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Booster Shots, Child Vaccines, Meteor Showers: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Wednesday

1. The F.D.A. authorized booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccines, and it will also allow Americans to switch vaccines when choosing a booster shot.

The regulators did not recommend one shot over another as a booster or indicate whether it is preferable to stick with the vaccine that people originally received. But the update may further diminish interest in Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, giving people the option of switching to a different shot that could offer a greater boost of antibodies.

A half-dose booster of the Moderna vaccine should be offered at least six months after the second dose. Like recipients of the Pfizer booster shot, Americans eligible for the Moderna booster would include people 65 years and older and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 or complications. All Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients 18 years and older would be eligible for a second shot starting two months after their first dose.

If the C.D.C. agrees with the F.D.A.’s decision, booster shots for Moderna and J.&J. vaccines could be offered as soon as next weekend.

2. Shorter lines, smaller needles and few tears: The Biden administration laid out its plans to vaccinate children, anticipating that regulators will approve shots for 5- to 11-year-olds in the coming weeks.

“We don’t want lines of kids,” said one Biden official, who pointed out that children tend to be more sensitive patients. (Read: They cry.) So pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and pharmacies with in-store clinics will be the preferred options instead of mass vaccination sites. The needles that administer the vaccine and the vials that hold it will be smaller and be more easily stored.

A meeting to discuss the authorization is set for Tuesday, and an F.D.A. ruling could come in the days after, possibly clearing a path for the C.D.C. to make recommendations on a pediatric dose in early November.

In other virus news:

3. Two ambassador nominees faced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Rahm Emanuel, the nominee for ambassador to Japan, made it clear that he sees the post as a bulwark against China. In a separate confirmation hearing, R. Nicholas Burns, the nominee for ambassador to China, said he would pursue a strategy of competition and cooperation with Beijing, in what he called “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”

Burns, a lifelong diplomat, was searing about China’s recent international role, saying that Beijing exploits trade rules at the expense of American businesses and workers, intimidates its neighbors, and is “smothering” democracy in Hong Kong.

Emanuel was also asked about his actions as Chicago’s mayor in the aftermath of the 2014 murder of a 17-year-old Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, at the hands of a white police officer — and he conceded he had done too little to address the “distrust” among members of the city’s Black community. That did not entirely satisfy all of the committee’s Democrats, yet it seemed clear that the issue would not represent a serious impediment to his confirmation.

4. Netflix employees walked out to protest Dave Chappelle’s special.

Critics inside and outside the company have said that Chappelle’s special, “The Closer,” promotes bigotry against transgender people. In addition to the dozens of employees who walked out, many remote employees logged off early.

“We value our trans colleagues and allies and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” Netflix said in a statement. “We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”

Separately, PayPal has offered to buy Pinterest, the digital pinboard company. If the $45 billion deal is completed, it would be one of the largest consumer internet purchases in recent history.

5. Forced into hiding, female judges in Afghanistan fear for their lives.

Before the Taliban takeover, more than 270 female judges served in Afghanistan’s corrupt, male-dominated justice system. They helped to bring some reform to many courts, delivering justice to increasing numbers of women and girls beaten and abused by men.

The women now face death threats from prisoners who were set free in mid-August when the Taliban seized power, and say they have been effectively fired because it is too dangerous for them to continue their work, given the Taliban’s disapproval of women who sit in judgment of men.

In Egypt, 98 women were sworn in this week to serve on Egypt’s highest administrative court, but there is skepticism that the appointments would make headway against the country’s longstanding institutional discrimination against women.

6. Countries are planning to drastically increase fossil-fuel drilling even as their leaders vow to take stronger action on climate change, according to a United Nations-backed report released on Tuesday.

The report looked at 15 major fossil fuel producing countries and found that those nations were planning to produce more than twice as much oil, gas and coal through 2030 as would be needed if humanity wants to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. The countries include the United States, which is expected to see a major increase in oil and gas production in that span.

Starting on Oct. 31, world leaders will gather at a major United Nations climate summit in Glasgow for two weeks to discuss how to reduce their planet-warming emissions. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, announced that he would not travel to Glasgow, citing coronavirus concerns. Queen Elizabeth II, who canceled a trip this morning to Northern Ireland because of illness, still plans to attend.

7. California’s Dixie fire was so large that it created its own weather.

The year’s largest U.S. wildfire generated extreme behaviors, including at least one fire whirl, a sort of mini-tornado, and a fire-fueled thunderstorm known as a Pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb).

For the first time, you can see one of these firestorms up close. Using high-resolution radar data, which picked up ash particles from smoke plumes and water droplets from clouds, The Times reconstructed a 3-D model of the Dixie fire’s first massive thunderclouds.

Wildfires on the West Coast have grown larger and more intense in recent years, driven by decades of aggressive fire suppression that left forests dangerously overgrown along with climate change, which has parched the landscape.

8. Vikings were in North America exactly 1,000 years ago, scientists say.

Researchers have many questions about L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking settlement in Newfoundland discovered six decades ago. Pinning down the settlement’s age has been a particular challenge — radiocarbon measurements of artifacts span from the eighth through the 11th centuries.

But by analyzing the imprint of a rare solar storm in tree rings from wood, scientists have decisively pinned down when Norse explorers were in the area: the year A.D. 1021.

9. A new megaproject by Henry Louis Gates Jr. will focus on the legacy of Black thinkers and artists.

Gates, the Harvard literary scholar, will collaborate with Penguin on a series of books on Black figures, each by a leading contemporary author. The project grew out of his own book-in-progress about W.E.B. DuBois, which mixes biography with analysis and personal memoir.

Pairings announced so far include Farah Griffin on Toni Morrison, Imani Perry on Stevie Wonder and Brandon Terry on Malcolm X. The series will begin appearing in 2023.

Separately, The Times spoke to the British Somali writer Nadifa Mohamed — a Booker Prize finalist for her novel “The Fortune Men” — about how it helped her connect with her family’s past.

10. And finally, it’s peak meteor shower season.

The monthlong Orionid meteor shower will be most active tonight from midnight to dawn. But a full moon that coincides with the Orionids promises to outshine some of the tantalizing streaks that observers can more easily spot on darker nights.

For the show, find an outdoor location with a wide, unobstructed view of the night sky. NASA recommends setting up a sleeping bag and lying flat on your back, taking in as much of the night sky as possible.

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