France Confirms Bird Flu Vaccination After Favorable Tests

France confirmed its aim to launch a vaccination program against bird flu in the autumn after results from a series of tests on the vaccination of ducks showed “satisfactory effectiveness,” the farm ministry said. 

A severe strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, has ravaged poultry production around the world, leading to the culling of over 200 million birds in the past 18 months. 

France has been the worst hit country in the European Union and is facing a strong resurgence of outbreaks since early this month in the southwestern part of the country, mainly among ducks. 

It had already launched a pre-order of 80 million vaccines last month, which needed to be confirmed based on final tests carried out by French health safety agency ANSES. 

“These favorable results provided sufficient guarantees to launch a vaccination campaign as early as autumn 2023,” the farm ministry wrote on its website. 

Governments, often shy to use vaccination due to the trade restrictions it can entail, have increasingly considered adopting them to stem the spread of the virus and avoid interhuman transmission. 

The results of the tests demonstrated a good control of virus transmission in vaccinated mule ducks, a differentiation between infected and vaccinated animals, known as the DIVA principle, and a reduction in virus excretion by vaccinated birds, the test conclusions said. 

France has mandated two companies, France’s Ceva Animal Health and Germany’s Boehringher Ingelheim, to develop bird flu vaccines for ducks. 

Several other EU countries have been carrying out tests, including the Netherlands on laying hens and Italy on turkeys. 

First results in the Netherlands showed the vaccines tested were efficient. 

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Farmer-Turned-Policeman Serves as Mexico’s Eyes, Ears at Popocatepetl Volcano

When the Popocatepetl volcano reawakened in 1994, Mexican scientists needed people in the area who could be their eyes and ears. State police helped them find one, Nefi de Aquino, a farmer then in his 40s who lived beside the volcano. From that moment on, his life changed.

He became a police officer himself, but with a very specific job: watching Popocatepetl and reporting everything that he saw to authorities and researchers at diverse institutions.

For nearly three decades, de Aquino says he has been “taking care of” the volcano affectionately known as “El Popo.” And for the past 23 of those years, he has been sending scientists daily photographs.

Collaboration between researchers and local residents — usually people of limited means — is crucial to Mexico’s volcano monitoring. Hundreds of villagers collaborate in different ways. Often local residents are the only witnesses to key events. Sometimes scientists install recording devices on their land, or have them collect ash samples.

One evening this week, the thin 70-year-old policeman with a hoarse voice stopped his patrol truck near the cemetery overlooking his home town, one of the area’s best vantage points. At his feet lay the town of Santiago Xalitzintla. Directly in front at a distance of 14 miles (23 kilometers) sat Popocatepetl, puffing smoke, the rim of its crater aglow.

Because it appeared calm, de Aquino didn’t stay long. Over the previous week, he had been busy sending digital volcano photographs to a slew of researchers at universities and government agencies as the mountain’s activity increased and authorities raised the alert level. Once again, the world’s eyes were on the 17,797-foot Popocatepetl, including those of the 25 million people living within 60 miles of its crater.

On Friday, officials said the volcano’s activity had decreased somewhat although they maintained the same alert level.

A farmer who was a meat packer for three years in Utah in his late 20s when he illegally emigrated to the United States, de Aquino’s life took a radical turn one day in 1994 when someone in his home town told him police were looking for him.

At first he was afraid to go to the police, but eventually did. The interview was brief.

“‘Do you know how to read?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Write?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you drive?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you have a license?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Heck, this one will work.'”

Officers told de Aquino that the government was looking for people to monitor the volcano and that he, then 41, had certain advantages. He appeared serious, he had finished high school, and during his short stay in the United States he had learned how to take photographs.

‘Immersed in the volcano’

At first, de Aquino was given a volunteer civil defense role, and he took some courses at National Center for Disaster Prevention, or CENAPRED where he was “immersed in the volcano.” But he wasn’t thrilled with doing the work without pay. So authorities offered to send him to the police academy.

Although de Aquino became an officer with some normal police duties, he was an odd cop. He almost always worked alone, patrolling remote mountain roads, taking photos of the volcano.

The ways that local people who help monitor the volcano are compensated are seldom straightforward, because they are not on the payrolls of universities or other research institutions, despite “becoming our eyes close to the volcano,” said Carlos Valdes, a researcher at the UNAM’s Geophysics Institute and former head of CENAPRED.

As an example, Valdes said that the key person when the seismic monitoring system was installed on Popocatepetl was a mountain climber who lived in the town of Amecameca. The man, since deceased, knew the safest routes to climb and how to avoid putting instruments in locations that were sacred to locals.

