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WASHINGTON -- The government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, assuming a safe and effective shot is developed, even as top health officials faced questions about political interference with virus information reaching the public.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying "playbook" for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or even late this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot.

The Pentagon would be involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers would be the ones giving shots.

The whole enterprise faces remaining skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they'd get vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May. Since then, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush treatments and vaccines to help President Donald Trump's reelection chances.

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On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Department announced that political appointee Michael Caputo would take a leave of absence. The news followed revelations that the senior communications official had tried to gain editorial control over scientific publications on COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which he contended were hurting the Trump administration.

The director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, responding Wednesday before Senate lawmakers, rejected questions over whether the government's timeline for states to be ready for a vaccine by Nov. 1 was politically motivated.

Redfield told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the "scientific integrity" of his agency's output "has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch."

He said he was "deeply saddened" by Caputo's accusations that CDC staff were working as a "resistance unit" against the administration.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee's top Democrat, said political interference had damaged public trust in the government's health information .

"The Trump administration needs to leave the science to the scientists immediately," Murray said.

Although Trump asserted Tuesday that a vaccine could be three to four weeks away, Redfield, made clear to Congress that any version available this year would be in "very limited supply." The shot wouldn't be broadly available to most of the U.S. population until the summer of 2021, he estimated.

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Trump's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, quickly repeated the president's version at the White House: "We do believe that it will be widely available by the end of the year."

As for the planned vaccine campaign, the CDC playbook for states says it is "much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses." Redfield said that his agency will be working with state health officials to execute the vaccination plan in coming days.

Among the highlights of the plan:

- For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drugmaker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.

- Vaccination of the U.S. population won't be a sprint but a marathon. Initially there may be a limited supply of vaccines, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups. "Early in (the) COVID-19 vaccination program there may be a limited supply of vaccine and vaccine efforts may focus on those critical to the response, providing direct care and maintaining societal functions, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness," Redfield said. A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire population.

- The vaccine itself will be free of charge, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration. The goal is that patients won't be separately charged for administration of their shots, and officials say they are working to ensure that's the case for all Medicare recipients and uninsured people as well those covered by insurance at their jobs.

- States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans.

- A massive information technology effort will be needed to track who is getting which vaccines and when, and the key challenge involves getting multiple public and private databases to link with each other.

Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday's reports attempt to put the key details into a comprehensive framework. Distribution is under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have vaccines ready to ship in 24 hours from when a version is given emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Several formulations are undergoing final trials.

However, public skepticism remains. Of the Americans who said in the May AP poll that they wouldn't get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety. To effectively protect the nation from the coronavirus, experts say 70% to 90% of Americans must either be vaccinated or have their own immunity from fighting off COVID-19.

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Before the Republican National Convention in August, the FDA granted authorization for treatment of COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered, even though some government scientists were not convinced the clinical evidence was sufficiently strong.

As public confidence in health agencies has taken a beating, Trump administration officials have been forced to play defense.

"We are working closely with our state and local public health partners ... to ensure that Americans can receive the vaccine as soon as possible and vaccinate with confidence," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Wednesday. "Americans should know that the vaccine development process is being driven completely by science and the data."

That could be a tough sell. In the AP poll, 1 in 5 Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine, and 31% said they were unsure.

"We're dealing in a world of great uncertainty," said Paul Mango, a top HHS official working on the vaccine plan.

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3 Digital Extracurricular Activities That Provide Socialization (and a Break for Parents)

Larynzo Johnson, suspect in Louisville police shooting, faces hearing Friday America’s most historic fast food joints 3 Digital Extracurricular Activities That Provide Socialization (and a Break for Parents) © Photo: Getty Images/Johner Images online extracurricular activities Back in 2014, a report conducted by the United States Census Bureau found that 57 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 participated in extracurricular activities. Fast-forward to 2020: It's a fair assumption that the coronavirus has greatly diminished the percentage of kids who are now heading to soccer practice, to rehearse a school play, or to hang out with science club after school. And that means many parents already juggling roles of caretaker, teacher, and employee need to carry extra weight on their shoulders when school's out for the day. But, a number online extracurricular activities are cropping up to entertain and teach kids, which may also help parents wrap up their own workdays more efficiently.

Beyond being a helpful schedule saver for overextended and exhausted parents, extracurricular activities serve an important purpose for kids in pandemic and non-pandemic times. "Extracurricular activities help break up the day and also bring more fun into your child’s life," says licensed family counselor Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT. "Music class and soccer are very different than academics, like math and science. And children, especially now, need some diversity in their learning and also need to have some fun."

Many brands have done the creative work of designing digital extracurriculars to keep kids engaged so parents can spend an extra hour or two clearing their inbox or, gasp, taking some much-needed restorative time to themselves. Here are three online extracurricular activities (some at no cost) that kids can sign up for right now.

3 online extracurricular activities to help kids move, learn, and socialize (and give parents some relief)1. Airbnb Field Trips

If Bill Nye led one of my middle-school extracurriculars, I think I probably would have grown up to love science more than I currently do. Thanks to Airbnb's latest collection of online experiences, "Field Trips," kids today have the opportunity to learn about science from the Science Guy' himself. (Yes, I'm jealous.) "Decoding the Science of 2020" ($100, October 2) is an hour-long session in which Nye will engage kids with experiments on the science of skin color, climate change, and coronavirus.

And that's really just scratching the surface of Field Trips. You can also sign your child up to learn origami ($10, multiple dates), study the archeology of leaves ($31, multiple dates), or learn about space from an astronomer ($10, multiple dates).

2. Nike Training Club "Family Friendly" workouts

Nike's making sure that sports practice being canceled doesn't mean your child won't get to break a sweat this fall. When the pandemic hit, the athleticwear giant made every piece of content on the Nike Training Club app absolutely free—including a collection of family-friendly workouts that take a fun approach to fitness.

All workouts land somewhere between 11 and 33 minutes. One 15-minute workout called "The Floor Is Lava," for example, teaches kids dynamic, fun workout moves (like frog hops). Nike's hope is to teach "key movement patterns" like squats, lunges, pushing, and pulling in a fun way so kids can carry them into adulthood.

3. Brightly's Book Club

Brightly’s Book Club for Kids creates reading guides for culturally relevant books that span across every age group, from zero to 13 or older. Brightly's offers guides and book club questions for each title, so you can organize Zoom book clubs with your kids and their friends where all things plot, themes, and key takeaways get discussed right after school. Depending on how old your kids are, they can lead book club themselves, or one parent, relative, or older sibling can step in to moderate.

Some of the titles in Brightly's reading guide library include Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cult-fave wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.

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