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The basics on COVID booster shots for the general adult population
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After months of being available for high-risk populations, COVID-19 booster shots have gotten the green light for all adults, federal health officials announced Friday.

Here’s a rundown of who can get a booster shot, why people need it and where, locally, to get it:

Who can now get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine?

On Friday, the CDC said anyone 18 and older can get a booster shot, regardless of which vaccine they initially received.

Federal health officials hope this extension will eliminate any confusion on who can get the booster.

Will I receive the same type of vaccine I did before?

The CDC says people can choose which COVID-19 vaccine — by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — they receive as a booster shot, regardless of which one they initially got. However, you can get the same vaccine if you’d prefer.

There’s been only one mix-and-match study on the vaccines available in the United States so far to examine the overall safety and efficacy of using a different COVID-19 vaccine for a booster than for the initial shot(s). The results showed doing so produced a safe immune response, similar to what was generated by an additional dose of the same first shot.

The National Institutes of Health study did not compare the different combinations, however, so it’s unclear if one combination of shots is better than another.

Why do people need a booster shot?

Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious-disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, said recent studies have shown the vaccines’ overall effectiveness begins to wane after a few months. A booster shot will help strengthen people’s protection against COVID-19.

Additionally, Khole said the booster shots’ extension to all adults will “bolster the fight for sure.”

“However, in my opinion, it is only part of the solution,” he said in an email. “The real push has to be to convince the unvaccinated to get their first shots and then complete the series.”

When should I get the booster shot?

The CDC recommends the booster shot be administered at least six months after receiving a second dose for people who initially got Pfizer or Moderna. Johnson & Johnson recipients can get their booster shot at least two months after inoculation.

What should I expect during and after getting my booster shot?

At your booster shot appointment, you’ll need to bring your COVID-19 vaccination card.

Afterward, the CDC says, you may experience side effects, just like after the initial shot(s). These are normal, the federal health agency reassures, as your body builds protection against the virus.

Side effects can include pain and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, chills and nausea.

Where can people get a booster shot?

Locally, Cheshire Medical Center is hosting two patient-only drive-thru clinics for Pfizer and Moderna boosters on Dec. 4 and 11 on its campus on Court Street in Keene. Appointments are required and can be made at myDH.org or by calling your provider, spokeswoman Heather Atwell said.

Patients of Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough can also get a booster through their primary-care provider, whom they should call to schedule an appointment, according to spokeswoman Laura Gingras.

As with the initial shots, appointments for a booster can also be made at vaccines.nh.gov, by calling the state’s hotline at 2-1-1 or by directly contacting your primary-care provider or local pharmacy. To find where boosters are available locally, go to www.vaccines.gov/search/.

Before making an appointment, people should consult with their health-care provider to determine if the booster shot is right for them, according to the CDC.

What will a COVID-19 booster shot cost me?

Like the initial doses of the vaccine, booster shots are free, regardless of insurance status.

Questions about the COVID-19 vaccines or anything else related to the viral disease can be answered at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling the state’s hotline at 2-1-1.

COVID rebound in US is as bad as last November’s in some spots

The latest U.S. COVID-19 wave is taking its toll on some states’ intensive-care units, with several parts of the country — including the Northeast — seeing outbreaks that are as bad as ever.

In 15 states, patients with confirmed or suspected COVID are taking up more ICU beds than a year earlier, according to Department of Health and Human Services data. Colorado, Minnesota and Michigan have 41 percent, 37 percent and 34 percent of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, respectively, the data show.

The dramatic uptick means there’s proportionately less space in hospitals for those suffering from other potentially deadly ailments.

“Many of our physicians are at a breaking point,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “It’s not easy to be day in and day out in an emergency room, in an ICU, looking at someone who is dying because he or she is not vaccinated.”

The numbers are a sobering reminder of how brutal the pandemic remains for the U.S. health-care system, and could augur trouble ahead for Northeast states, where cases began surging a few weeks after the Midwest and Rocky Mountains.

In New York, rural areas are seeing positive-test rates of more than 8 percent, while New York City remains below 2 percent. State officials have reopened 13 mass vaccination sites and have 200 pop-up sites all over the state to get the vaccines into communities.