The way to compensate the man, was “to buy tires for his jeep, repair the vehicle, get him coats,” because it was otherwise difficult to pay him.

Paulino Alonso, a technician at CENAPRED who does fieldwork at Popocatepetl, said collaboration with locals also has given researchers a better understanding of how locals perceive risks.

“A machine is never going to speak to the human perception of danger,” Alonso said.

Three photos a day

In 2000, when Popocatepetl grew more active, authorities declared a red alert and thousands of people were evacuated. De Aquino’s monitoring work intensified.

“They gave me cameras, a patrol car and binoculars and every day I had to send three photos: one in the morning, one at midday and one at night,” the policeman said.

De Aquino continues working to this day, filling his adobe-walled home with thousands of photographs. He lives alone on a modest ranch on the volcano’s slopes, where he has some fruit trees growing beside a stream, and raises corn and a few animals.

De Aquino helps keep locals informed about the volcano and assists during evacuations. Once, his house became an impromptu shelter for soldiers, police and government officials, he said.

De Aquino has gotten to go along on overflights of the crater, the first time terrified. “You see the whole base, how it lights up, how it puts out smoke … it felt strange,” he said.

He has continued in his job despite being past retirement age.

“What I have learned from (Popocatepetl) is that while it’s calm, it doesn’t do anything,” he said. “But when it gets mad, it goes crazy.”

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US Revokes License of Drug Distributor Over Opioid Crisis Failures

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stripped one of the nation’s largest drug distributors of its license to sell highly addictive painkillers Friday after determining it failed to flag thousands of suspicious orders at the height of the opioid crisis.

The action against Morris & Dickson Co., which threatens to put the company out of business, came two days after an Associated Press investigation found the DEA allowed the company to keep shipping drugs for nearly four years after a judge recommended the harshest penalty for its “cavalier disregard” of rules aimed at preventing opioid abuse.

The DEA acknowledged the time it took to issue its final decision was “longer than typical for the agency” but blamed Morris & Dickson in part for holding up the process by seeking delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its lengthy pursuit of a settlement that the agency said it had considered. The order becomes effective in 90 days, allowing more time to negotiate a settlement.

12,000 unusually large orders

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the 68-page order that Morris & Dickson failed to accept full responsibility for its past actions, which included shipping 12,000 unusually large orders of opioids to pharmacies and hospitals between 2014 and 2018. During this time, the company filed just three suspicious order reports with the DEA.

Milgram specifically cited testimony of then-company president Paul Dickson Sr. in 2019 that Morris & Dickson’s compliance program was “dang good,” and he didn’t think a “single person has gotten hurt by [their] drugs.”

“Those statements from the president of a family-owned and -operated company so strongly miss the point of the requirements of a DEA registrant,” she wrote. “Its acceptance of responsibility did not prove that it or its principals understand the full extent of their wrongdoing … and the potential harm it caused.”

Roots go back to 1840

Shreveport, Louisiana-based Morris & Dickson traces its roots to 1840, when its namesake founder arrived from Wales and placed an ad in a local newspaper selling medicines. It has since become the nation’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, with $4 billion a year in revenue and nearly 600 employees serving pharmacies and hospitals in 29 states.

In a statement, the company said it has invested millions of dollars over the past few years to revamp its compliance systems and appeared to hold out hope for a settlement.

“Morris & Dickson is grateful to the DEA administrator for delaying the effective date of the order to allow time to settle these old issues,” it said. “We remain confident we can achieve an outcome that safeguards the supply chain for all of our health care partners and the communities they serve. … Business will continue as usual and orders will continue to go out on time.”

Morris & Dickson’s much larger competitors, a trio of pharmaceutical distributors known as the Big Three, have already agreed to pay the federal government more than $1 billion in fines and penalties to settle similar violations. Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson also agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years to resolve claims as part of a nationwide settlement.

While Morris & Dickson wasn’t the only drug distributor whom the DEA accused of fueling the opioid crisis, it was unique in its willingness to challenge those accusations in the DEA’s administrative court.

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Elon Musk’s Brain Implant Company Says It Has Approval to Begin Human Trials

Elon Musk’s brain implant company Neuralink says it’s gotten permission from U.S. regulators to begin testing its device in people.

The company made the announcement on Twitter Thursday evening but has provided no details about a potential study, which was not listed on the U.S. government database of clinical trials.

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the agency granted the approval, but press officer Carly Kempler said in an email that the FDA “acknowledges and understands” that Musk’s company made the announcement.

