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EU buys coronavirus drug remdesivir: Live updates | News

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  • Mainland China has reported 101 new cases of the novel coronavirus – the highest in more than three and a half months. Of the new cases, 89 are in the far western region of Xinjiang.
  • The European Union announced that it had agreed to purchase a limited supply of the COVID-19 drug remdesivir from drugmaker Gilead.
  • Nearly 16.7 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. Some 9.7 million patients have recovered, and more than 659,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Here are the latest updates:

Wednesday, July 29

17:27 GMT – World Bank’s IFC to launch $4 bln medical supply financing platform

 The World Bank Group’s private-sector arm said it is launching a $4 billion financing platform aimed at boosting the production and supply of critical health care products in developing countries to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Finance Corp’s initiative is largely aimed at private-sector projects to manufacture products such as personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical equipment, coronavirus test kits, therapeutic drugs and vaccines.

IFC is contributing $2 billion in internal resources with plans for another $2 billion to come from private-sector partners.

17:05 GMT – US coronavirus deaths top 150,000, among highest in deaths per capita globally

US deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 150,000, a number higher than in any other country and nearly a quarter of the world’s total, according to a Reuters tally.

Of the 20 countries with the biggest outbreaks, the United States ranks sixth in deaths per capita, at 4.5 fatalities per 10,000 people.

Only the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Peru and Chile have a higher per capita rate, the tally shows, with US deaths making up nearly 23 percent of the global total of 660,997.

The increase of 10,000 deaths in 11 days is the fastest in the United States since early June.

Public Viewing Held For Civil Rights Icon John Lewis Outside Capitol Building

 The United States ranks sixth in deaths per capita worldwide, at 4.5 fatalities per 10,000 people[File: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

16:35 GMT – US Attorney General to be tested for COVID-19 after being in contact with Congressman Gohmert

US Attorney General William Barr will be tested for COVID-19, after coming in close contact with Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert on Tuesday when Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee, a Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec added that Barr already faces routine testing for COVID-19 at the White House.

16:01 GMT – Mask-shunning Republican lawmaker Gohmert tests positive for COVID-19 

Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman who steadfastly refused to wear a mask as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, tested positive for COVID-19, Politico reported.

The US representative from Texas, where coronavirus cases have surged since the state reopened, tested positive in a prescreening at the White House, the news outlet said, citing multiple sources. Gohmert was supposed to fly to his home state with fellow Republican President Donald Trump, it said.

15:14 GMT – Hanoi to shut bars and ban big gatherings after COVID-19 outbreak in Danang

Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, has ordered bars and pubs to shut and banned large gatherings from midnight because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the city of Danang, the head of the city’s administration said.

Hanoi on Wednesday registered its first case of COVID-19 linked to the Danang outbreak.

“We have to act now and act fast. All large gatherings will be banned until further notice,” Nguyen Duc Chung, Hanoi’s chairman, said in a statement on the city’s website.

“Over 21,000 people returned to Hanoi from Danang will be closely monitored and will undergo rapid testing,” he said.

A man and his children, all wearing protective masks, ride a bicycle on a street in HanoiHanoi on Wednesday registered its first case of COVID-19 linked to the Danang outbreak [File: Kham/Reuters]

14:53 GMT – Florida reports record increase in COVID-19 deaths for second day in a row

Florida reported a record increase in new COVID-19 deaths for a second day in a row, with 217 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the state health department.

Florida also reported 9,446 new cases, bringing its total infections to over 451,000, the second highest in the country behind California. Florida’s total death toll rose to 6,457, the eighth highest in the nation, according to a Reuters tally.

14:30 GMT – Gambia VP tests positive for coronavirus, president self-isolating

Gambia’s Vice President Isatou Touray has tested positive for COVID-19, leading President Adama Barrow to enter self-isolation for the next two weeks, the presidency said.

The presidency’s statement did not provide any further details about Touray’s condition. Touray, who is 65, was named vice president last year.

Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country, has recorded 326 cases of COVID-19, including nine deaths, the lowest totals in West Africa.

Gambia's Vice President Touray addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.

Isatou Touray was named Gambia’s vice president last year [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

14:10 GMT – Trump says administration, Democrats far apart on coronavirus relief bill 

US President Donald Trump said his administration and Democrats in Congress were far apart in their efforts to come together on a coronavirus relief bill, and he suggested he was not in a hurry to strike a deal.

Trump, speaking to reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Texas, accused Democrats of not taking care of Americans with their proposals, and said when Democratic leaders come together to do that, relief efforts could move forward.

