Nation and world news briefs

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Moderna delays Phase 3 trial for COVID-19 vaccine

Moderna’s heavily anticipated trial for a coronavirus vaccine, which was set to begin next week, has been delayed.

“Moderna has previously disclosed that the Phase 3 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 is expected to begin in July. The trial is still expected to begin in July and we expect to be the first to start a Phase 3 trial,” read a company statement sent to The New York Daily News Thursday. “We have worked closely with NIH/OWS to align on the final protocol in order to begin the trial on time.”

The Phase 3 study, which includes 30,000 patients, was initially supposed to begin on July 9, but changes to the trial plan have altered the schedule, investigators who spoke anonymously told STAT earlier Thursday.

Although such changes are reportedly common, Moderna did not elaborate on what the particular alterations are.

“My understanding was that they wanted to get the first vaccines given in July, and they say they’re still committed to do that,” one of the investigators told the health and medicine publication. “As best I can tell, they’re close to being on target for that.”

Also on Thursday, Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, testified to lawmakers that Moderna is working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to launch the trial “as early as this month, pending positive results from this Phase 2 trial,” which began in late May.

Moderna isn’t the only horse in the race to develop and manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.

Partnering with BioNTech, Pfizer’s own 30,000-patient study is slated to start this month. AstraZeneca and Oxford University have their own trial of similar proportions scheduled to begin in August, and Johnson & Johnson plans to start one in September.

—New York Daily News

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Ousted US prosecutor Berman to be interviewed by House panel

WASHINGTON — Geoffrey Berman, ousted as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York amid ongoing investigations of President Donald Trump’s businesses and inaugural committee, is scheduled to be interviewed next week by the House Judiciary Committee.

The transcribed interview will occur behind closed doors on Thursday, according to a congressional aide.

Berman left the job on June 20 after a standoff with Attorney General William Barr and confusion over whether Trump had fired him. Berman initially refused to step aside to protect sensitive investigations being run by his office in Manhattan.

Berman resigned after Barr changed his choice of who would replace him, picking instead Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, a trusted prosecutor in the office who had already been overseeing Trump-related investigations.

The interview Thursday comes as Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has been leading committee scrutiny of alleged political pressure and influence from top Justice Department officials, and even the White House — on prosecutorial decision making in investigations.

Since Trump took office, federal prosecutors in New York have pursued several investigations of the president, his companies and people close to him. That includes the prosecution of Trump’s one-time personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and a current investigation involving Trump ally Rudy Giuliani and efforts to secure political dirt in Ukraine on presidential rival Joe Biden.

—Bloomberg News

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Duckworth blocks military promotions to protect impeachment witness

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth has put a blanket hold on 1,100 military promotions until Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper assures her in writing that impeachment witness Lt. Col. Alex Vindman will not be punished for his testimony.

Vindman, who had been staffed to the National Security Council as an expert on Ukraine, earned the ire of President Donald Trump when he testified during the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings earlier this year. Vindman was fired from his NSC job, and there have been reports that Trump is pressuring the Pentagon to block his promotion to colonel.

Duckworth, D-Ill., told reporters that her hold, which applies to 1,123 scheduled promotions to the rank of “06” (colonel or Navy captain) or above, could actually make things easier for the Defense Department.

“I think my blanket hold allows them to have some top cover to say to the White House, ‘She has this hold on there, so we have to keep (Vindman) on the list,’” she said.

The hold does not apply to the nomination of Gen. Gustave Perna to be the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to produce a coronavirus vaccine by year’s end.

Duckworth said it is unprecedented for a commander in chief to take interest in a single promotion at the 06 level and that Vindman earned the promotion if his name was on the list.

The Army declined to comment for this story, citing a policy of not discussing promotions until they are finalized.

Duckworth also criticized the Defense Department’s response to reports of Russia paying bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. service members in Afghanistan.

Duckworth was among several lawmakers who received a briefing earlier this week from the Defense Department, but she said the briefing was “unsatisfactory.” She said she wants to hear directly from CIA head Gina Haspel; Gen. Paul Nakasone, who heads the National Security Agency; and Gen. Austin S. Miller, who commands Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

—CQ-Roll Call

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Atlanta protest organizer among 2 arrested in Wendy’s arson

ATLANTA — An Atlanta protest organizer is one of two people who were arrested on arson charges Thursday in connection with the fire at the Wendy’s restaurant where Rayshard Brooks was killed, authorities said.

Atlanta fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford confirmed that John Wade, 33, and Chisom Kingston, 23, have both been taken into custody in connection with the June 13 blaze.

Wade was one of several people who organized large demonstrations across Atlanta in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, authorities confirmed.

On Wednesday, Atlanta Fire and Rescue released a photo of two men seen standing outside the University Avenue restaurant about the time of the fire.

One of the people in the photograph is Kingston, authorities said. Wade was not in the photo.

The Wendy’s was destroyed during a large protest the day after Brooks was shot and killed by Atlanta police following an attempted DUI arrest in the drive-thru line. The 27-year-old’s death set off another round of protests against police violence across the city and led to criminal charges against the two officers involved.

Late last month, 29-year-old Natalie White was arrested on arson charges in connection with the blaze. She has since been released on bond.

—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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