The first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are arriving in all 50 states today after the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization late Friday. The vaccine is being deployed as the U.S. tops 300,000 recorded deaths from COVID-19 today, with confirmed cases topping 16.2 million — by far the highest numbers in the world. The first shipment will cover some 3 million people. Healthcare workers will receive the first doses this week, followed by nursing home residents and staff. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said Sunday he hoped the first doses would be administered today. He also denied reports he was threatened by President Trump Friday to approve the vaccine quickly, saying the authorization was based on “a thorough review of the science and data.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna is likely to be approved by the end of the week, according to Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui. The U.S. government purchased another 100 million doses of the Moderna vaccine last week, which the Trump administration said would ensure continuous vaccine delivery through the end of June 2021.
COVID-19 deaths around the world have topped 1.6 million, with 72 million confirmed cases, as many countries scramble to curb new waves of infections.
Germany is going into what’s being called a “hard” national lockdown that will continue through the holiday period, after acknowledging existing coronavirus restrictions are not stringent enough to stem a surge in cases. Germany recorded over 20,000 new cases Sunday, a 10% jump over the previous week.
East Asian countries have reported record numbers in recent days, with Japan topping 3,000 daily cases for the first time ever. South Korea recorded over 1,000 new infections Saturday as President Moon Jae-in called for action to counter the country’s wave of cases.
President Moon Jae-in: “It’s a very serious and emergency situation. There is nowhere to back down. It is a desperate time to devote all efforts to stop the spread of corona by focusing all quarantine capabilities and administrative power.”
In other international news, demonstrators in Albania held their fifth straight day of protests Sunday over the fatal shooting of a man by police who were enforcing a coronavirus curfew.
Members of the Electoral College are gathering in state capitals today to cast their votes for president, in the latest step formalizing Joe Biden’s election victory. Over the weekend, courts across the country handed Trump more defeats in his attempts to overturn his loss. The Supreme Court on Friday rejected nine to zero a Texas-led effort, backed by a majority of Republican House members, to throw out millions of votes in four battleground states Biden won. On Saturday, a federal judge rejected a Trump campaign lawsuit in Wisconsin seeking to toss over 200,000 ballots, and the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the latest appeal by Trump’s lawyers to overturn the state’s election results. Despite all this, Trump told Fox News Sunday his efforts to challenge the election results are “not over.”
Meanwhile, early voting in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia begins today. Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are challenging Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively. Democrats need to win both races in order to control the Senate.
In Washington, D.C., at least four people were stabbed Saturday as thousands of maskless Trump supporters rallied on the National Mall demanding the reversal of Joe Biden’s election victory. Police cordoned off parts of downtown Washington and used pepper spray and batons on counterprotesters who rallied in opposition to the Trump supporters. At least 33 people were arrested.
The stabbings occurred just minutes after members of the far-right Proud Boys organization tore a “Black Lives Matter” banner from one of the oldest African American churches in Washington and burned it in the street. Another historically Black church was similarly vandalized. In an October debate with Joe Biden, President Trump name-checked the Proud Boys and told them to “stand back and stand by.”
Black Lives Matter DC organizer Anthony Lorenzo Green addressed Saturday’s violence at a press conference.
Anthony Lorenzo Green: “Our mayor and our police department allowed white supremacists to tear down and destroy property from a Black church, burn it on the ground, stand back and watch it as it happened. D.C. Police does not keep us safe. Muriel Bowser does not keep us safe.”
Meanwhile, in Washington state, police arrested a far-right Trump supporter Saturday after he allegedly shot an anti-fascist counterprotester at competing demonstrations in the state capital, Olympia.
In New Jersey, police arrested nine people Saturday at a demonstration outside the Bergen County Jail in support of prisoners who have gone on hunger strike to protest their treatment by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Police used smoke grenades and pepper spray to clear the solidarity rally. Activists are demanding the release of all prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here in New York, protesters held a march in support of the hunger strikers on Friday. At least six people were injured — some of them with broken bones — after a driver rammed her car into a crowd of protesters. She was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
In India, farmers are holding a one-day hunger strike today as part of their ongoing mass protest against agricultural reforms. They are calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to withdraw the legislation, which deregulates agricultural markets, giving corporations the power to set crop prices far below current rates and thus devastating the livelihoods of farmers. Solidarity protests with the farmers have sprung up around the world.
