UK authorizes Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use

UK authorizes Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use
Britain on Wednesday said it had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use across the country. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2020

UK authorizes Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use

UK authorizes Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use
  • The vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done
  • Hancock said Britain expects to begin receiving the first shipment of 800,000 doses “within days,'' and people will begin receiving shots as soon as the NHS gets the vaccine

LONDON: British officials authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Wednesday, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.
The go-ahead for the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the United States and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and morgues in some places and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated economies.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the UK, recommended the vaccine could be used after it reviewed the results of clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95% effective overall — and that it also offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.
“Help is on its way,'' British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC, adding that the situation would start to improve in the spring.
“We now have a vaccine. We're the first country in the world to have one formally clinically authorized but, between now and then, we've got to hold on, we've got to hold our resolve," he said.
Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc. British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Hancock said Britain expects to begin receiving the first shipment of 800,000 doses “within days,'' and people will begin receiving shots as soon as the National Health Service gets the vaccine.
Doses everywhere are scarce, and initial supplies will be rationed until more is manufactured in the first several months of next year.
A government committee will release details of vaccination priorities later Wednesday, but Hancock said nursing home residents, people over 80, and healthcare workers and other care workers will be the first to receive the shot.
Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the UK — and has been gearing up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decision expected as early as next week.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called the UK decision “a historic moment.”
“We are focusing on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world,” Bourla said in a statement.
While the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 20 million people, it’s not clear how many will arrive by year’s end. Hancock said the UK expects to receive “millions of doses" by the end of this year, adding that the actual number will depend on how fast Pfizer can produce the vaccine.
One concern about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is that it must be stored and shipped at ultra-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), adding to the challenge of distributing the vaccine around the world.
Pfizer says it has developed shipping containers that use dry ice to keep the vaccine cool. GPS-enabled sensors will allow the company to track each shipment and ensure they stay cold, the company says.
“Pfizer has vast experience and expertise in cold-chain shipping and has an established infrastructure to supply the vaccine worldwide, including distribution hubs that can store vaccine doses for up to six months," the company said in a statement.
The company also says it has agreed to work with other vaccine makers to ensure there is sufficient supply and a range of vaccines, “including those suitable for global access.”
Every country has different rules for determining when an experimental vaccine is safe and effective enough to use. Intense political pressure to be the first to roll out a rigorously scientifically tested shot colored the race in the US and Britain, even as researchers pledged to cut no corners. In contrast, China and Russia have offered different vaccinations to their citizens ahead of late-stage testing.
The shots made by US-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech were tested in tens of thousands of people. And while that study isn’t complete, early results suggest the vaccine is 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease. The companies told regulators that of the first 170 infections detected in study volunteers, only eight were among people who’d received the actual vaccine and the rest had gotten a dummy shot.
“This is an extraordinarily strong protection,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO, recently told The Associated Press.
The companies also reported no serious side effects, although vaccine recipients may experience temporary pain and flu-like reactions immediately after injections.
Final testing must still be completed. Still to be determined is whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shots protect against people spreading the coronavirus without showing symptoms. Another question is how long protection lasts.
The vaccine also has been tested in only a small number of children, none younger than 12, and there’s no information on its effects in pregnant women.


Wife of Briton detained in Iran urges PM to secure his release

A British-Iranian dual citizen being held prisoner in Iran has lost access to a phone, depriving him of his lifeline to sanity and the outside world, according to his wife. (AFP/File Photo)
A British-Iranian dual citizen being held prisoner in Iran has lost access to a phone, depriving him of his lifeline to sanity and the outside world, according to his wife. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 7 min 27 sec ago

Wife of Briton detained in Iran urges PM to secure his release

A British-Iranian dual citizen being held prisoner in Iran has lost access to a phone, depriving him of his lifeline to sanity and the outside world, according to his wife. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Family: Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, has been in ‘hell’ since his detention 4 years ago
  • ‘It has been more than a year since our family requested a meeting with the prime minister. He is apparently unable to meet us’

LONDON: The wife of a British citizen held in an Iranian jail for four years has pleaded with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to show he “genuinely cares” by securing his release.

Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, has been in “hell,” his family said, since he was arrested on a visit to Iran and later convicted of spying for Israel — charges he denies.

He is now four years into a 10-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, which is often used for detained dual nationals.

During his time in jail, there have been serious concerns about Ashoori’s health, particularly as COVID-19 ravaged Iran’s prison system.

