Journalists in Europe, US Face Harassment over Pandemic Coverage

When Italian reporter Francesco Giovannetti told protesters that he was covering them for the left-leaning daily La Repubblica, insults poured out with abandon.

It was August 30 in Rome, outside the Ministry of Public Education, and demonstrators were speaking out against Italy’s “green pass,” a COVID-19 measure requiring workers to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or that they had recovered from the virus.

The verbal assault soon escalated into a physical one when one man, who moments earlier had threatened to kill Giovannetti, began to attack the journalist.

“He beat me in the face,” Giovannetti told VOA. “He landed four or five of these hits.”

The police soon intervened. 

Attacked during protests

The attack occurred two days after Italian journalist Antonella Alba was harassed and assaulted while covering similar protests in Rome.

Neither journalist was seriously injured, but Giovannetti’s and Alba’s experiences underscore a broader danger for journalists who cover the pandemic in Europe and the United States.

Journalists have been harassed and attacked over reporting on COVID-19, especially when it comes to coverage of anti-masking campaigns, anti-vaccine campaigns and other forms of COVID-19 denialism.

“We are seen as propaganda right now,” Giovannetti said. “We are a target.” 

Anti-media sentiment was on the rise before the pandemic, according to press freedom analysts. But it has intensified in part due to pressure from extremist and populist groups energized against public health mandates and vaccines, said Attila Mong, a correspondent in Berlin for the advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Seen as the enemy

In trying to report about health safety, reporters are being viewed by some as the enemy.

“Most responsible media outlets follow scientific and public health instructions and advice, and they broadcast public health messages around mask wearing, about vaccination, about social distancing,” Mong told VOA. “Given this fact, people who oppose these measures perceive the media outlets as part of the government.” 

An international rise in populist rhetoric contributes to this phenomenon, said Reporters Without Borders (RSF) spokesperson Pauline Adès-Mével. “It’s important to recall that some political leaders, such as (former U.S. President) Trump or (Brazil’s president Jair) Bolsonaro, declared the press the enemy of the people,” she told VOA. “Such populist declarations are extremely worrying.”

Not to mention dangerous. 

On August 28, Alba, who reports for Italian public broadcaster Rai News 24, was covering a Rome protest against Italy’s COVID-19 measures. Some of the protesters were affiliated with Forza Nuova – Italian for “New Force” – a far-right, ultra nationalist political party in Italy.

Alba said that demonstrators surrounded her, taunting her for wearing a mask, insulting her and calling the journalist a terrorist. One tried to take Alba’s phone, injuring her in the process.

“I was there to ask (demonstrators), ‘Why are you here?’” Alba told VOA. “My question was very simple, and I couldn’t find an answer that made sense.”

The most coherent explanation was that the green pass would restrict individual freedom. But Alba didn’t buy that. “This is a big contradiction,” Alba said. “If you want freedom, why are you treating me like this? Using violence is not freedom.”

“They wanted to be seen. They wanted to be heard. That’s why I was there, too, because a journalist reports for everybody,” she said. 

COVID-19 deniers and anti-vaccination protesters stormed a newsroom of Slovenian public broadcaster RTV on September 3. And in early August, protesters tried to assault the offices of British public broadcaster BBC – but they had the wrong building.

Journalists in the U.S. haven’t been exempt.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has counted at least 24 pandemic-related press freedom incidents over the past 18 months, including five in August alone. 

Two reporters were assaulted while covering an anti-vaccination rally in Los Angeles on August 14. Four days later in Miami, WLRN reporter Danny Rivero was assaulted while covering a mask mandate protest. 

Rivero told VOA he thinks that some of the protesters, including one who assaulted him, were members of the far-right group, Proud Boys. Some of the protesters were chanting about a conspiracy theory that someone was paying to have a mask mandate instituted, Rivero said. 

Across the street, a group of pro-mask mandate demonstrators had gathered. 

Rivero was interviewing and taking photos of some of the anti-mask mandate protesters. One of them became angry when Rivero took his photo; a group soon formed around Rivero, shoving him and attempting to take his camera, which was around his neck.

“There was a big guy with a big belly, and he just kept walking up toward me, closer and closer,” Rivero told VOA. “And he started bumping me with his belly, and pushing me back and saying, ‘Take off the freaking camera, or I’m going to smash your face in.’” 

