How COVID-19 vaccines will reach both rich and poor over time

How COVID-19 vaccines will reach both rich and poor over time
1 / 3
The WHO COVAX facility is trying to solve the problem of distributing urgent COVID-19 vaccines to some of the world’s hardest- hit countries, including Syria. (AFP)
How COVID-19 vaccines will reach both rich and poor over time
2 / 3
The WHO COVAX facility is trying to solve the problem of distributing urgent COVID-19 vaccines to some of the world’s hardest- hit countries, including Syria. (AFP)
How COVID-19 vaccines will reach both rich and poor over time
3 / 3
The WHO COVAX facility is trying to solve the problem of distributing urgent COVID-19 vaccines to some of the world’s hardest- hit countries, including Syria. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 04 January 2021

How COVID-19 vaccines will reach both rich and poor over time

How COVID-19 vaccines will reach both rich and poor over time
  • Some of the new vaccines must be stored in conditions considered too costly and cumbersome for poor countries
  • Vaccine prices expected to come down with time, giving the developing world more choice and greater access

DUBAI: Access to medical care is among the surest indicators of a country’s economic health and the quality of life it has to offer. It was therefore only a matter of time before initial excitement over the flurry of new COVID-19 vaccines gave way to probing questions about their fair distribution across the world.

Some international public-health experts are concerned the best vaccines are being snapped up by countries with the means of purchasing, stockpiling and storing them, while others are forced to wait months or even years for cheaper, lower-quality variants.

“One of the main concerns was highlighted at the beginning of the pandemic with high-income countries going into bilateral agreements with vaccine manufacturers to procure vaccines while low-income countries are left behind,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the Cairo office of the World Health Organization (WHO), told Arab News.

Indeed, several industrialized nations, including the UK and US, have ordered large supplies of the most expensive vaccines, developed using revolutionary new techniques, and have participated in clinical trials, earning them preferential access. Poorer nations, meanwhile, are likely to opt for cheaper, more conventional stock, and may be forced to await donations and bargain prices from their more powerful allies.

“This is the reason why the WHO and partners established the COVAX facility to equitably distribute vaccines among all countries in a way that would cover 20 percent of their respective populations, starting with high priority groups,” Abubakar said.

COVAX, an umbrella covering nearly 188 countries, is a “global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live,” according to the WHO.

Regardless of this multilateral safety net, many observers say the vaccine train has a first-class carriage serving the wealthy nations, while the developing world crams into economy.




Research scientist Mais Absi.

“The last thing I hope to find is that rich countries have the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the rest of the world have more of a traditional vaccine,” Mais Absi, a research scientist at London’s King’s College Hospital, told Arab News. “This is purely based on the cost and the challenge based on the transportation of the vaccine.”

Some of the new vaccines must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures in special containers packed with dry ice — conditions which may be too costly and cumbersome for poorer countries.

Prices also vary widely. A full breakdown was recently leaked by a Belgian minister, Eva De Bleeker, who accidentally tweeted the cost paid for each vaccine by the European Union.

According to press reports, the EU paid 12 euros per dose for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, $18 for Moderna, 10 euros for Germany’s CureVac, $8.50 for America’s Johnson & Johnson, 7.56 euros for the French-British Sanofi/GSK, and just 1.78 euros for the UK’s Oxford/AstraZeneca.

With so many vaccine candidates emerging, governments should in theory be free to shop around for the best shots to suit their needs. But in practice, poorer nations may find themselves rummaging through the vaccine equivalent of a bargain bin.

Pharmaceutical consultant Khawla Abu-Izza, owner of US-based Bayview CMC Consulting, agrees there is an intrinsic inequality. “Differences in terms of cost and storage conditions might impact which countries get which vaccines,” she told Arab News.

However, Abu-Izza says this does not mean vaccines developed by Russian and Chinese scientists using cheaper, tried and tested techniques will not be as effective as the American and European creations.

“The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and Moderna vaccine are likely the two most expensive vaccines, but we may have comparable efficacy from other vaccines made using conventional technologies,” she said. “So, the less expensive vaccines aren’t necessarily worse. We haven’t seen their data yet.”

Abu-Izza says the price of vaccines will inevitably come down with time, giving the developing world more choice and greater access.

“New drugs are always expensive, not because of the manufacturing costs but mainly because of the research and development cost,” she said. “Each company spent at least several hundred million dollars, so they need to recoup their expenses and make a profit.

“As for the conventional vaccine technologies used by other companies, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, there is a lot of competition. It’s only a matter of time before we see multiple sources from India, China and several other countries of COVID-19 vaccines using conventional technology.”

