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JCVI makes interim recommendations to government on the COVID-19 vaccination programme for 2023.

In its interim advice to government on the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination programme for 2023, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that plans should be made for those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 to be offered a booster vaccination this autumn (2023).

The JCVI also advised that for a smaller group of people, such as those who are older and those who are immunosuppressed, an extra booster vaccine dose in the spring should also be planned for. Advice regarding the spring 2023 COVID-19 programme will be provided shortly.

Emergency surge vaccine responses may be required should a novel variant of concern emerge with clinically significant biological differences compared to the Omicron variant.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 vaccination on the JCVI, said:

The COVID-19 vaccination programme continues to reduce severe disease across the population, while helping to protect the NHS.

That is why we have advised planning for further booster vaccines for persons at higher risk of serious illness through an autumn booster programme later this year.

We will very shortly also provide final advice on a spring booster programme for those at greatest risk.

The 2022 COVID-19 autumn booster vaccination campaign commenced in early September last year. The most recent coverage data (15 January 2023) of the autumn booster programme in those aged 50 years and over is 64.5% and 82.4% in those aged 75 years and over. By the end of summer 2022, the coverage of the 2022 spring booster programme was 77.3% in those aged 75 years and over.

Following high uptake rates for the initial (third) booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine in December 2021, further uptake has been low at less than 0.1% per week since April 2022 in all eligible people under 50 years of age.

Similarly, uptake of primary course vaccination, which has been widely available since 2021, has plateaued in recent months across all age groups.

As the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery, the JCVI has advised that the 2021 booster offer (third dose) for persons aged 16 to 49 years who are not in a clinical risk group should close in alignment with the close of the autumn 2022 booster vaccination campaign.

In England, the closure of the autumn booster campaign and the first booster offer will be on 12 February 2023. We strongly encourage everyone who is currently eligible for a first booster and is yet to come forward to do so before the offer closes.

Similarly, the JCVI is advising that the primary course COVID-19 vaccination should move, over the course of 2023, towards a more targeted offer during vaccination campaigns to protect those persons at higher risk of severe COVID-19. We strongly encourage individuals who have not had a primary course to come forward for their primary course before the offer closes.

The JCVI keeps all advice under constant review and will revise it according to the latest data and evidence.

In its 2023 statement, the JCVI also advises that research should be considered to inform the optimal timing of booster vaccinations to protect against severe COVID-19 for groups who are at different levels of clinical risk.

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Russian hackers exploit six-year-old Cisco flaw to target US government agencies

APT28, a state-sponsored hacking group operated by Russian military intelligence, is exploiting a six-year-old vulnerability in Cisco routers to deploy malware and carry out surveillance, according to the U.S. and U.K. governments.

In a joint advisory issued on Tuesday, U.S. cybersecurity agency CISA along with the FBI, the NSA and the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center detail how the Russia-backed hackers exploited Cisco router vulnerabilities throughout 2021 with the aim of targeting European organizations and U.S. government institutions. The advisory said the hackers also hacked “approximately 250 Ukrainian victims,” which the agencies did not name.

APT28, also known as Fancy Bear, is known for carrying out a range of cyberattacks, espionage and hack-and-leak information operations on behalf of the Russian government.

According to the joint advisory, the hackers exploited a remotely exploitable vulnerability patched by Cisco in 2017 to deploy a custom-built malware dubbed “Jaguar Tooth,” which is designed to infect unpatched routers.

To install the malware, the threat actors scan for internet-facing Cisco routers using a default or easy-to-guess SNMP community string.

SNMP, or Simple Network Management Protocol, allows network administrators to remotely access and configure routers in place of a username or password, but can also be misused to obtain sensitive network information.

Once installed, the malware exfiltrates information from the router and provides stealthy backdoor access to the device, the agencies said.

Matt Olney, director of threat intelligence at Cisco Talos, said in a blog post this campaign is an example of “a much broader trend of sophisticated adversaries targeting networking infrastructure to advance espionage objectives or pre-position for future destructive activity.”

“Cisco is deeply concerned by an increase in the rate of high-sophistication attacks on network infrastructure — that we have observed and have seen corroborated by numerous reports issued by various intelligence organizations — indicating state-sponsored actors are targeting routers and firewalls globally,” Olney said.

Olney added that in addition to Russia, China has also been spotted attacking network equipment in several campaigns.

Earlier this year, Mandiant reported that Chinese state-backed attackers exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Fortinet devices to carry out a series of attacks on government organizations.

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South Florida counties gear up for stinky seaweed season

Sargassum making its annual voyage to South Florida’s shorelines, threatening tourism and coastal ecosystem.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Large patches of what will become stinky shoreline seaweed, stretching from the west coast of Africa to just off the southern cost of Cuba, are making their way to South Florida and local leaders are getting ready.

Local 10 News Photojournalist Curt Calhoon recently spotted sargassum, surface floating patches of brown micro algae, off the deck of a ship cruising through the Caribbean.

Brian Barnes is one of the University of South Florida researchers tracking a bloom via satellite.

“We call it the great Atlantic sargassum belt,” Barnes said. “They range in size from a handful to a square mile.”

In the ocean, it serves as a floating nursery for a variety of marine species.

