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156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China.

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When SARS-CoV-2 started spreading, the countries of the world had no pandemic vaccine plans in place. But a lot can happen in six months.

Today, there are 40 vaccine candidates for the coronavirus being studied in humans — including nine in the final phase of testing.

There’s also the world’s first attempt at a global effort to ensure that, when we have a working vaccine or vaccines, all countries have access, no matter their GDP.

The initiative is called Covax, and it aims to support the development and equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines before the end of 2021. It’s the biggest multilateral effort since the Paris climate agreement, according to Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, one of the partners behind Covax, along with the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

It’s the “busiest period of my life,” he told Vox recently.

Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

As of Monday, 156 high-, low-, and middle-income countries — representing 64 percent of the global population — signed up to Covax, the WHO said in an announcement. That’s a remarkable feat of collaboration, particularly at a time when globalism and multinationalism are under threat.

Covax has two major parts: The “Facility” is a purchasing pool for higher income countries, and the “Advance Market Commitment,” or AMC, is a fundraising effort for poorer countries.

By promising to buy a certain number of vaccine doses from manufacturers, countries that join the Facility get access to any vaccines that are approved in Covax’s portfolio, while also creating a global market for the shots and driving prices down. The AMC, meanwhile, directs development aid as well as private sector and philanthropy donations to low- and middle-income countries that may not otherwise be able to afford a coronavirus vaccine. (So far, the AMC is partially funded with about $700 million of the $2 billion needed by the end of 2020, according to Gavi.)

Together, all countries that are part of Covax are supposed to follow a plan for fairly distributing the vaccine in order to prevent self-interested hoarding at the national level. By working together, the highest-risk people in every country can get immunized, instead of all residents of the wealthiest nations.

But despite the great promise, Covax has also faced numerous challenges and some criticism. Many higher-income countries in the Facility have also inked bilateral deals with manufacturers, which Anna Marriott, an Oxfam health policy adviser, called “double dipping.” “[It] means that they are not truly working fully and fairly … to see equitable access to a vaccine,” she said.

Meanwhile, two of the world’s largest economies — the US and China — have decided to sit Covax out, causing some observers to question whether the initiative will achieve its goal. As Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, put it: “[Covax] will be an enormously helpful initiative, pushing the world toward equity. But with major countries like the US and China sitting on the sidelines, Covax won’t have the financing and political muscle to assure global equity.” He added: “I still foresee millions of poor people not having rapid and affordable access to a Covid-19 vaccine.”

I recently called Berkley to find out more about how Covax will work, and why, despite the challenges, he thinks Covax can get the world vaccinated for Covid-19 — if, that is, at least one of the vaccines in Covax’s portfolio works. What follows is a transcript of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Counteracting vaccine nationalism

Julia Belluz

Can we start with the historical context in which Covax was created? What happened in the past with vaccine manufacturing in an outbreak and what will happen now?

Seth Berkley

Well, in the past, you’ve had outbreaks where the wealthy buy all the [vaccine] doses and there’s none available for the developing world.

[The Covax effort] isn’t going to be perfect, obviously. But the idea is to have vaccines available simultaneously in developed and developing countries.

So the fact that the world is coming together to try to put together a shared vision and a shared facility itself is historical. And I believe that this is the largest multilateral effort since the Paris climate agreement. So at a time of not a lot of interest, or reduced interest in multilateralism, I think that’s a positive thing.

Julia Belluz

The bigger picture that I keep coming back to is that the world was overdue for a pandemic. You and many others have talked about this for years. So if we expected one, why is Covax happening now, six months in?

Seth Berkley

It’s a very good question, and I think the answer is quite clear. With smaller pandemics, you capture people’s attention — including the media. I remember during the West African Ebola outbreak, it was called the “ISIS of infectious disease.” It was the news story of the decade. Then, as soon as it’s over, people just go back to life and that’s yesterday’s problem. It hadn’t really captured people for [the] long term.

So my hope is that the silver lining [of the Covid-19 pandemic] will be that people will say, “Okay, now we understand that infectious diseases really can make a difference.” If you think about it, the International Monetary Fund is talking somewhere between $9 trillion and $12 trillion [the amount countries need to invest to counteract the economic effects of the pandemic]. And that’s assuming that we get life back to normal at the end of next year.

Given that cost, the type of money you’re talking about to do a little bit of prevention is not even a rounding error. And the challenge has always been, during the acute time people are interested, and then afterwards people lose interest and don’t want to invest.

