Pfizer/BioNTech say vaccine effective against UK, South Africa virus mutations

Pfizer/BioNTech say vaccine effective against UK, South Africa virus mutations
Walgreens Pharmacists prepare Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines at Crown Heights Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., Dec. 22, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 January 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech say vaccine effective against UK, South Africa virus mutations

Pfizer/BioNTech say vaccine effective against UK, South Africa virus mutations
  • Pfizer/BioNTech say preliminary findings “do not indicate the need for a new vaccine to address the emerging variants”
  • Companies “prepared to respond” if new strain is shown to be able to evade the immunity of the vaccine

PARIS: The vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech appears to retain its effectiveness against coronavirus mutations in worrying new variants that have emerged recently in Britain and South Africa, the firms said Thursday.
Several new variants — each with a cluster of genetic mutations — have sparked fears over an increase in infectiousness as well as suggestions that the virus could begin to elude immune response, whether from prior infection or a vaccine.
Pfizer/BioNTech, which had previously said it was unlikely that the strain originally found in Britain could escape vaccine protection, said Thursday that early tests suggest their immunization would be similarly protective against the variant in South Africa.
In a statement, the two companies said these preliminary findings “do not indicate the need for a new vaccine to address the emerging variants.”
They said they are “prepared to respond” if a new strain is shown to be able to evade the immunity of the vaccine, adding that they can produce updates to their jab if needed.
The statement comes after US biotech firm Moderna this week announced that lab studies suggest its vaccine should protect against the variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
The latest Pfizer/BioNTech research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, was carried out by researchers from Pfizer and the University of Texas.
The authors compared the antibodies of 20 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine during clinical trials with lab-engineered sets of mutations present in the variants that emerged in Britain and South Africa.
The new variants — along with another linked to Brazil — have mutations to the virus’ spike protein, which enables the virus to latch onto human cells and therefore plays a key role in driving infections.
One mutation in particular — known as E484K and found in the South Africa and Brazil strains but not the one in Britain — has experts particularly worried about immunity “escape.”
The study found that the antibodies were able to neutralize all the sets of mutations tested.
It noted that the effect was “slightly lower” against three mutations in the variant found in South Africa, including E484K.
But the firms said that it was “unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
They said they were looking to test against the full set of mutations in the spike protein of the variant that emerged in South Africa.
A study released last week by researchers in South Africa, which has also not yet been peer reviewed, tested the variant found there against blood plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients.
They found that it was resistant to neutralising antibodies built up from prior infection, but said more research was needed into the effectiveness of other parts of the immune response.
Daily global deaths from Covid-19 topped 18,000 for the first time Wednesday, with vaccines seen as the only real chance of returning to some form of normality.
The German firm BioNTech had already said the messenger RNA technology means it could update the vaccine against new variants within weeks.


Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction
Updated 11 min 16 sec ago

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction

Pro Palestinian rally in London calls on UK government to impose Israel sanction
  • Groups say 8,000 attended protests, with 185,000 writing to MPs ahead of debate

LONDON: Pro Palestinian protesters gathered outside Downing Street in the British capital, London, on Saturday to call on the UK government to impose sanctions on Israel over its bombardment of the Gaza Strip last month.
The demonstration comes two days before Parliament is set to debate a petition to introduce sanctions against Israel, after it received more than 380,000 signatures, above the 100,000 threshold required for it to be considered.
The protest, which also comes on the eve of a G7 meeting of world leaders in Cornwall, is part of the “Resist G7 Day of Action for International Justice”organized by a coalition of groups calling on the G7 nations to “end all military-security cooperation with Israel, and employ targeted sanctions until Israel complies with international law,” the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said.
Organizers said over 8,000 people attended the protest, and 185,000 people directly contacted MPs to “pressure the UK government to hold Israel accountable for repeatedly violating International law, via the imposition of sanctions.”