Rivero had reported in tense environments before, but the harassment hadn’t gone beyond verbal attacks. He was shocked that people would physically assault him for doing his job.

“I took 30 seconds just to catch my breath a little bit, and then I just went right back to work,” Rivero said. The police advised him against returning to that side of the protest to interview more people, but Rivero didn’t have any issues.

Suspicious of media

The pandemic fury comes at a time when more Americans are suspicious of the media.

A June study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found 29% of people surveyed in the U.S. trust the news, placing the U.S. last out of 46 countries analyzed in the report.

The pandemic has provided people who were already wary of the media with the affirmation to double down, according to Kirstin McCudden, managing editor at the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

“If you were part of a group that didn’t trust the media to begin with, you can also blame them for the coronavirus coverage,” she told VOA.

“The blame rolls downhill toward journalists,” McCudden said, adding that the media find themselves at an “intersection of being responsible for the news and blamed for the news.” 

WLRN reporter Rivero says he views the current environment “as a growing level of not just distrust but disdain for the work that we do.”

“They don’t want to hear things that might force them to question things and that might poke holes in things that they believe, one way or the other. They don’t like to hear that, so we become a target,” Rivero said. 

CPJ’s Mong told VOA that news outlets, as well as politicians and authorities, are responsible for addressing this issue.

“Journalists themselves very often don’t come forward because they think it’s already part of their everyday lives,” Mong said. “It’s extremely important that even the slightest cases are investigated.” 

For Italian journalist Alba, being assaulted has not deterred her.

“I am continuing to report,” she told VOA. “I’m not afraid.” 

 


UN Chief: Climate Targets Not on Track 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern Monday that the world is not on track to meet several urgent targets in the fight against climate change.   

“Based on the present commitments of member states, the world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7-degrees [Celsius] of heating, instead of 1.5 we all agreed should be the limit,” Guterres told reporters. “Science tells us that anything above 1.5 degrees would be a disaster.”  

To get to 1.5 degrees, the U.N. says wealthier nations need to step up with $100 billion a year between now and 2025.   

Greenhouse gas emissions also need to be cut by nearly half by 2030 to enable nations to reach carbon neutrality by the 2050 target. This includes the difficult job of getting countries to phase out the use of polluting coal plants.   

“Where I believe there is still a long way to go is in relation to the reduction of emissions,” Guterres said.   

Nearly 80% of emissions are from G-20 countries.  

Review conference  

In November, nations will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, for a key climate conference to review progress on commitments since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

On Monday, Guterres co-hosted with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a small meeting of key countries for one of the final gatherings ahead of the conference. Guterres and Johnson have both raised alarms that the review conference, known as COP26, cannot fail and that ambitious commitments are needed.   

“I think that Glasgow — COP26 — is a turning point for the world,” Johnson told reporters. “It is a moment when we have to grow up and take our responsibilities.”  

The U.N. says half of the annual $100 billion in public climate financing needs to go to adaptation efforts in developing countries.  

Guterres expressed concern that progress on this has not been sufficient. Although he did point to some movement, including new commitments from Sweden and Denmark on Monday.   

“I believe that this 50% might gain traction, but we are still not yet there,” he said.

“It is the developing world that is bearing the brunt of catastrophic climate change in the form of hurricanes and fires and floods, and the real long-term economic damage that they face,” Johnson said. “And yet, it is the developed world that over 200 years has put the carbon in the atmosphere that is causing this acceleration of climate change. And so it really is up to us to help them.”  

Climate action activists say it is not spending the money that is holding back accelerated progress.   

“The pandemic has shown that countries can swiftly mobilize trillions of dollars to respond to an emergency — it is clearly a question of political will,” said Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s Global Climate Policy lead. “Let’s be clear, we are in a climate emergency. It is wreaking havoc across the globe and requires the same decisiveness and urgency.”  

 


Pfizer-BioNTech Say Their COVID Vaccine Safe, Effective for 5- to-11-Year-Olds

The Pfizer and BioNTech drug companies said Monday that lower dose shots of their two-dose COVID-19 vaccine are safe and effective for five-to-11-year-old children.

The U.S. company and its German partner BioNTech said trials showed the vaccine was well-tolerated and robust, neutralizing antibody responses at the lower dose levels necessary in younger children.

