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Health Experts Push Back Against Growing Decisions To Pause AstraZeneca Vaccinations in Europe

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  • Several European nations are halting the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid concerns over it causing blood clots.
  • There is no concrete evidence that links the two, and an extreme minority of patients have had blood clots found post-vaccination.
  • Government officials paint the decision to pause vaccinations as a precautionary measure, although health experts, including the E.U.’s top drug regulator and the WHO, agree the vaccine is safe and said the blood clots were detected because of increased monitoring.
  • This pause in vaccinations means the E.U. will likely not meet its goal of vaccinating 70 million people by September since AstraZeneca’s is the bloc’s main vaccine.

Cascade Reaction in Europe

A growing list of European nations are facing backlash among health experts after deciding to pause the use and rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine amid reports that people who took the vaccine found blood clots shortly afterward.

Countries Highlighted in orange have suspended the AstraZeneca Vaccine as of March 16, 2021. Made With mapchart.net

This has led to a cascading effect, as nation after nation has enacted precautionary measures over the vaccine, despite concrete evidence the two issues are linked and instead of people watching their health more closely. Experts note that the first people to get vaccinated are among the most vulnerable and thus are already susceptible to bad health conditions like blood clots.

The decision to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and other countries is widely considered by health professionals to be premature. Particularly because it’s unclear if it was even at-fault for causing ANY blood clots. When Denmark suspended its use last week (the first nation to do so, its health authority said that as of that moment “it cannot be concluded whether there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots.”

The evidence currently available points to the AstraZeneca vaccine being as safe as any other, with only a tiny percentage of the population experiencing any adverse effects. When reviewing data from the 17 million doses given, AstraZeneca found 37 instances of blood clots. Those findings were backed by the U.K. (which uses this vaccine for their vaccination efforts), who said that among the 11 million doses of the vaccine given so far, there were only 11 instances of blood clots. those numbers represent figures far less than what you’d expect among the general population. Additionally, neither one could conclusively tie the blood clots to the vaccine.

No Serious Concern For Drug Regulators

The European Medicines Agency, the E.U.’s top drug agency, said on Monday there is “no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” and that it will continue to monitor data as it comes in. It added that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh any potential side effects. To date, the only negative health effect noticed in some patients with a plausible link to the AstraZeneca vaccine is low platelets in the blood, which can cause bruising.

The WHO’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, wanted to make sure that any concerns about AstraZeneca’s vaccine aren’t extrapolated to any unrelated and different vaccine from other brands, noting that out of the 300 million doses of coronavirus vaccines given globally, “there is no documented death that has been linked to a COVID vaccine.”

Halting the use of this vaccine of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the one most European countries hoped to use, means that it’s even further behind in meeting its goal of vaccinating 70% of its population by September.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has yet to be approved by U.S. regulators, although that’s to be expected as it never sought emergency authorization.

See What Others Are Saying: (Associated Press) (Washington Post) (The New York Times)

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Hong Kong’s Apple Daily Raided, Top Editors and Execs Arrested

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Police claim the paper violated a controversial National Security law by publishing articles that asked foreign countries to sanction the Hong Kong and Chinese government.


Apple Daily Raid

Nearly 500 Chinese police officers carried out a raid on Thursday at the headquarters of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, a tabloid-style paper and one of the largest publications in the city.

During the aid, which was live-streamed by the outlet, police arrested top executives and editors while also seizing journalistic materials over violations of the city’s controversial National Security law. Apple Daily said CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man, and Online Editor Cheung Chi-wai were arrested and accused of “colluding with foreign forces and external elements to endanger national security.”

Police also froze $1.8 million in Apple Daily assets.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, told reporters that “this case involves a conspiracy” and added that the police were targeting those who use journalism as a “tool to endanger national security.”

Police claim that since 2019, Apple Daily has published articles calling on foreign countries to sanction the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Many of those articles were published before the National Security law went into effect, meaning the law is being applied retroactively.

However, China’s Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said the law wouldn’t be retroactive, so it’s unclear if there’s been a shift in policy and if authorities are seeking to change how they approach violations that occurred before the law was enacted.

Not Meant to Restrict Freedom of the Press

Thursday’s raid could also have repercussions for other Hong Kongers. The city’s Senior Superintendent of the Police’s National Security Department warned citizens not to repost certain Apple Daily articles by saying, “If you have no real reason to share these types of articles, I would advise everyone not to.”

He claimed that this raid wasn’t targeting the press but rather one individual organization that violated the law. He also said Hong Kong’s government values the freedom of the press, a right that is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Lee concurred with the Senior Superintendent, adding, “Please understand that our actions are not targeting journalistic work. We target perpetrators who use journalistic work as a tool to endanger acts of national security.”

Apple Daily has vowed to carry on with its work while also acknowledging that its fate was out of its hands. In a letter to its readers, the paper wrote, “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless.”

“It seems that we are powerless to deal with it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing whatever it wants.”

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

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Hamas Launches Incendiary Balloons Into Israel Over Right-Wing March, Israel Responds With Airstrikes

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No casualties were reported and the tentative ceasefire that ended last month’s hostilities largely remains in place.


