• Matthew Inui

Weekly News Blast | Jun. 19-26

Key events from the week of June 19 to June 26.


As of June 18, young children can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Mufid Majnun/Unsplash)


1. CDC approves COVID-19 vaccine for young children.


On June 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommended the COVID vaccine for children between the ages of six months and five years old. This came one day after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for this same age range. Despite reservations about a lack of evidence from Pfizer, the CDC panel dedicated to determining the safety of the vaccine for children ultimately voted unanimously to back the vaccines. Hours later, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky released her endorsement: “We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can.” 


According to the clinical trials from Moderna and Pfizer, both vaccines are safe to use and produce antibody levels similar to those seen in adults. However, many of the panelists were worried about the unreliability of the evidence provided, especially Pfizer’s. Even though Pfizer scientists claimed the vaccine has an overall efficacy of 80 percent in young children, CDC advisors noted these metrics were unreliable because the sample group was too small. Dr. Sarah Long, an infectious disease expert at Drexel University College of Medicine and a panel member, said “we should just assume we don’t have efficacy data.” However, she added that she was “comfortable enough” with the other data provided by Pfizer.


Ultimately, the panel decided that the overall benefits of approving the vaccine for young children outweighed the risks. Since the beginning of the pandemic, over two million children ages six months to four years have been infected, 20,000 have been hospitalized, and 200 have died. The panel considered that because of the possibility of future variants, it would be better to approve the vaccines. “This is an opportunity that one does not get very often: the prevention of children’s death,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a member of the panel. “We know this disease is killing children, and we can prevent those deaths through this vaccine.”


2. FINA restricts transgender women’s participation in women’s events.


On June 19, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) voted to prohibit transgender women from competing in women’s categories. Under the new policy, transgender women over the age of 12 have the choice to either begin medical treatment to suppress testosterone production or compete in the new “open” category. FINA President Husain Al-Musallam explained, “We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category.” This decision makes FINA the second Olympic governing body, behind World Rugby, to implement such a ban. Most other organizations, including USA Swimming, have decided to implement limits based on testosterone levels, a much more inclusive measure.


While FINA’s decision will only directly affect international competitions, there is a possibility that it could influence the decisions of other sports federations as well. Alejandra Caraballo, a professor at Harvard Law School and an expert on transgender issues, said the FINA rule would give the green light for other bodies to pass similar bans. For example, USA Swimming said that they will take time “to understand the impact of this international standard on [their] existing policy.” If USA Swimming decides to follow in FINA’s footsteps, it would affect swimmers like Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to earn an NCAA Division I women’s swimming title. Responding to the FINA decision on Sunday, Thomas said, “The new FINA release is deeply upsetting. It is discriminatory and will only serve to harm all women.”


Many female swimmers have also come out in support of FINA’s decision. Sharron Davies, a former British swimmer, said that “swimming will always welcome everyone no matter how you identify, but fairness is the cornerstone of sport.” Karen Pickering, another former swimmer, added that “competitive fairness to women’s categories must be protected.”


3. Supreme Court overturns landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade.


After a draft opinion leaked to the public, the long-awaited ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was released. In a 6–3 vote along ideological lines, the court voted to uphold a Mississippi restriction on abortion access. In the majority opinion of Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, Justice Alito wrote that the rulings in Roe v. Wade (the 49-year-old precedent that established the constitutional right to an abortion) and its associated case Planned Parenthood v. Casey were “egregiously wrong” and “must be overruled.” Alito’s argument hinged on the idea that the decision to allow abortions should be left up to the states. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” Alito wrote.


Chief Justice Roberts, while agreeing with the outcome, was the only conservative justice to object to the overturning of Roe and Casey. “This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here,” Roberts wrote in a statement following the decision. The three more liberal justices―Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor―wrote in their dissenting opinion that the majority “breaches a core rule-of-law principle designed to promote constancy in the law” and “undermines the Court’s legitimacy.”


Following the decision, 22 states moved to ban abortions. Several of these states had “trigger laws” on the books that remained in place but were ineffective until Roe was overturned. On the other hand, many more liberal states moved to expand abortion access in preparation for the predicted waves of women traveling out of state to receive an abortion.


Another fear in the wake of the decision is the possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down other implied rights such as the right to contraceptive use (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965), the right to engage in private sexual activities (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003), and the right to gay marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015). While Alito’s opinion stated, “Our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion argued that other precedents similar to Roe and Casey should be reconsidered because they are “demonstrably erroneous.”


 

Sources & Further Reading