Pfizer said it plans to soon seek U.S., British and European Union authorization for use of the vaccine for the younger age group, which could greatly expand the scope of the U.S. vaccination effort. About 28 million U.S. children fall into the affected age range, although millions of adults have themselves declined to get the jab. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 181 million people have been fully vaccinated in the country, but 70 million others 12 and older have so far, for one reason or another, not been inoculated. 

Pfizer said it studied a lower dose — a third of the adult strength — in tests involving more than 2,200 kindergartners and elementary school students, two-thirds of whom were given the vaccine and a third saltwater shots. The company said the children developed antibody levels that were just as strong as exhibited by teenagers and young adults. 

With children now back in school, and the delta variant spreading throughout the U.S., parents in many communities have been anxious for government health officials to approve the vaccine for their children. 

Children are at lower risk than older people of severe illness or death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but more than 5 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 460 have died, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Dr. William Gruber, a pediatrician and Pfizer senior vice president, told The Associated Press that by the end of the month, the company would apply for emergency use of the vaccine for five-to-11-year-olds in the U.S. and shortly thereafter in Britain and Europe. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would then evaluate Pfizer’s data, a process that could take a few weeks. 

 U.S. vaccine maker Moderna also is studying its shots for young children. Both Pfizer and Moderna are studying use of the vaccine for children as young as six months old, with results expected later this year. 

In Britain, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign for children between the ages of 12 and 15 began Monday at schools around the country.

Meanwhile, some private hospitals in Kolkata, India, bracing for a possible surge in pediatric COVID-19 cases, have enhanced their facilities and provided additional training for health care professionals.

A new study published by the CDC revealed that roughly one in three people who has tested positive for COVID-19 still reported symptoms several weeks after the fact.  

The CDC reported that rates were even higher in women, Black people, those older than 40, and those with preexisting conditions. The CDC describes people with “long COVID” as experiencing symptoms more than one month after a positive test result.  

The U.S. has more COVID-19 cases than any other country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, with more than 42 million infections. Around the world, there have been more than 228 million cases and 4.7 million deaths, according to the data.   

Singapore reported more than 1,000 new cases Sunday, the highest rate for the country since April 2020. Even with 80% of its population fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, Singapore has paused further reopening.    

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.  

 

 

(Some information for this report came from the Associated Press.)


Australia Warned Dementia Cases Will Double Within 40 Years

Within 40 years, more than 800,000 Australians — twice as many as now — will be living with dementia, unless a cure is found, according to a new government-sponsored report. 

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia.  

A new study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a government agency, has forecast that 1.1 million Australians will live with dementia by 2058, unless major new treatments are discovered.  

Dementia is a broad term for a number of conditions that impair the functions of the brain.  

In 2019, $2.1 billion was spent in Australia on residential and community-based services, and hospital care for dementia patients, two-thirds of whom are women.  

The release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study has coincided with a new awareness campaign by Dementia Australia, a non-profit organization. 

Its chief executive, Maree McCabe, says exercise and a sensible diet can offer protection against several types of dementia. 

“The main type is Alzheimer’s disease but there are about 100 different types and about 60% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. But there’s types such as frontotemporal dementia, dementia with lewy bodies, vascular dementia, just to name a few. We can definitely reduce our risk of developing dementia by ensuring that we eat well, that we exercise our body and our brain,” McCabe said.

The World Health Organization has said there are currently more than 55 million people living with dementia globally.  

Almost 10 million new cases are diagnosed every year. About a quarter of those are detected in China, the world’s most populous country. 

It is estimated that 10 million people currently suffer from the degenerative brain disorder in China. As its population ages, that number is forecast to rise to 40 million by 2050, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  

The study warned that the annual economic costs to China from dementia could reach $1 trillion in medical expenses and lost productivity as caregivers leave the workforce. 

Dementia support groups warn that worldwide, both patients and caregivers face discrimination because of a lack of understanding about the disease that currently has no cure. 


India Expected to Ease COVID-19 Vaccine Export Restrictions

There is growing optimism that India could resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines as production expands at a rapid pace, putting the country on track to immunize its adult population in the coming months

“We had put a target of 1.85 billion doses for ourselves. That has been organized by the end of December and thereafter the government will be able to allow vaccine exports,” N.K. Arora, head of the national technical advisory group on immunization told VOA. “We will have several billion doses available next year.”

India, a vaccine powerhouse, was expected to be a major supplier of affordable COVID- 19 vaccines to developing countries.

