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.


Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise
Updated 12 sec ago

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise
KHARTOUM: Tens of thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy took to the streets Thursday, as rival demonstrators kept up a sit-in demanding a return to military rule.
Both sides appealed to their supporters to keep apart and refrain from any violence, but there was a heavy police and troop presence around potential flashpoints.
Security forces fired tear gas as pro-civilian rule protesters rallied outside parliament in Omdurman, across the Nile river from the capital Khartoum, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.
The two sides represent opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella group which spearheaded the nationwide demonstrations that led to the army’s overthrow of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir in 2019.
The mainstream faction backs the transition to civilian rule, while supporters of the breakaway faction are demanding that the military takeover.
Demonstrators joined the march organized by the mainstream faction in several cities across Sudan including Khartoum, its twin city Omdurman, Port Sudan in the east, and Atbara to the north.
Banners proclaimed “Civilian (rule) is the people’s choice,” while the marchers chanted slogans against Islamists and the military, the two main pillars of the former Bashir regime.
“Give up power, (Abdel Fattah) Al-Burhan,” they chanted in reference to the general who chairs the Sovereign Council, the joint civilian-military body which oversees the work of the transitional government.
“Burhan is dirty, and was installed by the Islamists.”
Jaafar Hassan, spokesman of the mainstream FFC faction, said supporters backed two key agreements — the 2019 power-sharing deal between the civilians the military, and a 2020 peace deal with rebel groups.
The two deals stipulate power will be handed over to civilian rule by the end of a three-year transition period in 2023.
“Our main goal is to have the military hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereign Council to the civilians,” Hassan told AFP. “We also want the armed groups to be integrated in the Sudanese army.”
Their rivals, the pro-military faction, have been holding a sit-in outside the presidential palace since Saturday.
It has drawn support from some of the many Sudanese who have been hit hard by the tough IMF-backed economic reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN economist.
“We are in the right,” said protester Hamada Abdelrahman, standing outside the presidential palace. “This government has not offered the Sudanese people anything for two years.”
The sit-in’s opponents charge it has been orchestrated by leading figures in the security forces with the support of Bashir sympathizers and other “counter-revolutionaries.”
The same groups were blamed for a September 21 coup attempt that was thwarted by the government.
Ahead of Thursday’s demonstrations, leaders of the rival factions appealed for calm.
Ali Ammar, a leader of the mainstream FFC, said pro-government demonstrators would stay away from the presidential palace and the cabinet building, so “there would be no friction with protesters” there.
Prominent ex-rebel figures in the pro-military faction, like Darfur governor Minni Minnawi and Finance Minister Gibril Ibrahim, called for the rival demonstrations to remain peaceful.
On Thursday, troops and police sealed off roads leading to the large open space outside army headquarters, where tens of thousands of protesters camped out for weeks before and after Bashir’s ouster in April 2019.
Hamdok has described the deep divisions over Sudan’s transition as “the worst and most dangerous” since Bashir’s overthrow.
The prime minister has made his top priorities addressing the chronic economic woes inherited from the Bashir regime, and making peace with the multiple rebel groups that took up arms during its three decades in power.
A sharp improvement in relations with the United States has led to the lifting of economic sanctions giving some help to the economy.
But a package of painful structural reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound, has proved widely unpopular and has cost Hamdok’s government much of its support.
In October last year, the government signed a peace deal with multiple rebel groups in Sudan’s far-flung regions with a view to ending the ethnic conflicts that have dogged the country since independence.
The deal was widely hailed as a step forward, but its focus on the three battleground regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan left minority communities in other parts of Sudan feeling sidelined.
Resentment has been particularly strong among the Beja people of the Red Sea coast, who have mounted protests across the east since mid-September, including a blockade of the key trade hub of Port Sudan.

