Thailand gov't negotiating to buy Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
[Bangkok] --- Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, under intense criticism for failing to secure adequate supplies of coronavirus vaccines, said Tuesday his government is negotiating to buy 5 million to 10 million doses from U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
FILE - In this April 12, 2021, file photo, Thai workers prepare a field hospital for COVID-19 patients in Bangkok, Thailand.
Office workers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk to work at Saen Saep pier in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, April 16, 2021.
Thailand is experiencing a new wave of the coronavirus, with the number of daily new cases surpassing 1,000 this month for the first time. Health officials on Tuesday announced 1,443 new cases and four new fatalities, bring the totals to 45,185 cases and 108 deaths.
Indian opposition leader positive for COVID-19
Rahul Gandhi, an opposition Congress party leader and scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi family, says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing mild symptoms.
Gandhi, said in a tweet on Tuesday that “All those who’ve been in contact with me recently, please follow all safety protocols and stay safe.” Gandhi last week called off political rallies in West Bengal state where provincial elections are being held.
Half of US adults have received at least one Covid-19 dose: Report
[Washington] --- Half of all adults in the US have received at least one Covid-19 shot, the government announced Sunday, marking another milestone in the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign but leaving more work to do to convince skeptical Americans to roll up their sleeves. Almost 130 million people 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4 per cent of the total adult population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5 per cent of the population, have been fully vaccinated.
In this March 3, 2021, file photo, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is held by pharmacist Madeline Acquilano at Hartford Hospital in Hartford. (Image Source : AP)
The US cleared the 50 per cent mark just a day after the reported global death toll from the coronavirus topped a staggering 3 million, according to totals compiled by Johns Hopkins University, though the actual number is believed to be significantly higher. The country’s vaccination rate, at 61.6 doses administered per 100 people, currently falls behind Israel, which leads among countries with at least 5 million people with a rate of 119.2. The U.S. also trails the United Arab Emirates, Chile and the United Kingdom, which is vaccinating at a rate of 62 doses per 100 people, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
The vaccine campaign offered hope in places like Nashville, Tennessee, where the Music City Center bustled Sunday with vaccine seekers. High demand for appointment-only shots at the convention center has leveled off enough that walk-ins will be welcome starting this week.
Amanda Grimsley, who received her second shot, said she’s ready to see her 96-year-old grandmother, who lives in Alabama and has been nervous about getting the vaccine after having a bad reaction to a flu shot.
“It’s a little emotional. I haven’t been able to see my grandmother in a year and a half almost,” said Grimsley, 35. “And that’s the longest my entire family has ever gone without seeing her. And we’ll be seeing her in mid-May now.”
The states with the highest vaccination rates have a history of voting Democratic and supporting President Joe Biden in the 2020 election: New Hampshire at the top, with 71.1%, followed by New Mexico, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, CDC data show.
The demand has not been the same in many areas of Tennessee — particularly, rural ones.
Tennessee sits in the bottom four states for rates of adults getting at least one shot, at 40.8 per cent. It’s trailed only by Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi — three other Southern states that lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall.
Vaccination rates do not always align with how states vote. But polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has shown trends that link political leanings and attitudes about the vaccines and other issues related to the pandemic, which has killed more than 566,000 people in the U.S.
A poll conducted in late March found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12 per cent of Democrats. Similarly, a third of rural Americans said they were leaning against getting shots, while fewer than a fourth of people living in cities and suburbs shared that hesitancy.
Overall, willingness to get vaccinated has risen, polling shows.
In January, 67 per cent of adult Americans were willing to get vaccinated or had already received at least one shot. The figure has climbed to 75 per cent, according to the latest AP-NORC poll.
Nationwide, 24 per cent of Black Americans and 22% per cent of Hispanic Americans say they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, down from 41 per cent and 34 per cent in January, respectively. Among white Americans, 26 per cent now say they will not get vaccinated. In January, that number was 31 per cent.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the goal is to get community figures, from athletes to clergy, to encourage vaccinations, particularly as the seven-day national average of cases remains over 60,000 new infections per day.