However, after supplying 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries, New Delhi halted exports in April following a deadly second wave of the pandemic, slowing inoculation programs of countries from Africa to Indonesia.

There is no official comment on a timeline for resumption of exports, with officials stressing that for the time being, the focus is on India’s domestic rollout.

“First, all of our adults will have to be immunized, we have to take care of our own people,” Arora said.

The issue of vaccine supplies is expected to figure in the summit meeting of the Quad nations —  the United States, Japan, India and Australia — Friday in Washington.

Public health experts say India will likely wait to restart exports until the country’s festive season ends in November to ensure it does not have to grapple with a third wave. Currently authorities are racing to administer at least one dose to all adults.

India has given one shot to roughly two thirds of its population but only 20% of its approximately 900 million adults have been fully inoculated.

In April, as a ferocious surge in infections took a heavy toll, the government had faced criticism for exporting vaccines when most of its own population was not inoculated.

India has been urged to resume exports as the country’s vaccination program gains momentum and the supply of vaccines increases.

The World Health Organization told a press briefing in Geneva Tuesday that it has been assured that supplies from India will restart this year. Officials said that discussions in New Delhi have emphasized the importance of ensuring that India is “part of the solution for Africa.”

African countries have struggled to inoculate their populations — only about 3% of the continent’s population is vaccinated.

“Given the successful ramp-up of domestic production and the diminishing intensity of its own outbreak, we hope that India will ease its restrictions,” a spokesman for the Gavi alliance, co-leading the global vaccine sharing platform COVAX, told VOA.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of the AstraZeneca vaccines, has said that exports could resume as India nears a level where sufficient stocks are available for its inoculation drive.

“In the next two months, we do expect slow easement of exports. But you have to also check with the government; ultimately it is their decision,” SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla said on Friday.

The institute was to be one of the major suppliers of affordable vaccines to COVAX, but the vaccine-sharing platform’s ability to get sufficient doses for low- and middle-income countries took a hit when India shut down exports.

“Countries with a low level of vaccination can breed variants and if the world does not cover those people there is an opportunity for mutants to rise and creep into other countries, making it harder control the pandemic,” K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said.

Eyes will also be on the Quad summit next week to see how it makes headway on the vaccine initiative announced in March under which the four countries had decided to produce 1 billion doses in India by 2022 with financial backing from the United States and Japan.

“The summit will be a good opportunity to take stock and expedite that initiative. Some conversations have happened, let us see what progress is made,” an official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, who did not want to be named, said.

Vaccines produced under the Quad initiative were meant for countries in the Indo-Pacific region. These and other developing countries have turned to China, which has supplied over a billion doses, while Western countries are seen to have lagged in their efforts to vaccinate developing countries.

However, hopes are rising that India will emerge as a major global supplier as new production facilities are set up and the basket of vaccines expands.

The SII for example is set to ramp up production to 200 million doses next month –nearly three times its output in April when India halted exports. Indian companies are also set to make millions of doses of both domestically developed vaccines and those developed overseas, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and Russia’s Sputnik V.

“It may look like a presumptuous statement, but we will immunize many countries next year, and these will be with affordable shots. There is no confusion in that. India is committed to it and I see no difficulty at all,” Arora said. 


World Leaders Return to UN With Focus on Pandemic, Climate

World leaders are returning to the United Nations in New York this week with a focus on boosting efforts to fight both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which last year forced them to send video statements for the annual gathering.

As the coronavirus still rages amid an inequitable vaccine rollout, about a third of the 193 U.N. states are planning to again send videos, but presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers for the remainder are due to travel to the United States.

The United States tried to dissuade leaders from coming to New York in a bid to stop the U.N. General Assembly from becoming a “super-spreader event,” although President Joe Biden will address the assembly in person, his first U.N. visit since taking office. A so-called U.N. honor system means that anyone entering the assembly hall effectively declares they are vaccinated, but they do not have to show proof.

This system will be broken when the first country speaks — Brazil. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine skeptic, who last week declared that he does not need the shot because he is already immune after being infected with COVID-19.

Should he change his mind, New York City has set up a van outside the United Nations for the week to supply free testing and free shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Reuters that the discussions around how many traveling diplomats might have been immunized illustrated “how dramatic the inequality is today in relation to vaccination.” He is pushing for a global plan to vaccinate 70% of the world by the first half of next year.