13:30 GMT – Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine pricing to ensure broad access 

Moderna Inc plans to price its experimental coronavirus vaccine in a way that ensures broad access, it said, adding that it did not intend to conduct late-stage trials of the shot outside the United States.

Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel declined to comment on the specific price of the vaccine on a conference call with analysts.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources, that the company was planning to price the vaccine at $50 to $60 per course, at least $11 more than another vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech.

Hello, this is Arwa Ibrahim in Doha taking over from my colleague Umut Uras.

12:40 GMT – Spanish airports see traffic falling after UK quarantine scares off tourists

Spanish airport operator AENA has noticed a decline in traffic since British authorities announced a quarantine on travellers from Spain last weekend.

The effect of the quarantine, which is scaring off some tourists, is hard to predict, as it could be lifted within a few weeks, AENA’s Chief Executive Maurici Lucena told investors during a conference call held on Wednesday.

Lucena added the company will meet its traffic target for the year despite the effect of the quarantine.

12:15 GMT – Russian COVID-19 vaccine ‘approval imminent’

Russia’s first potential COVID-19 vaccine will win local regulatory approval in the first half of August and be administered to front-line health workers soon afterwards, a development source close to the matter told the Reuters news agency.

A state research facility in Moscow – the Gamaleya Institute – completed early human trials of the adenovirus-based vaccine this month and expects to begin large-scale trials in August.

The vaccine will win regulatory approval from authorities in Russia while that large-scale trial continues, the source said, highlighting Moscow’s determination to be the first country in the world to approve a vaccine.

Russia's coronavirus cases exceed 806,000Russia has 828,990 coronavirus cases, the fourth-largest in the world [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu]

11:40 GMT – EU buys limited supply of COVID drug remdesivir

The European Union’s executive said it has agreed to buy a limited supply of the COVID-19 drug remdesivir from United States-based drugmaker Gilead to address the short-term needs of European patients, and hoped to be able to order more later.

Remdesivir is the only drug so far authorised in the EU for use against COVID-19, but nearly all available supplies have already been bought by the United States.

The EU Commission has agreed to pay 63 million euros ($74m) to buy enough doses to treat about 30,000 patients, it said in a statement.

The US signed a deal with Gilead in June for more than 500,000 courses of treatment, which accounts for most of the production through September.

11:15 GMT – Portugal: Some EU states breaking pact to reinstate free movement

Portugal’s foreign ministry said some member states in the European Union have broken a pact to reinstate freedom of movement inside the bloc after coronavirus lockdowns were lifted.

“We understand we were all required to reinstate freedom of movement within the EU from July 1 the latest,” the ministry said in a statement sent to the Reuters news agency.

“We believe restrictions and decisions taken by member states related to other member states manifestly disregard this bond.” 

10:45 GMT – India coronavirus cases hit 1.5 million, new study questions data

Coronavirus infections in India have passed 1.5 million and deaths neared 35,000, but test results in the city of Mumbai have cast further doubt on official data in the world’s second-most populous nation.

Even as the number of cases soar and more areas impose lockdowns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week India was in a “better position that other countries” and winning international praise.

Read more here. 

Mumbai slum

Health workers conduct thermal screening of residents of a slum in Mumbai [Divyakant Solanki/EPA] 

10:00 GMT – UK cancels holidays to Balearics and Canary Islands until August 4

Travel company TUI UK said it had cancelled holidays to the Balearics and Canary Islands until August 4 after Britain advised against all non-essential travel to the islands due to its assessment of COVID-19 risks in Spain.

The UK guidance was issued on Monday. On Saturday, Britain had said all travellers from Spain would be subject to a 14-day quarantine due to a spike in new coronavirus cases there.

TUI UK has cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain until August 10, but criticised the blanket British policy for the whole of Spain when the outbreaks have been focused regionally.

outside image - spain corona

TUI UK has cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain until August 10 [AP] 

09:40 GMT – Takeda-led plasma treatment unlikely to meet July goal of trial start

A group led by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co have completed testing of a blood plasma treatment for COVID-19, but pending regulator approval will likely prevent clinical trials from meeting a July start date.

The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance is ready to start shipping vials to study sites once the trial is approved by regulators in the US, said Julie Kim, president of the plasma-derived therapies unit of Takeda.

The group originally aimed to begin clinical trials in July. The National Institutes of Health in the US is the trial sponsor, and is looking at study sites around the world, according to Kim, who also serves as co-leader of the alliance.