Neuralink is one of many groups working on linking the nervous system to computers. The aim is to put into humans a neural-chip implant designed to decode and stimulate brain activity.

Earlier this week, for example, researchers in Switzerland published research in the journal Nature describing an implant that restores communication between the brain and spinal cord to help a man with paralysis to stand and walk naturally. There are more than 30 brain or spine computer interface trials underway, according to

Musk – who also owns Twitter and is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX – said last December that his team was in the process of asking regulators to allow them to test the Neuralink device.

The device is about the size of a large coin and is designed to be implanted in the skull, with ultra-thin wires going directly into the brain. Musk has said the first two applications in people would attempt to restore vision and try to help people with little or no ability to operate their muscles rapidly. He also said he envisions that signals from the brain could be bridged to Neuralink devices in the spinal cord for someone with a broken neck.

After Musk made a presentation late last year about the device, Rajesh Rao, co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington, said he didn’t think Neuralink was ahead of other teams in terms of brain-computer interface achievements but was “quite ahead” in terms of the hardware in the devices.

It’s unclear how well this device or similar interfaces will ultimately work, or how safe they might be. Neuralink’s interface is considered an “investigational device” at this point, and clinical trials are designed to collect data on safety and effectiveness.

In its tweet this week, Neuralink said that it’s not yet recruiting participants for the study and will provide more information soon.

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Investment in Solar Will Eclipse Oil in 2023, IEA Finds

Global investment in clean energy production in 2023 will be significantly larger than investment in fossil fuel-based energy generation, and for the first time, more money will be invested in solar energy than in the oil sector, according to a report issued by the International Energy Agency on Thursday.

The report, World Energy Investment 2023, finds that globally, $2.8 trillion will be invested in energy in 2023, including production, transmission and storage. Of that amount, $1.7 trillion will be invested in clean technology, which the IEA defines as “renewables, electric vehicles, nuclear power, grids, storage, low-emissions fuels, efficiency improvements and heat pumps.”

The estimate for clean energy for 2023 reflects a 24% increase over that for 2021 in a sector expected to continue growing for the foreseeable future, as governments worldwide attempt to meet the internationally agreed-on target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Achieving that goal would allow the world to avoid some of the worst effects of global warming.

‘Moving fast’

While the report shows that the road to a zero-carbon future is long, it also offers the possibility that key interim goals, including total investment targets for 2030, remain achievable.

“Clean energy is moving fast — faster than many people realize,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement accompanying the report. “This is clear in the investment trends, where clean technologies are pulling away from fossil fuels. For every dollar invested in fossil fuels, about 1.7 dollars are now going into clean energy. Five years ago, this ratio was 1-to-1. One shining example is investment in solar, which is set to overtake the amount of investment going into oil production for the first time.”

The report estimates that in 2023, total global investment in solar power technology will be $382 billion, compared with $371 billion invested in oil production. In 2013, the amount invested in oil production was $636 billion, five times larger than the $127 billion invested in solar.

No pandemic slowdown

Nat Bullard, an energy analyst and a senior contributor to BloombergNEF, which provides strategic research on the transition to a low-carbon economy, told VOA that the IEA report was clarifying after a period of complexity in the energy markets.

“We have had, in succession and overlapping, a pandemic, a supply chain crunch, inflation and a very, very large war all going on at once,” he said. “They’ve made long-term trends hard to see because you’ve had a lot of near-term variability.

“What the report highlights, and the IEA has generally been very clear, is that if you look on an evidence basis, during COVID we did not actually see any deceleration in interest in energy transition,” he said. “In the years after that, supply chain disruptions, high prices for hydrocarbons and big conflicts have actually encouraged investment.”

Not evenly distributed

China is far and away the largest single investor in clean energy, plunging $184 billion into the selector in 2022. Taken as a whole, the European Union invested $154 billion in clean energy in 2022.

The U.S. trailed both, with $97 billion invested last year. However, the amount spent by the U.S. in 2023 will likely be significantly larger thanks to passage of legislation last year containing funding for clean energy generation.

Rounding out the top five, Japan invested $28 billion in clean energy; India, $19 billion.

While rising investment in renewable power is good news in the climate-change fight, the IEA points out that it is heavily tilted toward large developed economies, with poorer countries and the Global South, in particular, seeing relatively little investment.

The entire continent of Africa, for example, saw just $10 billion in clean energy investment in 2022.

Electric vehicles and batteries

Two of the fastest-growing segments of the clean energy investment space are electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries that store power generated by clean energy technologies.

