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Politics, Not Science, May Be Behind Suspensions Of AstraZeneca’s Covid Vaccine – Forbes

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Multiple experts say that the drug company’s vaccine is being unfairly targeted by EU countries, hindering plans to roll it out worldwide at a critical time. 


On Monday, Germany, France, Italy and Spain became the latest countries to halt the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. These countries are following in the footsteps of Denmark, Norway, Ireland, the Netherlands and Thailand, who have also suspended use of the vaccine, which has yet to be authorized for use in the United States. 

Ostensibly, these suspensions are due to a cluster of cases in which the vaccine may have increased risk of blood clotting. But multiple experts say that the vaccine is safe and that suspensions hinder efforts to rollout vaccines worldwide. Others worry the vaccine is being put on hold for political, rather than scientific, reasons. This is especially a concern given that demand for vaccines currently outstrip supply as Covid-19 cases continue to spike across Europe

Several countries have reported a possible increase in blood clotting among patients who received AstraZeneca’s vaccine. There have been 37 such reports among the 17 million people vaccinated across the U.K. and EU, and preliminary reports suggest one person each in Italy, Austria and Denmark died due to blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. The European Medicine Agency’s (EMA) safety committee cautions, however, that none of those deaths were actually linked to the vaccine. The committee further noted that several people who got blood clots were middle aged, when such clots are more common, and that blood clots aren’t particularly rare in the general population. AstraZeneca noted in a statement that the number of blood clots are actually “much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size.”

Davey Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Diego, is baffled by governments’ decisions to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. “I’ve seen no data to see why they are stopping,” he says, adding, “People are going to get blood clots, because they would have gotten them with or without the vaccine.”

Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, also expressed surprise at these governments’ moves. “Pausing to review data is fine,” she says. “But what pausing means is losing ground against protecting people against a deadly pandemic, so there is something lost with that.” 

Once considered to be the leader in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca has ended up facing more hurdles than its competitors. Problems started last September, when global trials of the vaccine were paused due to a patient experiencing a severe illness. The trial soon resumed, but two months later the company revealed a blunder: in the U.K. trials run by Oxford, participants had accidentally been given half-doses of the vaccine, a mistake that shook the faith of regulators in the U.S., who now expect final clinical trial data from AstraZeneca in April. 

Still, data in ongoing international trials proved more promising: the vaccine was 82% effective at preventing Covid-19 after two doses, and 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and death. The strong showing led to emergency authorizations for the vaccine in the United Kingdom in December, with authorizations from the European Union and World Health Organization in early 2021. So far, doses of the vaccine have been administered to 17 million patients in Europe. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a DNA component that instructs cells to produce the same proteins that are found on parts of the virus that causes Covid-19. These proteins train the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against it. It’s delivered into people’s systems using a modified version of a virus for the common cold that infects chimpanzees, but can’t make people sick. One advantage it has over vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna is that it can be refrigerated rather than frozen and is more durable for transportation. This makes it of particular importance in distributing the vaccine worldwide. “I think the stakes with AstraZeneca is particularly high,” says Nuzzo, “because this was anticipated to be a vaccine that much of the world will ultimately come to depend on for their vaccination efforts.” 

“In the end it could be very harmful for the whole vaccine rollout in general.”

So why are so many European countries taking the seemingly radical step of halting administration outright? In a report published earlier this month by Barclays, the investment firm looked at some of AstraZeneca’s previous regulatory issues and suggested that “most of the controversy that has been had a political genesis rather than a scientific one.” In noting some of the differences between what EMA had approved for the vaccine versus how some European countries had authorized use of the vaccine, the report goes on to speculate that “authorities in certain geographies may have been looking for someone to blame for an initially frustrating rollout.” Public health experts speculated to Forbes that similar reasons may have fueled the recent suspensions. An interesting contrast can be seen in Canada, which is reportedly preparing to expand its authorization of the vaccine to senior citizens, when it had previously not been recommended for adults over 65.

Justified or not, halting administration of AstraZeneca’s vaccine risks exacerbating an already strong reluctance to get vaccinated. A recent policy brief from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control found that less than half of people in the E.U. believe that Covid-19 vaccines are safe. For this reason, Nuzzo urges public health agencies to be transparent throughout the process of evaluating the vaccine during its suspension. “Sometimes what happens is countries make this announcement, and then they’re kind of silent for weeks,” she says. “And really in that void, a lot of misinformation can rise to fill what is lack of communication.”

Smith agrees, and adds that suspending administration of the vaccine is a risk in the greater fight against the pandemic. “In the end it could be very harmful for the whole vaccine rollout in general,” he says. Based on the reported data, he says he doesn’t see a justification for governments suspending the vaccine, commenting that “if they do have data, and if they’re making decisions based on data that nobody has, then it’s a transparency problem.”

So far, suspensions among E.U. nations aren’t expected to halt distribution elsewhere. Earlier this month, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a public-private vaccine initiative to distribute vaccines to emerging economies, began distributing doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to India, Ghana and Cote D’Ivorie. More are expected to follow, with 237 million doses allocated to over 130 countries this month. “Safety is our paramount concern: we know that national authorities and the WHO are monitoring the situation closely and the COVAX Facility will be following their guidance and recommendation,” a spokesperson for Gavi, the private-public partnership responsible for distributing vaccines for COVAX told Forbes. “Currently no causal link has been established between the vaccine and thromboembolic events in individuals, and the vaccine remains an important and effective public health tool in the fight against this pandemic.”

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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