“What we are doing is we’re trying to get, by a community core, trusted messages that anyone would feel comfortable with listening to, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or whomever you are, that you’re comfortable,” Fauci said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Fauci also indicated Sunday that the government will likely move to resume use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine this week, possibly with restrictions or broader warnings after reports of some very rare blood clot cases.
In a series of news show interviews, Fauci said he expects a decision when advisers to the CDC meet Friday to discuss the pause in J&J’s single-dose vaccine.
“I would be very surprised if we don’t have a resumption in some form by Friday,” he said. “I don’t really anticipate that they’re going to want it stretch it out a bit longer.”
Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he believed federal regulators could bring the shots back with limits based on age or gender, or with a blanket warning, so the vaccine is administered in a way “a little bit different than we were before the pause.”
The J&J vaccine was thrown into limbo after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration said last week that they needed more evidence to decide if a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot — and if so, how big the risk is.
The reports are rare — six cases out of more than 7 million U.S. inoculations with the J&J vaccine. The clots were found in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died. Authorities stressed that they have found no sign of clot problems with the most widely used Covid-19 vaccines in the US — from Moderna and Pfizer.
French embassy advises its citizens, companies to leave Pakistan amid serious security threats
France has advised French citizens to temporarily leave Pakistan and warned of serious threats to French interests in the country, two diplomatic sources said on Thursday, after violent clashes there this week.
Thousands of Pakistani Islamists had clashed with police earlier this week in protest against the arrest of their leader ahead of rallies denouncing French cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Thousands of Pakistani Islamists had clashed with police earlier this week in protest against the arrest of their leader ahead of rallies denouncing French cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
For Muslims, depictions of the Prophet are blasphemous. The diplomatic sources said that a message had been sent overnight to French citizens and companies following threats by hardline Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) to target French interests.
The sources said the embassy sent a message to French residents in Pakistan recommending that French nationals leave the country and French companies shut down activities temporarily “due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan”.
Antarctica's 'doomsday glacier' will melt faster than thought
The supply of warm water to Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, also known as the "doomsday glacier", is larger than previously thought, triggering concerns of faster melting and accelerating ice flow-a risk for global sea levels, say researchers. Thwaites is particularly sensitive to warm and salty ocean currents, due to its location and shape. For the first time researchers were able to take measurements beneath it, with the help of an uncrewed submarine called "Ran" that made its way under the glacier front.
Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica (pictured) is warming and melting faster than previously thought
Among other things, it measured the strength, temperature, salinity and oxygen content of the ocean currents under the glacier and found variations. This indicates that the area under the glacier is a previously unknown active area where different water masses meet and mix with each other.
Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, said lead author Anna Wahlin, Professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Using the Ran results, the team mapped the ocean currents that flow below Thwaites's floating part. The observations, published in the journal Science Advances, show warm water approaching from all sides on pinning points, critical locations where the ice is connected to the seabed and give stability to the ice shelf.
Melting around these pinning points may lead to instability and retreat of the ice shelf and, subsequently, the upstream glacier flowing off the land, the researchers said. They also discovered a deep connection to the east through which deep water flows from Pine Island Bay -- a connection previously thought to be blocked by an underwater ridge.
Further, they measured the heat transport in one of the three channels that lead warm water towards Thwaites Glacier from the north.
"The channels for warm water to access and attack Thwaites weren't known to us before the research. Using sonars on the ship, nested with very high-resolution ocean mapping from Ran, we were able to find that there are distinct paths that water takes in and out of the ice shelf cavity, influenced by the geometry of the ocean floor," said Alastair Graham, from the University of Southern Florida.
Although the amount of ice that melts as a result of the hot water is not much compared to other global freshwater sources, the heat transport has a large effect locally and may indicate that the glacier is not stable over time.
China approves new COVID-19 vaccine for clinical trials
A new COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm has recently been approved for clinical trials.