In 2023, the IEA estimates that $129 billion will be invested in electric vehicle technology, more than nine times the $14 billion invested just five years earlier. Battery storage will be the target of $37 billion in investment this year, over seven times the $5 billion invested in the sector in 2018.

In both segments, China is leading the way. In 2022, the entire world’s production capacity for lithium-ion batteries, the type most commonly used in EVs, stood at 1.57 terawatt hours. China accounted for 76% of that capacity. By 2030, according to the IEA, that capacity will have ballooned to 6.79 TWh, but China’s dominance will continue, accounting for 68% of the total.

Fossil fuels still growing

While renewables may be attracting more investment dollars than fossil fuels in 2023, the IEA reported that consumption of fossil fuels will continue to rise this year.

Meeting the net-zero goal in 2050 requires a slowing of investment in fossil fuels technology, according to the IEA. According to the report, more than $1 trillion will be invested in fossil fuels in 2023. To meet the agency’s benchmark for progress, that figure would have to be reduced by more than half by 2030.

Conversely, to remain on track, investment in clean energy must continue to grow. The agency estimates that to meet the benchmark for 2030, annual investment will have to grow from $1.7 trillion this year to $4.6 trillion in 2030.

To reach that goal, clean energy spending would have to grow by about 15% every year between now and 2030, somewhat higher than the 11.4% annual growth the sector has experienced over the past three years.

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US Supreme Court Limits Federal Government’s Ability to Police Pollution Into Wetlands

The Supreme Court on Thursday sharply limited the federal government’s authority to police water pollution into certain wetlands, the second decision in as many years in which a conservative majority narrowed the reach of environmental regulations.

The outcome could threaten efforts to control flooding on the Mississippi River and protect the Chesapeake Bay, among many projects, wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, breaking with the other five conservatives.

The justices boosted property rights over concerns about clean water in a ruling in favor of an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. Chantell and Michael Sackett objected when federal officials identified a soggy portion of the property as a wetlands that required them to get a permit before filling it with rocks and soil.

By a 5-4 vote, the court said in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that wetlands can only be regulated under the Clean Water Act if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger, regulated bodies of water. There is no such connection on the Sacketts’ property.

The court jettisoned the 17-year-old opinion by their former colleague, Anthony Kennedy, allowing regulation of what can be discharged into wetlands that could affect the health of the larger waterways.

Kennedy’s opinion covering wetlands that have a “significant nexus” to larger bodies of water had been the standard for evaluating whether permits were required for discharges under the 1972 landmark environmental law.

Opponents had objected that the standard was vague and unworkable.

Environmental advocates said the new standard would strip protections from millions of acres of wetlands across the country.

Reacting to the decision, Manish Bapna, the chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called on Congress to amend the Clean Water Act to restore wetlands protections and on states to strengthen their own laws.

“The Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands. The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price,” Bapna said in a statement.

The outcome almost certainly will affect ongoing court battles over new wetlands regulations that the Biden administration put in place in December. Two federal judges have temporarily blocked those rules from being enforced in 26 states.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said the Clean Water Act has been responsible for “transformational progress” in cleaning up the nation’s waterways.

“I am disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision that erodes longstanding clean water protections,” he said in a statement.

Damien Schiff, who represented the Sacketts at the Supreme Court, said the decision appropriately narrowed the reach of the law.

“Courts now have a clear measuring stick for fairness and consistency by federal regulators. Today’s ruling is a profound win for property rights and the constitutional separation of powers,” Schiff said in a statement issued by the property rights-focused Pacific Legal Foundation.

In Thursday’s ruling, all nine justices agreed that the wetlands on the Sacketts’ property are not covered by the act.

But only five justices joined in the opinion that imposed a new test for evaluating when wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Alito would have adopted the narrower standard in 2006, in the last big wetlands case at the Supreme Court. They were joined Thursday by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

Kavanaugh and the court’s three liberal justices charged that their colleagues had rewritten that law.

Kavanaugh wrote that the court’s “new and overly narrow test may leave long-regulated and long-accepted-to-be regulable wetlands suddenly beyond the scope of the agencies’ regulatory authority.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority’s rewriting of the act was “an effort to cabin the anti-pollution actions Congress thought appropriate.” Kagan referenced last year’s decision limiting the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

In both cases, she noted, the court had appointed “itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy.” Kagan was joined in what she wrote by her liberal colleagues Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Sacketts paid $23,000 for a 0.63-acre lot near Priest Lake in 2005 and started building a three-bedroom home two years later.

