China to Gift Pakistan 500K COVID-19 Vaccine Doses 

Pakistan said Thursday it will receive half-a-million free doses of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine by January 31.    Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the announcement at a news conference, saying his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, shared the “good news” in a phone call between the two officials.   
 
“He told me, ‘Send your aircraft and immediately airlift this drug.’ So, this is a welcome news for us. And we will, God willing, succeed in saving many lives,” Qureshi said.   
 
He stressed that the Chinese vaccine is being gifted to Islamabad as a “goodwill gesture” from Beijing “in view of the all-weather strategic relationship” between the two countries.   
 
Pakistan’s drug regulator approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use on Monday. China approved the drug earlier this month, which is also in use in several countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.  
 
The Pakistani regulator last week also authorized the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine developed with Oxford University.  
 FILE – Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 1, 2020.Qureshi said that Wang also promised to make another 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine available for Pakistan by the end of February to meet the country’s additional urgent requirements.  
 
The foreign minister noted that China’s technical and medical expertise had played an “instrumental role” in Islamabad’s fight against the pandemic.   
 
Pakistan is also conducting a Phase 3 trial of another Chinese anti-coronavirus vaccine from Cansino Biologics, Inc.   
 
Dr. Faisal Sultan, special health assistant to the prime minister, said Wednesday at a news conference that the trial was near completion and that 17,500 people participated in it.    
 
He noted that the Cansino vaccine’s “interim analysis” was currently underway, and the initial results will hopefully be available by early February.   
 
“We are entitled to receive 20 million doses, provided the results are positive and the vaccine proves to be effective,” Sultan said.   FILE – Students wear protective masks as they have their temperature checked before entering classrooms as secondary schools reopen amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Jan. 18, 2021.Pakistan, a country of about 220 million people, has documented at least 527,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, with more than 11,000 deaths since the outbreak was detected late last February.   
 
Sultan said the government plans to vaccinate at least 70% of its adult population to achieve herd immunity. He explained that the existing national Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) is being strengthened to distribute and inject the coronavirus vaccine.  The Pakistani government has said it will provide the COVID-19 vaccine to the public free of cost. The first batch of the doses, however, will be given to frontline health care workers in the first quarter of 2021. FILE – A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child at a school in Lahore, Pakistan, Feb. 17, 2020. 
The program is handling several vaccines, including polio. Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where the polio virus remains endemic. 

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Fire Rips Through COVID-19 Vaccine Plant in India

Fire erupted Thursday in a building under construction in India that is owned by the world’s largest vaccine maker, but the company said it would not affect production of a COVID-19 vaccine.The fire broke out at a Serum Institute of India (SII) building in the western city of Pune.Fire official Prashant Ranpise said the cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but it was contained to a facility under construction to boost production of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.SII CEO Adar Poonawalla sought to reassure the global community the fire did not affect the company’s production of the vaccine, labeled COVISHIELD in India, which many low- and middle-income countries are depending on to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.“I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” Poonawalla tweeted.Ranpise said three people were rescued from the fire and no one was injured.  SII has been contracted to produce a billion does of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.Poonawalla told the Associated Press in December that his family-owned company hopes to increase production capacity from 1.5 billion doses to 2.5 billion doses annually by the end of this year. He said the new facility is part of the plan.Wealthy countries already have bought 75% of the 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses expected to be produced this year. Consequently, SII is likely to produce most of the vaccines that will be used by developing countries. 

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US Pledges to Join World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Global Vaccination Initiative 

