Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
A medical worker prepares a vial of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Clalit Health Service's center in the Cinema City complex in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.(AP)
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Updated 25 September 2021

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
  • Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering coronavirus boosters to almost anyone over 12 and says its approach was further vindicated by a US decision to give the shots to older patients or those at higher risk.
Israeli officials credit the booster shot, which has already been delivered to about a third of the population, with helping suppress the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. They say the differing approaches are based on the same realization that the booster is the right way to go, and expect the US and other countries to expand their campaigns in the coming months.
“The decision reinforced our results that the third dose is safe,” said Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and chairman of the country’s association of public health physicians. “The main question now is of prioritization.”
The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of the year so that more people in poor countries can get their first two doses, but Israeli officials say the booster shot is just as important in preventing infections.
“We know for sure that the current system of vaccine nationalism is hurting all of us, and it’s creating variants,” said Davidovitch, who is also a member of an Israeli government panel of experts. But he added that the problem is “much broader than Israel.”
Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population after striking a deal with Pfizer to trade medical data in exchange for a steady supply of doses. It has also purchased large quantities of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Most adults had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine by March, causing infection levels to plummet and allowing the government to lift nearly all coronavirus restrictions.
But in June, the highly infectious delta variant began to spread. After studying the matter, experts concluded that the vaccine remained effective against the virus, but that its efficacy waned roughly five months after the second shot.
In late July, Israel began distributing booster shoots to at-risk citizens, including those over 60. Within weeks, it expanded the campaign to the general population.
More than 3 million of Israel’s 9 million citizens have gotten a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.
In a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Israeli experts said that in people who had been vaccinated five months earlier, the booster increased vaccine efficacy tenfold compared with vaccinated patients who didn’t receive it.
That study tracked about 1 million people 60 and older and found that the booster was “very effective at reducing the rate of both confirmed infection and severe illness,” the Health Ministry said.
A senior Israeli health official, Dr. Sharon Alroy Preiss, was among the experts testifying before the US Food and Drug Administration panel last week in favor of the booster shot. But the regulator decided against boosters for the general population, opting only to authorize it for people aged 65 or older and those in high-risk groups.
Experts cited a lack of safety data on extra doses and also raised doubts about the value of mass boosters, rather than ones targeted to specific groups. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar endorsement Thursday.
The Israeli Health Ministry said the FDA decision “gave validity to the third vaccine operation” underway in Israel, which “decided to act responsibly and quickly in order to treat growing infections.” It said statistics show the booster dose has “restored protection.”
Recent weeks have seen “a declining rate of new infections among the elderly,” the vast majority of whom have received booster shots, and “a continuous increase in the proportion of unvaccinated individuals within the new severe cases,” Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government’s expert advisory panel on COVID-19, told The Associated Press.
In recent weeks, as the booster campaign has been rolled out, the percentage of unvaccinated among serious COVID-19 cases has climbed, and the overall new cases among people with at least two shots has dropped.
As of Friday, around 70 percent of Israel’s 703 serious cases of COVID-19 were among the unvaccinated, and about 20 percent had not received a booster. A month earlier, after Israel vaccinated 1.5 million people with a third dose, those two groups were equally represented among the serious cases.
Over 60 percent of Israelis — the overwhelming majority of the adult population — have received at least two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Some experts noted that the US and Europe were several months behind Israel’s vaccination campaign and predicted those countries would follow suit in the months ahead.
“We are experiencing first a phenomenon that will become apparent likely in many other countries in the coming months and create a similar challenge there,” Balicer said. “Few, if any at all, other countries are walking in our shoes right now.”
The UK already is rolling out a booster campaign, with third doses to be offered to anyone over 50 and other vulnerable groups.
The WHO has called on rich countries to refrain from exhausting vaccine stockpiles on boosters while much of the world has yet to receive any. A third shot may be necessary for people with certain health conditions, but “boosters for the general public are not appropriate at this stage of the pandemic,” it said.
“The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will circulate and change, the longer social and economic disruptions will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective,” it said in a statement Friday.
Balicer said that Israel, as a small country, has little effect on global supplies and that its role as the world’s laboratory provides “a very important source of knowledge” for other countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has exhorted the public to get vaccine boosters as part of his aggressive public relations campaign since taking office in June.
“Israel is the only country in the world that is giving its citizens this gift of the possibility — both legally and in terms of supply — of a booster,” he said last week.
Balicer said other states should ready national plans for the rollout of booster shots.
“Countries that vaccinated more recently should be prepared for the impact of waning vaccine immunity manifesting in midwinter, further intensifying the challenge,” he said.


Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
  • MP Ali Darwish, from Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, hopes 'positive signs to emerge in coming days’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has affirmed his government’s commitment to honoring its undertakings for reform.

Mikati said that his joint phone call on Saturday with Saudi and French leaders was “an important step toward restoring historic brotherly relations with Riyadh.”

A joint Saudi-French statement, following the joint phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Macron with Mikati, linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of the required reforms.”

The statement reiterated demands that Lebanon should “implement comprehensive reforms, monitor borders, abide by the Taif Agreement, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions and not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the region (nor) a source of drug trafficking.”

Mikati also said: “I thank President Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their keenness in maintaining the friendship toward Lebanon.”

Mikati called both President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and briefed them on the phone call.

Mikati’s media office said that Aoun and Berri “expressed their satisfaction and stressed their adherence to the best relations with Saudi Arabia and all brotherly Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Mikati called “all parties in Lebanon to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and circumstances and not to take any action or interfere in any matter that offends the Arab brothers and harms the Lebanese.”

