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A key FDA vaccine committee declined to vote on a Covid-19 vaccine

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Food and Drug Administration officials on a key committee said Thursday they were not planning to make a decision about granting emergency approval for a Covid-19 vaccine just yet. This all but ends the chances of a vaccine getting the green light in the US before the November 3 presidential election, and likely over the next month.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee was convened to go over the early results of Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials, the benchmarks to approve a vaccine candidate, and how to maintain safety throughout the process. However, no decisions are on the agenda.

“Of note, the committee is not asked today to vote on any issues discussed,” said Marion Gruber, director of the Office of Vaccines Research and Review at the FDA during the meeting.

President Trump has made it clear that a Covid-19 vaccine would improve his electoral prospects, and he has been leaning on regulators like the FDA to approve a vaccine on this timeline. That’s raised concerns that the agency would yield to political pressure and grant approval to a vaccine before it’s ready.

Trump also put out a video earlier this month saying that a vaccine would be cleared for use soon after the election. “We’re going to have a great vaccine very, very shortly,” Trump said. “I think we should have it before the election, but frankly the politics gets involved and that’s okay, they want to play their games, it’s going to be right after the election.”

But while vaccine development is proceeding in record time, researchers and other experts have said many times such a deadline is unlikely. Even the Trump administration’s own health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already said November is nearly impossible.

There are now 11 vaccines in phase 3 trials, including candidates from companies like Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer. However, some of these companies have only just completed enrollment in large-scale clinical trials, at which point they will have to administer the vaccine and observe infection patterns, which could take months.

And although there’s currently no evidence that the White House is directly meddling in vaccine research, some scientists worry that the president’s public pronouncements about a vaccine — especially ones so nakedly tied to his political prospects — are a form of interference that could undermine the fragile public confidence needed to deploy it successfully.

Trump has “created enough perception of political interference that there may not be deep trust in a vaccine, even if it’s a good product,” said Nicole Lurie, who led emergency preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President Barack Obama. “There is incredible public skepticism of the [FDA] because of what’s happened with prior emergency use authorizations, and because the president appears to continue to try to mess with the system.”

However, according to researchers, it’s unlikely the FDA would compromise a vaccine, given the vastly higher stakes for public health. Even getting to the point of considering emergency use for a vaccine would require much more information than it has now, and gathering that data requires several critical and time-consuming steps.

Why getting a vaccine approved by November is nearly impossible

Prior to the coronavirus, the fastest a vaccine had ever been developed was four years (for mumps). Most vaccines have taken a decade or longer.

But with the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists and governments have poured a staggering amount of money and know-how into the vaccine effort. That’s led to rapid progress.

It took researchers just over two months between the time the virus’s genome was sequenced and when phase 1 human vaccine trials began. There are now 11 vaccine candidates in phase 3 clinical trials, the final step before a vaccine gets the green light for widespread use.

That’s why some scientists are optimistic that a vaccine could gain approval by the end of the year or early 2021.

But phase 3 trials are slow and tedious. There’s little that can be done to speed them up, and they’ve only just begun. Although the Russian government recently said it has a Covid-19 vaccine ready to go, other researchers have warned that the vaccine, known as Sputnik V, didn’t go through this critical step and was tested in only 76 people. And even if it is a viable vaccine, it would still need to gain FDA approval before it could be used in the US, which demands more data.

Workers prepare for medical examination of a volunteer for the COVID-19 vaccine study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on August 13, 2020.
Health workers prepare to examine volunteers for a Covid-19 vaccine phase 3 trial.
Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Jonathan Zenilman, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has overseen clinical trials for vaccines, explained that Covid-19 phase 3 trials are large, aiming to enroll 30,000 participants each. For example, Moderna, a company developing an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, is one of the teams that’s furthest along. It was the first in the US to start enrolling participants across 89 sites for its phase 3 trial.

Phase 3 requires recruiting participants from more diverse backgrounds compared with those in earlier testing stages in order to better represent the population at large, including people with some preexisting health conditions. (Participants are screened to ensure they don’t have conditions like immune system disorders that could cause complications with a vaccine.)

These participants also have to consent to being tracked by scientists for the duration of the trial, which is typically two years. They’re randomly split into groups that receive either the vaccine or a placebo. In a double-blind trial, neither the recipients nor the people administering the vaccine know at the outset who received the vaccine. That ensures participants won’t change their behavior in a way that could interfere with the trial (a person who knows they have a Covid-19 vaccine could end up taking more risks, for example).

Finding tens of thousands of people who meet all these requirements for a phase 3 trial is tedious. Simply enrolling enough people is a process that can take months.

Although some Covid-19 vaccine phase 3 trials began in July, few have completed the enrollment process. Moderna said it is close to wrapping up enrollment.

After getting consent from volunteers and enrolling them in the trial, you have to give them the vaccine. Many Covid-19 vaccine candidates require two doses spaced up to four weeks apart, so just getting someone the full vaccine dose can take around a month. For most of the vaccine candidates in phase 3 trials, that would take them well into, if not past, October.

“Then you have to wait for people to get Covid, and you can’t do anything with the data until you have a certain number of Covid cases,” Zenilman said. To get a statistically meaningful result, researchers typically wait until they see around 150 infections in their group. At that point, they can “break the blind” and see who got the vaccine and who got the placebo — and compare the numbers to see whether it’s working.

Right now, many places in the US are still maintaining pandemic control measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Such tactics help control the spread of the virus, but for a vaccine trial, they also limit how quickly research teams can get the data necessary to draw conclusions about whether the vaccine is working. That’s why researchers are aiming to test their vaccines in rising Covid-19 hot spots.

