NEWS BRIEFS

Garden City Telegram

Moderna to ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON - Moderna plans to ramp up production of its COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. pharmaceutical company said Wednesday.

The company will increase its capacity in a bid to produce up to 1 billion doses this year.

"We believe from our discussions with governments around the world that there will continue to be significant demand for our COVID-19 vaccine and we now are committed to materially increasing our manufacturing capacity," Stephane Bancel, Moderna's chief executive, said in a statement.

The announcement was made as U.S. President Joe Biden's administration attempts to ramp up vaccine distribution.

The total number of deaths linked to the coronavirus in the U.S. reached over 500,000 on Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over 28 million people in the country have been infected with the virus so far.

The Biden administration is aiming to vaccinate at least 100 million people in its first 100 days in office.

Moderna has currently shipped around 60 million doses of the vaccine globally, around 55 million of which went to the U.S. government. - dpa, Berlin

16 Texas mayors demand probe into power operator

AUSTIN, Texas - A handful of big city Texas mayors - including Austin's Steve Adler - are urging state leaders to examine the policies and decisions that led to millions of Texans losing electrical power during last week's winter storm.

In a letter addressed to the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the mayors say state leaders must take action to prevent this type of disaster in the future and that the state electric grid's processes and protocols "need a full public airing."

"Perhaps no one is better equipped to communicate the devastating impacts of the storm on Texans than those of us at the local level, and we offer our cooperation and collaboration to find meaningful solutions," the letter stated. "Our residents deserve answers – and they deserve reliable energy for their homes and businesses."

The letter, dated Monday and published on Twitter by several mayors, comes as state lawmakers prepare for a series of hearings beginning Thursday to examine the power outages and ERCOT's role in them them.

More than 4 million Texas homes lost power at the height of the storm early last week, according to poweroutages.us, which tracks power outages in the country. ERCOT said there was a near-collapse of the state grid when 185 power-generating plants failed at a time when shivering consumers were firing up their thermostats to stay warm.

In total, 16 Texas mayors signed the letter to ERCOT President Bill Magness. Among them were Austin's Steve Adler, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. Other mayors who signed it are from Arlington, Plano, Sugar Land, Laredo, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, McAllen, Irving, McKinney, Galveston and Pharr. -  Austin American-Statesman

10,000-year-old dog bone found in Alaska offers answers for when species arrived in Americas

Researchers have fetched an ancient dog fossil that provides new context for when the species arrived to the Americas.

The small fragment of a dog’s femur was recently found in Alaska and belonged to a canine that roamed the region about 10,150 years ago, according to a study by the University at Buffalo that was released online Tuesday.

Further analysis of the finding determined the dog was likely part of a species “whose evolutionary history diverged from that of Siberian dogs as early as 16,700 years ago,” the study says.

The newly uncovered dog bone is believed to be the oldest ever found in the Americas.

“We now have genetic evidence from an ancient dog found along the Alaskan coast,” biological sciences professor Charlotte Lindqvist said.

“Because dogs are a proxy for human occupation, our data help provide not only a timing but also a location for the entry of dogs and people into the Americas. Our study supports the theory that this migration occurred just as coastal glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age.”

The bone piece is smaller than a dime. Its discovery in Southeast Alaska occurred while researchers where in the area studying climatic changes from the Ice Age, the study said. - New York Daily News

Race to replace Texas Republican who died of COVID-19 could get competitive

WASHINGTON - The race to fill the unexpired term of the late Texas GOP Rep. Ron Wright is expected to come into focus in the coming days, after Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday scheduled a special election for May 1.

A bevy of Republican candidates had reportedly been waiting for the date to be set, and for Wright’s funeral last weekend, to formally announce their candidacy in the right-leaning 6th District, which stretches from the Dallas-Fort Worth area into the surrounding rural region.

Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, announced Wednesday she is running to fill her late husband's seat. Other potential contenders include state Rep. Jake Ellzey; Katrina Pierson, who served as a spokeswoman for President Donald Trump’s campaign; and Brian Harrison, a top Health and Human Services Department official in the Trump administration, according to local media reports.

Democrats who have already announced bids include Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 Democratic nominee for the seat; Lydia Bean, who ran for the state House in 2020; and Shawn Lassiter, a nonprofit leader and former public school science teacher.

Candidates from both parties will all appear on the same ballot. If no one gets more than 50% percent of the vote, the top two finishers will face in a runoff.

The race is expected to be the most competitive of a handful of special elections in the coming months. Wright, a Republican who was in his second term, died in early February from complications related to COVID-19.

Voters in Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th districts will head to the polls on March 20 in special elections to replace Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, who resigned in January for a position as an adviser to President Joe Biden; and Republican Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, who died in December from complications related to COVID-19 before he was sworn into office.

Dates have not been set for elections to replace Democratic Reps. Marcia L. Fudge in Ohio’s 11th District and Deb Haaland in New Mexico’s 1st District. Both are awaiting Senate confirmation for posts in Biden’s cabinet. All of those seats were rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales in the 2020 cycle, except Louisiana’s 5th District, which was rated Solid Republican. - CQ-Roll Call