09:15 GMT – Indonesia reports 2,381 new coronavirus infections

Indonesia reported 2,381 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, taking its total to 104,432, data from the country’s COVID-19 task force showed.

The Southeast Asian nation also reported 74 new COVID-19 related deaths, taking total fatalities to 4,975.

An employee wearing a protective mask and face shield walks inside a Railink train following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Jakarta

Indonesia reported 74 new COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday [Reuters] 

08:50 GMT – Hong Kong reports 118 new coronavirus cases 

Hong Kong reported 118 new coronavirus cases, including 113 that were locally transmitted, as strict new measures including a restriction of gatherings to two people and a ban on restaurant dining, took effect.

The measures, the toughest introduced since the outbreak, are to last for at least one week as leader Carrie Lam warned the city is on the brink of a large-scale outbreak.

The global financial hub reported 106 new cases on Tuesday. Since late January, about 3,000 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 24 of whom have died.

08:20 GMT – Russia’s coronavirus cases near 830,000

Russia reported 5,475 new cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its national tally to 828,990, the fourth-largest in the world.

Officials said 169 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 13,673.

Russia's coronavirus cases exceed 806,000

In the last 24 hours, 169 people died in Russia, pushing the national death toll to 13,673 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu] 

07:50 GMT – Britain has no alternative to quarantine yet: minister

Britain does not yet have a viable alternative to imposing a 14-day quarantine on travellers returning from countries deemed to have a high risk of coronavirus, culture minister Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday.

Britain issued a quarantine order for travellers from Spain at the weekend, sparking chaos for airlines and travel companies at the height of the summer holiday season.

07:20 GMT – Half of Mumbai’s slum residents have had coronavirus: study

Over half the people living in the slums of Mumbai have had the coronavirus, according to a city-commissioned study that raises fresh doubts about India’s official case numbers.

Blood tests on 6,936 randomly selected people found that 57 percent of slum-dwellers and 16 percent of non-slum residents had virus antibodies.

Mumbai, a city of 20 million where about 40 percent of the population lives in slums, has reported just over 110,000 infections and more than 6,000 deaths so far.

outside image - india lockdown

In Mumbai, it is estimated that 40 percent of the population lives in slums [AP]

07:00 GMT – India’s Hetero wins approval to launch COVID-19 drug favipiravir

India’s Hetero Labs Ltd said it received local regulatory approval to launch its version of anti-viral drug favipiravir for the treatment of COVID-19.

The drug, priced at 59 rupees (79 US cents) per tablet, will be available at drug stores from Wednesday, privately held Hetero said.

06:15 GMT – European border closures must be avoided if possible: French minister

The closure of borders between European countries because of the COVID-19 pandemic must be avoided as much as possible, French Junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter radio.

Beaune said that while political responses to the crisis were prone to change, responses such as European border closures “were to be avoided”.


Hello, this is Umut Uras in Doha taking over from my colleague Kate Mayberry.


05:15 GMT – Sanofi, GSK reach deal to supply UK with COVID-19 vaccine

Sanofi and GSK have reached an agreement with the UK government to supply as many as 60 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine.

No vaccine has yet been found, although many are in development.

The two drug companies expect to start clinical trials of their vaccine in September. It will be developed by combining Sanofi’s S-protein COVID-19 antigen with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant technology.

05:10 GMT – Vietnam national TV says cases confirmed in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnamese government-owned television is reporting that coronavirus cases have been found not only in Hanoi but also in Ho Chi Minh City.

The country had been free of the virus for months until an outbreak was detected in the central city of Danang at the weekend.

Eight cases were reported there this morning.

04:15 GMT – Hanoi warned on risk of coronavirus outbreak

The Vietnamese government is warning authorities in Hanoi to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak.

The warning follows local media reports that a person working at a pizza restaurant in the capital had tested positive for the virus.

Hanoi has a population of about eight million and had not reported a case of coronavirus for months. 

03:10 GMT – Virus behind pandemic has been in bats ‘for decades’

Another interesting study on the evolution of the coronavirus … this time published in Nature.

A group of scientists from around the world who have been tracing the virus’s origins say their findings indicate that “the lineage giving rise to the SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating unnoticed in bats for decades”.

Writing on Twitter, award-winning science author Laurie Garrett says the study has a number of significant implications.