Out of 5.7 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered around the world, only 2% have been in Africa.

Biden will host a virtual meeting from Washington with leaders and chief executives on Wednesday that aims to boost the distribution of vaccines globally.

Demonstrating U.S. COVID-19 concerns about the U.N. gathering, Biden will be in New York only for about 24 hours, meeting with Guterres on Monday and making his first U.N. address on Tuesday, directly after Bolsonaro.

His U.N. envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Biden would “speak to our top priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change … and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order.”

Due to the pandemic, U.N. delegations are restricted to much smaller numbers and most events on the sidelines will be virtual or a hybrid of virtual and in-person. Among other topics that ministers are expected to discuss during the week are Afghanistan and Iran.

But before the annual speeches begin, Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will start the week with a summit on Monday to try and save a U.N. summit — that kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31 — from failure.

As scientists warn that global warming is dangerously close to spiraling out of control, the U.N. COP26 conference aims to wring much more ambitious climate action and the money to go with it from participants around the globe.

“It’s time to read the alarm bell,” Guterres told Reuters last week. “We are on the verge of the abyss.” 

 


‘Compassion Fatigue’ Hitting US Doctors, Report Says

A report in The Guardian says U.S. physicians treating unvaccinated patients are “succumbing to compassion fatigue” as a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases sweeps across the country.

Dr. Michelle Shu, a 29-year-old emergency medicine resident, said medical school did not prepare her to handle the misinformation unvaccinated patients believe about the vaccine, calling the experience “demoralizing.”

“There is a feeling,” Dr. Mona Masood, a psychiatrist in Philadelphia told The Guardian, “that ‘I’m risking my life, my family’s life, my own wellbeing for people who don’t care about me.’”

The U.S. has more COVID-19 cases than any other country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, with over 42 million infections.

India’s health ministry said Sunday that it had recorded 30,773 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period and 309 deaths. Johns Hopkins reports that only the U.S. has more infections than India, which has over 33 million.

Johns Hopkins has recorded more than 228 million global COVID-19 cases and 4.6 million global deaths. Almost 6 billion vaccines have been administered, according to Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, in the southern U.S. state of Alabama on Friday, Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said that 2020 was the first year in the history of the state that it had more deaths than births – 64,714 deaths and 57,641 births. The state “literally shrunk,” he said. Alabama is headed in the same direction for 2021, Harris said, with the current rate of COVID deaths.

 

 

 


China’s COVID-19 Vaccine Diplomacy Reaches 100-Plus Countries  

Despite doubts about the effectiveness of China’s COVID-19 vaccines, the global vaccine shortage is giving China an international soft power boost.  

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced this week via the official Xinhua News Agency that it had delivered 1.1 billion vaccine doses to more than 100 countries during the pandemic. 

This component of Chinese soft power, a tool used to deepen friendships abroad and vie for recognition over its archrival, the United States, despite festering disputes, could help boost China’s image in vaccine-recipient countries that cannot easily source doses from other places, observers said.  

“They work, maybe, less effectively and efficiently and timely than the vaccines that are produced in the Western countries but nonetheless they offer a certain level of immunization that’s always better than no immunization at all,” said Fabrizio Bozzato, senior research fellow at the Tokyo-based Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s Ocean Policy Research Institute.     

“It appears that China’s vaccine diplomacy is working very well, to the detriment of the West, given the impression that it’s keeping the best weapons against COVID-19 to themselves,” Bozzato said. China will enjoy an image as a “reliable partner that’s willing to help,” he said.    

Limited effectiveness, widespread availability    

Of the vaccines developed in China, the World Health Organization calls Sinovac doses 51% effective against symptomatic infections and Sinopharm vaccine 79% effective. Specific data points, especially on the effectiveness against the delta variant, are few, said John Swartzberg, a clinical professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health. However, Chinese formulas work better than no vaccine, he said.  

Within the year, China plans to offer a cumulative 2 billion vaccine doses abroad “and this can totally be done,” Xinhua says. Southeast Asia alone has received 360 million doses to date, it adds. 

Xinhua says China has established vaccine plants in 15 countries, a boon to low-cost distribution. Sinovac was one of the world’s first pharmaceutical firms to develop a mass-market vaccine last year.  