______________

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Rights group: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda

Rights group: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda
Updated 18 min 29 sec ago

Rights group: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda

Rights group: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda
  • The United Nations’ office in Myanmar expressed concern about escalating human rights abuses

Facebook’s recommendation algorithm amplifies military propaganda and other material that breaches the company’s own policies in Myanmar following a military takeover in February, a new report by the rights group Global Witness says.
A month after the military seized power in Myanmar and imprisoned elected leaders, Facebook’s algorithms were still prompting users to view and “like” pro-military pages with posts that incited and threatened violence, pushed misinformation that could lead to physical harm, praised the military and glorified its abuses, Global Witness said in the report, published late Tuesday.
That’s even though the social media giant vowed to remove such content following the coup, announcing it would remove Myanmar military and military-controlled pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns. It has since enacted other measures intended to reduce offline harm in the country.
Facebook said Tuesday its teams “continue to closely monitor the situation in Myanmar in real-time and take action on any posts, Pages or Groups that break our rules.”
Days after the Feb. 1 coup, the military temporarily blocked access to Facebook because it was being used to share anti-coup comments and organize protests. Access was later restored. In the following weeks, Facebook continued to tighten its policies against the military, banning all military entities from its platforms and saying it would remove praise or support for violence against citizens and their arrest.
“Once again, Facebook shows that it’s good at making broad sweeping announcements and bad at actually enforcing them. They’ve had years to improve their work in Myanmar but once again they are still failing,” said Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower who found evidence of political manipulation in countries such as Honduras and Azerbaijan while she worked there.
The struggle between the military regime that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government and those opposing it has sharpened in recent months.
Soldiers and police have killed hundreds of protesters. Last week, the United Nations’ office in Myanmar expressed concern about escalating human rights abuses after reports that a group opposed to the junta may have executed 25 civilians it captured and allegations that troops had burned down a village.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, had over 22.3 million Facebook users in January 2020, more than 40 percent of its population, according to social media management platform NapoleonCat.
“What happens on Facebook matters everywhere, but in Myanmar that is doubly true,” the report says. As in many countries outside the Western Hemisphere, mobile phones in Myanmar often come pre-loaded with Facebook and many businesses do not have a website, only a Facebook page. For many people in the country, Facebook effectively is the Internet.
On March 23, just before the peak of military violence against civilians, Global Witness said it set up a new, clean Facebook account with no history of liking or following specific topics and searched for “Tatmadaw”, the Burmese name for the armed forces. It filtered the search results to show pages, and selected the top result — a military fan page whose name translates as “a gathering of military lovers.”
Older posts on this page showed sympathy for Myanmar’s soldiers and at least two advertised for young people to join the military — but none of the newer posts since the coup violated Facebook’s policies. However, when Global Witness’s account “liked” the page, Facebook began recommending related pages with material inciting violence, false claims of interference in last year’s election and support of violence against civilians.
A March 1 post, for instance, includes a death threat against protesters who vandalize surveillance cameras.
“Those who threaten female police officers from the traffic control office and violently destroy the glass and destroy CCTV, those who cut the cables, those who vandalize with color sprays, (we) have been given an order to shoot to kill them on the spot,” reads part of the post in translation, according to the report. “Saying this before Tatmadaw starts doing this. If you don’t believe and continue to do this, go ahead. If you are not afraid to die, keep going.”
Facebook said its ban of the Tatmadaw and other measures have “made it harder for people to misuse our services to spread harm. This is a highly adversarial issue and we continue to take action on content that violates our policies to help keep people safe.”
Global Witness said its findings show that Facebook fails to uphold the “very basics” of its own guidelines.
“The platform operates too much like a walled garden, its algorithms are designed, trained, and tweaked without adequate oversight or regulation,” said Naomi Hirst, head of the digital threats campaign at Global Witness. “This secrecy has to end, Facebook must be made accountable.”


Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council

Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council
Delegates sit at the opening of the 41th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP file photo)
Updated 23 June 2021

Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council

Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council
  • The statement cited reports of torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents

GENEVA: More than 40 countries led by Canada voiced grave concerns at the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday about China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet — triggering a fierce backlash from Beijing.
The widely anticipated joint statement had been in the pipeline for several days and was delivered on day two of the 47th session of the council in Geneva.
“We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” Canada’s ambassador Leslie Norton said.
The statement was backed by Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States, among others.
Beijing must allow UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet and other independent observers “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to Xinjiang, and end the “arbitrary detention” of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, it said.
“Credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and that there is widespread surveillance disproportionately targeting Uyghurs and members of other minorities and restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Uyghur culture,” it said.
The statement cited reports of torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents.
The number of signatories is an increase from the 22 ambassadors who wrote to Bachelet in 2019 condemning China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.
China denies mistreating the Uyghurs, once a clear majority in their ancestral homeland until the state helped waves of ethnic Han Chinese migrate there. Beijing insists it is simply running vocational training centers designed to counter extremism.
Bachelet told the council on Monday she hoped at last to visit Xinjiang this year and be given “meaningful access.”
Tuesday’s statement was bound to further enrage Beijing, which decries what it says is the interference by foreign powers in its internal affairs.
The joint declaration also expressed concern over the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet.
The move came after US President Joe Biden’s first foreign trip, in which he garnered G7 and NATO unity in pushing back against Beijing, with Washington identifying China as the pre-eminent global challenge.
The statement “sends a crucial message to China’s authorities that they are not above international scrutiny,” said Agnes Callamard, head of the rights group Amnesty International.
But countries “must now move beyond handwringing and take real action,” she added.

Aware that the statement was coming, China had responded before it was even delivered.
Beijing’s representative read out a statement on behalf of a group of countries “deeply concerned about serious human rights violations against the indigenous people in Canada.”
Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Venezuela were among the co-signatories, according to the United Nations.
“Historically, Canada robbed the indigenous people of their land, killed them, and eradicated their culture,” the statement said.
It referenced the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in western Canada — one of many boarding schools set up a century ago to forcibly assimilate Canada’s indigenous peoples.
“We call for a thorough and impartial investigation into all cases where crimes were committed against the indigenous people, especially children,” the statement said.
The representative of Belarus read another joint statement on behalf of 64 countries, supporting China and stressing that Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet were Chinese internal affairs.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada had acknowledged and was seeking to make amends for wronging its indigenous peoples.
“In Canada, we had a truth and reconciliation commission,” he told journalists. “Where is China’s truth and reconciliation commission. Where is their truth?
“The journey of reconciliation is a long one, but it is a journey we are on,” he said. “China is not recognizing even that there is a problem.
“That is a pretty fundamental difference and that is why Canadians and people from around the world are speaking up for people like the Uyghurs who find themselves voiceless, faced with a government that will not recognize what’s happening to them.”


Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash
Updated 23 June 2021

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash
  • The former NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020
  • The settlement agreement would end legal action against the pilot's estate and the helicopter company

LOS ANGELES: Kobe Bryant’s widow has agreed to settle a lawsuit against the pilot and owners of the helicopter that crashed last year, killing the NBA star, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Vanessa Bryant, her children and relatives of other victims filed a settlement agreement notice Tuesday with a federal judge in Los Angeles but terms of the confidential deal weren’t disclosed.
If approved by the court, the settlement — first announced by KABC-TV — would end a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed against the estate of the pilot and the owner and operator of the helicopter that crashed into a hillside on Jan. 26, 2020.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six other passengers were flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County. The helicopter encountered thick fog in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.
Pilot Ara Zobayan climbed sharply and had nearly broken through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Calabasas hills below, killing all nine aboard instantly before flames engulfed the wreckage.
The others killed were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report in February that blamed pilot error for the crash. The NTSB said a series of poor decisions led Zobayan to fly blindly into a wall of clouds where he became so disoriented he thought he was climbing when the craft was plunging.
The agency also faulted Island Express Helicopters Inc. for inadequate review and oversight of safety matters.
The settlement agreement would end legal action against Zobayan’s estate, Island Express Helicopters Inc. and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp. The suit alleged the companies didn’t properly train or supervise Zobayan and that the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight.
Island Express Helicopters has denied responsibility and said the crash was “an act of God” it couldn’t control. It countersued two Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, saying the crash was caused by their “series of erroneous acts and/or omissions.”
The settlement agreement wouldn’t include the countersuit against the federal government.


US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo police hold off supporters of Donald Trump who tried to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot
  • A new select committee would put majority Democrats in charge of the investigation