The leading infectious disease expert in the United States says the country will participate in the global initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries.   Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to new U.S. President Joe Biden, told the executive board of the World Health Organization Thursday during a videoconference that the U.S. will join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, an international alliance led by WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, an organization founded by Bill and Melinda Gates to vaccinate children in the world’s poorest countries.  Fauci also said the U.S. would fulfill its financial obligations to the United Nations health agency and maintain its previous staffing commitments.  His remarks came one day after Biden issued an order on his first day in office pledging to restore Washington’s ties with WHO.  Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, announced in May that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the WHO, accusing the agency of helping China cover up the extent of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.   Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a visioconference, in Geneva, Jan. 21, 2021. (Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters)“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in response to Fauci’s announcement.  In a related story, Reuters news agency says the COVAX initiative announced Thursday that it is aiming to deliver 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to poor countries in 2021, and hopes to fulfill supply deals for wealthier ones in the second half of the year.  The world is racing against time to produce and deliver billions of doses of new coronavirus vaccines to blunt the pandemic, which has killed over 2 million people out of a total of over 96.9 million confirmed COVID-19 infections, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The United States leads the world in both categories with 406,147 deaths out of a total of 24.4 million cases. Health officials use wireless devices to register people with vaccine appointments at a mass COVID-19 vaccination site outside The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Jan. 19, 2021.But vaccination efforts have run into numerous difficulties, including logistical hurdles,  bureaucratic failures and a basic shortage of vaccines, which has led to residents across the U.S. having had their vaccine appointments canceled.  Peru doctors on hunger strike In Peru, a group of doctors launched a hunger strike this week to protest the government’s lack of preparation for a second wave of COVID-19 cases. Dr. Teodoro Quiñones, the secretary-general of Peru’s physician’s union who is taking part in the strike, and at least a half-dozen striking doctors are staging the strike in a makeshift tent outside the headquarters of the health ministry in the capital, Lima.   Quiñones says the government has not fulfilled its commitments to improve conditions in the country’s public hospital system, leaving doctors without adequate supplies of oxygen, medicines and ventilators. He told The New York Times the state-run EsSalud network dismissed COVID-19 specialists after the first wave receded and failed to hire them back when more and more new cases began filling up hospital intensive care units.   The South American country has 1,073,214 confirmed coronavirus infections, including 39,044 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. 

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Chile Approves Emergency Use of Second Coronavirus Vaccine

Chile is getting a new weapon to help in its fight against the spread of the coronavirus.Health regulators approved the emergency use of the CoronaVac vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.Heriberto Garcia, director of Chile’s Public Health Institute, said very encouraging data from late-stage trials and the Health Institute’s independent investigations suggested CoronaVac was a “safe and effective vaccine to fight the pandemic.”Chile paid $3.5 million to host a clinical trial of the Sinovac vaccine and has ordered 60 million doses of the vaccine, according to Reuters.Garcia said Sinovac will arrive in Chile at the end of the month. Chile has already inoculated more than 29,000 people with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which arrived in the country late last month.Leaders of Chile’s Public Health Institute are also weighing approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use and have already signed a deal to purchase 14.4 million doses.So far, Chile has confirmed more than 677,000 COVID infections and 17,573 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

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Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Dies of COVID-19

Zimbabwe is mourning the death of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo.The government said the country’s top diplomat died Wednesday after contracting COVID-19.Moyo gained international notoriety as an army general, becoming the spokesperson of the 2017 coup that ousted longtime President Robert Mugabe, who was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa.Moyo is the third cabinet minister to succumb to COVID-19 in the past six months.Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs Ellen Gwaradzimba died last week, and Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri died of the disease in July.The 61-year-old Moyo was reportedly getting weekly treatment for a kidney ailment at the time of his death.COVID-19 infections and deaths are on the rise in Zimbabwe, with more than 16,000 new infections and 505 deaths in the past month, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

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WHO: Equitable Vaccine Distribution at ‘Serious Risk’

This week the head of the World Health Organization warns the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” over the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This comes after some countries are already well underway with their vaccination campaigns, while others do not know when they will get their first shots. More from VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo.