“We are heading into a very vulnerable time,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Monday at a turkey distribution event. “The good news compared from last year to this year, is that we now have the weapons to fight back.”

The vaccines continue to work very well at protecting those who take them, but the societal impact is another matter. Unvaccinated people continue to show a vastly higher rate of hospitalization with COVID-19, according to the latest data from the CDC’s COVID-Net surveillance network, which was updated Friday and now includes figures through the end of September.

Mokdad said he doesn’t project COVID’s overall impact on hospitals will near last winter’s levels, but he noted that it was a different story in certain hot spots and everyone should be prepared. “No state is safe,” he said.

Maine, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S., is setting pandemic hospitalization records with the count of patients nearing 300 in recent days. The surge is strongest among counties with the lowest vaccination rates, according to CDC data.

In New Hampshire, where the staffing crisis is dire and cases are reaching new peaks, the capacity crunch reached the point that Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover posted a plea on Facebook asking patients to come to the emergency department only for truly acute health crises.

Hospitalizations in New Jersey, meanwhile, have jumped by 15 percent in the past week, with those in ICUs up 24 percent, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday at a virus briefing.

“These numbers are being driven overwhelmingly by unvaccinated individuals,” Murphy said.

Despite the widespread availability of vaccines, the fast-spreading delta variant has shown a frightening capacity to find the most vulnerable people in society. Meanwhile, most states have returned to a semblance of their pre-pandemic lifestyles.

Michigan, which has the highest per-capita case rate in the nation, is encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a mask advisory on Nov. 19. But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer does not plan to issue any new restrictions on public gatherings, said spokesman Bobby Leddy.

The surge begs the question of when the U.S. will finally be able to turn the page on the pandemic. A new COVID-19 pill from Pfizer Inc. is bound to help, as will other therapeutics in the pipeline.

Speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum last week in Singapore, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates predicted that the combination of vaccine-induced and natural immunity worldwide and the new oral treatments would bring COVID’s impact to flu-like levels by mid-2022 — a remarkable turnaround if he’s right.

The U.S. has been reporting more than 1,000 average deaths from COVID every day for more than three months. Increases in fatalities typically follow increases in infections.

In the meantime, it’s not clear to what extent any hospital system is safe. Many of the states getting hit now have average vaccination rates — neither spectacularly high like parts of the Northeast nor especially low like parts of the South. Michigan’s 54 percent full vaccination rate trails the national average of 59 percent, but Colorado and Minnesota are both doing slightly better than the country as a whole.

A partial lunar eclipse photographed in Keene during November’s full Beaver Moon early Friday morning. Friday’s partial lunar eclipse was the longest of the century.

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Brattleboro police: Marijuana, tested after overdose, was laced with fentanyl
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BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro police responded to an overdose over the weekend involving someone whose marijuana was laced with fentanyl, the department said in a news release Sunday night.

The incident happened Saturday, and the patient needed CPR and several doses of naloxone (Narcan), according to the release. The person survived, and police said no further information will be released about their medical condition.

The release said that law-enforcement agencies in several New England states have been cautioned about the possibility of fentanyl-laced marijuana in their communities.

The patient told emergency responders they had not taken any opioids, according to Brattleboro police, but that they had smoked marijuana. A field test performed on the person’s remaining pot tested positive for fentanyl, police said, and an investigation is ongoing.

Smoking marijuana in a private residence is legal in Vermont for those 21 and up. Vermont residents can also grow up to two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants.

Brattleboro — along with other communities in the state — will soon allow retail marijuana sales, with businesses able to apply for a license in October 2022.

The release reminds people to be sure they know the source and history of any marijuana they consume.

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Keene white nationalist appealing criminal conviction
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Keene white nationalist Christopher Cantwell is seeking to overturn his conviction last year in a federal extortion case, claiming that jurors were misled by prosecutors and the judge.

In a recent filing with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, Cantwell — an online talk show host who has regularly used racist, antisemitic and misogynist language — said prosecutors unlawfully relied on hearsay evidence from his then-girlfriend in their case against him.

He also argues in his appeal that Judge Paul J. Barbadoro may have confused jurors by telling them that Cantwell’s defense in court — that he was provoked into malice — did not negate his potential guilt.