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires
Updated 21 October 2021

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires
  • Those executed on Wednesday were charged with "committing terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure”
  • Eleven others were sentenced to hard labour for life, 4 were hit with temporary penal labour and 5 minors were handed jail sentences

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government has executed 24 people it convicted of deliberately starting deadly wildfires that raged in the summer of last year, state media reported Thursday.
Those executed on Wednesday were charged with “committing terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material,” the official SANA news agency said.
Eleven others were sentenced to hard labor for life, four were hit with temporary penal labor and five minors were handed jail sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years over similar charges, SANA added.
Their identities were not disclosed, and no details were provided on where and how the executions took place.
The suspects, the state agency said, were identified late last year in an interior ministry probe into wildfires in the provinces of Latakia, Tartus and Homs.
“They confessed that they had started fires at several locations in the three provinces and they also confessed to convening meetings to plan the fires” that occurred intermittently in September and October 2020, according to SANA.
The agency said it documented 187 fires affecting 280 towns and villages last year.
They devastated 13,000 hectares of agricultural land and 11,000 hectares of forest land, while also damaging more than 370 homes, SANA said.
At least three people were killed and dozens wounded, state media reported at the time.
Syrian law still provides for the death penalty for offenses including terrorism, arson and army desertion, according to rights group Amnesty International.
In its latest death penalty report published this year, Amnesty said it was able to corroborate information indicating that executions took place in Syria in 2020 but said it did not have sufficient information to give a reliable minimum figure.
The death penalty is usually carried out by hanging in Syria.


Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians
Updated 21 October 2021

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians
  • The coalition warned that it would “strike with an iron fist” if Houthi violations continue
  • Operation is a response to the Houthi threat and aims to deter the militia from targeting civilians

RIYADH: The Arab coalition has launched an operation in Sanaa to stop the Houthis attacking civilian targets.
The coalition said the offensive would neutralize the threat of imminent attacks on civilian facilities in the Kingdom.
The coalition warned that it would “strike with an iron fist” within the framework of international humanitarian law if Houthi violations continue.
The operation took into account preventive measures to protect civilians and the militia is an existential threat to international peace and security, the coalition said.
It said the alliance had exercised the highest degree of restraint in the face of recent Houthi violations.


Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole

Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole
Updated 21 October 2021

Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole

Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole
  • Rights campaigner: Police often ‘make up charges’ against women who breach morality laws

LONDON: Footage circulating online appears to show the violent arrest with a dog-catching pole of an Iranian woman accused of breaking morality laws.

The footage shows the unidentified woman being pulled violently by her hair through the streets of Tehran, ensnared by the catchpole, before being bundled into a “morality police” van.

Two men and a woman are seen forcing her into the van as she tries to resist. The victim’s head is smashed into the roof of the van as she is pushed inside.

 

 

Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian women’s rights campaigner who uploaded the footage, said the woman was arrested for failing to wear a head covering, which is mandatory for women in the country. “Unveiled women (are accused) of prostitution or creating moral corruption,” she tweeted.

Tehran’s police chief said the woman was arrested for being “insulting and aggressive,” but Alinejad said police often “make up other charges” against women who breach morality laws.

Police told Iranian media that further charges had been brought by a local shop owner, but they did not disclose what charges or by whom.

Tehran’s police also did not say whether the woman was injured during the arrest, but pledged to investigate the footage.

Alinejad said it is a “big lie” that officers will be held accountable for their actions. “Last time when morality police savagely beat women, police showed the same reaction,” she added. “But as soon as the atmosphere calmed down, they prosecuted the woman who filmed it.”

Rights groups have long criticized Iran’s treatment of women in Iran, who face discrimination across a host of areas.


Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election

Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election
Updated 21 October 2021

Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election

Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election
  • Dbeibah said it was possible to end the lengthy crisis since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi

TRIPOLI: Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah supported on Thursday the holding of a national election on Dec. 24 as envisaged in a UN-backed peace plan.
Speaking at the Libya Stabilization Conference in Tripoli, he said it was possible to end the lengthy crisis that has engulfed the country since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
“We support the efforts of the higher election committee to hold (the vote) on the planned date. I call for a wide and effective participation of Libyans in the elections,” Dbeibah said.
The election, agreed under a UN-supported peace process, has been viewed as a key step in efforts to end a decade of violence by creating a new political leadership whose legitimacy is widely accepted.
Wrangling over the constitutional basis for an election, the rules governing the vote and questions over its credibility have threatened to unravel the peace process.
The United Nations process has called for presidential and parliamentary elections for December 24.
However, although the parliament has issued a law for the presidential election on that date, it has issued a separate law saying the parliamentary election will happen at a later date. Other political institutions in Libya have rejected the parliament’s proposals.