Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital

Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital
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A general view of Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Reuters)
Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital
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Dr. Ejaz Khan, chairman of infection control at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan, talks to Arab News at his office on Oct. 27. (AN photo by Benazir Shah)
Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital
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Volunteers register on Oct. 27 for Chinese coronavirus vaccine trials at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN photo by Benazir Shah)
Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital
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Sisters Urmila and Faiza volunteer for Phase III trials of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine on Oct. 27 at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN photo by Benazir Shah)
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Updated 13 November 2020

Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital

Inside the CanSino Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial at Pakistan’s Shifa Hospital
  • Government plans to administer the experimental vaccine to at least 10,000 volunteers
  • Shifa International has repurposed a building previously used for COVID-19 testing for the trial

LAHORE: Doctors in green scrubs and sneakers darted in and out of specially designated rooms at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad one chilly morning last month, attending to volunteers participating in late-stage clinical trials for a Chinese coronavirus vaccine.

Pakistan launched the trial in September for Ad5-nCoV, a vaccine candidate co-developed by CanSino Biologics and a Chinese military-backed research unit. The tests are being led by Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Chinese company’s local representative.

This month’s announcement by Pfizer that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective based on initial trial results has been hailed as a major victory in the war against a virus that has killed more than a million people and battered the world’s economy.

Though scientists, public health officials and investors have welcomed the first successful interim data from a large-scale clinical test as a watershed moment, they also say several vaccines will be necessary to meet massive global needs.

In Pakistan, the government plans to administer the experimental Chinese vaccine to at least 10,000 volunteers, doctors in charge of the program said.

Shifa International, the first of five trial sites, has repurposed a building previously used for COVID-19 testing for the trial. There are two more trial centers in Karachi and two in Lahore.

“There is a criterion that each volunteer has to fulfil,” Dr. Ejaz Khan, the chairman of infection control at Shifa Hospital, told Arab News.

Volunteers can arrive by appointment, or simply walk in, but must be over 18 years of age, willing to participate, have no major diseases and not have been infected with the coronavirus, Khan, who is heading the trials, said. Pregnant women cannot take part in the exercise.

“Also, he or she must be able to participate for more than one year,” Khan said.

Doctors administering the trials said that they had to ensure that each volunteer was first counselled on what to expect from the process, asked to sign a document of consent and have his or her basic health examined. Next, blood samples were taken, and then the vaccine was injected into the upper arm.

Since Sept. 22, Khan said 1,500 people had taken part in the trial at Shifa Hospital where doctors work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day to register volunteers’ data and store their samples.

During the year’s course, the volunteers will be monitored through weekly messages and monthly phone calls.  

Each participant receives a one-time travel and food allowance of 3,000 Pakistani rupees ($19) on the first visit and 5,000 Pakistani rupees on the second, a year later, when he or she must provide a second blood sample.  

Last month, sisters Urmila, 18, and Faiza, 20, who had arrived to volunteer for the trials, said that they had heard about the trial from a neighbor, who told them that each candidate would receive a travel allowance.

“Yes that (the money) is one reason,” said Urmila when asked why she was volunteering, holding her national identity card, a pen and a questionnaire in her hands.

The form required basic contact details and a brief health history to be filled out before a candidate could be approved for the trial. “I don’t know what to write,” Urmila said. “I am not literate, you see.”

Seated behind her was Sumaira Shafiq, a middle-aged housewife who unlike Urmila was still unsure about whether she should participate in the trial. “I am observing right now,” she said. “Who knows, I might just slip out before my turn.”

If Shafiq ends up participating in the trial, her blood samples, like those of all participants, will be shipped to Dalhousie University in Canada, which will independently review the data to determine the vaccine’s efficacy.

By early next year, interim results are expected to become available.

“Let’s say three months from now, they (the university) will tell us OK this vaccine is not effective, stop the trials, or the vaccine is effective, let’s move to Phase 4,” Khan said.

Phase 4 is when the vaccine will be prepared for manufacturing, marketing and distribution.

Pakistani officials have said once proven, they expect Pakistan will be provided with several million doses of the vaccine on a priority basis by CanSinoBio.

The Chinese vaccine, one of nine developed worldwide that are considered safe, will be tested on 40,000 people in several countries.

So far only 10 percent of the participants have developed adverse reactions to the vaccine. “These include pain in the injection area, body ache and fever,” Khan said.


