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US opens COVID boosters to all adults, urges them for 50+

WASHINGTON — The U.S. on Friday opened COVID-19 booster shots to all adults and took the extra step of urging people 50 and older to seek one, aiming to ward off a winter surge as coronavirus cases rise even before millions of Americans travel for the holidays.

Until now, Americans faced a confusing list of who was eligible for a booster that varied by age, their health and which kind of vaccine they got first. The Food and Drug Administration authorized changes to Pfizer and Moderna boosters to make it easier.

Under the new rules, anyone 18 or older can choose either a Pfizer or Moderna booster six months after their last dose. For anyone who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the wait already was just two months. And people can mix-and-match boosters from any company.

“We heard loud and clear that people needed something simpler – and this, I think, is simple,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks told The Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to agree before the new policy became official late Friday, DC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed a recommendation from her agency’s scientific advisers that – in addition to offering all adults a booster – had stressed that people 50 and older should be urged to get one.

“It’s a stronger recommendation,” said CDC adviser Dr. Matthew Daley of Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “I want to make sure we provide as much protection as we can.”

The CDC also put out a plea for those who had previously qualified but hadn’t yet signed up for a booster to quit putting it off – saying older Americans and people with risks such as obesity, diabetes or other health problems should try to get one before the holidays.

The expansion makes tens of millions more Americans eligible for an extra dose of protection.

The No. 1 priority for the U.S., and the world, still is to get more unvaccinated people their first doses. All three COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. continue to offer strong protection against severe illness, including hospitalization and death, without a booster.

But protection against infection can wane with time, and the U.S. and many countries in Europe also are grappling with how widely to recommend boosters as they fight a winter wave of new cases. In the U.S., COVID-19 diagnoses have climbed steadily over the last three weeks, especially in states where colder weather already has driven people indoors.

And about a dozen states didn’t wait for federal officials to act before opening boosters to all adults.

“The direction is not a good one. People are going inside more and, ‘oops,’ next week happens to be the largest travel week of the year, so it probably makes sense to do whatever we can here to try to turn the tide,” Marks told the AP.

Vaccinations began in the U.S. last December, about a year after the coronavirus first emerged. More than 195 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, defined as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose J&J. More than 32 million already have received a booster, a large proportion – 17 million – people 65 or older. Experts say that’s reassuring as seniors are at particularly high risk from COVID-19 and were among the first in line for initial vaccinations

Teen boosters aren’t yet under discussion, and kid-sized doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are just now rolling out to children ages 5 to 11.

The Biden administration had originally planned on boosters for all adults but until now, U.S. health authorities – backed by their scientific advisers – had questioned the need for such a widespread campaign. Instead, they first endorsed Pfizer or Moderna boosters only for vulnerable groups such as older Americans or those at high risk of COVID-19 because of health problems, their jobs or their living conditions.

This time around, the experts agreed the overall benefits of added protection from a third dose for any adult – six months after their last shot – outweighed risks of rare side effects from Moderna’s or Pfizer’s vaccine, such as a type of heart inflammation seen mostly in young men.

Several other countries have discouraged use of the Moderna vaccine in young people because of that concern, citing data suggesting the rare side effect may occur slightly more with that vaccine than its competitor.

Pfizer told CDC’s advisers that in a booster study of 10,000 people as young as 16, there were no more serious side effects from a third vaccine dose than earlier ones. That study found a booster restored protection against symptomatic infections to about 95 percent even while the extra-contagious delta variant was surging.

Britain recently released real-world data showing the same jump in protection once it began offering boosters to middle-aged and older adults, and Israel has credited widespread boosters for helping to beat back another wave of the virus.

While the vaccines spur immune memory that protects against severe disease, protection against infection depends on levels of virus-fighting antibodies that wane with time. No one yet knows how long antibody levels will stay high after a booster.

But even a temporary boost in protection against infection may help over the winter and holidays, said CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver.

Some experts worry that all the attention to boosters may harm efforts to reach the 47 million U.S. adults who remain unvaccinated. There’s also growing concern that rich countries are offering widespread boosters when poor countries haven’t been able to vaccinate more than a small fraction of their populations.

“In terms of the No. 1 priority for reducing transmission in this country and throughout the world, this remains getting people their first vaccine series,” said Dr. David Dowdy of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Convicted La Porte child molester gets 15 years in prison for transporting obscene materials

HAMMOND — A convicted child molester from La Porte, who called himself a “virtuous pedosexual,” will spend 15 years in federal prison after being convicted of transportation of pornography, according to federal prosecutors.

