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Russian President Vladimir Putin brings hope to the Kovid epidemic after a long wait

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President Vladimir Putin said Russia cleared the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine for use and hopes to begin mass inoculation soon, even before clinical testing has finished.

“The first registration has taken place,” Putin said Tuesday at a televised government meeting, adding that one of his daughters has already been given the vaccine. “I hope that we can soon begin mass production.”

The move paves the way for widespread use of the vaccine among Russia’s population, with production starting next month, although it may take until January to complete trials. Medical workers could begin receiving the drug by the end of the month, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said at the meeting.

The announcement represents a propaganda coup for the Kremlin amid a global race to develop vaccines against the coronavirus pandemic and accusations that Russian hackers sought to steal international drug research. The disease has killed nearly 750,000 people, infected more than 20 million and crippled national economies. Companies including AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. are still conducting final-stage trials of their vaccines in studies that are expected to soon yield results.

“Making a vaccine available before even publishing something in a peer-reviewed journal is a violation of Basic Vaccinology 101,” said Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine. “What they are doing is dangerous and grossly immoral.”

Russia indicated how it regards the development, naming the vaccine Sputnik V in a nod to the Soviet Union’s achievement in launching the world’s first satellite into space in 1957.

Russia has nearly 900,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the fourth-most confirmed cases in the world. It had more than 27,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the second quarter, according to Federal Statistics Service data published this week.

The speed with which the vaccine has received regulatory approval has drawn criticism, with a local association of multinational pharmaceutical companies calling the rushed registration risky.

“This is a political decision by Putin so he can claim that Russia was the first in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Svetlana Zavidova, executive director of Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations. “I can’t understand why Russia needs to build this Potemkin village.”

The vaccine is being developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, the Defense Ministry and the sovereign Russian Direct Investment Fund, which have said it is undergoing Phase 3 trials, the final stage of testing during which thousands of people are inoculated to determine its fitness for use. A World Health Organization database lists the vaccine as still only in Phase 1 testing, the earliest stage.

RDIF chief Kirill Dmitriev has dismissed criticism that the developers haven’t published peer-reviewed results.

“This vaccine platform has been tried for the last six years, and this makes it very different from many novel approaches used by some other players,” Dmitriev said in an interview on Bloomberg TV, adding that 100 people were involved in the first two phases. “President Putin mentioned his daughter took the vaccine. Myself, my wife, my parents were also vaccinated.”

RDIF will be able to produce more than 500 million doses a year in five countries, with mass immunizations in Russia planned to begin in October, according to Dmitriev.

The fund plans to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, India and the Philippines, according to the Sputnik V website. Mass production is lined up in India, South Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Cuba, it said, with at least 20 countries interested in obtaining supplies.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said last week that all vaccine candidates should adhere to established practices and finish clinical trials before being made widely available.

The Russian candidate is a viral vector vaccine based on a human adenovirus —such as the common cold virus — fused with the spike protein of SARS CoV-2 to stimulate an immune response and is similar to one developed by China’s CanSino Biologics.

“Giving powerful people the first access doesn’t instill confidence, it illustrates how unfair and not scientific this project is,” said NYU’s Caplan. “This is indicative of the problems that emerge when politics drive vaccine science.”

 

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North Korea is facing a severe food shortage

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Addressing a meeting of senior leaders, Mr Kim said: “The people’s food situation is now getting tense”.

He said the agricultural sector had failed to meet its grain targets due to typhoons last year, which caused flooding.

There are reports that food prices have spiked, with NK News reporting that a kilogram of bananas costs $45 (£32).

North Korea has closed its borders to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Trade with China has plummeted as a result. North Korea relies on China for food, fertiliser and fuel.

North Korea is also struggling under international sanctions, imposed because of its nuclear programmes.

The authoritarian leader of the single-party state talked about the food situation at the ruling Workers’ Party central committee which started this week in the capital Pyongyang.

During the meeting, Mr Kim said that national industrial output had grown by a quarter compared to the same period last year.

Officials were expected to discuss relations with the US and South Korea during the event but no details have been released yet.

In April, Mr Kim made a a rare admission of looming hardship, calling on officials to “wage another, more difficult ‘Arduous March’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little”.

