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USTR Holds Talks with Pfizer, Astrazeneca Over Increased Vaccine Production, IP Rights Waiver

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United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai has held a virtual meeting with AstraZeneca and Pfizer leadership to discuss increasing vaccine production and a proposed waiver to certain provisions of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States so far has remained non-committal on the WTO move of India and South Africa over this.

The White House on Monday told reporters that no decision has been made yet, even as top American lawmakers urged the Biden Administration to support the move at WTO to provide TRIPS waiver to Covid-19 vaccines. “As the US approaches vaccinating our population, we cannot simply stand by as over a 100 countries struggle to vaccinate theirs. We must push Pfizer and Moderna to offer licensing to the rest of the world so they can develop vaccines and advocate a trips waiver at the WTO,” Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna told PTI.

Reiterating that the Biden-Harris Administration’s top priority is saving lives and ending the pandemic here at home and around the world, Tai expressed her deep sympathy for the people of India. She highlighted the announcement that the United States was examining options to share AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries as they become available, an official statement said.

Tai’s meeting was with Dr Ruud Dobber, executive vice-president of the biopharmaceuticals business unit and head of the US business at AstraZeneca. She had a separate meeting with Dr Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer.

“Ambassador Tai and Dr Dobber discussed increasing vaccine production, global health issues and the proposed waiver to certain provisions of the WTO’s Agreement on TRIPS for the Covid-19 pandemic,” the USTR said in a readout of the meeting. United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today (Monday) met virtually with Dr Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, to discuss increasing vaccine production, global health issues and the proposed waiver to certain provisions of the WTO’s Agreement on TRIPS for the Covid-19 pandemic, it added.

Ahead of a May 5 meeting of the WTO’s General Council, Senator Tammy Baldwin joined a group of 10 senators and sent a letter to Biden, urging him to publicly support a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines that would allow countries to manufacture treatments locally, expediting the global vaccination effort, saving countless lives and crushing the pandemic. Your administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage, the senators wrote.

To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritise people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing US support for the WTO TRIPS waiver, they added. The proposal to temporarily waive the WTO’s intellectual property rules was put forward by South Africa and India in October, and will be a focus at the body’s meeting early next month.

Over 60 former heads of state and 100 Nobel Prize winners signed a letter last week to Biden backing the effort. In a poll conducted by the Data for Progress and Progressive International, 60 per cent of American voters backed the waiver, including 50 per cent of registered Republicans.

In February, more than 400 prominent US health, faith, consumer, labour, development and other organisations wrote to Biden, urging him to reverse Trump’s block on the waiver. Khanna said the Biden Administration should call on Pfizer and Moderna to provide an intellectual property waiver for six months to a year as India grapples with this crisis.

It will buy them an inordinate amount of goodwill in one of the largest emerging markets. The White House should also convene Indian business leaders to make the case for why this is in these companies’ long-term strategic interest, he said. India has their own IP and they are also manufacturer of vaccines. Some of it has been delayed. The last time we really communicated about this at a high-level was from our USTR, Katherine Tai, but I don’t have any updates to that,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

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Israeli actress Gal Gadot wishes for safety for Israel, gets hate from Islamists and ‘liberals’ in return

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Amid the conflict between Israel and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihadis, Israeli actress Gal Gadot put up a tweet praying for peace.

She tweeted that her country (Israel) is at war and she worries for her family and friends and the people of Israel. “This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation. Our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families. I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we can live side by side in peace,” she tweeted.

However, soon the ‘liberals’ and Islamists descended upon her timeline with angry, hateful tweets, accusing her of being a genocide enabler.

Despite the fact that the Palestinian terrorists were attacking Israel with rockets and missiles, the Islamists accused Israel of ‘perpetrating a televised and documented ethnic cleansing’.

They also gave a call to boycott her movies and called her a ‘murderer’.

Some Islamists even claimed that Israel as a country does not exist and hence there is no ‘my country’ that she mentions in the tweet.

One Twitter user, whose heart apparently pains for ‘Palestine’, wished death upon Gal Gadot for wishing for peace upon her country.

Some also used this opportunity to hate on Jews.