In a letter to The Times, his wife Sherry Izadi insisted that the charges against him are entirely fabricated, and accused Johnson of avoiding a request for a meeting to discuss the case.

“Boris Johnson says that the plight of Anoosheh ... ‘remains a top priority.’ Yet actions speak louder than words,” Izadi wrote.

“It has been more than a year since our family requested a meeting with the prime minister. He is apparently unable to meet us.”

Johnson did meet with Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, last year. She remains in detention in Iran, and is currently on bail and living in her parents’ Tehran home while she awaits news of her fate.

Last month, an Iranian newspaper suggested that Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe were being considered for a prisoner swap along with American detainees, but this was publicly denied by the US.

The British Foreign Office said it has raised Ashoori’s case with Tehran. A spokesperson said: “Iran’s continued arbitrary detention of our dual nationals is unacceptable and is a stain on Iran’s international reputation. We urge the Iranian authorities to do the right thing and release the detainees.”

Tehran faces regular criticism for its treatment of foreign nationals, particularly those with dual Iranian citizenship.

“Having citizens with deep connections to other cultures and countries is an asset, not a criminal offense,” said Human Rights Watch.

“But Iran’s security apparatus has apparently made the despicable decision to use these individuals as bargaining chips to resolve diplomatic disputes.”


US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes

US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes
Updated 41 min 42 sec ago

US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes

US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes
  • Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiating team member based in Doha, told Reuters that tweets containing the accusations were "baseless reports"
  • U.S. Embassy in Kabul tweeted accusing the Taliban of killing dozens of civilians in Kandahar province

KABUL: The US and British embassies in Kabul said on Monday the insurgent Taliban may have committed war crimes in southern Afghanistan by carrying out revenge murders of civilians, a charge denied by the insurgents.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiating team member based in Doha, told Reuters that tweets containing the accusations were “baseless reports.”
The US Embassy in the capital Kabul tweeted a statement accusing the Taliban of killing dozens of civilians in the area of Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar province. The statement was also tweeted by the British embassy.
“These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable,” the US Embassy tweeted.
In a second tweet, it said: “The Taliban’s leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later.”
The tweets, accompanied by calls for a cease-fire, stepped up the United States’ public criticism of the group as US troops withdraw and the Taliban goes on the offensive.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Afghanistan would become a ‘pariah state’ if any future Taliban rule in Afghanistan resulted in atrocities against civilians.
The insurgents gained control last month of the strategic area of Spin Boldak, which lies at a border and trade crossing with Pakistan, and heavy fighting has taken place since as Afghan forces try to recapture the area.


Scotland health secretary reports nursery for discrimination over Muslim name

Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has alleged that a local nursery discriminated against his 2-year-old daughter. (Screenshot/File Photo)
Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has alleged that a local nursery discriminated against his 2-year-old daughter. (Screenshot/File Photo)
Updated 37 min 53 sec ago

Scotland health secretary reports nursery for discrimination over Muslim name

Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has alleged that a local nursery discriminated against his 2-year-old daughter. (Screenshot/File Photo)
  • Newspaper probe revealed pupils with non-Muslim names offered places, children with Muslim names rejected
  • Humza Yousaf: ‘We are fooling ourselves if we believe discrimination doesn’t exist in Scotland’ 

LONDON: Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has alleged that a local nursery denied his daughter, 2, a place “because of her Muslim name.”

He is taking his case to the care authorities for review after finding out that the Little Scholars Nursery in Dundee, Scotland, was willing to offer a place to a white friend’s child having denied his own daughter Amal a place.

Yousaf said he and his wife Nadia El-Nakla had contacted the nursery in May asking if they had places available.

They said they were told that there were “no available spaces in the nursery” — the second time the couple said they had been turned down.

But when they asked a white Scottish friend to contact the same place, the nursery responded and offered them places for three afternoons a week. The responses came less than 24 hours apart, said Yousaf.

He said when he became suspicious of the nursery he asked a local paper, the Daily Record, to investigate.

Its journalists created two applications for children of the same age and with the same requirements — one with a Muslim name, the other with a white Scottish name.

The child named Aqsa Akhtar was rejected, the Daily Record reported, while Susan Blake was offered a choice of four afternoons. 

“I cannot tell you how angry I am,” Yousaf tweeted. “As a father all I want to do is protect my girls, yet aged 2 I believe my daughter has faced discrimination. If this had not happened to me I’m not sure I would have believed it could happen in 2021. How many other families has this happened to?”

In a separate post, he added: “We are fooling ourselves if we believe discrimination doesn’t exist in Scotland.”

