight over the measure’s constitutionality plays out in the courts.

The administration also took the unusual step of telling the justices they could grant the Texas law full review and decide its fate this term, which already includes a major case about the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

No court has yet reached a decision on the constitutionality of the Texas law, and the Supreme Court rarely grants such requests.

The law has been in effect since September, aside from a district court-ordered pause that lasted just 48 hours, and bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks and before some women know they are pregnant.

The Justice Department asked the high court Monday to lift an order imposed by a conservative federal appeals court that has allowed Texas to continue enforcing the nation’s strictest curbs on abortion through a novel law that was written to make it hard to challenge in the federal court system. The department had announced its intentions last Friday.

The Texas law defies the Supreme Court’s major decisions on abortion rights “by banning abortion long before viability -- indeed, before many women even realize they are pregnant,” the Justice Department wrote in its plea to the court.

“The question now is whether Texas’ nullification of this Court’s precedents should be allowed to continue while the courts consider the United States’ suit. As the district court recognized, it should not,” the Justice Department wrote.

The administration also said the court could short-circuit the usual process and rule on the law’s constitutionality this term, even though lower courts have yet to do so. The justices have done this only a handful of times in recent decades, the last occasion being a 2019 dispute over the Trump administration’s ultimately failed effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. In that case, a deadline for finalizing the census was fast approaching.

In this case, the administration said, Texas’ attempt to evade federal court review of its law and the possibility that other states could adopt similar measures justify the court’s early involvement.

The high court ordered Texas to respond by midday Thursday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Monday’s news briefing that President Joe Biden would protect abortion rights, and that the Justice Department would lead efforts to ensure that women have “access to fundamental rights that they have to protect their own health.”

It’s not clear whether the administration will prevail at a Supreme Court with a conservative majority that has been fortified by three appointees of former President Donald Trump and already has agreed to hear a major challenge to abortion rights in a case from Mississippi.

The Trump appointees, joined by two other conservatives, have once before rejected a plea to keep the law on hold, in a separate lawsuit filed by abortion providers. There was no immediate timetable for Supreme Court action on this latest motion.

While courts have blocked other state laws effectively banning abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, roughly around 24 weeks, the Texas law has so far avoided a similar fate because of its unique structure that leaves enforcement up to private citizens, rather than state officials. Anyone who brings a successful lawsuit against an abortion provider for violating the law is entitled to claim at least $10,000 in damages.

In the 5-4 vote last month to allow the law to remain in effect, the high court acknowledged in an unsigned order that there were “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law” but also “complex and novel” procedural questions about whom to sue and whether federal courts had the power to stop the law from being enforced.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that he would have put the “unprecedented” law on hold so that court could consider “whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws” by handing off enforcement. The court’s three liberal justices also dissented.

The question now is whether the administration’s presence in the new lawsuit will make a difference. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals provided its answer late Thursday, extending its earlier order that allows the law to remain in effect. In a 2-1 vote, the court said it was siding with Texas for the same reasons the Supreme Court and a different 5th Circuit panel cited in the providers’ lawsuit — questioning whether anyone could march into federal court to challenge the law.

Texas sought help from the appeals court after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Justice Department did have the ability to sue and that he had the authority to stop the law from being enforced, writing that “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.”

The judge conceded, however, that “other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion.”

Letter: We need better leadership

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:03

I’ve been a physician here in Anchorage since 1989. I am more than disheartened at the way Mayor Dave Bronson is treating this pandemic. Alaska is now the No. 1 worst in the nation, if not the world, in new case counts and deaths per capita. Is our mayor proud of that? Is he happy about standing up for an individual’s “right” not to wear a mask and to not get vaccinated? Has he had anyone in his family or circle of friends die a needless death because of COVID? What did he think about the recent front page story in the ADN, “COVID-related cancellations pulled $39 million out of the economy this year.” Is he patting himself on the back for that?

Get with it! We were all just coming out of the gloom. And now we’re all back in the hole, and by the counts my friends are giving me, deeper than ever. We took one step forward and three steps back, thanks to people like the mayor.

We can get back on track, but it’s going to take people a lot stronger than Bronson to do it. We all need to mask up for a while, and get vaccinated. It was — starting — to work before, and it will work if we all pull together. It would help to have some strong leadership.

— John Lapkass

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

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