People receive COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Gulou District of Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, April 9, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)
The new recombinant COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Vaccine & Serum Institute, a R&D center of Sinopharm's bioscience subsidiary the China National Biotec Group (CNBG), got approval from the National Medical Products Administration on Friday, the CNBG said on its official Weibo account on Saturday.
The vaccine is based on the structural features of the receptor binding domain (RBD) on the virus' spike protein (S-protein). It uses genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the virus S-protein to induce neutralizing antibodies.
The company said that recombinant vaccine technology is mature and suitable for large-scale production. The production does not require facilities with high biosafety levels since the process does not involve live viruses.
The recombinant vaccine is the company's third COVID-19 vaccine. Last December, an inactivated vaccine developed by the Beijing Biological Products Institute Co., Ltd. under CNBG became the first Chinese COVID-19 vaccine to have conditional marketing authorization.
In February, another inactivated vaccine from the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, a CNBG affiliate, was allowed to enter the market on a conditional basis.
More than 161.12 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered across China as of Friday, the National Health Commission said Saturday.
COVID-19: Saudi Arabia issues new guidelines for Umrah pilgrims
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Monday announced new terms and conditions for visitors and Umrah pilgrims in the wake of surging coronavirus cases.
The new guidelines will come into effect from the 1st of Ramadan and are as stated below -
- Only those who have received coronavirus vaccines will be allowed to enter the holy mosques.
- Only those pilgrims who have been duly inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine will be allowed to visit the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet's Mosque) and Masjid al-Haram (The Great Mosque).
- Any person who wishes to visit the two holy mosques for the purpose of Umrah or offering prayers must have received both the shots of the vaccine, otherwise, they will not be allowed to enter the mosques.
- Even after being inoculated, all those praying in the mosques will still have to follow the Kingdom's coronavirus protocols.
- Visitors and pilgrims will be able to choose the date and time of their visit to the mosques contingent upon strict adherence to the coronavirus protocols.
Largest purple-pink diamond ever to go on sale at Christie's Hong Kong auction
A 15.81 carat Sakura diamond, the largest of its kind to ever appear for sale, will go under the hammer at Christie's upcoming Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels Live Auction on May 23, the auction house announced on Tuesday.
Estimated at 25 million USD to 38 million USD, the "fancy vivid purple pink internally flawless" diamond will be the star highlight of the sale.
It is the diamond's exceptional rarity, extraordinary optical transparency, brilliant colour, and enormous size that make it an immensely important, and eternal masterpiece of nature.
"As fewer than 10 per cent of pink diamonds weigh more than one-fifth of a carat, this fancy vivid purple-pink diamond is of an unprecedented size of 15.81 carats, which is the largest of its kind (Fancy Vivid Purple-Pink) to be offered at any auction," a Christie's statement noted.
It added that the lot fell in the exclusive group of the four per cent of pink diamonds that possess a colour deep enough to qualify as "fancy vivid".
"This magnificent gem is graded 'fancy vivid'' for its perfect display of strong saturation and remarkable pink hue with a secondary colour of puwrple, resembling the fascinating colour of cherry blossoms - appropriately coinciding with spring," the auction house said.
Christie's has previously offered on auction several of the largest and the rarest pink diamonds, including the Winston Pink Legacy sold in Geneva in 2018 that still holds the auction record per carat for any pink diamond.
"This season we are very honoured to continue this fine tradition by presenting 'The Sakura Diamond'' in Hong Kong.
"This exceptionally rare and magnificent wonder of nature represents a unique expression of identity and mesmerising beauty through its enthralling purple pink hue, that will undoubtedly capture the hearts of discerning connoisseurs and collectors worldwide," said Vickie Sek, Chairman, Department of Jewellery, Christie's Asia Pacific.
