U.S. government gave $3.7 million grant to Wuhan lab at cent

Re: U.S. government gave $3.7 million grant to Wuhan lab at

Postby admin » Fri Apr 02, 2021 10:05 pm

China Floats U.S. Military Lab as Possible COVID Origin Point, Urges WHO to Investigate
by Brittany Bernstein
Yahoo News
Wed, March 31, 2021, 10:27 AM

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China on Wednesday urged the World Health Organization to investigate whether COVID-19 first originated in a U.S. military laboratory after the agency’s director called for a deeper probe into whether the virus had escaped from a Chinese lab.

A WHO-led team that visited China earlier this year to investigate the coronavirus pandemic’s origins said in a report on Tuesday that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had leaked from a Chinese laboratory and recommended no further exploration of that theory.

However, just before the report’s release, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the team’s probe into the potential lab leak was not sufficient and that further investigation was needed. He said he was prepared to send more specialists to explore that possibility, according to the Wall Street Journal.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to a question about Tedros’ comments by touting the team’s “important conclusion” that the lab leak theory was unlikely.

“They have basically excluded the possibility of a lab incident” in Wuhan, she said.

She also called on the agency to investigate early outbreaks in other countries and encouraged the WHO to investigate a U.S. military laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md.

“As you know relevant study is already done in Wuhan labs, but when will Fort Detrick be open to those experts?” she asked. “If necessary, we hope the U.S. can be as open and candid as China.”

For months Chinese officials have peddled the unfounded theory that the virus may have originated at Fort Detrick, which houses parts of the U.S. biological defense program and other medical research efforts led by the military, without offering any evidence.

Hua would not say whether China would allow scientists to continue to investigate the labs in Wuhan or when it would start the second phase of studies outlined in the WHO-led team’s report.

The WHO-led team was forced to rely on the word of the Chinese scientists participating in the investigation and were not given uninhibited access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where many public health experts believe the virus may have originated.

The WHO report also contradicted U.S. intelligence claims about the safety protocols at the WIV. The report claims the lab was “well run” but State Department cables from 2018 reveal that diplomats who visited the facility had concerns that proper safety measures were not being observed. The report also suggests that no researchers at the lab came down with COVID but the State department announced in January that researchers reported flu-like symptoms in the fall, months before Chinese authorities acknowledged the COVID outbreak.

WIV staff also deleted a genome database that contained information about which viruses were being studied at the lab.


Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week that he believes the coronavirus originated inside a lab in Wuhan and “escaped,” and was potentially spreading as early as September 2019.

“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan,” the virologist told CNN in a clip that aired Friday. “That’s my own feelings. And only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now.”

Redfield said he is “of the point of view that I still think the most likely aetiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped.”

“The other people don’t believe that,” said Redfield, who led the CDC under former President Donald Trump. “That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.”

The WHO-led team’s report also notes that it is possible the pandemic began outside Wuhan, or China, as the team found little evidence of substantial spread in Wuhan before December 2019, while the virus had been found in individuals in Italy and Brazil in late November. However, scientists have said it is possible the virus was spreading undetected in Wuhan and the surrounding areas for weeks or months before gaining attention.

“The current thinking is that we are still working with the start in and around Wuhan and working backwards on how it came here,” said Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the WHO team. “It is perfectly possible you would have sporadic cases in and around Wuhan before December, November, even October 2019…That earlier move of the virus outside of the area could potentially be explained that way.”
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Re: U.S. government gave $3.7 million grant to Wuhan lab at

Postby admin » Fri Apr 02, 2021 10:44 pm

OPEN LETTER: Call for a Full and Unrestricted International Forensic Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19
March 4, 2021

1. Introduction

Finding the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is critically important to both better addressing the current pandemic and reducing the risks of future ones. Unfortunately, well over a year after the initial outbreak the origins of the pandemic remain unknown.

As scientists, social scientists, and science communicators who have been independently and collectively looking into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe it essential that all hypotheses about the origins of the pandemic be thoroughly examined and full access to all necessary resources be provided without regard to political or other sensitivities.

Based on our analysis, and as confirmed by the global study convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese authorities, there is as yet no evidence demonstrating a fully natural origin of this virus. The zoonosis hypothesis, largely based on patterns of previous zoonosis events, is only one of a number of possible SARS-CoV-2 origins, alongside the research-related accident hypothesis.

Although the “collaborative” process of discovery mandated by the World Health Assembly in May 2020 was meant to enable a full examination of the origins of the pandemic, we believe that structural limitations built into this endeavor make it all but impossible for the WHO-convened mission to realize this aspiration.

In particular, we wish to raise public awareness of the fact that half of the joint team convened under that process is made of Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, that international members of the joint team had to rely on information the Chinese authorities chose to share with them, and that any joint team report must be approved by both the Chinese and international members of the joint team.

We have therefore reached the conclusion that the joint team did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses - whether natural spillover or laboratory/research-related incident.