Horseshoe bat

Scientists say the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic has been circulating in bats for decades [File: Menahem Kahana/AFP]

02:40 GMT – Moderna vaccine worked well in monkeys: Study

Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine worked in monkeys and prevented the virus from replicating in their noses and lungs, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists said monkeys who received even a low-dosage vaccine produced more antibodies than people who had recovered from the virus, and it appeared to stimulate an immune response from so-called T-cells.

The study also found that two days after the vaccinated monkeys were exposed to the coronavirus through the nose and directly to the lungs, no replicating virus was found in the lungs of seven of the eight animals.

02:10 GMT – Hong Kong warns on brink of large outbreak

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is warning that the city is on the brink of a large-scale outbreak.

Strict new measures to curb the spread of the virus came into force on Wednesday with a ban on gatherings of more than two people, the closure of restaurants for all but takeaway and mandatory mask-wearing.

Quarantine measures for ship and airline crews have also been tightened.

Hong Kong

The Star Ferry arrives in Kowloon from Hong Kong Island. Masks are now mandatory in the territory [Anthony Wallace/AFP]

01:55 GMT – Queensland closing border to people from Sydney area

Annastacia Palaszczuk, premier of the northern Australian state of Queensland, says the state will be closed to people from the Sydney area from the early hours of Saturday.

Queensland residents returning home will also be required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine at their own expense.

01:15 GMT – China reports highest number of new cases since mid-April

China’s National Health Commission has just announced the latest coronavirus data for the country.

It has reported 101 new cases – up from 68 previously – the highest since mid-April.

Of the new cases, 89 were found in the far western region of Xinjiang where mass testing is under way.

00:30 GMT – Australia deploys emergency response team to nursing homes

The Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) has been deployed to nursing homes in Melbourne, where more than 679 active cases have been found, making them the centre of the current coronavirus outbreak in the state of Victoria.

AUSMAT teams, which include doctors, nurses, paramedics, radiographers and pharmacists, are usually sent to disaster zones.

Local media says Victoria is likely to announce about 295 cases on Wednesday.

00:00 GMT – Stark divisions in Congress over relief plan

Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress are divided over a $1 trillion coronavirus aid package that Republicans announced on Monday.

Under the plan, unemployment benefits would be cut to $200 a week, compared with $600 under earlier relief measures due to end Friday, and would give many Americans direct payments of $1,200 each, provide billions in loans to small businesses and help schools reopen.

Democrats say the package is too limited, and too late. Some Republicans say it is too expensive.

You can read more here.

Congress

Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress are divided over a new coronavirus relief plan [Tom Brenner/Reuters] 

23:30 GMT (Tuesday) – MSF tells Cepheid to drop price of coronavirus test

Aid group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) is urging US diagnostics firm Cepheid to “refrain from profiteering off of the pandemic” and cut the price of its COVID-19 tests (Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2) to $5, from the nearly $20 it charges in the world’s poorest countries.

MSF said its research shows the tests could be sold at a profit for $5 each.

Cepheid developed the Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 cartridge with $3.7m in public funding from the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The test delivers results in less than an hour.

—-

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.

Read all the updates from July 28 (yesterday) here.



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Why you must still wear a mask after having a COVID-19 vaccine | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Despite the manufacturers of the COVID vaccine recommending a delay of no more than three weeks between the two required doses, the UK took the somewhat bold decision back in December to delay second shots by 12 weeks. This was a calculated risk to allow time for as many people as possible to receive their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – the two being used in the UK.

The decision attracted a great deal of criticism from scientists, healthcare professionals and even the vaccine manufacturers themselves, who pointed out that no studies had been carried out to show how long protection from just one shot would last.

But, it seems that the UK government’s shot in the dark has paid off.

Just over two months later, Public Health England has announced data showing that a single shot of either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or the Pfizer-BioNTech jab reduces the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 80 percent. The results focus on older people, who are considered the frailest and least likely to mount a strong immune response.

People who have had their first shot might think they are out of the woods with this outcome. Not so. The second dose is still important for boosting immunity, reducing hospitalisation risk even further and for the length of time for which you are protected. Furthermore, while there is increasing evidence of the vaccines reducing transmission, more research is needed.

Although the virus may not make you ill after having the first vaccine shot, you might still be able to carry it around and pass it to other people through breathing and coughing, so it is imperative we all continue to wear masks and socially distance until the majority of the population is fully vaccinated.

A large cohort of the population in most countries still has not been vaccinated at all. This cohort may be younger and deemed less likely to need intensive hospital treatment should they get COVID-19, but there remains a risk of “long COVID” symptoms, which include long-term pain, poor memory, fatigue and muscle weakness, which can be seriously debilitating.