So I think it may be different this time.

Julia Belluz

If Covax is successful, could the architecture you’ve created be used in future pandemics?

Seth Berkley

That’s correct. This type of solidarity is critical because otherwise what you’re going to end up with is just constant reintroduction of infections and the inability to go back to normal.

Julia Belluz

Countries that join Covax will have access to the dozen vaccines the organization invested in, assuming clinical trials prove they are effective and safe. How did you choose which vaccines to bet on?

Seth Berkley

The original idea was to try to get to 12 to 15 different vaccines. And this is a partnership. CEPI [the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations] is part of it, and they already have nine vaccines in their portfolio, but of course, we’ll see how those vaccines play out. Originally, CEPI was looking for speed, scale, and access, and vaccines that could be produced at scale in 2021 because the idea is to try to get up to 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

We’re also having conversations with other manufacturers that haven’t been working with CEPI, and then also with the Gates Foundation, which has a portfolio. The Gates Foundation … is looking for vaccines that might be complementary to [CEPI’s] — to have different types, ease of delivery, low cost, and scalable manufacturing. So, we’re looking at different types of vaccine to get the broadest portfolio possible.

Julia Belluz

So there is a chance all the vaccines in Covax’s portfolio fail?

Seth Berkley

Nobody knows whether any of these are going to work or not. Obviously, data’s beginning to come in to show [the vaccine can generate] immunologic reactions, and showing antibodies to the spike protein. But of course we don’t have definitive proof that antibodies provide durable protection against the virus. So these are questions that are going to have to come, which is why this whole collaboration is so unique.

Julia Belluz

Assuming we have vaccines that work, can we talk a bit about how they would be rolled out in countries. I read that the idea is that 20 percent of the population — the most high-risk groups — in each country in Covax would be vaccinated in the first year?

Seth Berkley

Originally, we started with a 20 percent suggestion, and that was calculated based basically on an average — the numbers of health workers who were front-line and at risk, particularly in developing countries, [as well as] elderly and other high-risk groups. But you have countries like Japan, where the demographics of the population are such that there’s many more elderly. And then you have countries like Nigeria, where the average age is 19. So that balances out, and that’s why we [now] allow countries to have a range — 10 to 50 percent — to choose where they start.

[There are likely to be] supply limitations in the first 12 to 18 months. And therefore we would try to get some vaccine to every country rather than a few countries fully vaccinated and everybody else having none.

Multilateralism in a polarized time

Julia Belluz

Already, a bunch of high-income countries and regions — Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, the European Union — have signed bilateral agreements with manufacturers to guarantee doses of vaccines for their populations before they’re even licensed. Don’t these deals undermine the Covax initiative?

Seth Berkley

I mean, would the world be better off in a situation where everybody worked multilaterally? Absolutely. Because you could then use the resources most appropriately. You could scale up the promising [vaccine] candidates.

But the reality is that countries, or some countries, are going to do bilateral deals. So my job is not to bemoan that, my job is to try to work with those countries and try to make sure that we end up with fair allocation. And for those countries, for the ones, frankly, that can afford a full portfolio of [vaccines] themselves, if you want to spend $10 billion or $11 billion like the US does, you can build a big portfolio. And that has huge advantages for the community because they pay for a lot of clinical testing, including phase 3 trials. They do manufacturing scale-up and process engineering.

And so that has a value for all the other groups; many other [developing] countries can’t afford to do that. So the challenge for those countries is either they invest in seven, eight, nine, 10 bilateral deals, or they try to work with somebody who has a large portfolio with the understanding that if their product falls out then they have access to other products.

Julia Belluz

You had to push back the deadline by which countries could join from the end of August 31 to September 18. What challenges did you face in that period in trying to get high-income countries on side?

Seth Berkley

During that period we added the optionality side of the agreements, [where countries can make an optional commitment, paying a higher amount for vaccines later but avoiding any guarantees of a purchase]. And that was because many countries wanted to have some ability to opt out of certain vaccines. So that was the adjustment we made. And the obvious challenge for all of us is trying to move as quickly as possible to go ahead and put deals in place because over time more and more bilateral deals are getting done and doses are getting promised to others.

Julia Belluz

But will the fact that countries can opt out make it difficult for manufacturers to scale up and make enough vaccines for everybody?