Because the joint team investigation falls short of the mark, we believe it essential for the international community to outline how a full and unrestricted investigation could be organized. Such an investigation would need to:


• Be carried out by a truly independent team with no unresolved conflicts of interest and no full or partial control by any specific agenda or country.
• Be multidisciplinary by including epidemiologists, virologists, wildlife experts, public health specialists, forensic investigators, biosafety and biosecurity experts, etc.
• Include several individuals with Chinese-language skills and with an understanding of Chinese culture, who can help to interpret behaviors during the original events and also help decode the dynamic during the investigation itself.
• Start its study by considering all possible scenarios for each pathway. These should include:
o A pure zoonosis event with/without intermediate host;
o Infection at a sampling site of a lab employee or of some accompanying non-lab personnel;
o Infection during transport of collected animals and/or samples;
o Lab Acquired Infection (LAI) in one of the laboratories in Wuhan;
o Lab-escape without LAI, for instance via waste handling or animals that escaped or were disposed of inappropriately.
• Follow a common forensic investigation approach, based on:
o Traditional rigorous on-the-ground investigation;
o Desk-based analyst work to make sense of the elements collected;
o Open-source intelligence to help gather additional information;
o A review of previous zoonosis events and lab-related accidents, from which technical and institutional insights may be gained.
• Have full or significant access to all sites, records, samples, and personnel of interest, including:
o Key Wuhan markets;
o All laboratories and institutions, Chinese or international, known to have worked on coronaviruses or shared facilities or equipment with groups that worked on coronaviruses;
o Hospital records from fall 2019 of early or suspect patients, including interviews with patients or contacts;
o Important pathogen sampling sites, such as the Mojiang mine;
o Current and past personnel, such as employees of the labs in 2019 and people present on specific sampling sites.
• Have full access to all relevant records of the labs and institutions involved in coronavirus research, including:
o Environmental reports;
o Inspection reports;
o Maintenance logs;
o Lab experiment logs;
o Raw sequence reads;
o Records of shipments of samples;
o Specimen destruction records;
o Personnel logs;
o Incident reports;
o Animal breeding records;
o Sampling trip records, including the 2013 Mojiang sampling trip;
o Key databases of pathogens, samples, and isolates, including those taken offline.
• Have full access to granular data, preferably directly from the source and in its raw form, not summarized data. This data can be anonymized if necessary; there should be no legal reason to limit access.
• Have full access to market samples, environmental samples, hospital samples and any potential samples such as waste waters and blood banks with full permission to perform independent sequencing or other testing.
• Have full access to the Chinese CDC case records and related primary hospital and/or clinic records.
• Have full access to other Chinese case databases describing pneumonia cases.
• Be able to conduct confidential interviews, including of early cases and their relatives and past and present personnel associated with the sites or institutions of interest such as markets, hospitals, sampling sites, and laboratories.
• Deploy a secure reporting channel for people to confidentially contribute information, wherever they are based, without fear of punishment or retribution.

4. Conclusion and Next Steps

We recognize that as an international agency that must rely on the collaboration of its member states, the World Health Organization is limited in what it can achieve in this type of investigation. It is not our intention to undermine the WHO, which is working under challenging circumstances at a time of tremendous global need.

Although the joint team investigation was a significant opportunity for the international community to gain some limited and highly curated information, it has unfortunately proven opaque and restrictive, greatly compromising the scientific validity of the investigation.

With more than two million deaths, more than a hundred million infected by COVID-19 worldwide, and a massive global disruption impacting some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, we cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible. If we fail to fully and courageously examine the origins of this pandemic, we risk being unprepared for a potentially worse pandemic in the future.

Because we believe the joint team process and efforts to date do not constitute a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation, we call on the international community to put in place a structure and process that does.

Signatories:

• Colin D Butler, Honorary Professor, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (ORCID 0000-0002-2942- 5294)
• Bruno Canard, DR CNRS, molecular virologist, Aix Marseille University, France, (ORCID 0000-0003-4924-1991)
• Henri Cap, PhD, zoologist, Museum of Natural History, Toulouse, France
• Y. A. Chan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, Cambridge, USA (ORCID 0000-0002-0731-637X).
• Jean-Michel Claverie, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, virologist, Aix-Marseille University, France, ( ORCID 0000-0003-1424-0315)
• Fabien Colombo, PhD Candidate, Communication and sociology of science, MICA, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France.
• Virginie Courtier, Evolutionary geneticist, Institut Jacques Monod, CNRS, France (ORCID 0000-0002-9297-9230).
• Francisco A. de Ribera, Industrial Engineer, MBA, MSc(Res), Data scientist, Madrid, Spain (ORCID0000-0003-4419-636X)
• Etienne Decroly, DR CNRS, molecular virologist, Aix Marseille University, France, (ORCID 0000-0002-6046-024X)
• Rodolphe de Maistre, MSc engineering, MBA, ex auditor IHEDN, France (ORCID 0000- 0002-3433-2420)
• Gilles Demaneuf, Engineering (ECP), Data Scientist at BNZ, Auckland, NZ, (ORCID: 0000-0001-7277-9533)(Co-Organizer)
• Richard H. Ebright, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Rutgers University, USA
• André Goffinet, MD, PhD, Emeritus Professor, University of Louvain Med Sch, Belgium
• François Graner, biophysicist, Research Director, CNRS and Université de Paris, France, (ORCID 0000-0002-4766-3579)
• José Halloy, Professor of Physics, Biophysics and Sustainability, Université de Paris, France, (ORCID 0000-0003-1555-2484)
• Milton Leitenberg, Senior Research Associate, School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland, USA
• Filippa Lentzos, Senior Lecturer in Science & International Security, King’s College London, United Kingdom (ORCID 0000-0001-6427-4025)
• Rosemary McFarlane, PhD BVSc, Assistant Professor of Public Health, University of Canberra, Australia (ORCID 0000-0001-8859-3776)
• Jamie Metzl, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council, USA (Co-Organizer)
• Dominique Morello, Biologist, DR CNRS and Museum of Natural History, Toulouse, France
• Nikolai Petrovsky, Professor of Medicine, College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Australia
• Steven Quay, MD, PhD, Formerly Asst. Professor, Department of Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine, USA (ORCID 0000-0002-0363-7651)
• Monali C. Rahalkar, Scientist ‘D’, Agharkar Research Institute, Pune, India
• Rossana Segreto, PhD, Department of Microbiology, University of Innsbruck, Austria (ORCID 0000-0002-2566-7042)
• Günter Theißen, Dr. rer. nat., Professor of Genetics, Matthias Schleiden Institute, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, (ORCID 0000-0003-4854-8692)
• Jacques van Helden, Professor of bioinformatics, Aix-Marseille University, France, (ORCID 0000-0002-8799-8584
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Re: U.S. government gave $3.7 million grant to Wuhan lab at

Postby admin » Tue Apr 06, 2021 10:16 pm

World’s Poorest Nations Face Setback as India Suspends Vaccine Exports Amid Fight over Patent Rights
by Amy Goodman
Democracy Now
APRIL 05, 2021

GUESTS
Achal Prabhala: coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa.
Leena Menghaney: Indian lawyer who has worked for two decades on pharmaceutical law and policy and heads Médecins Sans Frontières’s access campaign in India.
LINKS
"The world's poorest countries are at India's mercy for vaccines. It's unsustainable"

We look at the urgent push to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all nations, rich and poor, and growing calls for Big Pharma to waive their patent rights, as COVID-19 cases soar in India and the Modi government has suspended exports of coronavirus vaccines to many of the world’s poorest countries that depend on AstraZeneca vaccines it produces. “These are not India’s vaccines,” says Achal Prabhala, coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for equitable access to medicines. “The number of vaccine doses that have gone out to a third of humanity — 91 poor countries — is 18 million doses, or just enough to cover about 1% of the populations of these countries if they’ve even got vaccines, which some have not,” Prabhala notes. Leena Menghaney, an Indian lawyer who heads Médecins Sans Frontières’s access campaign in India, links the supply shortage to Oxford University’s decision to sign an exclusive deal with the Serum Institute in India rather than contracting several manufacturers to produce the vaccine. “The monopoly is going to cost us,” Menghaney says.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the urgent push to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all nations, rich and poor, and growing calls for Big Pharma to waive their patent rights. As Christians around the world marked Easter Sunday, Italy moved up midnight Masses to meet a 10 p.m. curfew amidst a spike in COVID cases. And Pope Francis used his Easter Mass address at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to warn against vaccine nationalism.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] In the spirit of an internationalism of vaccines, I urge the entire international community to a common commitment to overcome the delays in their distribution and to promote their distribution especially in the poorest countries.

AMY GOODMAN: According to Oxfam, rich countries, with just 13% of the world’s population, have bought up more than 60% of vaccines even before their production. This comes as COVAX, the United Nations initiative to bring mass vaccination to poorer countries, has placed orders for more than 2 billion shots, but most of them won’t come until the second half of this year.

Meanwhile, deliveries from the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccine manufacturer in India have been delayed as COVID-19 cases soar to record highs in India and the Modi government has suspended vaccine exports. With more than 12.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases, India has the world’s third-highest caseload, after the United States and Brazil.

On Sunday, the head of the public-private GAVI Alliance, which works to provide vaccines to the developing world and is backed by the United Nations and the Gates Foundation, addressed the delay during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation. This is Seth Berkley.