Cantwell, 41, who became nationally known for his role in the August 2017 white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., was convicted by the federal jury last year for threatening and attempting to extort information from another white nationalist two years ago. He was sentenced in February to three years and five months in prison.

Cantwell is also a defendant in a separate federal lawsuit to determine whether he and other organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally should be held responsible for the ensuing violence, including a deadly attack on peaceful protesters.

His conviction last year in the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire arose out of a feud with an online group the other man belonged to — a collective of pseudonymous white nationalists known as the “Bowl Patrol” who have glorified racist and antisemitic mass murderers.

In June 2019, angered by what he felt was the group’s harassment of him, Cantwell sent a series of electronic messages to Bowl Patrol member Benjamin Lambert of Winfield, Mo., who went by the online moniker “Cheddar Mane.” In the messages, which prosecutors showed in court during Cantwell’s trial, he threatened to post pictures of Lambert’s family, tell online followers where Lambert lived and call protective services on him unless he revealed the identity of Bowl Patrol’s pseudonymous leader, “Vic Mackey.” Cantwell also made what prosecutors described as a rape threat against Lambert’s wife.

“So if you don’t want me to come and [expletive] your wife in front of your kids, then you should make yourself scarce,” he wrote in the exchange. “Give me Vic, it’s your only out.”

Cantwell was arrested in January 2020 at his Keene apartment, where a police officer later said law enforcement found 17 guns, a machete and a crossbow at the residence and in his car.

At his trial in Concord, Cantwell said he’d been repeatedly harassed by people he believed to be Bowl Patrol members and that he felt provoked when Lambert entered an online chat group he was in, prompting the exchange that included Cantwell’s threats.

Jurors found Cantwell guilty of transmitting extortionate communications and threatening to injure property or reputation. They acquitted him of a third count, cyberstalking.

Attorneys for Cantwell, who moved to Keene years ago as a libertarian “Free Stater” and later took up the racist ideology that other Free Staters have denounced, told the court in March that he planned to appeal his sentence.

In the recent court filing, Cantwell claims that some of the evidence federal prosecutors used to secure his conviction should not have been presented as factual information.

Prosecutors referred during their closing arguments to a recorded conversation between him and his then-girlfriend, in which she said Cantwell had threatened Lambert and had told Lambert he’d rape his wife. That exchange showed, prosecutors argued, that even other white nationalists felt Cantwell’s threats had crossed a line.

But the comments by his then-girlfriend, who didn’t testify in the case, were only meant — under federal legal rules — to provide context for his own remarks, not as legitimate evidence, Cantwell argues in his appeal.

Cantwell also claims in the 47-page document that Barbadoro, the federal judge, may have misled jurors by telling them, “provocation is not a defense,” after Cantwell described the harassment he’d faced from the Bowl Patrol.

“[Cantwell] did not argue that if the jury found all the elements against him, it could still acquit him because he was provoked,” the appeal states. “Instead, Mr. Cantwell argued that the context of this case, which included provocation in the non-legal sense, negated the elements.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Hampshire declined Monday to comment on the case while litigation is ongoing. Cantwell’s Boston-based defense attorney, Christine DeMaso, could not be reached for comment.

Federal prosecutors have until Dec. 29 to respond to his appeal. No response had been filed as of Monday afternoon.

More legal trouble may be coming for Cantwell, who has been referred to online as the “Crying Nazi” because of a tearful video he made about criminal charges he faced stemming from the Unite the Right rally.

Cantwell, who later pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery for pepper-spraying two people at that event, is a defendant in the ongoing civil case over whether he and others are responsible for the violence that ensued in Charlottesville.

Hundreds of white nationalists descended on that city for two days in August 2017, marching with tiki torches while chanting racist and antisemitic slogans. After several clashes between hate groups and counter-protesters, a white nationalist deliberately drove a car through a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing Charlottesville native Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring dozens of others.

Nine plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit, who say they suffered physical or psychological injuries due to the 2017 rally, accuse Cantwell and other organizers — including white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler — of conspiring to commit racially motivated violence.

Jury deliberations in the case began Friday after a highly publicized, multi-week trial, which some defendants, including Cantwell, who is representing himself, used as a platform to spread further hate, according to media reports. No verdict had been reached as of press time Tuesday morning.