The problem happens when it comes on shore. If not cleaned up properly, it can shade out corals and sea grass and create near-shore dead zones as it decays.

“It uses up all of the oxygen in the area and you can get a dead zone,” said Barnes. “As it decays, it can fall in the weather column and straight smother those ecosystems.”

As it starts to decompose, the sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs.

“Some people with asthma may have some respiratory issues, but not the broader population,” said Barnes.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county will gear up as needed.

“We have a contract in place with a company that is removing sargassum from some of the hot spots,” she said.

Researchers who have been tracking the steady annual increase in sargassum say there are a variety of factors at play regarding why the naturally occurring micro algae is blooming patches upwards of a square mile in size, from warming seas to oceans rich in nutrients like human sewage and fertilizer run-offs from the world’s rivers into the sea.

“Definitely we are on alert and making sure there should be an increase — our current cost is $3.9 million per year for the contract,” said Levine Cava. “We do have requests for support from state and federal sources, so we are gearing up to bring attention to the fact that we do need help.”

Sargassum season typically runs from May to October, the same window as sea turtle nesting season.

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South Florida counties gear up for stinky seaweed season
Sargassum making its annual voyage to South Florida’s shorelines, threatening tourism and coastal ecosystem
South Florida coastal counties preparing for stinky seaweed season

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MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Large patches of what will become stinky shoreline seaweed, stretching from the west coast of Africa to just off the southern cost of Cuba, are making their way to South Florida and local leaders are getting ready.

Local 10 News Photojournalist Curt Calhoon recently spotted sargassum, surface floating patches of brown micro algae, off the deck of a ship cruising through the Caribbean.

Brian Barnes is one of the University of South Florida researchers tracking a bloom via satellite.

“We call it the great Atlantic sargassum belt,” Barnes said. “They range in size from a handful to a square mile.”

In the ocean, it serves as a floating nursery for a variety of marine species.

The problem happens when it comes on shore. If not cleaned up properly, it can shade out corals and sea grass and create near-shore dead zones as it decays.

“It uses up all of the oxygen in the area and you can get a dead zone,” said Barnes. “As it decays, it can fall in the weather column and straight smother those ecosystems.”

As it starts to decompose, the sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs.

“Some people with asthma may have some respiratory issues, but not the broader population,” said Barnes.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county will gear up as needed.

“We have a contract in place with a company that is removing sargassum from some of the hot spots,” she said.

Researchers who have been tracking the steady annual increase in sargassum say there are a variety of factors at play regarding why the naturally occurring micro algae is blooming patches upwards of a square mile in size, from warming seas to oceans rich in nutrients like human sewage and fertilizer run-offs from the world’s rivers into the sea.

“Definitely we are on alert and making sure there should be an increase — our current cost is $3.9 million per year for the contract,” said Levine Cava. “We do have requests for support from state and federal sources, so we are gearing up to bring attention to the fact that we do need help.”

Sargassum season typically runs from May to October, the same window as sea turtle nesting season.

“Every day, there are people looking for where nests might be, marking off those areas, making sure they are not disturbing any nests while cleaning up the sargassum,” Levine Cava said.

In Monroe County, officials said they are planning for twice-daily cleanings.

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Antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high, the ADL reports

Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. rose 36% in 2022, an annual audit by the Anti-Defamation League shows.

The report, released Thursday, tracked 3,697 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault targeting Jewish people and communities last year. It is the third time in five years that the tally has been the highest number ever recorded since the ADL first began collecting data in 1979.

«This escalation in antisemitic incidents comes just as ADL has reported on Americans’ highest level of antisemitic attitudes in decades,» the report says, adding that public officials, famous artists and social media stars have been instrumental in normalizing longstanding antisemitic tropes.

The ADL report comes on the heels of an FBI report earlier this month, stating that hate crimes reported across the country increased nearly 12% in 2021 from 2020.

5 states account for more than half of the incidents
According to the latest ADL analysis, surges in each of the major audit categories occurred in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Antisemitic harassment increased 29%, from 1,776 to 2,298
Antisemitic vandalism increased 51%, from 853 to 1,288
Antisemitic assaults increased 26%, from 88 to 111.

New York is the state with the highest number of reported incidents: 580. California follows with 518, New Jersey with 408, Florida with 269 and Texas with 211. «Combined, these five states account for 54 % of the total incidents.

Schools and synagogues are growing targets
Another alarming finding is the number of bomb threats towards Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues, spiking from eight to 91. It is the highest number of bomb threats since 2017.

Young children and educators in K-12 schools were victims of threats or assaults in 494 incidents. Meanwhile, 219 incidents were reported on college campuses.

People who presented as Orthodox Jews were targeted in 59 of the assault incidents nationally.

The Goyim Defense League is behind more than half of all propaganda incidents
The ADL also found activity doubled among organized white supremacist groups, which were linked to 852 incidents of distributing antisemitic propaganda.

While the study cites a number of factors contributing to the surge, the organization concluded the massive uptick in the spread of anti-Jewish propaganda was «largely due to the growth of the Goyim Defense League,» known as the GDL.

The GDL network, which has significant crossover with other white supremacist groups and movements, was responsible for at least 492 propaganda incidents in 2022, a dramatic increase from the 74 recorded in 2021.

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