DR. SETH BERKLEY: So, India is, by volume, the largest supplier of vaccines for the developing world. And because of the new wave of outbreaks in India right now, the Indian government has stepped up their vaccination programs. And that has meant that they’ve required more doses, which means that they’ve made less doses available for the rest of the world. We had expected, in March and April, about 90 million doses, and we suspect we’ll get much, much less than that. And that is a problem.

But we’re in a race, because we also see wealthy countries beginning to cover much of their population, and our hope is that they will begin to make their vaccines available to the rest of the world, including ones that they may not use. For example, the U.S. not only has Moderna, Pfizer and J&J, but they also have vaccines from Novavax and, of course, from AstraZeneca. Those could be made available, and they would make a big difference in terms of the supply for the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, our next guests write about this in a new piece for The Guardian headlined “The world’s poorest countries are at India’s mercy for vaccines. It’s unsustainable.” In it, they note that as the U.K. saw a delay in doses from India, quote, “a far more chilling reality was unfolding: about a third of all humanity, living in the poorest countries, found out that they will get almost no coronavirus vaccines in the near future because of India’s urgent need to vaccinate its own massive population.

For more, we go to India, where we’re joined in Bangalore by Achal Prabhala. He is the coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa. And in Delhi, Leena Menghaney is with us, an Indian lawyer who has worked for two decades on pharmaceutical law and policy. She is head of the Médecins Sans Frontières — that’s Doctors Without Borders — access campaign in India.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Achal Prabhala, it’s great to have you back. You co-authored this piece. Elaborate further on what is taking place, this as we hear Pope Francis’s address demanding the wealthy countries ensure that the world gets these vaccines, especially the poorest countries.

ACHAL PRABHALA: Thank you.

What we’re seeing now is a failure that was foretold over a year ago, when vaccine manufacturing and vaccine research just began. What’s happening today is a set of cumulative failures over the last year, many of which were predicted, many of which could have been avoided.

Of the vaccines available in the world, there are vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna which are simply not available outside rich countries. AstraZeneca is one of the few companies that has made its vaccine a little more available, primarily by signing an agreement with the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, who happens to be located in India. Now, the problem is that what they signed over were the rights to supply vaccines to 92 poor countries around the world, including India, essentially to one vaccine manufacturer, with very, very few backups. What that’s meant is that you have these 92 countries that are dependent upon one company that operates on Indian soil.

Now, by its share of population, India should get about 35% of these vaccines. What’s happening instead is that the Indian government is acquiring far more of those vaccines than 35%. At this moment and for the next couple of months, it’s going to be closer to 100%. The problem with this is that these are not India’s vaccines. These vaccines were always meant, contractually, for about half of humanity, including India. Now, they’re not getting there. Seth Berkley, the head of the COVAX initiative, which promised to provide a pipeline of vaccines to these poor countries last year, has said that he hoped to have 100 million doses out. The reality is so much worse, because what he has out are 28 million vaccines, 10 million of which went right back to India. So the number of vaccine doses that have gone out to a third of humanity — 91 poor countries — is 18 million doses, or just enough to cover about 1% of the populations of these countries if they’ve even got vaccines, which some have not.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] Leena Menghaney about the consequence of the contract between Oxford and AstraZeneca with the Serum Institute in India, just to explain for people to understand what is taking place and the role of these large pharmaceutical companies.

LEENA MENGHANEY: Yeah. I’ve worked in pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals for 20 years. And the rule is, you have to have at least three suppliers. If you look at India itself, it has many manufacturing sites and many manufacturers. The decision to go and have an exclusive deal with Serum Institute is going to cost lives, because that’s exactly where it all started, with Oxford granting exclusive rights to AstraZeneca, and AstraZeneca choosing to tie up with one single manufacturer.

We all know that India is the pharmacy of the developing world. They could produce more, and they should have transferred technology and the rights to produce these vaccines to more than one company. The monopoly is going to cost us. We need to have scaled up not with just Serum Institute, but a large number of other manufacturers in India.

So, now India is in this difficult position where it has to vaccinate its own people at a faster and faster pace to beat the epidemic, and then, at the same time, actually ensure that these vaccines go to the developing world. We’re at a very difficult point in India’s, you know, policymakers’ — I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes today.

AMY GOODMAN: Achal, you write in the piece with Leena, “The billions of AstraZeneca doses being produced by the Serum Institute in India are not for rich countries — and, in fact, not even for India alone: they are for all 92 of the poorest countries in the world. … [T]he bulk of India’s vaccination goals will be met by just one supplier, which faces the impossible choice of either letting down the other 91 countries depending on it, or offending its own government.” Can you talk more about this and the gross vaccine inequities we’re seeing across the globe?