The United States is accelerating plans to distribute more vaccines. In June, the U.S. purchased 500 million doses to be distributed by COVAX, the WHO-backed initiative for low and middle-income countries. As of August, the U.S. government had donated 110 million doses overseas.  

But that has done little to satisfy critics such as New York-based advocacy group Amnesty international, who say Western countries are “hoarding” vaccines for their own populations. 

In a June statement, the group criticized the bilateral purchase agreements between wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies, saying “instead of facing up to their international obligations by waiving intellectual property rules for vaccines, tests and treatments, and sharing lifesaving technology, G-7 leaders have opted for more of the same paltry half-measures.” 

Media reports say President Joe Biden is expected to announce plans next week at the U.N. General Assembly for countries to pledge resources to vaccinate 70% of the world by September 2022. According to the World Health Organization, that will require about 11 billion doses.

And that effort could still run into supply bottlenecks.  

Pfizer, a top name in the United States, points to obstacles offshore in vaccine packing, distribution and cold storage, but company CEO Albert Bourla said in an open letter that Pfizer is “continuing to work around the clock so we can bring the vaccine to the world as quickly, efficiently and equitably as possible.”    

Many people in poorer parts of the world where COVID-19 cases continue to multiply are getting the Chinese shots with few side effects and a sense that any breakthrough infections would be mild, according to analysts and people from affected countries.     

“History’s not going to look very kindly on China’s reluctance to be more forthcoming with their data, but history may be pretty kind to China if China just produces a lot of this vaccine and makes it available worldwide,” Swartzberg said.    

Some Indonesians can choose only between a Chinese vaccine or none, said Paramitaningrum, an international relations lecturer at Bina Nusantara University in Jakarta. She and her aging parents got the Chinese vaccines earlier in the year.    

China’s image isn’t getting worse, Paramitaningrum said. “That kind of anti-Chinese sentiment is still there, but I could say it has low percentage – only for some particular reasons – but in general they are OK,” she said.  

Vaccines not expected to cure old disputes  

In some countries, China’s vaccine diplomacy is not enough to erase pre-existing disputes.   

Indonesians and Filipinos resent Chinese expansion in the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea where maritime sovereignty claims overlap. China, backed by Asia’s strongest military, has built artificial islands on shoals and reefs that Manila claims. Chinese ships also sail through waters that Jakarta says fall within its exclusive economic zone.   

Other countries are embroiled in trade and investment flaps with China while people in much of the world bristle toward China as the coronavirus’s source. 

The widespread availability of low-cost or donated Chinese medical aid won’t neutralize those issues but could temper any new flare-ups, analysts believe.   

Most vaccines introduced in Brazil earlier this year came from Sinovac, and Brazilian researchers said in December after a clinical trial that the vaccine was more than 50% effective.

  

 

Still, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said May 5 that the pandemic could be “chemical warfare” waged by a fast-growing nation widely presumed to mean China.  

But heads of state in the Philippines and Vietnam, another normally outspoken South China Sea claimant, have not engaged in anti-China comments.   

Common Filipinos take a pragmatic through guarded view. Many prefer non-Chinese vaccines but cannot tell clinics which brand to administer, domestic news website Inquirer.net reports.    

“The president, the executive of the country, it’s his decision to bring in Sinovac, but on the ground the people, that’s really their last choice,” said Marivic Arcega, operator of an animal feed distributor in the Manila suburb of Cavite. She got an AstraZeneca shot while her husband got Sinovac.    

In Vietnam, which began accepting Chinese vaccines in June, a lot of people are refusing the shots despite their country’s first major COVID-19 outbreak that began in June, said Jack Nguyen, partner at the business advisory firm Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City.


Space Tourists Splash Down in Atlantic, End 3-Day Trip

Four space tourists ended their trailblazing trip to orbit Saturday with a splashdown in the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

Their SpaceX capsule parachuted into the ocean just before sunset, not far from where their chartered flight began three days earlier. 

The all-amateur crew was the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut. 

The billionaire who paid undisclosed millions for the trip and his three guests wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists. 

SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule reached an unusually high altitude of 585 kilometers (363 miles) after Wednesday night’s liftoff. Surpassing the International Space Station by 160 kilometers (100 miles), the passengers savored views of Earth through a big bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule. 

Rare return to Atlantic

The four streaked back through the atmosphere early Saturday evening, the first space travelers to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns — carrying astronauts for NASA — were in the Gulf of Mexico.