Organizers say over 8,000 people attended the protest in central London calling on the the British government to introduce sanctions on Israel. (FOA)

Moreover, 10,000 people requested a meeting with their MPs on Wednesday to ask them to attend the parliamentary debate on Monday and speak in favor of sanctions on Israel, as part of a national lobby organized by UK-based NGO Friends of Al-Asqa (FOA).
“Over a space of 10 days, 185,000 people sent a letter that we were organizing through our website on the back of Shiekh Jarrah and what was happening at Al-Aqsa Mosque to ask for a call of sanctions,” FOA’s Shamiul Joarder told Arab News.
Israel’s 11-day campaign in Gaza followed heightened tensions in the West Bank, after Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque several times during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and wounded hundreds of worshippers, while in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinians face evictions from their homes.
“Israel violates over 40 UN resolutions; the campaign to impose sanctions will continue until Israel is held to account for failing to abide by international law,” said Joarder.
He added that what they have found over the years is more people are becoming politically aware, astute and literate, and are more understanding of the political dynamics in the region.

“Social media has really helped to see what is happening on the ground, to help see on your phone the apartheid taking place in Palestine, and that has really allowed people to galvanize and understand that us giving money is not the solution here, we need to become politically active,” he said.
“Even though the bombs have stopped in Gaza, the occupation remains, and it is really welcoming and a blessing that so many people are still engaged, which is a slight difference to 2008 and 2014. I feel as though people really understand that just because there is a cease-fire, it does not mean the occupation has ceased, it does not mean the apartheid has finished, or the settlements have finished, or the colonial project has come to an end. People understand that the occupation remains and they need to continue to campaign.”
The FOA and PSC organized the protest along with Stop the War Coalition, Palestinian Forum in Britain, and the Muslim Association of Britain.


Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan

Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan
Photo/Quetta Assistant Commissioner
Updated 12 June 2021

Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan

Authorities shut down six ‘illegal’ Iranian schools in southwest Pakistan
  • Schools were teaching foreign curriculum in violation of Pakistani law, officials say
  • Management and faculty of the schools consisted of Iranian nationals

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities have closed six Iranian schools operating illegally in southwestern Balochistan province, officials said on Saturday.
All six schools shut on Friday were run by Iranian nationals in Quetta, the capital of the province bordering Iran.
“We have sealed six schools, which were being illegally run by Iranian nationals and where a foreign syllabus was being taught in violation of the country law,” Quetta Assistant Commissioner Muhammad Zuhaib-ul-Haq told Arab News.
Shabbir Ahmed, monitoring and evaluation director of the provincial government’s Balochistan Education Foundation, said that four more schools are being investigated for teaching a foreign curriculum.
“It’s likely that the remaining four schools will also be sealed since they don’t fulfil requirements,” Ahmed said. “Foreign-funded schools with foreign faculty and foreign syllabus are unacceptable.”
Both the management and faculty of the schools consisted of Iranian nationals, he added.
It remains unclear when the schools were established. All the schools had 1992 “no objection” certificates on display, Ahmed said, but this was not sufficient for them to operate as they had failed to register with the provincial home and education departments.
The schools attracted the attention of local authorities five months ago and were asked to register properly.
“A form was handed to them to get themselves registered, but registration was declined after they failed to fulfil requirements,” Ahmed said.
“If you are teaching in Pakistan, which is a sovereign state, you have to teach Pakistani syllabus,” he added. “It is not possible to teach a foreign curriculum in a sovereign state.”

 

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Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
Updated 12 June 2021

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead

Afghan official: Bombs hit 2 minivans in Kabul, 7 dead
  • The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion killed one and wounded four
  • The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group