Fighting between Azeri and Armenian forces continued Sunday in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in breach of a November ceasefire. Both parties blamed the other side for violating the ceasefire that put an end to the bloody six-week conflict, which has led to thousands of deaths. Russia has deployed around 2,000 peacekeepers to the region.
Israel and the South Asian country of Bhutan announced they are establishing full diplomatic relations. The agreement does not appear to be related to recent U.S.-broked normalization deals between Israel and four Arab nations: the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and, just last week, Morocco.
The U.S. has adopted a new “official” map of Morocco, which now includes the disputed territory of Western Sahara, following its recognition last week of Morocco’s sovereignty over occupied Western Sahara — what many consider to be Africa’s last colony — and which was part of the normalization deal between Morocco and Israel. Click here to see our documentary on Western Sahara.
The European Union’s chief negotiator said “some limited progress” has been made today on contentious Brexit negotiations. The EU and the United Kingdom agreed to extend Brexit negotiations beyond Sunday’s deadline as the two parties struggle to make an agreement that would avoid a no-deal divorce at the end of this month. But both sides said over the weekend a deal is unlikely. This is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “There are some serious and very, very difficult issues that currently separate the U.K. from the EU. And the best thing to do now for everybody is to follow up all the work that’s been done over the last four-and-a-half years, colossal amount of preparation at our ports, everywhere across the U.K., get ready to trade on WTO terms.”
Back in the U.S., the federal government has executed another man. Fifty-six-year-old Alfred Bourgeois, a Louisiana truck driver, was put to death by lethal injection Friday, one day after the execution of another Black man, Brandon Bernard. Bourgeois had an intellectual disability, which should have prohibited his execution. But an application to the Supreme Court for a stay was denied earlier Friday. He was sentenced over the 2004 abuse and murder of his 2-year-old daughter. Bourgeois is the 10th federal death row inmate to be executed since Trump revived the practice in July. There are three more executions planned for January before Trump leaves office.
In related news, the American Institute of Architects said it is instituting new ethics rules that will bar members from designing spaces for executions or torture, including long-term solitary confinement.
In Oklahoma, protesters are calling for justice following the police killing of Bennie Edwards, a Black man who struggled with mental illness. Edwards’s family said he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In a video taken by a witness, three officers surround Edwards and fire at him as he appears to run toward one. But the officers kept shooting even after he started running away from them and don’t appear to make an effort to deescalate the situation. The officers have been put on paid administrative leave.
In Louisville, Kentucky, another prominent figure in the protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor was shot dead. Forty-two-year-old business owner and activist Kris Smith was killed Friday, just weeks after 21-year-old Hamza “Travis” Nagdy was fatally shot. Like Nagdy, Kris Smith was inside a car at the time of the shooting. Loved ones and community members held a vigil for Kris Smith on Saturday.
On Sunday, Trump renewed his threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate overwhelmingly approved Friday after the House passed the $741 billion package earlier in the week. Both chambers passed the bill with veto-proof majorities.
In the Senate, Bernie Sanders was one of the 13 lawmakers who voted against the bill, and said, “We need to get our priorities right. At a time when we have enormous unmet needs in our country we should not be spending $740 billion on the military — more than the next 10 nations combined.”
The Trump administration said Sunday that foreign hackers broke into government networks — including email servers for the Commerce and Treasury departments — in what’s being described as the biggest breach of U.S. government data in years. Administration officials acknowledged the hackers were likely from Russia’s intelligence agency. They said a software flaw gave the hackers access to federal government networks for months.
In sports news, the Cleveland Indians baseball team will change their name after years of protests from Native American advocates and fans. Tara Houska, Indigenous Ojibwe activist and co-founder of the organization Not Your Mascots, responded to the news by tweeting, “Finally. Literal generations of Native advocates rejoice! Dehumanization of our people at the national sports level takes another hit.”