10 Minutes of Airstrikes

Alleged Hamas training facilities were hit by Israeli airstrikes early Wednesday morning as a response to the group sending incendiary balloons into Israeli territory late Tuesday night.

The airstrikes, which lasted for 10 minutes, destroyed two compounds while the balloons started about 20 fires across southern Israel. There were no casualties on either side and damage was kept to a relative minimum. By Wednesday morning, calm had returned and neither group pursued further hostilities.

Hamas risked breaking a tenuous ceasefire in order to respond to right-wing Israeli demonstrators that marched through Palestinian neighborhoods to commemorate a holiday that is seen as highly provocative. The ceasefire has gone on to its eleventh day, stopping widespread rocket and airstrike campaigns that left hundreds of buildings in Gaza destroyed and dozens in Israel damaged.

The marchers were celebrating Jerusalem Flag Day, a day to mark Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its holy sites during the 1967 Middle East War. It was originally supposed to occur on May 10 but was delayed as fighting between Hamas and Israel began last month. Hamas actually listed the celebrations as one of its primary causes for starting hostilities and warned that any further Jerusalem Flag Day events in East Jerusalem would be met with violence.

Tuesday’s march proved to be one of the first big tests faced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who only just started the job this week. As a right-wing figure himself, he supported the marchers and saw rerouting or canceling the event as giving into Hamas’ demands. However, his center and left-wing allies pushed for the event to be canceled. In the end, security forces slightly amended the route to avoid passing through the Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter.

Those same security forces have been accused by Palestinian protesters of violence as they moved to disperse anti-Israel demonstrations and make way for Flag Day marchers. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 33 Palestinians were injured by police in those clashes.

Chants of “Death to Arabs!”

The celebrations by Israelis were largely peaceful, if not extremely provocative. The entire holiday itself is seen as a celebration of what many Arabs lost in the 1967 Middle East War, and hosting events in what is considered occupied territory puts salt in the wound. However, a large group of young Israelis inflamed the situation after video surfaced of them chanting “Death to Arabs!

Their actions were widely condemned, including by Defense Minister Yair Lapid, who said, “The fact that there are extremists for whom the Israeli flag represents hate and racism is abominable and intolerable.” He added, “It is incomprehensible how one can hold an Israeli flag in one’s hand and shout ‘Death to Arabs’ at the same time.”

The Palestinian Authority, the government of the West Bank, said that there could be ‘dangerous repercussions” because of Tuesday’s right-wing march.

Despite the small rise in hostilities posed by Tuesday’s march and subsequent responses by Hamas and Israel, their ceasefire remains.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)

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India Is Investigating Fake COVID-19 Tests That May Have Fueled Outbreaks

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Private facilities testing at a religious festival in April faked at least 100,000 negative tests, leading the public to believe the event wasn’t a super spreader.


Kumbh Mela Super Spreader Event

Authorities in India said Tuesday that they are investigating COVID-19 testing efforts carried out by private facilities during a major religious festival in Uttarakhand state this past April, which led to hundreds of thousands of fake negative test results.

The religious festival, Kumbh Mela, is among the most widely attended events in the world and millions arrived for the celebrations despite health authorities warning that it could become a super spreader event. Pilgrims weren’t deterred as local politicians praised the safety of the event and encouraged people to come without masks. In the end, the return home by festival goers is believed to have led to the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the world, with new daily cases rising above 400,000 through April and May.

At the time, however, reported positive cases from those at the festival were shockingly low. One district in Haridwar, where part of the festival takes place, reported that out of 251,000 tests carried out locally during Kumbh Mela, only 2,273 were positive. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state and across India, infections were upwards of 10% of those tested, leading experts to doubt the festival’s results

The narrative that India’s large outbreak wasn’t fueled by Kumbh Mela began to fall apart after a man from neighboring Punjab received a negative COVID-19 test from a private testing facility in Uttarakhand. The private test showed that during his time at the Kumbh Mela festival, he was negative despite never actually attended the festival.

Investigation Findings

Last week, he complained to the Indian Council of Medical Research, who took the situation seriously and asked local authorities to open an investigation into the matter. Preliminary findings from the investigation show that the situation is possibly worse than predicted. Authorities found that one company testing at the festival forged about a fourth of their results, meaning at least 100,000 tests were faked.

As investigators search the books, they’re finding that private clinics filled testing logs up by putting down random names, numbers, and addresses and sending those people negative test results. The clinics would then use the inflated numbers to charge local authorities more for their services.

Clinics also engaged in other scams, such as using the same unique ID code from a negative antigen test, meant for a single individual, for multiple “recipients.”  In one instance, according to Times of India, a single test ID number was used for 700 people.

Because of these findings, Uttarakhand has stopped paying dozens of private testing facilities as it investigates further. 

COVID-19 cases in India have fallen drastically in the last month after spiking to over 400,000 new cases every day partially because of Kumbh Mela. More than 377,000 people have died due to COVID-10 in India to date, though many believe authorities are underreporting deaths.

See what others are saying: (Times of India) (New York Times) (The Economic Times)

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