This time, NASA was little more than an encouraging bystander, its only tie being the Kennedy Space Center launch pad once used for the Apollo moonshots and shuttle crews, but now leased by SpaceX. 

The trip’s sponsor, Jared Isaacman, 38, an entrepreneur and accomplished pilot, aimed to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Donating $100 million himself, he held a lottery for one of the four seats. He also held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania, payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments. 

Joining him on the flight were Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a St. Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee, hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, and contest winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona. 

Strangers until March, they spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight, dubbed Inspiration4. Most everything appeared to go well, leaving them time to chat with St. Jude patients, conduct medical tests on themselves, ring the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange, and do some drawing and ukulele playing.

Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, assured her patients, “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.” 

They also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2’s Bono. 

Atypical menu

Even their space menu wasn’t typical: cold pizza and sandwiches, but also pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb. 

Nearly 600 people have reached space — a scorecard that began 60 years ago and is expected to soon skyrocket as space tourism heats up. 

Benji Reed, a SpaceX director, anticipates as many as six private flights a year, sandwiched between astronaut launches for NASA. Four SpaceX flights are already booked carry paying customers to the space station, accompanied by former NASA astronauts. The first is targeted for early next year with three businessmen paying $55 million apiece. Russia also plans to take up an actor and film director for filming next month and a Japanese tycoon in December. 

Customers interested in quick space trips are turning to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The two rode their own rockets to the fringes of space in July to spur ticket sales; their flights lasted 10 to 15 minutes.


Malawi Trial Shows New Typhoid Vaccine Effective in Children

Malawi plans a nationwide rollout of the newest typhoid vaccine after a two-year study, the first in Africa, found it safe and effective in children as young as 9 months. Previously available vaccines were found not effective in children younger than 2 years and even then only provided short-term protection.  

Typhoid is an increasing public health threat in Malawi and across sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated 1.2 million cases and 19,000 deaths each year.

 

Typhoid is a treatable bacterial infection that has become a serious threat in many low- and middle-income countries.

 

In Malawi, the study on the efficacy of the Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine or TCV involved about 28,000 children aged between 9 months and 15 years from three townships in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

 

The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, the Blantyre Malaria Project, and the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust conducted the study.

 

Professor Melita Gordon, principal investigator for the study at the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust, says the results, released this week, show an efficacy rate of more than 80% in protecting children against the disease.

   

“The previous vaccines were only 50% effective, and they were never even tested very well in the very youngest children. They were never even usable in the youngest children. So, the fact that this new conjugate vaccine works in pre-school children, right down to 9 months is a really big deal and important to be able to tackle typhoid across the board in all the children who suffer with it,” she said.

 

Gordon also said the vaccine efficacy data provides hope that sub-Saharan Africa can be rid of the multidrug-resistant strain of typhoid that arrived from Asia about a decade ago.

 

“In Malawi, the incidents are something [around] four or five hundred cases per 100,000 per year. Now anything over 200 is considered high incidence, so we are a very high-incidence country. There have been studies in Burkina Faso, in Ghana, in Kenya; we know that many other African countries have an equivalent burden of the disease,” Gordon said.

   

Dr. Queen Dube, chief of health services in Malawi’s Health Ministry, says rollout should begin soon.

 

“The exciting news is that we had applied to GAVI that supports us on the vaccination front to add this to the list of vaccines we are administering in the country and GAVI approved our application. And we are looking at introducing this typhoid vaccine and rolling it out next year,” Dube said.

 

However, some fear the new typhoid vaccine would face hesitancy and resistance from people, as has been the case with COVID-19 vaccines, and which led to the incineration of about 20,000 expired doses in Malawi in May.

 

But Dube said this won’t happen with typhoid vaccine because COVID-19 was a new disease.   

   

“We have had typhoid for decades and decades, so people know what typhoid is. Nobody will wake up in the morning saying, oh no, typhoid was manufactured in a laboratory. And so, chances that you will end up with misinformation are on the lower side compared with a new disease which swept across the globe, killing so many people brought a lot of fear and a allowed a lot of false theories,” she said.

   

Still, Dube said Malawi’s government plans to launch a massive sensitization campaign to teach people about the new typhoid vaccine to a reemergence of the myths and misinformation that engulfed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.