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Massive Iceberg Continues Losing Mass as it Swirls Around South Georgia Island

A massive Antarctic iceberg that last month threatened a penguin-populated island off the southern tip of South America has since lost much of its mass and broken into pieces, scientists say. The main ice mass, called A68a, and its “child bergs” are still on the move, swirling in waters near South Georgia Island, said scientist Ted Scambos at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Scambos and other scientists have been tracking the iceberg — one of the largest-ever recorded — since it broke off from Antarctic’s Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017 and drifted north through a region known as “iceberg alley.” In the last month, the main berg shed about a third of its size, or more than 1,400 square kilometers (541 square miles), in smaller pieces and ice melt. On Tuesday, the main iceberg covered about 2,450 square kilometers (946 square miles). The edges of A68a have “curled up like a dinner plate,” causing pieces to break off from its sides as it moves through warmer currents, Scambos said. The iceberg could block penguins from foraging grounds if it lodges off the island’s coast, or it could grind over the seabed and significantly damage marine life. FILE – Penguins stand in South Georgia Island, in this undated photo obtained by Reuters Dec. 11, 2020. The A68a iceberg could interfere with the birds if it lodges off the island’s coast. (Alek Komarnitsky/via Reuters)That may already have happened, Scambos said, when the ice moved over some of the southern shelf in December. Scientists have yet to check on the impact up close. The baby bergs are also still a threat. “There’s city-block-sized bergs that are drifting around,” Scambos said. Scientists are tracking six of these smaller chunks, four of which are near the island. Pieces began breaking off from A68a as it was approaching the island’s western shelf in December. Strong currents caused the berg to pivot nearly 180 degrees. Satellite images suggest an underwater shelf may have clipped the berg, causing the first big break. More big bits then broke off, including a protruding piece that scientists had called the iceberg’s “finger.” The bergs “keep wandering” around the island, Scambos said. “They might grind to a halt for a short while … days, maybe weeks.” But then, they should melt and thin away, he said. “The bergs are in water that’s too warm for them.”  
 

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Israel Shares Vaccine Data With Pfizer

Israel has sped ahead of any other country in its vaccine rollout, with more than 2 million people out of a total of 9.3 million already having received the first vaccination. In exchange for access to so many doses so early, Israel agreed to share data with Pfizer, a move some in Israel says raises privacy concerns.As much of the world scrambles to acquire enough vaccines for their respective populations, Israel already has secured enough doses for its entire population of 9.3 million people. According to media reports, Israel has paid well above the going rate for the Pfizer vaccines, hoping to be able to open the Israeli economy sooner.Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says that as part of the deal, Israel also has offered to share epidemiological data with Pfizer.  “What we promised them, and we do keep the promises you can see, that if we get the vaccine, we’ll be very efficient,” said Edelstein. “We’ll vaccinate big numbers of the Israeli population, a huge proportion of the Israeli population very soon. And Pfizer will be able to see how it influences the level of disease in Israel, the possibility to open the economy, different aspects of social life, whether there are any effects of the vaccination.”COVID Cases Rise in Israel Despite Successful Vaccine RolloutCountry to begin another tight lockdownPreliminary data from the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have received two shots of the vaccine show 98% efficacy and no risk of transmission of the virus. That’s good news for Pfizer. Edelstein says the information that will be shared will be aggregate data, not individual data.“We made it quite clear to Pfizer that we at any stage are not going to share any personal data, no private information about anyone vaccinated,” said Edelstein. “But let’s just say for the sake of the example, we will know how many people with heart diseases had been vaccinated and whether there were any effects, any unfortunate cases, and so on and so forth.”While the Health Ministry released parts of its agreement with Pfizer, other parts remained secret. Privacy Israel, an advocacy group, said it was concerned about the handling and security of private information. Other analysts said that sharing the information, even anonymously, could put people’s privacy at risk.Nadav Davidovitch, the head of the school of public health at Ben Gurion University, says he understands these concerns but believes Pfizer will be careful with the data it receives.“The current vaccination campaign raises several ethical issues. Many people are preoccupied with the question of privacy, and I think this is something important,” said Davidovitch. “And I know for sure that Israel is not going to give identified clinical data to Pfizer. On the other hand, it’s extremely important to have the experience of Israel be submitted both to the World Health Organization and Pfizer in an unidentified way, so we can learn the lessons from Israel.”Israel has socialized medicine, with all Israelis being members of one of four HMOs. All medical records are digitized, making it easy for the HMOs to track the effect of the vaccines. Most Israelis say despite privacy concerns, they are happy to be among the first in the world to be vaccinated. 

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