KABUL: Separate bombs hit two minivans in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the Afghan capital Saturday, killing at least seven people and wounding six others, the Interior Ministry said.
The attacks targeted minivans on the same road about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) apart in a neighborhood in western Kabul, Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Ahmad Zia Zia, said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what type of bombs were used and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Daesh has carried out similar bombings in the area, including four attacks on four minivans earlier this month that killed at least 18 people.
The first explosion killed six people and wounded two and the second explosion in front of Muhammad Ali Jinnah hospital, where a majority of COVID-19 patients are admitted, killed one and wounded four.
The area where the explosions happened is largely populated by the minority Hazara ethnic group who are mostly Shiite Muslims. Shiites are a minority in mostly Sunni Afghanistan, and the local Daesh affiliate has declared war against them.
Hundreds of Afghans are killed or injured every month in violence connected to the country’s constant war. But Hazaras, who make up around 9 percent of the population of 36 million people, stand alone in being intentionally targeted because of their ethnicity and their religion.
Violence and chaos continue to escalate in Afghanistan as the US and NATO continue their withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and 7,000 allied forces. The last of the troops will be gone by Sept. 11 at the latest.


After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
Updated 12 June 2021

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
  • On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project
  • She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”

LONDON: Fresh from charming leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Queen Elizabeth II was back at her residence at Windsor Castle on Saturday to view a military parade to mark her official birthday.
The 95-year-old monarch sat on a dais to watch the ceremony that despite ongoing social distancing restrictions did not disappoint on the pomp and pageantry front. If she was tired after meeting G-7 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, on Friday evening, it didn’t show.
The ceremony is a gift from the Household Division of army regiments, which has a close affinity with the monarch. It featured soldiers who have played an integral role in the COVID-19 response, as well as those who have been serving on military operations. She was seen beaming from ear to ear as the nine planes of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows flew past in formation and let loose their red, white and blue smoke.
The traditional Trooping the Color ceremony is normally staged in London and features hundreds of servicemen and women and thousands of spectators. However, for the second year running, that was not possible and it was a slimmed-down affair in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which is around 27 miles (44 kilometers) west of the capital.


Dubbed a mini Trooping the Color, it featured soldiers in ceremonial scarlet coats and bearskin hats. The servicemen and women on parade numbered almost 275, with 70 horses, compared with the 85 soldiers who took part in the ceremony last summer. A small handful of seated guests lined part of the quadrangle — a change from last year when only the military were present.
The ceremony originated from traditional preparations for battle. The colors — or flags — were “trooped,” or carried down the lines of soldiers, so they could be seen and recognized in battle.
Lt. Col. Guy Stone, who planned the queen’s official birthday celebrations in Windsor Castle’s quadrangle, said he wanted to create a “memorable and uplifting day” for the monarch.
The ceremony took place a couple of months after the death of her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, whose funeral also took place at Windsor Castle.
Though she has been mourning the loss of her husband of 73 years, the queen has carried on performing her duties, including delivering a government-scripted speech to mark the new session of parliament.
On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project, a futuristic botanical garden housed inside domes that features the world’s largest indoor rainforest.
She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”
Though the queen’s actual birthday is on April 26, she celebrates another one in June when the British weather — it is hoped — is more conducive to outdoor celebrations. It’s a royal tradition that goes back to 1748 and the reign of King George II, whose actual birthday was in November.
One of the major parts of the queen’s official birthday is her award of honors to those deemed to have made a positive contribution to society.
This year’s honors list has celebrated those at the forefront of the UK’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines over the past few months, which has been credited with turning around the country’s pandemic response.
Sarah Gilbert, the professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford who was instrumental in the development of the vaccine being manufactured by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and Kate Bingham, the former head of the UK Vaccines Taskforce credited for the country’s successful procurement program, have both been recognized with damehoods.
Though the UK has seen Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, with nearly 128,000 people having lost their lives, its vaccination program has been deemed one of the world’s speediest and most coherent rollouts.


At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas
Updated 12 June 2021

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS: Officials in Texas say at least nine people have been injured following a shooting Saturday morning in downtown Austin.
Police said in a tweet that multiple victims had injuries. The Austin-Travis County EMS said in a series of tweets that at least 12 patients had received treatment or been transported to local hospitals.
It was unknown how many of the injuries may have been gunshot wounds.
It was unclear what sparked the shooting. Police have not announced any suspects or arrests.