Michael Christianson, 52, was sentenced to 180 months after pleading guilty to three counts of transporting obscene materials, according to U.S. Attorney Clifford Johnson. U.S. District Judge Philip Simon also sentenced Christianson to two years of supervised release.

According to documents in this case, in 2019, Christianson used a computer to submit three books that contained obscene content to a publisher. Specifically, the books contained photos of children’s genitals and children engaged in sexual activity.

At the time he authored the books, Christianson was a registered sex offender after being convicted of child molestation in La Porte County in 2003 for sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy, according to federal prosecutors.

In his pro se filings in the federal case, Christainson proclaimed himself to be a “virtuous pedosexual,” according to prosecutors.

The complaint alleged that on or about July 2, 2019, FBI agents from the Charlotte [North Carolina] Division were contacted by a book publisher – LuLu Press – about material contained in three books submitted for publication and authored by Christianson, Ryan Holmes, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Hammond, said in a statement at the time of his arrest.

The books, which were never published, were titled, “Hey Uncle Buck! What is a Boy? What is a Girl?”; “Grandpa has a Ding-a-ling (for those who care)”; and “You-And-Your-Beautiful-Daring-Very-Amazing-Almost-Never-Naked Body,” according to the complaint.

The lead was passed on to FBI agents in Indiana.

“The books appear to be geared toward children as they use large fonts, simple words, and most of the sentences rhyme,” Holmes said. “The books explain and show images of the body parts of boys and girls, encourage and show images of children playing naked with one another, and encourage and show images of naked children playing with adults, including naked adults.”

According to the complaint, the forms of “play” encouraged by the books include “hand to genital, and genital to genital contact,” Holmes said. “The photographs and illustrations in the books include depictions of minor children being caused to lasciviously display their genitals or otherwise engage in sexually explicit conduct.”

Christianson – who used the aliases “Trixie” and “Byron Eugene Wall,” according to the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry – was convicted of child molesting in La Porte County in 2002.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison and forced to register as a Sexually Violent Predator for the rest of his life, Holmes said. He was released from prison in 2016.

At the time of his arrest on the federal charges in August 2019, he was still on probation.

A statement from the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office at the time of his arrest said, “We are pleased to announce that this dangerous individual is now in custody...”

The latest case was investigated by the FBI’s Gang Response Investigative Team in coordination with the Indiana State Police, Michigan City Police, Lake County (Illinois) State’s Attorney’s Office and La Porte County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Kelley and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Koster.

Dr. Victor Contri

Dr. Victor Contri, 73, of La Porte, passed away peacefully at 10:40 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in his home.

He was born Dec. 13, 1947, in East Chicago, Indiana, to Hugo and Millicent (Obradovich) Contri.

Dr. Contri graduated from Merrillville High School, Indiana University and IU School of Medicine with honors. In 1976, he moved to Michigan City to work in the ER at St. Anthony Hospital and later opened his private family practice there.

On Aug. 18, 1972, in Merrillville, Indiana, he married Sue (Daugherty) Contri, who survives.

Also surviving are his five children, Victor H., William, Karin, Michael (Amelia) and Carolyn (Doyle Martin) Contri; one grandson, Noah Contri; one sister, Teddy (Ron) Thompson; one sister-in-law, Susan Contri; one nephew; several nieces; and his dog, Bear.

Preceding in death were his parents; and one brother, Nickolas Contri.

Cremation has taken place. Per Dr. Contri’s request, a private family ceremony will take place at Calumet Park Cemetery, Merrillville, at a later date. Lakeview Funeral Home & Crematory, 247 W. Johnson Rd., La Porte, 219-362-3100, is caring for the arrangements.

Please share memories and send condolences at www.Lakeview FHC.com.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to Amedisis Asera Care Hospice, 808 Vale Park Rd., Suite 200, Valparaiso, IN, 46383; or American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22478, Oklahoma City, OK, 73123; or Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, IL, 60601, in memory of Dr. Victor Contri.

Patricia 'Pat' Mary Bolakowski

Patricia “Pat” Mary Bolakowski, 82, of Rolling Prairie, Indiana, was called home by God on Nov. 16, 2021.

Born on Oct. 18, 1939, to Mamie and Anthony “Toney” Pekofske of Rolling Prairie, Indiana. Pat fulfilled her dream of farming when her and her husband, Thaddeus Bolakowski, purchased their Rolling Prairie homestead shortly after their marriage on Sept. 10, 1960.

