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Forecast Podcast: FDA discusses vaccine boosters, France COVID test fee, NBA season starts, Russia invites Taliban to talks, Lebanon power outages

Manufacturing plants in Lebanon with the Mediterranean Sea behind them

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

Show notes:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on Thursday to review safety and efficacy data for potential booster doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. The panel will reconvene the next day for similar discussions regarding the Johnson & Johnson shot.
  • Unvaccinated French citizens will no longer be able to get free coronavirus tests starting Friday as Paris’ attempts to encourage the population to get vaccinated escalate. Tests for vaccinated citizens will remain free.
  • The NBA season kicks off Tuesday with questions about the vaccination status of one of its star players.
  • Russia will invite Taliban representatives to talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on Wednesday, according to President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan.
  • Lebanon power outages — an interview with Factal Editor Ahmed Namatalla.

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Awais Ahmad, Alex Moore, Jeff Landset, Imana Gunawan and Ahmed Namatalla.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is October 14th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got the FDA discussing coronavirus vaccine boosters, France implementing a coronavirus test fee, the start of the regular NBA season, Russia inviting the Taliban to Afghanistan talks and an update on the Lebanon power outages. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

FDA discusses coronavirus vaccine boosters

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: An important U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee will meet on Thursday. They’ll be reviewing safety and efficacy data for potential booster doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. The panel will reconvene Friday for similar discussions on the Johnson & Johnson shot. 

The expert committee voted last month to recommend booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to people 65 and older and to those considered at “high risk” of severe illness. 

But, the committee decided not to expand their guidance to younger groups, citing a lack of safety and efficacy data.

Ultimately, the FDA chose to include people under the age of 65 whose “frequent institutional or occupational exposure” puts them at high-risk of complications or serious illness; including teachers, manufacturing workers, and public transit staffers

Both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have released data in recent weeks claiming booster doses of their vaccines help maintain a high-level of protection against the virus.

Now, when the advisory committee meets it will also evaluate whether a third Moderna dose should contain just half of the original dose. It’ll also evaluate the best timing of when a second Johnson & Johnson shot should be given. And finally, the possibility of administering different booster doses than what recipients initially received.

France implements coronavirus test fee

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Unvaccinated French citizens will no longer be able to get free coronavirus tests starting Friday. This comes as Paris ramps up efforts to encourage the population to get vaccinated. Tests for vaccinated citizens will remain free.

The announcement follows this summer’s vaccine pass rollout. A rollout which prompted large protests from those opposed to providing proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor venues. 

Now, with unvaccinated people paying for tests, entry into these venues will require a de-facto fee, with each test costing between $25 and $50.

The additional burden risks reigniting tensions among protesters opposed to the measures. 

However, France, despite being famously skeptical of vaccines, has one of Europe’s highest rates of inoculation, with nearly 70 percent of the population fully vaccinated. This signals that despite the visible opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s policies, they are potentially helping drive France’s relative vaccine success.

NBA regular season begins

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: The NBA season kicks off Tuesday with questions about the vaccination status of one of its star players.

Of course, this is the first time since 2019 the league will play its normal schedule. 

In 2020, the league suspended its regular season in March after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus shortly before a game. 

It then restarted the season in July in a bubble, with no one testing positive during that three-month period. 

The extended season also meant pushing last year’s start to December with each team playing 10 fewer games than normal. 

Now, several cities have passed laws that mandate vaccination for anyone entering certain buildings or attending large-scale events. 

That could keep some players from being able to suit up. Most notably, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is not eligible to play in the team’s 41 home games at Barclays Center or two games at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. 

Instead of allowing him to play in road games, the Nets announced Tuesday that Irving won’t be allowed to play or practice until he can be a “full participant.” 

Irving will also be fined if he can’t play because of vaccine mandates, which could cost him roughly $380,000 per game.

Russia invites Taliban to Afghanistan talks

Information compiled by Imana Gunawan

JIMMY: Russia will invite Taliban representatives to talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on Wednesday, according to President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan. 

The Taliban has been formally banned in Russia since 2003.

The upcoming conference follows a G20 summit on October 12th that sought to help Afghanistan avoid a humanitarian crisis.

A crisis that came in the wake of the Taliban’s August takeover that coincided with United States’ troop withdrawal. 

Following the offensive, Russia said it wouldn’t evacuate its embassy in Kabul, unlike many other countries. 

Its ambassador also quickly met with the Taliban for “constructive” talks

Since 2018, Russia has hosted Taliban delegations for several meetings attempting to mediate peace with the former Afghan government.

Now, the exact nature of the upcoming talks and makeup of the delegation remains unclear. While Russia has stopped short of recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government, observers have noted an apparent softening in rhetoric toward the group. 

Meanwhile, wary of security impacts to the wider Central Asian region with Taliban in power, Russia’s military has carried out several exercises at its bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which border Afghanistan and are military allies of Moscow.

Lebanon power outages

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the power outages that recently left much of Lebanon in the dark. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Ahmed Namatalla. 

JIMMY: Hi, Ahmed. 

AHMED: Hi, Jimmy.

JIMMY: All right, I guess to start, you know, just how bad was this power outage? It seemed to get worldwide news coverage.

AHMED: The power outage is bad, in the sense that it’s been going on for years. What happened this last week is that it went completely out, for only about 24 hours or so, but the country was left in complete darkness. And it sort of summed up what the country has been going through as far as political dysfunction and economic crisis that only seems to be getting worse.

JIMMY: Did I read correctly that it has something to do with two power plants?

AHMED: That’s correct. So, two of the country’s main power plants just ran out of fuel. Before that day they were supplying just a few hours of electricity per day. And what happened is when they completely ran out the power went completely out. Now the army stepped in with emergency fuel supplies that restored those plants to normal operation. And by normal, they went back to providing two to three hours of electricity per day.

JIMMY: I guess, besides the obvious problems of just not having electricity needed to live and work, how else has this impacted Lebanon?

AHMED: Well, it has an impact on everything from the government’s efforts to save lives — hospitals are running short on fuel necessary to run their generators. Even regular people, most Lebanese, believe it or not, rely on generators for electricity. They don’t rely on the government’s electricity grid that only supplies a couple of hours of power a day. It’s causing food shortages; the food that is stored is going bad. So we’re looking at an impact way beyond what lights might provide.

JIMMY: Are there any signs that something is being done to prevent more of these nationwide blackouts again?

AHMED: Well, the government says it’s going to speak with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package. This is something that the previous government tried to do and went nowhere. There really is no indication that this time around is going to go anywhere either. Lebanon owes a lot of money. It is the second most indebted Arab country and in the top five, as far as its ranking in the world. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is close to 200%. The currency continues to weaken and there is not enough foreign currency to import the fuel necessary to sustain electricity for long periods of time. When they do find a solution — and that’s not expected until they hold parliamentary elections probably in May — everybody is going to take haircuts. In the meantime, billionaire Najib Mikati, who took over as prime minister last month, is just trying to keep the ship afloat, and it does not seem like there are going to be any solutions in the foreseeable future.

JIMMY: Well, you’ve painted a pretty bleak picture, but I do appreciate the insight, Ahmed. Thank you very much for that.

AHMED: Thank you, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Awais Ahmad, Alex Moore, Jeff Landset and Imana Gunawan. Our interview featured editor Ahmed Namatalla and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top photo: The Zahrani power plant in Beirut, Lebanon. Source: Al Jazeera English.