In a statement, Little Scholars Nursery said any claim that it is not open and inclusive to all is “demonstrably false.”

It added: “We note Mr Yousaf’s call for a Care Inspectorate investigation and this is something we would absolutely welcome. We have nothing to hide and look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate the policies and procedures we have in place to ensure we are a nursery that is open and welcoming to all.”

The Care Inspectorate, responsible for overseeing the fair and high-quality administration of care in Scotland, said “a concern has been raised” and it is considering the information received.


We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says
Updated 02 August 2021

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says
  • "We need to get people, get the travel industry moving again," Johnson told reporters
  • Johnson's travel regulations have angered some of Britain's European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that he wanted to get the travel industry moving again with a simple user-friendly system to allow for trips abroad without importing new variants of the coronavirus.
“We need to get people, get the travel industry moving again,” Johnson told reporters. “We want an approach that is as simple as we can possibly make it.”
Britain has double vaccinated a higher proportion of its population against COVID-19 than most other countries, but the government has prevented travel to many destinations by imposing rules that the travel industry says are hobbling the economy.
Johnson’s travel regulations have angered some of Britain’s European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons and brought warnings from airports, airlines and tour companies.
In a letter to Johnson that was leaked to media, finance minister Rishi Sunak called for an urgent easing of travel restrictions.
The Times newspaper reported that Britain planned to warn holidaymakers against visiting popular tourist destinations such as Spain because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a step could trigger an exodus of about a million British tourists already abroad, cause further damage to the travel sector and deal a new blow to southern Europe’s summer tourist season.
A spokesperson for Britain’s transport ministry declined to comment on The Times report, published on the day when rules were eased for double-vaccinated travelers from the United States and most of Europe.
Under rules to be reviewed on Thursday, double-vaccinated travelers can return without quarantining from countries rated “amber” on a “traffic-light” list assessing the COVID-19 risk.
Those returning from red-list countries — the most severe risk — must pay 1,750 pounds ($2,436) to spend 10 days in a hotel.
An amber watchlist was due to be signed off on Thursday but a split in the government could delay a decision, The Times said.
Citing the threat posed by the Beta coronavirus variant, England has maintained quarantine rules for double-vaccinated travelers from France, while scrapping the requirement for travelers from other medium-risk “amber” countries.
France has complained, saying the bulk of its Beta variant cases come from the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.


Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 02 August 2021

Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead after stabbing 2 people
  • Family say he could have been arrested before attack

LONDON: The family of a terrorist who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London are expected to question whether his life could have been saved by being arrested earlier.

It will be the first time relatives of an Islamist terrorist in Britain will ask in court if the killing of their relative was necessary.

The inquest into the death of Sudesh Amman, 20, who stabbed two random members of the public on Feb. 2, 2020, is due to open on Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Amman was being closely observed by undercover reconnaissance officers when he was seen purchasing items for a fake suicide vest, which he put together in his probation hostel.

The next day, while being followed by officers, he quickly grabbed a knife from a shop and stabbed two passers-by in south London.

Both of his victims survived, but Amman was shot and killed by the armed team that was tracking him a minute after his rampage commenced.

His prison release on Jan. 23 meant that he had spent just 10 days in a probation hostel before he was killed.

At a pre-inquest hearing in July, Amman’s relatives queried if the police and MI5 could have arrested him before he was able to conduct the attack.

MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, has applied for intelligence about Amman to be given public interest immunity, which would limit its use in court or any inquiry.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing the Amman family, argued that immunity should not be given if the material “goes to the state of mind of any relevant police officer or security service agent, as to what Sudesh Amman was planning or contemplating.”

The lawyer said his clients have objected to a statement by a police officer known as HA6, who was the senior investigating officer on the “priority” operation against Amman.

The officer said police “could not effect an arrest,” but Menon argued that they “knew the day before that Amman had bought items that could be used to make a fake suicide vest.”

At the hearing at the High Court, he added: “We will be making the point that the police knew more than enough to effect an arrest and should have done so.”

At the time, investigators and surveillance officers feared an attack by Amman was imminent, keeping him under constant observation.

Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said: “This is not a case of signs being missed. It is difficult to imagine a higher grade response, short of arrest and you will be aware of what HA6 says about why that was not feasible.”

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is writing a supplementary report to cover the operation against Amman from January 2020.

The IOPC said on June 17 that during the investigation, “it is not anticipated that any concerns will arise as to the conduct of any police officers.”