He added: “It is time to commit again to the policy of disassociation and not to involve ourselves and our country in what has nothing to do with us.”

The Saudi position toward Lebanon left the Lebanese anxiously relieved about the extent of the seriousness of the ruling authority in implementing what was agreed on in Jeddah between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Although Macron succeeded in opening the door to a solution to Lebanon’s diplomatic and economic crisis with Saudi Arabia, and thus the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, after the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi from the government following his statements about the Kingdom, there is a fear that Hezbollah will continue to embroil Lebanon in regional politics.

However, MP Ali Darwish, who is from Prime Minister Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, expects “positive signs to emerge in the coming days.”

Darwish said that appointing a parliamentary committee to try presidents, ministers and MPs in return for allowing Cabinet sessions to take place was “one of the proposals.”

Darwish told Arab News that “the Saudi-French move has undoubtedly breached the wall of stalemate in Lebanon’s relationship with the Gulf, which Lebanon is keen to be extremely good in the midst of the conflict in the region.”

On the implementation of the French-Saudi statement, Darwish said: “The reforms are contained in the ministerial statement of Prime Minister Mikati’s government, and they are his government’s agenda, and he is striving to achieve them.”

Darwish added: “The most important thing now is to restore the connection that was cut off, to return the ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and to return the Arab ambassadors to Lebanon.”

Darwish said that the Mikati government would “never interfere in the judicial matter, as there is a separation of powers.”

However, he indicated that activating the Parliamentary Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers was possible but it required steps to be taken by parliament.

Darwish added: “However, the trade-off between this matter and any other matter, especially the dismissal of the governor of the Banque du Liban, is not on the table.”

Darwish said that Mikati’s concern “is securing the livelihood of the Lebanese people in light of the current severe economic crisis.”

He said work was “now focused on rounding the corners and bringing the views closer.”


Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
Updated 06 December 2021

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
  • It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation

BETHLEHEM: Residents lit up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, hoping that a new coronavirus variant does not ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic.

This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travelers for 14 days to try to prevent the omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was lit up with hundreds of colored lights as red, white and green fireworks illuminated the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban had prevented several foreign delegations attending.

Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was far bigger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local spectators away.

"It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation," said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not provide her full name.


Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Updated 05 December 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
  • Blinken thanked the UAE for hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan
  • UAE foreign minister held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka

LONDON: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday to discuss “important regional matters,” the US State Department said.
Sheikh Mohammed and Blinken “reaffirmed their countries’ strong partnership and discussed ways to broaden and deepen their wide-ranging cooperation,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“Blinken also thanked the crown prince for the UAE’s generous support in hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan to third countries, and commended the UAE for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” Price added.
Meanwhile, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the two-day 5th Indian Ocean Conference, which kicked off on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
During the meetings, Sheikh Abdullah discussed strategic relations and ways to enhance prospects for joint cooperation in all fields, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
Sheikh Abdullah welcomed Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi, and stressed the depth of the relations between the UAE and the sultanate.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar praised the strong friendship between the UAE and his country, and their strategic partnership which is witnessing continuous growth and development.
Sheikh Abdullah also welcomed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Pierce to Abu Dhabi and the two sides discussed bilateral relations and ways to support them in various fields, including tourism.


Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection
Updated 05 December 2021

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection
  • Safadi and Kerry stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between Jordan and the US

LONDON: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi held talks with US special envoy for climate, John Kerry, on Sunday to discuss environmental protection and confronting climate change.
“Safadi and Kerry stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between the kingdom and the US, and reviewed ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries,” Jordanian state news agency Petra reported.
Safadi praised the aid provided by the US to the Kingdom and its support for economic development, stressing the importance of its leading role in efforts to resolving regional crises and achieve peace and stability.
Kerry said that Jordan was a strong and essential ally of the US, and that his country appreciated the key role and efforts led by King Abdullah II to overcome regional challenges and achieve security, stability and peace.
Kerry reiterated Washington’s support for Jordan, including in the areas of environmental protection, facing the challenges of climate change, and developing clean energy and water sources.
“This engagement with government counterparts aims to accelerate global climate action following the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November,” the US State Department said in a statement.
It added that Kerry would discuss how the region could collaborate to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.


Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab

Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab
Updated 05 December 2021

Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab

Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab
  • Aboul Gheit said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would trigger an arms race in the region

CAIRO: The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said that Iran aims to extend its control over the Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab, either directly or through militias it funds.

During his participation in the seventh Rome-Mediterranean Dialogue, held in the Italian capital with the participation of senior officials, experts and economists from countries bordering the shores of the Mediterranean, he pointed to attacks carried out by Iran in the summer of 2019, as well as to the continuing threat posed by the Houthis to navigation in the Red Sea.

The secretary-general added that the stability of navigation in these strategic straits, especially in the transportation of petroleum products, represented a fundamental backbone of the global economy, and that maintaining freedom of navigation without threat was a global priority and not only for the Arab countries bordering it.

He said that Iran’s behavior in the region, and its apparent tendency to dominate and interfere with Arab countries, was behind the difficulty in establishing a security system in the Gulf based on cooperation and the common welfare of the people.

He said that several initiatives had been put forward on this, but the main problem remained a lack of confidence due to Iranian policies that represented a threat to its neighbors.

Aboul Gheit said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would trigger an arms race in the region. He hoped negotiations would succeed in dissuading Iran from achieving this goal to avoid a deterioration in the current security situation.

He said it was difficult to address the Iranian nuclear program without acknowledging that there was already a nuclear power in the region in Israel, especially in light of its insistence on destroying the two-state solution and wasting opportunities for its implementation.