ACHAL PRABHALA: Absolutely. One of the interesting things about this is how it begins. Oxford University has a research laboratory called the Jenner Institute, which shows early promise on research for a coronavirus vaccine. This is at exactly this time last year, in about March. They suggest, in public statements, that they would like to have as many manufacturers around the world make the vaccine. It’s not necessarily nonprofit or technically open source, but they have this idea of a world in which anyone can make their vaccine. The Gates Foundation steps in, advises the Jenner Institute to go with a pharmaceutical company. One month later, they sign an exclusive contract with AstraZeneca, a U.K.-based multinational pharmaceutical corporation. AstraZeneca then licenses a large number of doses to the Serum Institute in India; they license a firm in South Korea — both of which are now producing vaccines. But what they do is that they transfer one concentration of monopoly power to another manufacturer with another kind of monopoly power, the monopoly power to supply half the world’s population, including India, with a number of vaccine doses that is simply not enough.

One of the funny things about this is that it’s as though everybody involved, from the Gates Foundation to AstraZeneca and, unfortunately, including the government of India — it’s as though they suddenly realized how many people live in India. Our population is not a secret. We have 1.3 billion people. We’ve always known that these people would require vaccines. And yet it seems to have taken the government of India until about two months ago to discover that we would have to ramp up our vaccination program, at which point they decided, through this result of colossal bad planning and cumulatively bad decisions, to essentially usurp vaccines that were meant for other poor countries, who do not have the kind of vaccine manufacturing capacity India does. And because they’re being made within Indian sovereign territory, they are actually able to do that, to the detriment of countries like Ghana or Nigeria, who have received enough doses to inoculate 1% of their population, will now have to wait at least until July this year, but possibly much longer, because India’s vaccination needs, as well, will continue to be met by this one company, where all the vaccines — where all the vaccine doses are concentrated for all of these countries for the next several months.

AMY GOODMAN: Leena, can you talk about the need, the — what you’re calling for, with the People’s Vaccine initiative around the world, as well, calling for this, as well as countries like India and South Africa, calling for pharmaceutical — the WTO and the U.S. to support the waiving of patents by pharmaceutical companies?

LEENA MENGHANEY: Yeah. So, this proposal is quite interesting. It shifts power from pharmaceutical corporations to government. And what it really says is that we learn from experience. In HIV/AIDS, we had to overcome patent barriers country by country, drug by drug. And instead, what they have proposed is that we waive our intellectual property automatically in one go, you know, saving a lot of time along the way in producing not just vaccines, but medicines and other medical products.

So, in a nutshell, what India and South Africa proposed and asked the world to support them on was that we don’t have to do this the hard way. We don’t have to lose lives like we did in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We don’t have to overcome patents country by country. And what we do is an automatic waiving of intellectual property monopolies. And that actually could result in fastening of, you know, production in many new regions and countries who are investing in sort of coming into making pharmaceuticals and vaccines.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Achal Prabhala, can you also elaborate on this? There’s been a big push. We just spoke with the former foreign secretary of Brazil. And, of course, COVID is just exploding there. And he also expressed grave disappointment in the Biden administration for not supporting the call at the WTO to waive the intellectual rights of these corporations during the pandemic.

ACHAL PRABHALA: There’s no choice. They must. If they wish to have a solution that works not only for the rest of the world, poor countries, but also for them, eventually, in their own selfish interests, they must find a way to waive or suspend pharmaceutical monopolies in the pandemic.

Interestingly, one of the things that’s happening at the World Trade Organization is that this AstraZeneca access agreement, that we analyzed, which has turned out to be quite catastrophic, is being held up as the example. We’re criticizing AstraZeneca, but that’s because they’ve actually done something to make access available. Companies like Pfizer and Moderna, and even Johnson & Johnson to a certain extent, have done nothing.

Now, AstraZeneca’s licensing agreement, however much it’s a step up from what Pfizer and Moderna have done, is, in fact, a failure. It’s not working out. It’s inadequate. It needed to have been bigger and better and taken into account the real needs of the real people who live in this world. So, the idea that you can leave it up to pharmaceutical companies to occasionally license their products and to slightly distribute the extreme concentration of power that they have, which is a proposal being actively discussed at the WTO, is foolish. And I hope that the example of how the AstraZeneca agreement has worked out will serve as caution for the fact that nothing other than a dramatic step to suspend pharmaceutical monopolies all over the world will get us out of this pandemic.

AMY GOODMAN: Achal Prabhala, you talk about Oxford University’s original motivations for developing the vaccine, and you talk about motives being thwarted by the Gates Foundation. How?

ACHAL PRABHALA: Oxford University had this idea that since we were in a pandemic that created this global emergency, they must do something that would step out of the norms of the kind of pharmaceutical research they do. What they wanted to have, very clearly expressed by the lead researchers, by Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert at that time, was to be able to license as many manufacturers as possible around the world. I don’t think they ever intended to lose money, but they didn’t intend to turn it into the kind of pharmaceutical juggernaut that coronavirus vaccines have become. This was very clearly expressed.

But very quickly, on the advice of the Gates Foundation and a few other parties — the U.K. government was involved — the contract completely changed, and the system of licensing this vaccine was dramatically reversed. They signed an exclusive contract with AstraZeneca, that then further went out and created a handful of these access licenses, of which it’s only truly one that functions and serves for half the world’s population.