The Arduous March is a term used by North Korea officials to refer to the country’s struggle during the 1990s famine, when the fall of the Soviet Union left North Korea without crucial aid.

The total number of North Koreans who starved to death at the time is not known, but estimates range up to three million.

It is highly unusual for Kim Jong-un to publicly acknowledge a food shortage. But this is a North Korean leader who has already admitted that his economic plan has failed.

The problem for Mr Kim is that when he took over from his father, he promised his people a more prosperous future. He said they would have meat on their tables and access to electricity. This has not happened. Now he’s having to prime the population for more hard work.

He is trying to tie this into the global pandemic, and state media reported that he pointed out to party officials that the situation across the world is getting “worse and worse”. With so little access to outside information, he can paint a picture of things being bad everywhere – not just in sealed off North Korea. He also described efforts to beat Covid-19 as a “protracted war”. That signals that border closures are not easing any time soon.

That is the concern of many aid organisations. The sealed border has prevented some food and medicine getting through. Most NGOs have had to leave the country, unable to get staff and supplies in or out.

Pyongyang has always called for “self-reliance”. It has closed itself off, just as it may need assistance and it is unlikely to ask for help. If it continues to push away all offers of international assistance, as ever, it may be the people who pay the price.

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Christian pastor killed over outreach to Muslims: ‘Today Allah has judged you’

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A radical Muslim has confessed to police in Uganda that he killed a 70-year-old pastor earlier this month because of Allah’s word to kill all infidels who mislead Muslims by sharing the Gospel.

The accused, identified as Imam Uthman Olingha, told police he killed Bishop Francis Obo, senior pastor of Mpingire Pentecostal Revival Church Ministries International in Odapako village Mpingire Sub-County, on June 11, Morning Star News reported.

Olingha was one of the Muslim extremists dressed in Islamic attire who stopped Pastor Obo and his wife on their way home from a market at about 8:30 p.m., his wife, Christine Obo, said.

“Olingha openly confessed to police that he can’t regret that he killed the bishop because he did it in the cause of Allah’s word to kill all infidels who mislead Muslims. He added that Allah will be with him in jail, but the kafiri (infidel) deserved the killing.”

One of the attackers told the pastor, who oversaw 17 churches across the region and had been sharing Christ with Muslims, that he was an “infidel” who caused Muslims to leave Islam and “blasphemes the words of Allah,” and that, “Today Allah has judged you.”

A week before the murder, the couple had invited a former Islamic teacher to testify on how he became a Christian at their church, Christine Obo recalled. Area Muslims were also upset with the church because it offered the former Islamic teacher a pig as part of a micro-enterprise livestock project that helped raise funds for the church, she added.

Describing the incident, she said, “As I moved a few meters in a hurry trying to save my life, I heard a little noise and wailing from my husband and realized that his life was in danger.”

When she reached home, she was trembling and unable to speak, she said, and her children took her to a hospital. When she regained consciousness the following morning, she told her oldest son and his siblings to go to the site.

“Reaching there, they were shocked and fearful as they found a big number of Christians and relatives gathered around the dead body mourning their bishop after being murdered by Muslims,” Obo was quoted as saying.

According to World Watch Monitor, a homegrown Islamist rebel movement organizing in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has emboldened Ugandan radicals to persecute Christians.

Voice of the Martyrs earlier noted that Uganda’s history has made it vulnerable to the influence of Islam as “Arab countries also continue to invest significant resources into furthering Muslim interests in the country.”

In Uganda, persecution is mainly seen in the form of local Islamists persecuting Christians, mostly in areas where “radicals have been steadily encroaching.”

“Radical Islam’s influence has grown steadily, and many Christians within the majority-Muslim border regions are facing severe persecution, especially those who convert from Islam,” a Voice of the Martyrs factsheet explains. “Despite the risks, evangelical churches in Uganda have responded by reaching out to their neighbors; many churches are training leaders how to share the Gospel with Muslims and care for those who are persecuted after they become Christians.”

Last December, a mob of Muslim extremists in Uganda reportedly killed 41-year-old former imam Yusuf Kintu a week after he converted to Christianity.
Sources:Christian Post

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