Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the north central railway hospital in Allahabad on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 January 2021

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • Only half of the government’s target has been inoculated

NEW DELHI: The world’s biggest vaccination drive to inoculate 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus is slowing down in India as concerns over safety fuel vaccine hesitancy, especially among health workers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the campaign on Jan. 16, with 30 million frontline health care workers the first to get the jab. A week into the drive, however, Health Ministry data suggest that on average only 150,000 people have been inoculated a day — half of the government’s target.
“There is a general hesitancy among healthcare workers, particularly doctors, about the efficacy of the vaccines,” Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors Association of the premier Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told Arab News on Friday.
Two coronavirus vaccines have been approved for emergency use in India: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced domestically as Covishield by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, and a locally developed vaccine called Covaxin, produced by Indian company Bharat Biotech, which is still in its trial stage and has no final data on its efficacy.
“Lack of transparency is at the core of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Nirmalya Mohapatra of Delhi-based Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, told Arab News.
“We doctors should have jointly taken up the issue and asked the government to demonstrate more transparency in introducing the vaccine,” he said.
Mohapatra was one of the doctors who on Jan. 16 refused to take a Covaxin shot at his hospital.
Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF) president, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhattialso, says that the absence of data is fueling “fear about the vaccination” among members of the medical community.
 Concerns also exist about the Covishield vaccine.

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Instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.

“Even there is hesitancy about Covishied. There is no enthusiasm for it. However, people will prefer Covishied over Covaxin,” Bhatti said.
In response to vaccine hesitancy, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Thursday launched an information campaign to address what he said were “rumors and misinformation.”
“We have launched a digital media package with impactful messages from key technical experts from the country who have taken COVID-19 vaccine,” Vardhan told reporters.
The messages, he said, are that “vaccines are safe and efficacious,” and cover the “critical role of vaccines in controlling the pandemic.”
But instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.
“If the Indian PM Narendra Modi and other political high-ups take the vaccine then it will have a huge impact,” Singh said. “There is a lack of political consensus on vaccines. To inspire confidence all the state chief ministers should also take the shot.”
According to media reports, Modi may get vaccinated in the second phase of the campaign, in March or April, when 270 million people above the age of 50 will be inoculated.
Other health experts argue, however, that vaccinating leaders is not a substitute for scientific processes.
“Leadership taking the vaccine is more of a tokenism than coming out clean on the efficacy and the actual and effective profile of the vaccine,” said Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based health expert and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.
“What is tragic is that our PM might be ready to take the risk of vaccination (but) he is not ready to offend the companies, which are sitting on the data. Why can’t they make the data public? This is what the doctors are asking for,” he told Arab News.
In the absence of scientific data, he argued, people with underlying health problems would be hesitant to get vaccinated when the immunization campaign reaches the general public.
“When you are not transparent today, then tomorrow comorbid people will be hesitant and then the general population will be reluctant,” he said.


Academics back UK professor accused of anti-Semitism

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
Updated 46 min 4 sec ago

Academics back UK professor accused of anti-Semitism

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.” (AFP/Getty/File Photo)
  • Letter says David Miller ‘responded honestly’ to Israel-Palestine query

LONDON: Academics at the University of Bristol have urged it to abide by academic freedom and resist firing one of its lecturers, David Miller, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

A professor of political sociology, Miller said Israel wants to “impose its will all over the world,” and it is “fundamental to Zionism to encourage Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”

He claimed that members of the British university’s Jewish Society who had submitted complaints regarding his comments are being used as “political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.”

A letter of support for Miller has been signed by several academics who said he was “approached to provide a statement on Israel and Palestine” and “simply responded honestly to the query.”

They warned that “well-orchestrated efforts” have been made to misrepresent his response as proof of anti-Semitism, and that sacking him would “crush academic freedom.” The letter was sent to Prof. Hugh Brady, president and vice chancellor of the university.

Miller has said his aim is to end “settler colonialism in Palestine” and “end Zionism as a functioning ideology of the world.”

Jewish Society President Edward Isaacs said the university is giving Miller’s views “legitimacy and power” by refusing to take action.“Jewish students have been actively seeking to ensure they are not taught by David Miller, and when they are, they are fearful of him finding out they are Jewish or associated with the Jewish Society,” Isaacs said.

“These are dangerous conspiracy theories about dual loyalty, dishonesty and Jewish students being operatives of a foreign state.”

Miller told The Times newspaper that he takes student safety “very seriously,” and that universities are governed by laws protecting the right to espouse research “that some may find discomfiting.”

Bristol University said: “We do not endorse the comments made by Prof. Miller about our Jewish students.”

The university said it is speaking to student organizations, including the Jewish Society, and the UCU, an academic union, “about how we can address student concerns swiftly, ensuring that we also protect the rights of our staff.”


Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar
Updated 27 February 2021

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Abdullah bin Yahya Al-Muallami, expressed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) concern on continuing “tragic events” that may hinder the process of a safe return of the Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.
Muallami called on Myanmar to fulfill International commitments to Rohingya Muslims during a UN general assembly meeting to hear the briefing of the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Bergner.

Muallami stated that members of the OIC were “closely” following the current events and developments in Myanmar, and urged to accelerate the full implementation of all recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to address the root causes of the crisis as well as implement other UN recommendations.
The international advisory commission – headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – was founded in 2016 to ensure the social and economic well-being of both the Buddhist and the Rohingya communities of Myanmar’s conflict-ravaged Rakhine State in the northern coastal region.
The envoy called on Myanmar to shoulder its responsibility towards the Rohingya Muslim minority and for an immediate end to all acts of violence and all violations of international law.
He calling for a full, transparent and independent investigation to report on the violations.
Muallami stressed the OIC’s position in supporting the Muslim Rohingya people, calling for ensuring their safety and security, and the recognition of their basic rights, including the right to full citizenship.
The ambassador welcomed the efforts of the international community, the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the government of Bangladesh to find a solution to the refugee crisis.


Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths
Updated 27 February 2021

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths
  • The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,534 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,825 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,234,720 since the pandemic began.
The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 85,743.

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.