It’s a mistake of tragic proportions that I’m not sure every party involved understands. I believe they were working with the best intentions, but they were working without an understanding of the last 20 years of human history. It’s a mistake that should definitely not be repeated, certainly not be held up as a solution, and it’s something that we need to reverse and correct at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you mentioned that while you are very critical of AstraZeneca, that Moderna and Pfizer’s contracts are worse. Explain.

ACHAL PRABHALA: Pfizer and Moderna are running on this model where they believe supplying literally between 15 and 20% of the world, which is the cumulative population of everyone who lives in rich countries, is sufficient. They will not do a thing more than that. Eighty percent of the world or 85% of the world is being left out to dry.

The idea is that they are going to places where they have high-paying customers, usually in the form of governments, from whom they have these huge preorders. Moderna posted revenue of $18 billion this year, so they’re doing well out of this strategy. And their idea is to limit the production of vaccines to the people who can afford them, to safeguard their relatively new technology of a messenger RNA platform that they’ve deployed in this vaccine, to protect that platform against future exploitation, against future commercial use. To the extent that it is democratized and there are more people who can manufacture this around the world, even in the pandemic, I think it threatens their ability to exploit the platform in the future. So the idea is to hold this close, to serve in the pandemic those who can pay, and pay no heed and no mind to anybody who lives outside this tiny handful of countries that they’re currently serving and doing very well for them.

AMY GOODMAN: And as we know from the pandemic, what it has taught us, if nothing else, if one person is sick somewhere, everyone has the potential to be sick. I want to thank you, Achal Prabhala, coordinator of the AccessIBSA object, which stands for India, Brazil, South Africa, and Leena Menghaney, heads up Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, access campaign in India. We’ll link to your op-ed in The Guardian, “The world’s poorest countries are at India’s mercy for vaccines. It’s unsustainable.”
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Re: U.S. government gave $3.7 million grant to Wuhan lab at

Postby admin » Fri Apr 16, 2021 1:42 am

“We’re in a Transition Phase”: Dr. Monica Gandhi on Vaccine Safety & Why You Still Need a Mask
by Amy Goodman
Democracy Now
APRIL 15, 2021
https://www.democracynow.org/2021/4/15/ ... n_vaccines

GUESTS
Monica Gandhi: infectious disease specialist, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a division head at San Francisco General Hospital.

U.S. health officials have delayed a decision on whether to resume the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of blood clots in six women who received doses. Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital, says it’s “prudent” to investigate reports of blood clots but notes the issue “is very rare” and unlikely to cause more than a temporary delay. She also says it’s important to raise “vaccine optimism” by continuing to tout the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines. “Eventually we are going to get back to the normalcy of not masking and distancing. We’re just in this twilight period right now because we are not fully vaccinated,” she says.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

U.S. health officials have delayed a decision on whether to resume the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, after reports of extremely rare blood clots in six women between the ages of 18 to 48 who received doses. This is out of nearly 7 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines administered in the United States. A Centers for Disease Control panel met Wednesday and may continue the pause for seven to 10 days. They also learned of a seventh woman and man who developed the rare condition.

In this video released by the White House, White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci explained the reason for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: A couple of reasons to do that. The first is to investigate this a bit further. And the second is to alert the clinicians out there, when someone comes in with these types of symptoms, to ask them if they have a history of a recent vaccination. … The people who have already gotten the vaccine should not be worried, because, as I mentioned, this is a very rare event, one in more than a million individuals. The J&J vaccine has been shown in clinical trials to be highly efficacious. What we’re talking about now has nothing to do with the efficacy of the vaccine.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Fauci is set to testify today before the House select committee that oversees the government’s coronavirus response, along with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. David Kessler, Biden’s chief science officer for the COVID-19 response. This comes as Biden has insisted there are still enough COVID-19 vaccines for everyone in the United States and that the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t affect immunization efforts here. This is Biden speaking Tuesday during a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I told y’all I made sure we have 600 million doses of the mR — not of either Johnson & Johnson and/or AstraZeneca. So, there is enough vaccine — that is basically 100% unquestionable — for every single, solitary American.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss all of this, and also what it means for vaccine access worldwide, and more, we’re joined by Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease physician, professor of medicine at UCSF — that’s University of California, San Francisco — San Francisco General Hospital.

Doctor, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

DR. MONICA GANDHI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s start off with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One of the things that Fauci just said, Dr. Fauci said, is to alert clinicians. Now, please explain what exactly happened to these six or seven or eight people. One woman died, and we’re talking about young women. We don’t know if it’s tied to the vaccine. But this whole issue of this rare blood clot in the brain? And I was also very interested that he said we want to alert all clinicians both to report, but also to let them know that what — the standard of care for blood clots is to, you know, give heparin, a blood-thinning medicine, but in this case it has an adverse reaction, and you should not do this.