Progress Report

Will the new one-shot vaccine help to curtail new variants?

Meanwhile, a new single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has been granted approval by US regulators for use alongside the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (both two-dose vaccines), eliminating the need for a delay between shots altogether for those who receive it. Johnson & Johnson has agreed to provide the US with 100 million doses by the end of June. The UK, EU and Canada have also ordered doses, and 500 million doses have also been ordered through the COVAX scheme to supply poorer nations.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine works in a different way from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. None of these vaccines contains the coronavirus; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a “messenger” code called RNA to trigger your immune response, whereas the Johnson & Johnson one, like the Oxford vaccine, has a tiny piece of coronavirus DNA that contains information about the virus’s spike protein.

This piece of DNA is inserted into a harmless, genetically modified virus called an adenovirus. The adenovirus has been modified so it cannot multiply inside human cells, but it can carry the coronavirus DNA code to the inside of a human cell when that person has been given the vaccine.

Once inside the human cell, the DNA strand instructs the cell to make coronavirus-type spike proteins which the cell presents on its outside surface. The immune system recognises these spike proteins as “foreign” and starts assembling a range of immune cells targeted at killing them. As well as killing the cell that has been infected by the vaccine DNA, the immune system will make cells that will recognise the spike protein quicker; so, should you come into contact with the real coronavirus, your immune system will be able to destroy it before it has a chance to enter your cells and cause a serious infection.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was always designed to only require one dose and has been tested as such. The one-dose regime is felt by the manufacturer and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  to confer enough lasting protection against severe illness.

The fact this vaccine requires only one dose will be welcomed by those who have a phobia of needles but also because it may offer a quicker route to the eventual easing of lockdowns.

The vaccine was tested in a trial involving nearly 44,000 participants in the United States, Latin America and South Africa. In the US cohort, it was shown to be 72-percent effective. However, it was shown to be less effective against the newer South African and Brazilian strains of the virus – giving protection against the virus in only 55 percent and 67 percent of participants respectively.

Results from the first two US-authorised vaccines, Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, were considerably stronger, reducing symptomatic infection by about 95 percent. But those vaccines require two doses to achieve that level of immunity. They also come with distribution challenges since they need to stay at ultra-cold temperatures. Because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains a more stable DNA molecule rather than the delicate RNA molecules the other vaccines use, it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures and therefore can be more easily transported, similar to the Oxford-AtraZeneca vaccine.

New variants emerge when viruses have mutated enough times to produce a new version that becomes dominant over the original one, and which may be more infectious or deadly. That is why we must get the pandemic under control on a global basis.

The World Health Organization’s COVAX programme is designed to get vaccines to those countries that may not have the money or infrastructure to obtain them themselves. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is going to play a large part in that. A one-shot vaccine would certainly help with access, distribution, compliance and reduce the emergence rate of all of these strains to everyone’s benefit.

As with any approved vaccines, people should not turn them down if they are offered. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved on the basis that it is effective at preventing serious disease and hospitalisation. It will help reduce the number of people who get really sick from COVID and will help prevent deaths. For that reason, it is worth taking it if offered.

[Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

On the Doctor’s Rounds

Speaking at a local mosque about COVID vaccines

I work in a city called Bradford, in the north of England. One of the things I love about Bradford is its culturally diverse population; because of this, I get to see and treat patients from different backgrounds who may often approach health and access healthcare in different ways.

Coronavirus has been labelled the “great equaliser” by many – with the idea that it can affect any of us from any background in equal measure. As well-meaning as that statement may have been, it was wrong. People from ethnic minority backgrounds in Western countries have come off worse during this pandemic. They have been admitted to hospital in higher numbers and, proportionately, more have died.

The reasons for this are complex; historical discrimination, social deprivation, culturally inappropriate health care systems, and language barriers have all played a part. Misinformation about the vaccine is also rife and is finding fertile breeding ground in some of these already-disenfranchised groups. Is it any wonder then, as the COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, that we are seeing fewer people from minority ethnic backgrounds taking up the vaccine?

One of the ways I try to engage these communities and tackle misinformation is by getting out there to speak with people personally; to really address their concerns and understand what is keeping them from having the vaccine.

Last week, I was invited to a mosque to speak with a group of Muslim men and women and answer any questions they had.