There is also no guarantee that any vaccine will clear clinical trials. And the first vaccine to gain approval would not be available for widespread use right away. Health officials have to contend with the logistics of manufacturing, distributing, and administering the millions of doses needed to control the Covid-19 pandemic, which could take years.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said on September 30 that his company’s vaccine, which is one of the candidates furthest ahead in clinical trials, would not be ready for widespread distribution until next spring. He told the Financial Times that the company wouldn’t even consider applying for an emergency use authorization until November 25.

It’s also likely that no single vaccine will be suited to everyone. Several vaccines will be needed to protect different demographics, including older people, those with weaker immune systems, or those with certain preexisting health conditions. So even after the first Covid-19 vaccine gets approved, some people will still have to wait for other clinical trials to conclude.

Officials say they will not budge on vaccine safety and efficacy rules

FDA regulators are adamant that a vaccine will not be approved until it is demonstrated to be safe and effective. According to FDA guidelines, a vaccine needs to provide protection against the coronavirus for at least 50 percent of the people who get it. The safety benchmarks are higher for vaccines than for other drugs because vaccines are given to vastly more people, which magnifies infrequent problems. And since vaccines are given to healthy people rather than those who are already sick, there is a lower tolerance for side effects.

But at the same time, HHS launched the $10 billion Operation Warp Speed in June with the explicit aim of delivering 300 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by January 2021.

In an August 7 editorial in JAMA, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn acknowledged the tension between the need for speed and the need to hew closely to established rules.

Hahn and his co-authors, Anand Shah and Peter Marks, wrote that “the emphasis on speed has provoked public anxiety about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines developed on expedited timelines. Among the concerns are that the regulatory standards for approval will be lowered under political pressure for a vaccine.”

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on June 30, 2020 in Washington,DC.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said his agency would not bend the rules to approve a Covid-19 vaccine.
Kevin Dietsch/AFP via Getty Images

However, Hahn and his co-authors also wrote that “there is a line separating the government’s efforts to focus resources and funding to scale vaccine development from FDA’s review processes.” In other words, the FDA says it will not compromise its standards for approving a vaccine, despite pressure for faster results.

But what about the emergency use authorization (EUA) process? Could the FDA create a limited exception for a vaccine like it did with hydroxychloroquine?

Marks, the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA (the body that governs vaccine approval), said the agency could do that, in theory. But as with the agency’s standard process, the rubric is stricter for a vaccine than for a drug, and regulators would still need to see data demonstrating that a vaccine meets the minimum benchmark of preventing infection in 50 percent of people who have been vaccinated.

“I think as we think about EUA here, the calculus for a vaccine is going to be different than the calculus for therapeutic,” Marks told reporters at the National Press Foundation on August 12. “I think we … optimally would like to see the data that’s from a trial that’s reached its efficacy endpoint.”

That would come near the end of a phase 3 trial, which, again, is unlikely to yield results for months. So there may not be enough evidence to warrant vaccine approval before the November election, even on an emergency basis.

And if there were political meddling to push out a vaccine before it’s ready, in spite of all these constraints, there would be strong opposition among the career scientists at the FDA. “I think you would see a revolt at the agency,” Zenilman said.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a recent interview with Today, Explained host Sean Rameswaram that he is also confident the process will be transparent.

“The FDA has pledged publicly multiple times that they will not approve a vaccine unless they’ve established that nonpolitical scientists agree that it’s safe and effective … And if it turns out somebody tries to force it out, I tell you, I will be one of the first ones that will object to that,” Fauci said.

Trust is critical for deploying a Covid-19 vaccine. But trust is fragile.

A vaccine can’t end the Covid-19 pandemic on its own. It has to be given to enough people to achieve herd immunity, at which point a large enough percentage of a population is protected against the virus so that it can’t easily spread.

Even in the most ideal scenario with a highly effective vaccine, getting to herd immunity would require immunizing millions of people. And already, many in the United States are saying they wouldn’t get vaccinated. A Gallup poll conducted July 20 to August 7 found that one-third of Americans said they would not get an approved Covid-19 vaccine if it were ready immediately. A CNN poll conducted August 12-15 found that 56 percent of Americans said they would get a vaccine, a decline from 66 percent in May.

Whether due to general hesitancy around vaccines or swirling conspiracy theories, public health researchers are concerned that if enough people don’t elect to get immunized, the Covid-19 pandemic will persist.

That’s why even the appearance that political considerations influenced vaccine approval could be dangerous.

Vaccine makers have pushed back against the pressure to speed up development even further as well because if the public perceives a vaccine was rushed, it could make people hesitant to use their product.

“The perception of political pressure and the perception of things being hurried really risks trust,” said Jesse Goodman, a former chief scientist at the FDA who’s now a professor of medicine at Georgetown University. “It’s not just trust in this Covid vaccine, but trust in the whole public health response to Covid and trust in vaccines in general.”

In March, after the president repeatedly promoted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the medicine, despite scant evidence of its effectiveness. In June, the FDA revoked this authorization.

Restoring that trust will take time. It will require transparency about the progress and results of clinical trials, as well as how decisions are made in federal agencies. It will also demand clear and coherent messaging.

But even that might not be enough.

“Personally, I think it will take a new president and new leadership at the top of the FDA before we’re going to be at a point where the public can start to have more trust,” said Lurie.

Which means that even with the urgency of thousands of people dying, taking the time to get a vaccine right is critical — from the vaccine itself to how it’s tested, documented, communicated, and administered. Rushing will likely only cost us more time.


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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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Open Sourced logo

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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