Seth Berkley

I don’t think that really changes anything. All it says is, if I’m a country that has done a few bilateral deals, I want to join Covax because you might have some interesting vaccines, and because I want to be supportive of the global effort. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to come in and get the same doses I already bought.

So in that case, I’m willing to join, but let me opt out of the ones that I already have. And it’s still good for the world because then their funding is being used to move other vaccines forward, and that’s the insurance they want anyway, and they’re supporting this global effort.

Julia Belluz

It seems the big three countries that haven’t joined are Russia, China, and the US. Is there any movement on getting the US to join?

Seth Berkley

We’re having conversations, obviously, with all the countries. And when you say join, I don’t think the US, right now in their current situation, feels like they would need to purchase doses from the Facility because they’ve spent $11 billion on building out their own portfolio.

That being said, I think they fully understand the importance of what we’re trying to do to deliver a vaccine to the rest of the world, particularly developing countries. And they’re supportive of that. So we’ll see if, at the end, we figure out a way to work together on some of those other issues.

As you know, China and Russia both have their vaccines. Russia’s is already licensed. And China has a range of vaccines in their portfolio. But of course, again, it’s going to be an important issue for them to think about their vaccines for other countries, but also perhaps vaccines that have certain characteristics for them as well. So we’ll see.

Julia Belluz

That’s interesting because the EU also has a big portfolio of vaccines they’ve invested in, and yet they’ve joined the Facility. So just to be clear, the US also hasn’t committed anything yet to the AMC?

Seth Berkley

That is correct.

Julia Belluz

With the US and other countries making their own bilateral deals to purchase doses directly for their populations, will there be enough vaccine to go around for the rest of the world?

Seth Berkley

I mean, that is going to depend obviously on the manufacturers because this is a pass-through facility. So at the end, a country buys vaccines for its population. And we facilitate the engagement and we go ahead and put the reservations in and make sure the doses are produced.

But it’s not like we just buy all the doses, put them in a warehouse somewhere. So the issue is going to be working with manufacturers … to make sure that there is manufacturing capacity scaled up. And that’s the important part of it. CEPI has done a number of studies to look at manufacturing capacity. Obviously the more doses that get promised, the more of the capacity gets pushed. But with investments, one can increase the manufacturing capacity, that’s the hypothesis.

Julia Belluz

How will you define success with Covax?

Seth Berkley

If we can deliver a vaccine simultaneously, in developed and developing countries, if we can get protection everywhere, even if it isn’t full, even if it doesn’t cover everything — [we] change the dynamic [of the pandemic] locally, [and] also show the power of working together.

If this was an outbreak of diabetes, [countries] could make an argument that we got to take care of our people. In a highly infectious pandemic, the idea that you’re just going to protect your people and ignore everybody else leaves vast reservoirs of virus circulating. And you’re not going to be able to go back to normal trade, tourism, travel, any of those things in that circumstance. So, basically, we need to have a global perspective and not a local perspective, even though normally people think about protection locally.

Julia Belluz

Getting countries to think globally about disease risk has always been challenging — but it seems particularly so today.

Seth Berkley

That’s why it’s so amazing that we’re able to get this type of buy-in. The other thing that’s important about this — you have to think about [vaccine development] as a global commons and a global solution to this problem.

Remember with the Ebola vaccine, we had every country trying their technology, and they all thought they were going to win. And what [vaccine] actually won? It was a Canadian vaccine, transferred to an American biotech, transferred to an American multilateral manufactured in Germany. That’s the way science works. So imagine if everybody said, ‘I just want my vaccine, my manufacturing, my assays, my adjuvants. That’s it.’ You would not have the best science. You would not have the best possibility of success.

Julia Belluz

In terms of a timeline, do you have any predictions for when we might have an effective vaccine?

Seth Berkley

Well, I mean, there are nine vaccines in phase three trials right now. So in the fourth quarter we’re likely to begin to get some data. And we have no idea if it’ll be positive or negative, or if trials will get stopped because of side effects. But I think in the next three or four months we’ll begin to get some sense of whether we’re going to see protection or not, and how effective the vaccines are.

Julia Belluz

So you’re hopeful, but also clear-eyed, about the road ahead.

Seth Berkley

I have to be honest about what we know, but obviously I’m optimistic. We have lots of signals that suggest that things are moving forward. But as an old vaccine friend of mine, a vaccinologist, said, ‘mice lie, monkeys don’t always tell the truth — it’s only people that matter.’ In a sense that’s true on vaccines.


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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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