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.


UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations
Updated 27 February 2021

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
“This is a first step,” she stressed, and it will require further international efforts.
But Woodward said the large number of cosponsors and unanimous council approval are “a strong testament to the international commitment to seeing this happen.”
“Obviously each of these situations will require further negotiations at country and even at field and local level,” she said. “and we’ve asked the secretary-general to report back where they encounter barriers in this.”
The resolution adopted Friday recognizes “that armed conflicts can exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, and that inversely the pandemic can exacerbate the adverse humanitarian impact of armed conflicts, as well as exacerbating inequalities.”
It also recognizes “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, of COVID-19 and its variant strains, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The Security Council stressed that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines” authorized by the World Health Organization or regulatory authorities “is essential to end the pandemic.”
It also stressed “the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy” in vaccinations.
And it called for donations of vaccines from richer developed nations to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility, the ambitious WHO program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.


Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
Updated 27 February 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
  • Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun urged all countries to pressure the Myanmar military regime to restore democracy
  • His surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting

UNITED NATIONS: Myanmar’s UN ambassador strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy, in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly Friday that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the Feb. 1 coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that military coup “is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the new US ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield. She joined others in describing the speech as “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres in Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup. And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement” of Ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma.”
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on the Internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (National Assembly), known as CRPH, and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Tun began his remarks by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results and declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government. He cited the massive opposition by the people, saying “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the UN, the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilized global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighboring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.


UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
Updated 26 February 2021

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
  • Campaigner tells Arab News he welcomes “proactive” approach to reaching Muslim communities
  • Report: British Asians have highest mortality rate during second wave of COVID-19

LONDON: A night-time vaccine drive is reportedly being planned by the UK government during Ramadan, following reports that the country’s Asian community had the highest mortality rate during the second wave of COVID-19.
The government hopes to mitigate a potential vaccine uptake drop-off by Muslims during the holy month, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Ramadan 2021 will begin on April 12, a critical time in the UK’s vaccine rollout and just three days before the government’s planned date to have offered all over 50s the jab.
Concerns over the impact of Ramadan on vaccine uptake are compounded by a government report that British Asians, many of whom are Muslim, are the demographic with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate per 100,000 people in the UK’s second wave.
“A large part of this continued disparity for South Asian populations can be explained from geographic, socioeconomic and health factors,” the report read.
Kawsar Zaman, founder of the Take the COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign, told Arab News that he welcomes the government’s “proactive” approach in reaching out to and inoculating the UK’s Muslim community.
“I think the plan is excellent. Anything that we can do to promote uptake, particularly within communities where we’ve found it difficult to encourage people to take the vaccine, is positive,” he said.
“Particularly during Ramadan, where nine times out of 10 people are awake late into the night and early morning, anything that makes receiving the jab more accessible is great news.”
Zaman also hailed the government’s outreach to, and consultation with, Britain’s Muslim communities throughout the country’s world-leading vaccine rollout.
“What’s quite unique about this vaccine drive is that they’re being proactive about it, as well as consulting with a very wide range of people in many communities, including the Muslim community — which isn’t always the case,” he said.
Zaman singled out for praise Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the UK’s vaccine rollout, saying he has done “a lot of really good work” and has been “very open in meeting with communities.” Zaman added: “What’s great here is that they’re listening first, then acting.”


Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker
Updated 27 February 2021

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker
  • Vessel was seized along with Panamanian ship in January
  • Crew members face charges including violation of the right to innocent passage

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities said on Friday that firearms and ammunition have been found on an Iranian supertanker, one of the two vessels seized in the country’s waters over a suspected illegal oil transfer last month.
The Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya were impounded by the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) in waters bordering the South China Sea off Pontianak, West Kalimantan province, on Jan. 24, over suspicions of illegal fuel transfer between ships, polluting the water with oil, violation of the right of innocent passage, turning off their identification systems, illegal anchorage, and not flying their national flags.
On Friday, authorities said they had also found weapons on the Iranian tanker. “Investigators found a sniper rifle, three assault rifles, two pistols, and ammunition on the Iranian-flagged tanker MT Horse,” Bakamla spokesperson Col. Wisnu Pramandita told Arab News.
Earlier on Friday, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said during a joint press conference with Bakamla that all other suspicions had also been confirmed.
“We concluded they deliberately did all those violations, and they were caught doing them in tandem,” he said, as Bakamla chief Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia told reporters that the two tankers had trespassed 25 nautical miles into Indonesia’s territorial waters when the agency caught them.
The tankers were impounded after a patrol ship detected an idle signal indicating that the automatic identification system of the vessels was turned off. When Bakamala personnel arrived at the location they caught the tankers conducting a ship-to-ship fuel transfer from MT Horse to MT Freya, with their hulls covered to conceal their identities.
The vessels have been anchored at Bakamla’s base in Batam, Riau Islands province near Singapore, since their seizure.
Investigators are still questioning 25 crew from the MT Horse and 36 Chinese crew members of the MT Freya, which is managed by a Shanghai-based company.
Deputy Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Sugeng Purnomo said the inter-departmental task force investigating the case will soon press charges against the suspects. 
In the wake of the incident, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has ordered stricter law enforcement in the country’s waters, ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati told Arab News.
“We are committed to enforcing the law on Indonesia’s territorial waters, in accordance also with the international law as enforced by the International Maritime Organization,” Irawati said.


Cases of vaccine easing long COVID reported

Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 February 2021

Cases of vaccine easing long COVID reported

Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Doctors call for formal studies of what is currently anecdotal evidence
  • Expert: ‘This is a very interesting and potentially important observation’

LONDON: Anecdotal reports that people with long COVID are making dramatic recoveries after being vaccinated are intriguing and should be followed up with formal studies, according to scientists.

While most people recover quickly from COVID-19, roughly one in 10 people experience symptoms that include fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath three months later — a phenomenon known as long COVID.

But some of these patients are reporting rapid improvements to their health after receiving the vaccine, doctors have said.

“This is a very interesting and potentially important observation,” said Charles Bangham, who holds the chair in immunology at Imperial College London. “At present these are just anecdotes, and systematic studies would be needed, but anecdotes can sometimes point the way to important discoveries.”

Prof. Ian Hall, who runs a long COVID clinic in Nottingham, said he has been contacted by several patients who told him their symptoms improved dramatically after a jab.

It is possible, he said, that being vaccinated gives some people a “psychological boost” that causes them to feel better.

“But I think, anecdotally, that there is enough here to suggest that there might be some interesting consequences of the vaccine, presumably altering the immunological balance, which is contributing to resolution of low-grade inflammation, which is making people feel better,” he added.

“I would not go as far as to say it proves a connection, but science is based upon following up interesting observations.”

The World Health Organization has warned that the burden of long COVID is “real” and “significant.”

King’s College London is running a project tracking 600,000 people who have received COVID-19 vaccines.

The study’s lead scientist Tim Spector said he hopes to have data on how vaccines affect long COVID within weeks.