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United Kingdom Becomes First Western Country To Vaccinate Citizens

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  • The U.K. officially began vaccinating its people Tuesday, just one week after the government approved Pfizer’s vaccine. Those over the age of 80 in long term care are getting it first, with healthcare workers likely soon to follow.
  • The first person to get it was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan who celebrates her 91st birthday next week. She said it was the “best early birthday present” as she can soon see her family once again. She also encouraged others to get the vaccine.
  • In the U.S., ahead of a Thursday advisory committee meeting, the FDA has said that the Pfizer vaccine appears to be safe and effective. Experts believe this is promising and could mean approval is just around the corner.
  • Meanwhile, a report from the New York Times alleged that the Trump Administration turned down the opportunity to get more doses of the Pfizer vaccine back in July.

U.K. Begins Administering Vaccine

The hope that a coronavirus vaccine could start to bring the world back to normal heightened on Tuesday as the United Kingdom began administering Pfizer and BioNTech’s shot for the first time.

The U.K. approved Pfizer’s vaccine on Wednesday, just weeks after the company announced that its vaccine is 95% effective. The vaccine requires two doses, and people over the age of 80 who are either hospitalized or have upcoming outpatient appointments in the U.K. are first in line. Nursing home workers, healthcare workers and other vulnerable people will likely follow before it gets in the hands of the general public. 

The first person to get it in the U.K. was grandmother Margaret Keenan, who will turn 91-years-old next week. 

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19,” she said to reporters in the hospital. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

“My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it – if I can have it at 90, then you can have it too,” she added.

The second person to get the vaccine was an 81-year-old named William Shakespeare. He was likewise pleased to be vaccinated and thanked the hospital staff who made it possible. 

The U.K. is the first western country to begin vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19. So far, the pandemic has sickened 67.8 million people across the globe and taken the lives of over 1.5 million.

U.S. FDA Says Pfizer Vaccine is Safe and Effective

In the U.S., which accounts for roughly one-fifth of the world’s cases with 15 million, progress is also being made on the vaccine front. On Thursday a vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet and discuss Pfizer’s vaccine. Ahead of that meeting on Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration said the vaccine is both safe and effective. 

The advisory committee will decide whether or not to recommend the shots for emergency approval, and the FDA will make their choice at some point after that. So far, experts believe the chance of approval is promising, as the FDA noted that the vaccine’s efficacy rate is consistent across people of all ages, genders, races and among people with underlying health issues. 

The FDA also said that the vaccine is 50% effective within one week after the first shot. It reaches the 95% rate after the second. 

So far, side effects include fatigue, fever, headaches and joint or muscle pain. There were also four cases of Bell’s Palsy for those who got the vaccine in the trials, a condition that causes weakness in facial muscles. One of those patients recovered in a week’s time and there is currently no evidence supporting that the vaccine is the cause of this. Still the FDA will likely recommend follow up research on the matter. 

With all the documents the FDA submitted Tuesday, Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota told NBC News he could “see absolutely no reason why this emergency use authorization would not be granted.”

Trump Passed on More Doses for the U.S.

Doses of the vaccine are expected to go out by the end of the year to healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups. However, on Monday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration passed on the opportunity to secure access to more doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. 

Back in July, the company offered the U.S. government the chance to lock in supplies beyond their nearly $2 billion deal that included 100 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate 50 million people. That offer could have given the U.S. between 100 to 500 million more doses, enough for another 50 to 250 million people.

Despite the fact that Pfizer warned the administration that the demand would surely exceed the supply of the vaccine, the deal was never made. The Times noted this begs questions about the possibility that the U.S. let other countries jump ahead in the vaccine line. Right now, the bulk of the vaccine supply has been claimed by other wealthy countries like Canada and the U.K.

White House officials are denying the details of the report, telling reporters on Tuesday that it is “false” and explaining that they are “in the middle of negotiations right now and can’t talk publicly about it.” Officials maintained that the vaccine will be available to all Americans who want it. 

On Tuesday, Trump is also holding a vaccine summit where he will sign an executive order prioritizing American’s access to vaccines before the U.S. helps other countries. While the logistics of the order are unclear, it will reportedly aim to make sure vaccine doses are not shipped abroad until all U.S. needs are met. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (NBC News) (New York Times)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)

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Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response

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President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.


President Makes Massive Changes to Government

Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.

The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.

Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.

The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.

After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.

In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.

It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.

One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.

Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.

Legalities of Article 80

The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.

He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.

However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.

In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”

International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)

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South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys

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The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.


Government Recognition

The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.

The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.

The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.

Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.

Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.

Longstanding Policy

BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.

Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.

The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.

Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.

See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)

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