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Breaking down the tug of war over the FDA and convalescent plasma

A big story that slipped under the radar during last night's RNC: The FDA commissioner apologized for overselling the benefits of convalescent plasma for treating the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The FDA is supposed to be a Switzerland of neutrality within government, able to act based on science instead of pressure from politicians and big business.


  • "I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified," said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

The big picture: The Trump administration has publicly pressured the FDA on granting an emergency use authorization for plasma.

  • President Trump and trade adviser Peter Navarro have privately and publicly criticized the FDA for holding up authorization, accusing staffers of being part of the "deep state."
  • Trump said plasma "has proven to reduce mortality by 35%" in a Sunday press conference.
  • Hahn echoed Trump's comments, which he apologized for last night, saying what he "should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction."

Between the lines: Public health leaders made a public outcry against quick approval of the treatment.

  • That includes top NIH scientists Francis Collins, Anthony Fauci and H. Clifford Lane.
  • “The three of us are pretty aligned on the importance of robust data through randomized control trials, and that a pandemic does not change that,” Lane told the New York Times.
  • Hahn said yesterday that the final decision "was made by FDA career scientists based on data submitted a few weeks ago."

The bottom line: Hahn's predecessor Scott Gottlieb tweeted: "I am confident in the science part of the evaluation executed by CBER. The way the public part was handled will erode precious public confidence. You earn public confidence in small drops and you loose [sic] it in buckets."

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment, per Bloomberg.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds one of the first significant actions by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

Trump agency head who often skips mask tests positive for coronavirus

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of top administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

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COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

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Beware a Thanksgiving mirage

Don't be surprised if COVID metrics plunge over the next few days, only to spike next week.

Why it matters: The COVID Tracking Project warns of a "double-weekend pattern" on Thanksgiving — where the usual weekend backlog of data is tacked on to a holiday.

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Trump pardons Michael Flynn

President Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.

Why it matters: It is the first of multiple pardons expected in the coming weeks, as Axios scooped last night.

This is a breaking story and will be updated with more details.

The emerging cybersecurity headaches awaiting Biden

The incoming administration will face a slew of cybersecurity-related challenges, as Joe Biden takes office under a very different environment than existed when he was last in the White House as vice president.

The big picture: President-elect Biden's top cybersecurity and national security advisers will have to wrestle with the ascendancy of new adversaries and cyberpowers, as well as figure out whether to continue the more aggressive stance the Trump administration has taken in cyberspace.

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Past friction between Biden and Erdoğan foreshadows future tensions

Ankara — The incoming Biden administration's foreign policy priorities and worldview will collide with those of the Turkish government on several issues.

Why it matters: The U.S. needs its NATO ally Turkey for its efforts to contain Russia, counter Iran and deal with other crises in the Middle East. But relations between Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are expected to be strained.

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Tesla's wild rise and European plan

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Tesla's market capitalization blew past $500 billion for the first time Tuesday.

Why it matters: It's just a number, but kind of a wild one. Consider, via CNN: "Tesla is now worth more than the combined market value of most of the world's major automakers: Toyota, Volkswagen, GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and its merger partner PSA Group."

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