DR. MONICA GANDHI: Right. So, essentially, like you said, this is very rare — six women out of 6.8 million doses given, and perhaps these additional cases. It was, I think, prudent to just investigate these. We need to see if there was another reason for the clot. We need to see if there was any association with any other medications. And it is true that this particular syndrome, if linked to the vaccine, causes both blood thinning and blood clots. So, it’s thrombocytopenia, which is low platelets and also platelets clumping. So it helps us determine what to do if someone has a headache. These are very rare clots, but they are cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which means they’re in the brain.

So, you know, this is a temporary pause. This had actually happened with the AstraZeneca vaccine, that there were clots associated with a similar type of vaccine, which is adenovirus with the DNA inside it. And what the EU decided to do was go ahead and proceed with that vaccine, but in older individuals, because the clots weren’t seen in younger individuals. That may end up being what we do here. But right now it’s just time to wait and give a week and examine it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Gandhi, can you say what the implications of this pause are? What are the communities that were receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, especially in areas where it was difficult — it’s been difficult to administer Pfizer and Moderna because of how difficult it is to transport them, the conditions under which they have to be kept, as opposed to Johnson & Johnson?

DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yes. I mean, Johnson & Johnson had advantages, just because the issue was it didn’t need to be kept as cold as the Pfizer and Moderna, and it was one dose, and then you were finished. And there were advantages for hard-to-reach populations, for minority communities. And specifically worldwide, there is an advantage of using an agent that is easy to transport, that’s just in a refrigerator. And this is a setback and concerning.

And I think, you know, AstraZeneca, again, we have a precedent for this with a similar vaccine. And what ended up happening was that it was paused and then resumed, in the EU, at least, in a certain population, and it is still ongoing in India, for example. So, it may not mean — this is a pause; this is not a finality. As President Biden said, we have enough doses of Moderna and Pfizer to continue with this vaccination rate of 3 million doses a day in the United States. But I’m concerned about the impact worldwide.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Gandhi, can you explain, because a lot of people, at least initially, were more skeptical of the new vaccines that are now being administered most widely in the U.S. — that is, the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna — and their safety and efficacy relative to Johnson & Johnson?

DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yeah. You know, the mRNA vaccines seemed like they were a new technology. And they actually are not, in a sense that they haven’t been used for pathogens anywhere, but they have been used for tumor vaccines. They’ve actually been around and started being developed since 2011, when we had a much, much smaller pandemic from a coronavirus called MERS. And they also were developed quickly because there was a public-private partnership, and they were — money was put to the problem, and this was a terrible pandemic that we needed to get over. So, there were lots of reasons why they were developed quickly, but they’re not actually profoundly new.

And so many doses have been administered now of these mRNA vaccines, and they really have been incredibly safe and profoundly effective — actually even more effective in the real-world setting than we saw in the clinical trials, which is very unusual, because usually the real-world setting is messy and it’s more diverse populations, and you didn’t think that it would be so amazingly effective in the real-world setting. But study after study, including a six-month study of the Pfizer vaccine with data released on April 1st, shows these vaccines are 100% effective across 44,000 people around world against severe disease, and very highly effective, 98%, against symptomatic COVID. So, with all these administrations and how well people are doing and the safety and effectiveness, I think people are becoming very comfortable with the mRNA vaccines.

AMY GOODMAN: So, is there something in the adenovirus — if you could explain vaccines, of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca? Why have they both — this swirl of the possibility of blood clots, though, of course, extremely, extremely rare, why would they be causing this?

DR. MONICA GANDHI: So, they are different types of vaccines. So, the mRNA vaccine is a piece of genetic material, you know, called mRNA, that your body makes into the spike protein of the virus, the thing that sticks out of the virus. And it’s surrounded — the mRNA is surrounded by this lipid nanoparticle, and you inject it in the arm.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are both similar vaccines, and they’re different from the mRNA vaccines. And they actually contain a virus, that’s very benign — it causes colds usually, and it doesn’t even replicate in our systems — called an adenovirus. And then, inside the adenovirus is a coiled-up DNA, and then that DNA goes into your body after you inject it. It’s made by your body into mRNA, and then the same process occurs.