They had filled part of the property, described in an appellate ruling as a “soggy residential lot,” with rocks and soil in preparation for construction, when officials with the Environmental Protection Agency showed up and ordered a halt in the work.

They also won an earlier round in their legal fight at the Supreme Court.

The federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the EPA’s determination in 2021, finding that part of the property, 300 feet from the lake and 30 feet from an unnamed waterway that flows into the lake, was wetlands.

The Sacketts’ own consultant had similarly advised them years ago that their property contained wetlands.

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Mozambican Teachers Reuse Garbage to Create Educational Tools

Teachers from 115 schools in the Mozambican province of Manica are creating their own teaching material using cardboard, plastic gallon jugs, and bags made from raffia leaves, offered by the community. They say they’re saving money by replacing expensive conventional teaching material while helping the environment, in this story narrated by Barbara Santos.

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Philippines Health Officials Try to Build Trust in Routine Vaccines

Seated on his mother’s lap, one-year old Jeon Tyler Ancheta gets vaccinated for measles and rubella. Jeon Tyler lets out a short cry after the needle is pulled out of his arm, but he’s comforted by his mother while a doctor enthusiastically says “good.”

There’s a line of parents who brought their kids to get vaccinated at this local health clinic. It’s a positive sign in a country that has a large number of unvaccinated children.

The Philippines has about one-million children who have not received a single routine vaccination according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The country is ranked in the top five globally for the highest number of zero-dose children. In addition, there are many kids who are only partially vaccinated for diseases that require multiple shots including measles.

So, health departments across the country have teamed up with UNICEF and the World Health Organization for a nationwide vaccine campaign.

Robert Pascual Jr. came to this clinic with his two-year old daughter Zafeerah. “When she grows up, I want her to be protected and safe,” Pascual said although he acknowledged having some vaccine hesitancy until recently.

The reasons behind the high number of unvaccinated children in the Philippines include strict lockdowns during the pandemic that kept families from routine medical appointments.

Many Filipinos also have lingering mistrust of vaccines after more than 800,000 Filipino children received a dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, which was later shown to increase the risk of a severe form of the disease in some people.

Several studies show the Dengvaxia debacle caused a drop in Filipino parents’ trust of vaccines, even with vaccines that have been routine for children for decades. Health officials in the Philippines say this led to measles outbreaks.

“There are myths that these particular vaccines give you the disease itself. So, there’s a lot of controversies,” says Dr. Jennifer Lou Lorico-De Guzman, medical coordinator for the national immunization program for the city of Taguig.

“We are trying to educate the public about the importance of vaccines,” she adds.

Health advocates such as Ma. Nieves Bulalacao are hitting the streets to talk to parents. On a recent morning, Bulalacao walked through Taguig’s side streets and alleyways alongside nurse Gigi Quintero who carried a cooler stocked with ice packs and vaccines for measles as well as rubella.

“We’re trying to find parents with children who need to be vaccinated,” Bulalacao said.

Together they went door to door telling parents how contagious diseases like measles are and that vaccines are the best way to protect their children.

They came across Stephanie Opider whose three children need to be vaccinated. “It’s dangerous because measles can spread quickly,” Bulalacao told Opider.

The children’s father, Joeson Dalanon, is afraid vaccinations could harm their kids. “I hear there are lots of kids who die so I didn’t want them to get vaccinated,” Dalanon said.

These parents are especially concerned about their middle child, three-year-old King Andrei, who they say gets convulsions whenever he gets a fever.

Eventually the parents agree, seemingly reluctantly, to let Quintero vaccinate all three of their children. Bulalacao acknowledges that more work needs to be done so that parents can feel confident that vaccination is the right decision. “We have to keep reassuring them that these routine vaccines will not harm their kids,” she said.

At a clinic in Taguig’s Maharlika neighborhood, Suhaira Bago lines up with her two-year-old daughter Alicia for a measles and rubella vaccination. They’re part of this neighborhood’s Muslim community and Bago says some families refuse to let their children get inoculated.

“Many of the [grandparents] have a lot of influence over these decisions in their family,” Bago says. “They say they didn’t get the vaccine so their [grandchildren] don’t need it either. The issue with the [Dengvaxia] vaccine only added to this feeling for many.”

Cristina Rakim, a city health worker in this neighborhood who’s also Muslim, says outreach teams are investing significant time in this community. ”We’re trying to convince parents and grandparents how much safer their children and grandchildren will be if they’re vaccinated,” Rakim said.

Two-year-old Alicia didn’t even flinch when the needle went in and out of her arm. Her mother smiled when she later said, “I know this measles and rubella vaccine will protect my child.”

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