She has been a strong, courageous, prayerful and devoted mother, sister, wife and friend who will be dearly missed. She is survived by her six children, Theresa (Scott) Serry of Galien, Michigan, Peter Bolakowski of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Andrew “Andy” (Judy) Bolakowski of Rolling Prairie, Indiana, Mary (Carl) Wagner of Niles, Michigan, John (Wendy) Bolakowski of Chelsea, Michigan, Anthony “Tony” Bolakowski of Rolling Prairie, Indiana, as well as her two siblings, Robert “Bob” Pekofske and Margaret “Margie” Thompson; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Pat was preceded in death by her husband.

A visitation will be held at the Kaniewski Funeral Home, 201 S. Filbert St., New Carlisle, Indiana, and a Funeral Mass will be held at St. John Kanty Catholic Church, Rolling Prairie, Indiana, where Pat was baptized, and married Ted.

Please visit https://www.kaniewski .com for updates.

Jury finds Rittenhouse not guilty in Kenosha shootings

From left, Kariann Swart, Joseph Rosenbaum's fiancee, Susan Hughes, Anthony Huber's great aunt, and Hannah Gittings, Anthony Huber's girlfriend, listen as Kyle Rittenhouse is found not guilty on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. The jury came back with its verdict after close to 3 1/2 days of deliberation. (Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool)

KENOSHA, Wis. — Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges Friday after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the U.S.

Rittenhouse, 18, began to choke up, fell forward toward the defense table and then hugged one of his attorneys as he heard a court clerk recite “not guilty” five times. A sheriff’s deputy whisked him out a back door.

“He wants to get on with his life,” defense attorney Mark Richards said. “He has a huge sense of relief for what the jury did to him today. He wishes none of this ever happened. But as he said when he testified, he did not start this.”

The verdict in the politically combustible case was met with anger and disappointment from those who saw Rittenhouse as a vigilante and a wannabe cop, and relief and a sense of vindication from those who regarded him as a patriot who took a stand against lawlessness and exercised his Second Amendment right to carry a gun and to defend himself.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader, said the verdict throws into doubt the safety of people who protest in support of Black Americans.

“It seems to me that it’s open season on human rights demonstrators,” he said.

Rittenhouse was charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle in the summer of 2020 during a tumultuous night of protests over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer.

Rittenhouse, a then-17-year-old former police youth cadet, said that he went to Kenosha to protect property from rioters but that he came under attack and feared for his life. He is white, as were those he shot.

The anonymous jury, whose racial makeup was not disclosed by the court but appeared to be overwhelmingly white, deliberated for close to 3 1/2 days.

President Joe Biden called for calm, saying that while the outcome of the case “will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.”

Rittenhouse could have gotten life in prison if found guilty on the most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide, or what some other states call first-degree murder. Two other charges each carried over 60 years behind bars.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said his office respects the jury’s decision, and he asked the public to “accept the verdicts peacefully and not resort to violence.”

Ahead of the verdict, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced that 500 National Guard members stood ready in case of trouble. But hours after the jury came back, there were no signs of any major protests or unrest in Kenosha.

As he released the jurors, Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder assured them the court would take “every measure” to keep them safe.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, denounced the outcome. He, like many civil rights activists, saw a racial double standard at work in the case.

“Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed,” Barnes said. “The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but that standard is not always applied equally. We have seen so many black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge.”

Political figures on the right welcomed the verdict and condemned the case brought against Rittenhouse.

Mark McCloskey, who got in trouble with the law when he and his wife waved a rifle and a handgun at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past his St. Louis home in 2020, said the verdict shows that people have a right to defend themselves from a “mob.” He is now a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

Fifteen minutes after the verdicts, the National Rifle Association tweeted the text of the Second Amendment.

The Kenosha case was part of an extraordinary confluence of trials that reflected the deep divide over race in the United States: In Georgia, three white men are on trial in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, while in Virginia, a trial is underway in a lawsuit over the deadly white-supremacist rally held in Charlottesville in 2017.

The bloodshed in Kenosha took place during a summer of sometimes-violent protests set off across the U.S. by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other cases involving the police use of force against Black people.

Rittenhouse went to Kenosha from his home in nearby Antioch, Illinois, after businesses were ransacked and burned in the nights that followed Blake’s shooting. He joined other armed civilians on the streets, carrying a weapon authorities said was illegally purchased for him because he was underage.

Bystander and drone video captured most of the frenzied chain of events that followed: Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, then shot to death protester Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded demonstrator Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.

Then-President Donald Trump said it appeared Rittenhouse had been “very violently attacked.” Supporters donated more than $2 million toward his legal defense.

Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a “wannabe soldier” who had gone looking for trouble that night and was responsible for creating a dangerous situation in the first place by pointing his rifle at demonstrators.

But Rittenhouse testified: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”