German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
Updated 22 September 2021

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
  • UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly
  • "To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Germany on Wednesday voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the United Nations, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.
Maas said it was important to communicate with the Taliban, but said: “The UN General Assembly is not the appropriate venue for that.”
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
“It will take some time to deliberate,” the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
Updated 1 min 2 sec ago

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
  • The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement.
  • The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior U.S. officials” after his return to the United States

PARIS: France will send its ambassador back to Washington next week after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden agreed in a phone call Wednesday to meet next month over a submarine dispute.
The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement. Macron and Biden will meet at the end of October in Europe, the statement said.
In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador after the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week. As part of the pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” after his return to the United States, the statement said.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” it said. Biden “conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The European Union unveiled last week a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described as a “crisis of trust” last week’s announcement of the Indo-Pacific deal, with Macron being formally informed only a few hours beforehand.
Paris is calling for “acts, not words only,” Macron’s office said.
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed French anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Washington, Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
Updated 22 September 2021

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
  • The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan
  • Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country

ATHENS: Greece on Wednesday said it was temporarily hosting six Afghan women MPs and their families who fled Afghanistan ahead of eventual resettlement in the United States.
Greece was hosting a “symbolic” number of Afghans who are “defenders of fundamental values, freedom of expression and gender equality,” the foreign ministry said.
“Six Afghan MPs arrived in Athens via Tbilisi (Georgia) a few hours ago, accompanied by family members,” it said, revising an earlier statement referring to seven MPs.
“(They) will be hosted in Greece for a short time until resettlement procedures to the United States are completed,” it said.
The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan, the ministry said.
Greece took part in US-led evacuation efforts in August to remove a small number of people from Afghanistan following the Taliban return to power after two decades.
A ministry source said Greece has so far taken in around 65 Afghan evacuees, and evacuated three Greek nationals.
Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
Updated 22 September 2021

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
  • Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London's M25 highway
  • “Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter

LONDON: Environmental activists who have repeatedly blocked Britain’s busiest highway face possible imprisonment after a judge granted an injunction against the protesters, Britain’s transport secretary said Wednesday.
Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London’s M25 highway, which circles the British capital, five times in just over a week by sitting on the ground, painting the name of their group on the road and raising placards in front of traffic. Some have also targeted other highways.
Police have arrested dozens of the protesters, who demand the government improve home insulation to reduce emissions from heating and powering homes.
“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protesters which a judge granted last night.”
The injunction means that activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they continue blocking roads.
Insulate Britain spokeswoman Zoe Cohen said protesters “understand that the risks they are taking are because that we have tried everything else to make the government protect us from the predicted impacts of climate chaos.”
“That involves the loss of all that we cherish, our society, our way of life and law and order,” she told BBC radio.
Cohen said her group wants the government to update insulation in social housing by 2025 and all homes by 2030, “because this is the most effective way to reduce emissions and save lives from fuel poverty.”
The group said it will end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” by the government to its demands.
The High Court order, which officially came into force on Wednesday, prohibits anyone from “blocking, endangering, slowing down, preventing, or obstructing the free flow of traffic onto or along or off the M25 for the purposes of protesting.”


Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial

Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial
Updated 22 September 2021

Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial

Carlos the Jackal seeks shorter French jail term at new trial
  • Carlos, who carried out several attacks in support of the Palestinian cause, was convicted of murder in 2017 and sentenced to life in prison
  • He became one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after leading a brazen attack on a meeting of the OPEC oil cartel in Vienna in 1975

PARIS: Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan militant who was behind some of the biggest terror attacks of the 1970s and 1980s, appeared in a Paris court Wednesday in an attempt to have one of his three life sentences reduced.

The self-styled revolutionary, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, has been behind bars in France since 1994, when French police caught up with him in Sudan after two decades on the run.

“I’ve been on forced holiday in France for twenty-seven and a half years,” the moustachioed white-haired defendant, now 71, quipped at the start of the proceedings.

The trial is the third in four years over a grenade attack in Paris in 1974 that killed two people and injured dozens.

Carlos, who carried out several attacks in support of the Palestinian cause, was convicted of murder in 2017 and sentenced to life in prison, a verdict that was upheld on appeal.

But in 2019, France’s highest court sent the case back to court to reconsider his sentence, saying he should not have been convicted of both carrying and using a grenade because it amounted to being convicted twice of the same offense.

Three days of hearings have been scheduled.

Carlos has always denied responsibility for the attack at the Publicis Drugstore at Saint-Germain-des-Pres, in the heart of Paris’s Left Bank.

No DNA evidence or fingerprints were found after the bombing, but a former comrade-in-arms linked Carlos to the attack.

Investigators believe the assault was designed to pressure France into freeing a jailed militant from a far-left Japanese group.

Carlos is also serving life sentences over the 1975 murders of two French policemen and a police informer, as well as for a series of bombings in Paris and Marseille in 1982 and 1983 that killed a total of 11 people and left dozens injured.

Born into a wealthy family in Caracas on October 12, 1949, Carlos joined a communist group as a teenager and studied in Moscow before joining a hard-line Marxist Palestinian group.

“I am a professional revolutionary; revolution is my job,” he told a French court in 2018.

He became one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after leading a brazen attack on a meeting of the OPEC oil cartel in Vienna in 1975.

Carlos and five other gunmen took 11 energy ministers and dozens of others hostage.

Three people were killed before Austrian authorities agreed to supply Carlos with a plane to fly him and his team to Algiers with around 40 hostages.

The hostages were later released in return for a hefty ransom, and their abductors walked free.