Some ‘liberals’ also felt that her pray for peace for her country was ‘meaningless’.

All this while choosing to overlook the terrorism inflicted by Hamas on Israeli people. Gadot served as a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces for two years before taking a plunge into modelling and acting.

In December 2020, Gadot had hailed the ‘Shaheen Bagh Dadi’ Bilkis Bano, who was one of the prominent faces in the anti-CAA protests which culminated into anti-Hindu riots in February 2020. Bilkis was a prominent part of the protests that were organized as India decided to give citizenship to religiously prosecuted people from neighbouring Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

However, she soon deleted her Instagram story hailing Bilkis while the post continued to be up on her profile.

Israel-Palestine conflict

Conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated when Palestinian terror unit Hamas fired multiple rockets at Jerusalem, and the Israeli Defense Forces responding back in kind. The main reason behind the current conflict is the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute, a dispute which can lead to the evictions of around 300 Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood.

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For Those Recovering from the Virus, Here is How Long to Wait Before Taking the Covid-19 Vaccine

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With India’s vaccination drive slowly gathering pace and the number of infections refusing to die down, there are many who are testing positive for the virus after being partially inoculated. There are others who are recovering and need to be vaccinated.

The concern now is on the number of days that recovering individuals need to wait before going for the jab.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a wait for 90 days from the day one tests positive for Covid-19 if he/she has not received the vaccine.

A report by The Indian Express quoted immunologist Dr Vineeta Bal from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), infection-triggered immunity is likely to last for a few months, and it would be advisable to wait for 6-8 weeks after recovery.

Vaccine scientist Dr Gagandeep Kang told Indian Express that data from the UK shows there is 80% protection following a natural infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is fine to even wait up to six months, she said.

This is in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) which reviewed data and said it was all right to delay vaccination for six months after a natural infection, as natural antibodies are likely to persist in the body until then.

For those infected after the first dose, the second dose can be given eight weeks after the person tests positive.

The body starts producing antibodies after the infection and it is akin to getting a vaccine. However it is advisable to wait for at least eight weeks before taking the second dose, experts recommend.

Scientists are still learning about natural and vaccine-induced immunity. According to the CDC, it typically takes two weeks for the body to build protection after vaccination, and hence it is possible to get infected.

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Karnataka Temporarily Suspends Vaccination For 18-44 Age Group, Will Prioritise Second Dose

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Owing to the short supply of Covid vaccines, Karnataka on Wednesday decided to ‘temporarily suspend’ vaccination drive for those aged between 18 to 44 years.

In a series of tweets, the Karnataka Health department said that the state government has decided that the vaccine procured directly by the state government for vaccination of persons between 18 and 44 years too will be utilised for vaccination of beneficiaries who are due for the second dose.

“Therefore, all vaccines available with the state government i.e. supplied by union government and procured directly by state will be utilized for vaccination of beneficiaries due for second dose,” the Karnataka health department tweet explained.

The Health department added that vaccination drives for the 18 to 44 age group, including those who have already booked appointments will be temporarily suspended from May 14 till further orders.

According to the health department, the state government on May 7 had decided to utilise the complete supply of vaccines provided by the union government for vaccination of persons above 45 years, for vaccinating beneficiaries who were due for second dose.

“But under the changed circumstances and severe shortage of vaccine, the vaccine procured directly by the state government for vaccination of persons between 18 to 44 years too will be utilised for vaccination of beneficiaries who are due for second dose,” a senior health department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.

The health department added that this order will be applicable for Covid vaccination at all state-run Covid vaccination centres in the state.

As of now, only two vaccines manufactured by Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech are allowed in India for mass inoculation programme, but these companies are struggling to meet the country’s overwhelming demand for vaccines amid the ferocious second wave that has seen India’s Covid burden go up manifold.

Karnataka symbolically launched anti-Covid vaccination drive on May 1 but ever since it has failed to take off due to short supply of vaccines.

Karnataka Health minister, K. Sudhkar was first to state on April 30 that it was better to put off the launch of the drive on May 1 as the state had not received required stock and this was even endorsed by Chief Minister, B.S. Yediyurappa on that day. But, Yediyurappa the next day launched the vaccination drive symbolically on May 1.

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