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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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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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