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A medical staff member holds a bottle of anti-typhoid vaccine to be given to children during the immunisation campaign at a school.
New typhoid fever vaccine protects young children
5 December 2019, 6:27 AM

The first field trial of a new typhoid vaccine that can be used in young children provides protection for 81.6% of recipients, opening the door to better control of a disease that affects 11 million people each year and kills roughly 117,000.

The test in Nepal “provides the first evidence of the level of impact and the potential for improving the health of children in some of these very vulnerable populations around the world,” lead author Andrew Pollard of Oxford University in the UK told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Preventing typhoid has become particularly important because some strains, particularly in South Asia, are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Pakistan is currently in the midst of an antibiotic-resistant typhoid outbreak.

There are two existing typhoid vaccines. One comes in a capsule that is too large for younger children to swallow, so it is for youngsters over age 6. The other, delivered as an injection, doesn’t work in children under age 2.

As a result, people from Western countries who have young children and travel to parts of the world where typhoid is a threat have to be particularly vigilant to make sure their children drink water that is properly boiled or filtered, and their food is properly prepared, Pollard said.

The new test, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved children as young as 9 months. They will be followed for another year in an attempt to determine how long the vaccine protects against typhoid, a bacterial infection often spread through contaminated water in regions of the world with poor sanitation. Untreated, the disease can leave people sick for weeks or months. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Further two-year field tests are also underway in Bangladesh and Africa to gauge its effectiveness there.

The vaccine, known as TCV, has already been endorsed by the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety based in part on earlier tests at Oxford “where we vaccinated people and deliberately infected them with typhoid by asking them to drink typhoid in a bicarbonate solution. That demonstrated that the vaccine was protective,” said Pollard.

The results from Nepal show the vaccine can work in a setting where typhoid is common.

“I would call this new study more of an implementation and impact study,” he said. “These new studies are about providing confidence in the field about the way the vaccine could be introduced in vaccinating everyone from 9 months to 15 years of age, and it’s showing this huge impact.”

The TCV, or typhoid conjugate vaccine, was developed by Bharat Biotech International of Hyderabad, India. Except for donating some of the vaccine, sold under the brand name Typbar-TCV, Bharat was not involved in the test.

The vaccine was given to 10,005 children in Lalitpur, Nepal, where the disease is endemic. Another 10,014 were immunized against meningococcal disease (MenA) to serve as a control group. One dose was given. It took about a month for the vaccine to provide protection.

Potential cases of typhoid were identified among children who were reported to have a fever lasting at least two days during a visit to Patan Hospital or one of 18 clinics. Blood cultures were used to confirm the infection. Telephone calls at three-month intervals were used to identify additional cases and vaccination side effects.

While 38 children given meningococcal conjugate vaccine developed typhoid fever, there were only 7 cases among the youngsters given the TCV.

Reported adverse events were similar in both groups and the rate of vaccine-related fever within the first week after treatment was about 5% in both groups.

The researchers chose the lower age limit of 9 months to coincide with the time when babies get their measles vaccinations.

The test was conducted by the Baltimore, Maryland-based Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, a partnership between Oxford, the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the international nonprofit organization PATH.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Sunrise, Florida.
Legal experts tell Congress that Trump’s actions are impeachable
5 December 2019, 6:09 AM

Three legal experts told US lawmakers on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival amounted to impeachable offenses, in a hearing that laid the groundwork for formal charges to be filed against the president.

Democrats on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said they may look beyond Trump’s relations with Ukraine as they draw up articles of impeachment, to include his earlier efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s relations with Russia

“The president’s alleged offenses represent a direct threat to the constitutional order,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said.

The impeachment inquiry, launched in September, focuses on Trump’s request that Ukraine conduct investigations that could harm political rival Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

The hearing on Wednesday was the committee’s first to examine whether Trump’s actions qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanours” punishable by impeachment under the US Constitution.

Three law professors chosen by the Democrats made clear during the lengthy session that they believed Trump’s actions constituted impeachable offenses.

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” said University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt.

But George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who was invited by the Republicans, said he did not see clear evidence of illegal conduct. He said the inquiry was moving too quickly and lacked testimony from people with direct knowledge of the relevant events.

“One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president,” said Turley, who added that he did not vote for Trump.

Trump has denied wrongdoing.

In London for a NATO meeting, he called a report by House Democrats released on Tuesday that laid out possible grounds for impeachment a “joke” and appeared to question the patriotism of the Democrats, asking: “Do they in fact love our country?”

EXTENDING FOCUS BEYOND UKRAINE?

Democrats who control the House may vote by the end of the year on impeachment charges that could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. Lawmakers say no decision has been made at this point.

Democratic aides said Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine echoed his attempts to impede Mueller’s investigation. Both episodes, they said, demonstrated a pattern of behaviour by which Trump invited foreign governments to interfere in US elections and obstructed investigations into his actions.

But they stopped short of saying it could form the basis for a separate article of impeachment.

Moderate Democrats might not back that approach. “We have been taking the country down this road on this very targeted issue of Ukraine,” said Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, who won a Republican-controlled seat in Michigan last year. “And that’s what I think we should focus on.”

If the House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would have to vote on whether to remove him from power. Republicans in both chambers have stuck with the president, blasting the impeachment effort as an attempt to undo his surprise victory in the 2016 election.

“The evidence against the president is really about policy differences,” said Representative Doug Collins, the committee’s top Republican.

The inquiry’s focus is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was US vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.

Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine – a US ally facing Russian aggression – to pressure Zelenskiy to announce that he was investigating Biden and the 2016 election.

Trump has instructed current and former members of his administration not to testify or produce documents, leading senior officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to defy House subpoenas.

Republicans focused their questions on Turley, who largely backed up their view that Democrats had not made the case for impeachment – although he did say that leveraging US military aid to investigate a political opponent “if proven, can be an impeachable offense.”

Democrats sought to buttress their case by focusing their questions on the other three experts – Gerhardt, Harvard University law professor Noah Feldman and Stanford University law professor Pam Karlan – who said impeachment was justified.

Karlan drew a sharp response from Republicans for a remark about how Trump did not enjoy the unlimited power of a king.

“While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,” she said.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham on Twitter called Karlan “classless,” and first lady Melania Trump said Karlan should be “ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering” for mentioning her 13-year-old son.

Karlan later apologized for the remark.

No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment, although Republican Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House began the impeachment process in the Watergate corruption scandal. Two other presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.

The committee could soon recommend articles of impeachment against Trump, setting up a possible vote by the full House before Christmas, followed by a Senate trial in January.

Staff chat at the front desk of the Amazon office in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York.
Amazon designs more powerful data center chip
4 December 2019, 8:12 AM

Amazon.com Inc said on Tuesday it had designed a more powerful data center processor chip, as it looks to pose a serious challenge to the domination of market leaders Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

The AWS Graviton 2 processor, which is estimated to be seven times faster than its previous chip, uses technology from SoftBank Group Corp-owned Arm Holdings.

Reuters reported last week that Amazon was looking to design a data center processor chip to power its cloud unit.

Data center processor chips are used in cloud computing, an area that is fast emerging as a big business.

With the new chip, Amazon is looking to reduce its reliance on processors made by Intel and AMD to power its money-spinning cloud business, AWS.

Intel currently controls more than 90% of the server processor market, with AMD controlling most of the remainder.

People walk through the King of Prussia mall, one of the largest retail malls in the U.S., on Black Friday, a day that kicks off the holiday shopping season.
Drop in Black Friday store visits drives increase in online splurge
1 December 2019, 1:23 PM

US shoppers made more purchases online on Black Friday than in the mall – hurting traffic and sales at brick-and-mortar stores, according to data that offered a glimpse into what is still one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

For the first time in several years, however, store traffic on Thanksgiving evening grew – indicating a shift in when consumers are leaving their homes to shop. It is also a sign of how Thursday evening store openings have continued to hurt what has traditionally been a day that kicked off the US holiday season.

The importance on the shopping calendar of Black Friday, or the day after the US Thanksgiving Day holiday, has waned in recent years. This is due to the choice by many retailers to open their stores on Thursday evening, as well as to early holiday promotions and year-round discounts. However, it is increasingly turning into a day when shoppers do not necessarily flock to stores but spend heavily online.

Also, for most retail chains, Black Friday store traffic and sales data is not necessarily grim as consumers continue to spend, consultants said. Winning the transaction, whether online or in-store, has now become more important for retailers than where it occurs.

Top brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart Inc, Target Corp and Best Buy have continued to spend billions of dollars trying to expand their e-commerce operations to capture that growing online revenue.

Also, spending patterns over the weekend are not as indicative of the entire holiday shopping season as they were a few years ago, with purchases spread over November and December.

Online sales rose more than 19.6%, reaching $7.4 billion on Black Friday, slightly shy of estimates of $7.6 billion, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 US retailers. On Thanksgiving, it estimated sales grew 14.5% to $4.2 billion.

Numbers from ShopperTrak, which is part of retail data firm Sensormatic Solutions, showed that visits to stores fell a combined 3% during Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared with the same days in 2018.

Shopper traffic on Thanksgiving evening increased by 2.3%year-over-year but was dragged down by Black Friday, which fell 6.2% from a year ago.

Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting for ShopperTrak, said the traditional pattern of shoppers visiting stores has been disrupted not only by online shopping but by offerings like “buy online and pick up in store,” a growing category, which is not included in store traffic count on Black Friday.

“What all of this really boils down to is the customer journey has changed, now it can start anywhere online, in-store and end anywhere… and it is about making sure the customer makes the purchase and stays loyal to the brands more than where it happens,” he said.

Preliminary data from analytics firm RetailNext showed net sales at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday fell 1.6%, which the firm said is slower than in previous years. No data was yet available for actual spending in stores.

The National Retail Federation had forecast US holiday retail sales over the two months in 2019 will increase between 3.8% and 4.2% from a year ago, for a total of $727.9 billion to $730.7 billion. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.7% over the past five years.

A man passes a Google signage outside their office in Singapore.
EU antitrust regulators investigating Google’s data collection
1 December 2019, 9:58 AM

EU antitrust regulators are investigating Google’s collection of data, the European Commission told Reuters on Saturday, suggesting the world’s most popular internet search engine remains in its sights despite record fines in recent years.

Competition enforcers on both sides of the Atlantic are now looking into how dominant tech companies use and monetise data.

The EU executive said it was seeking information on how and why Alphabet unit Google is collecting data, confirming a Reuters story on Friday.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s practices relating to Google’s collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” the EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

A document seen by Reuters shows the EU’s focus is on data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers and others.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has handed down fines totalling more than 8 billion euros to Google in the last two years, and ordered it to change its business practices.

Google has said it uses data to better its services and that users can manage, delete and transfer their data at any time.

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