Vaccines may need regular updates as coronavirus evolves, say scientists
[Berlin] --- Scientists have assessed the course of evolution of the novel coronavirus and predicted that COVID-19 vaccines currently in use across the world may need regular updates to counter new variants of the virus which are capable of escaping the body's protective antibodies. The study, published in the journal Virus Evolution, assessed whether, over the long term, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is likely to demonstrate an immune evasion capability on par with that of influenza viruses.
In the research, virologists from Charite -- Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany studied the genetic evolution of the four currently known 'common cold' coronaviruses, particularly the two longest-known viruses, 229E and OC43.
They traced changes in the spike protein of these coronaviruses, which enable them to enter host cells, approximately 40 years into the past.
Based on the analysis, the scientists found one feature which was common to both the coronaviruses and the influenza virus -- all three had a pronounced ladder-like shape in their evolutionary paths.
"An asymmetrical tree of this kind likely results from the repeated replacement of one circulating virus variant by another which carried a fitness advantage," explained the study's first author, Wendy K. Jo.
According to Jo, this is evidence of 'antigenic drift', a continuous process involving changes to surface structures which enable viruses to evade the human immune response.
"It means that these endemic coronaviruses also evade the immune system, just like the influenza virus. However, one also has to look at the speed with which this evolutionary adaptation happens," she added.
The scientists said the novel coronavirus genome is currently estimated to change at a rate of approximately 10 mutations per 10,000 base molecules per year, meaning the speed at which it evolves is substantially higher than that of the endemic coronaviruses.
"This rapid genetic change in SARS-CoV-2 is reflected in the emergence of numerous virus variants across the globe," explained study co-author Jan Felix Drexler.
"This, however, is likely due to the high rates of infection seen during the pandemic. When infection numbers are so high, a virus is able to evolve more rapidly," Drexler added.
Based on the rates of evolution seen in the endemic common cold coronaviruses, the scientists believe SARS-CoV-2 will start to change more slowly once infections start to die down.
"Once a large proportion of the global population has developed immunity either as a result of infection or through vaccination. We expect therefore that COVID-19 vaccines will need to be monitored regularly throughout the pandemic and updated where necessary," Drexler explained.
According to the virologists, vaccines are likely to remain effective for longer once the pandemic reaches this stable situation.
By end of 2022 we should be basically completely back to normal: Bill Gates on pandemic
Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has predicted that the world should be back to normal by 2022 end, thanks to the availability of vaccines, Reuters reported. Gates was speaking in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper and TVN24.
Terming coronavirus an incredible tragedy, Bill Gates said access to the vaccines was the only good news.
Speaking in the interview Gates said, "By the end of 2022 we should be basically completely back to normal."
Earlier in January, hailing India's leadership in scientific innovation, Bill Gates said it's great to see the country's leadership in scientific innovation. The co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also praised India for its vaccine-manufacturing capabilities to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking to Twitter, Bill Gates said, “It’s great to see India’s leadership in scientific innovation and vaccine manufacturing capability as the world works to end the COVID-19 pandemic."
This is not the first time Gates has hailed India, but, even in the past, the Microsoft founder has praised India for the government’s proactive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
WHO asking rich countries to donate 10 million vaccines
[Geneva] --- The head of the World Health Organization is asking rich countries to donate at least 10 million coronavirus vaccines so the UN health agency can reach its goal of vaccination in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says supply problems faced by the UN-backed effort COVAX, which aims to provide vaccines to all countries, means that about 20 countries are still awaiting their first doses of vaccines from the program.
Tedros says he's also asking manufacturers to scale up their production so extra vaccines could be donated to poorer countries.
He slammed the numerous private deals countries have struck with pharmaceuticals that have meant fewer vaccines for developing countries and warned COVAX would need many more hundreds of millions of vaccines in the coming months.
On Thursday, WHO's COVAX partner Gavi, announced supply problems meant it would have to delay the delivery of about 90 million vaccines until about May.
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"We are now getting nine grams per hour," Ali Akbar Salehi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said on state television.
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"When it comes to this possible meeting, the readiness of Finland to organise it has been presented to both Washington and Moscow," a spokesman for the president's office told AFP by email.