WASHINGTON: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling that she is poised to create a new committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, pushing closer to a partisan investigation of the attack after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of an independent probe.
A person familiar with the matter said after a meeting with Democrats that Pelosi had told her colleagues that she would create a select panel. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private remarks. But Pelosi later denied that, telling reporters, “No, I did not make that announcement.”
The new committee would come after the Senate voted earlier this month to block legislation to form a bipartisan, independent commission investigating the attack by former President Donald Trump’s supporters. Pelosi said afterward that the House would step up investigations of the riot, in which a violent mob overran police, broke into the building and hunted for lawmakers to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
A new select committee would put majority Democrats in charge of the investigation. More than three dozen Republicans in the House and seven Senate Republicans said they wanted to avoid a partisan probe, and they supported the legislation to form a commission, which would have been modeled after a similar panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Still, those numbers weren’t strong enough to overcome GOP opposition in the Senate, where support from 10 Republicans is needed to pass most bills if all Democrats vote yes. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he may hold a second vote after the legislation failed to advance last month, but there’s no indication that Democrats can win the necessary support from three additional Republicans.
Pelosi said earlier this month that the House “can’t wait any longer” and would proceed with a probe. She said then that she was considering a select committee or having an existing committee conduct the investigation.
Many Republicans have made clear that they want to move on from the Jan. 6 attack, brushing aside the many unanswered questions about the insurrection, including how the government and law enforcement missed intelligence leading up to the rioting and the role of Trump before and during the insurrection.
Some Republicans have gone so far as to downplay the violence, with one suggesting the rioters looked like tourists and another insisting that a woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed that day while trying to break into the House chamber through a window was “executed.”
Last week, 21 Republicans voted against giving medals of honor to Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police to thank them for their service that day. Dozens of those officers suffered injuries, including chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones.
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including Babbitt, three other Trump supporters who died of medical emergencies and two police officers who died by suicide in the days that followed. A third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.


Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, left, with former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah during a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 23 June 2021

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit
  • ‘If New Delhi can talk to the Taliban, they can talk to us, too,’ says former chief minister

NEW DELHI: Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti has called on New Delhi to launch discussions with Pakistan to resolve issues in the disputed region, likening the move to India’s reported role in the intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar.

“If they (Indian officials) can go to Doha and talk to the Taliban, they should have a dialogue with us and with Pakistan, too, to bring about a resolution,” Mufti, who is also president of the People’s Democratic Party, told a press conference on Tuesday.
Local media reports on Monday quoted a senior Qatari diplomat involved in the Afghan peace process as saying that Indian officials were engaged in talks with the Taliban.
Mufti’s remarks came ahead of a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, summoning major parties from the region to discuss the political roadmap of Jammu and Kashmir.
Seven leading pro-Indian Kashmiri parties, under the banner of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declarations (PAGD), accepted Modi’s invitation on Tuesday.
Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah of Kashmir’s oldest political party, the People’s Conference (PC), and Mufti will attend Thursday’s meeting on behalf of the PAGD.
The talks will be the first major interaction between New Delhi and Kashmir-based political parties in the three years since Modi’s government annulled the region’s special constitutional status.
In a dramatic move in August 2019, India scrapped the region’s constitutional autonomy. It withdrew Kashmiris’ exclusive rights before placing the territory under curfew for several months, and detaining hundreds of political workers and activists. Most political activists and leaders, including Mufti and Abdullah, were put under house arrest for more than a year.
New Delhi also divided the state into two federally administered union territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The PAGD was formed ahead of the move in August 2019 to restore Kashmir’s constitutional rights, a condition reiterated by Mufti and other leaders on Tuesday, amid reports that New Delhi might restore Kashmir’s statehood.
“Statehood is the prime minister’s own commitment. They won’t be doing us a favor by giving us statehood back. The PAGD was formed for the restoration of what was taken away from us on Aug. 5, 2019,” Mufti said.
Mufti, who was Jammu and Kashmir chief minister in alliance with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) till June 2018, added that she favored dialogue to resolve the issue before demanding the release of all political prisoners to “create an atmosphere for talks.”
“There are many who are still in jail. We will also seek immediate shifting of prisoners back to J&K jails from various Indian prisons,” she added.
There is no declared agenda for Thursday’s meeting. However, Kashmir’s political parties said they would voice “concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”
“Our concerns are constitutional rights which have been arbitrarily withdrawn and the downgrading of Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory,” PAGD spokesperson Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami told Arab News.
“What New Delhi did with us was not necessary and has proved counterproductive,” he added.
Abdul Ghani Bhatt, leader of the Kashmir-based pro-freedom alliance the All Party Hurriyat Conference, declined to comment on the meeting when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.
However, political experts are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks.
“What can New Delhi offer to the political parties in Kashmir now?” Subhash Chander Gupta, a Jammu-based lawyer and political analyst, said.
“New Delhi’s decision to disturb the status quo in Kashmir was not well thought out. The reality is that people in Jammu feel lost and without any power after the loss of Kashmir’s special status,” Gupta said, adding he doubted Kashmir’s special status will be restored.
“The ruling BJP will have to pay politically if they go back on their stand on Kashmir. They will lose the rest of India if they do that,” he said.