I am often on British television talking about the benefits of the vaccine, but I have always done so in English and, for many of the people who came that evening, English was not their first language so this talk was to be done in Urdu. Now, I am far more comfortable speaking in English than I am in Urdu so, before heading over to the mosque I asked Mama Khan – my mum, who is fluent in Urdu and constantly disappointed in my Urdu skills – to listen to my talk. After getting her seal of approval, I made my way to the mosque.

There were approximately 30 socially distanced people attending the evening talk. Before I launched into my speech, I asked for a show of hands for those people who would not go for the vaccine if offered it; nine hands went up. OK, well if I could convince any of these nine people to go for their vaccines by the end of the evening, I thought, that would be a good thing.

I addressed what I thought were their biggest concerns: the vaccines are halal (they do not contain any animal products or alcohol); the vaccines do not cause infertility; they have been robustly tested through clinical trials; they do not contain a “tracking chip”. After I had finished speaking, I asked if anyone had any questions. A gentleman put his hand up, I nodded to him.

“My daughter told me the vaccines will change my DNA,” he said quietly. “She said I shouldn’t go for it.”

It is a question I get asked a lot.

“The vaccines do not change your DNA,” I told him. “Rather, a tiny piece of genetic code is injected with the instructions to make a small piece of the coronavirus, not the whole thing. These instructions are carried to your cell which then makes the spike protein part of the virus. Your immune system then responds and destroys the cell that has made the spike protein but you also have memory immune cells that will jump into action should you later come into contact with the real coronavirus, as they will quickly recognise its spike protein. Your DNA is left completely intact.”

To be honest, explaining that in Urdu was challenging, but we managed.

A lady then put up her hand.

“I heard they haven’t tested the vaccine on Asian people, so we do not know how we will respond.”

I knew the answer to this one.

“The trials for the vaccine had thousands of people in them, from different countries, different ethnicities and with an array of underlying health conditions. It was tested on a diverse population. There is also no reason to think people from one ethnic group would respond differently to those from another group. We are all genetically identical.”

She nodded.

I related something my mum had told me; she had used the phrase “dawa and dua” which translates as “medicine and prayer”. The two are not mutually exclusive; you can pray for health but you can still see the doctor for your health concerns. You can pray for an end to the pandemic, and that prayer may be answered in the form of a vaccine. Religion and science can work together.

I would not describe myself as a very religious man, but to those people who are praying for a world where people do not die from the coronavirus, these vaccines may just be that miracle we have all been waiting for. After all, they do say God works in mysterious ways.

I finished off by asking the group how many of them would now refuse the vaccine if offered it. Four people raised their hands. That was OK; five had changed their minds. Who knows, they may go on and speak with their friends who are vaccine-hesitant and change their minds too.

My job is to continue getting the correct information out there, so whatever decision people do make, it is an informed one.

[Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

And Now, Some Good News

Royal families encourage people to get vaccinated

In the UK, where I live, the royal family is fiercely protective about their medical information and try not to give their opinion on public matters. However, in order to encourage people to take up the COVID-19 vaccine, they have made an exception.

The Queen received her COVID-19 vaccine in January. In a video call in February with health officials in the UK, she said she understood getting a jab could be a “difficult” experience for some people but urged everyone to “think about other people rather than themselves”. There is increasing evidence that the vaccines do reduce transmission rates, so by getting the vaccine you are not only protecting yourselves but also those you may come into contact with.

Soon after, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine, spoke via video call to people who had been shielding through the pandemic and were nervous about getting their vaccine. Prince William told one of them: “Catherine and I are not medical experts by any means but if it’s any consolation, we can wholeheartedly support having vaccinations. It’s really, really important. We’ve spoken to a lot of people about it and the uptake has been amazing so far. We’ve got to keep it going so the younger generations also feel that it’s really important for them to have it.”

Wise words from the future king.

They are not the only royals supporting global vaccination programmes. In January, Jordan’s King Abdullah II received his COVID-19 vaccine alongside his son, Crown Prince Hussein, and his uncle, Prince Hassan. The Royal Palace posted pictures on Twitter of them receiving the vaccines, instilling confidence in the vaccine programme to Jordanians.

When royals take action, people do listen and we need everyone to do what they can to encourage people to take up the vaccine and help end this pandemic.

Reader’s Question

How long does protection from the COVID-19 vaccine last?

We do not yet know how long protection from the vaccine will last, but we do know that having the vaccine will protect you against serious illness from the virus. Experts are working hard to understand how long vaccine-induced immunity will last. Preliminary thoughts are that we may need annual booster doses, but getting the vaccine still remains the most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness and death from COVID-19 right now.



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