There was a New England Journal study last week that questions whether there’s a mechanism of action, where as — either the DNA or the adenovirus of these two vaccines end up essentially linking and creating an antibody against platelets. Platelets are our clotting factors. So, if you create an antibody against these platelets, they can clump and cause clots, and they can actually also go down in the body and cause bleeding. So, there’s a postulated mechanism — we’ve seen this with heparin, which is a blood thinner, that it can, rarely, cause these antiplatelet antibodies to form. And there’s now a postulated mechanism, and both vaccines have caused these clots. So, it’s prudent to investigate this. Very rare, though.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how will you deal with the people who are vaccine-hesitant or anti-vaxxers altogether? You’ve got the person leading the charge, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson. It is the most-watched cable news show in history, so it’s extremely significant. He seized the opportunity of the Johnson & Johnson pause to suggest the U.S. government is likely downplaying the alleged danger and lying about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

TUCKER CARLSON: According to the CDC’s new guidance, once you’ve been vaccinated, you still cannot, quote, “attend medium or large gatherings.” The federal health authorities also recommend that you continue to wear your mask when you go outside. How long will this continue? Well according to Yahoo News, experts say it’s, quote, “not entirely clear when it will be considered OK for people who are fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks.” At some point — no one’s asking this, but everyone should be: What is this about? If vaccines work, why are vaccinated people still banned from living normal lives? Honestly, what’s the answer to that? It doesn’t make any sense at all. If the vaccine is effective, there is no reason for people who have received the vaccine to wear masks or avoid physical contact. So maybe it doesn’t work, and they’re simply not telling you that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Monica Gandhi, I think we can call you the “masked madam.” You are very serious proponent of masks. Why do you say that it doesn’t indicate failure? And also, let’s be clear that the vaccine-hesitant or anti-vax movement goes across the political spectrum.

DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yes. You know, actually, the CDC has given guidance that indicates when people can stop wearing their masks. And the guidance is vaccinated people around vaccinated people, and vaccinated people around unvaccinated individuals of low risk, like children, who are not at risk for severe disease. The CDC has also given guidance about travel with vaccinated people.

And actually, this is the right thing to do, because it increases vaccine optimism when you tell people that we’re going to eventually get back to normal life, without masks and distancing, once we can get more of our population vaccinated. So, there is a point to be said that eventually we are going to get back to the normalcy of not masking and distancing. We’re just in this twilight period right now because we are not fully vaccinated. And, in fact, there are people desperate to get the vaccine who have not yet had the chance to get the vaccine. So we’re in a transition phase right now.

Actually, a very good thing to look at is Israel and the U.K., which have had vaster — faster vaccination programs than we, and Israel has gradually been easing their restrictions. They’re at 60% first dose given now. And they keep on gradually easing their restrictions and lockdowns, and things are getting more and more normal. This is where we will get to if we can get enough people to take the vaccine. And the U.K. just released major lockdowns on April 12th.

So, I think it is actually important to say that the goal of vaccinations is not to stay in this state of masking, distancing and out-of-normal life, but we do need a temporary state, just a temporary state now, where those of us who are vaccinated are respectful to those of us who are not, unvaccinated. You don’t know what’s going on in a store. You don’t know who’s vaccinated or unvaccinated. And we’re still staying with masks and distancing for now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Gandhi, you mentioned earlier that these mRNA vaccines are even more effective in real-world settings than they were in clinical trials. But we still see in the U.S., despite the fact that the U.S. has administered more doses of vaccine than anywhere else in the world — we still see very high rates of infection in certain areas. So, could you explain this, vaccines versus what people attribute some of these rises in cases to, variants?

DR. MONICA GANDHI: So, yes. So, what happened — and again, I look to Israel and the U.K. as examples of places that have gone faster — is that if you started with high case rates, which — and you haven’t tamped down transmission enough, the vaccine itself can’t bring down cases until you’ve gotten to a certain vaccination rate. So, what happened in Michigan and other states as we were rolling out vaccine is the vaccine wasn’t — rollout wasn’t catching up fast enough to the fact that there was still ongoing case transmission. And unfortunately, there were increased cases, hospitalizations in these areas. This isn’t true across the entire United States. If you started with a lower case rate, like in California, where I live, then the vaccines have been profoundly effective and have kept cases very low. So, I compare this to Israel. Israel actually had a surge in cases after they started rolling out vaccines, because the lockdowns were more permissive than in the U.K., and the U.K. didn’t have that surge.

Now, in terms of variants — this is a very important point. Variants — B.1.1.7, the variant that’s in the U.K. and now also in the Upper Midwest, actually is more transmissible. Luckily, we had data, just the other day, very well-done studies in Lancet Public Health and Lancet Infectious Diseases from England, that they are not more virulent. It’s just that if they move faster and you don’t have enough of your population vaccinated, you can’t keep up until you get enough vaccination in the population, and you maintain your masks and distancing.

However, the most important point about variants is: Will our vaccines not work against variants? And the one thing that I want to clear up for our audience is that — it’s a very clear message, actually. There are two arms of the immune system. It’s very simple. There are antibodies, which are more temporary arms of the immune system, and then there’s a fundamental arm of the immune system that are most effective against viruses, and that’s called cell-mediated immunity, or T cells. All of these vaccines induce T cells. The reason we know that is they actually measured these T cells in the clinical trials. They’re actually very complicated to measure. They take fancy machines. They’re hard to measure. But they took the time to measure T cells in the clinical trials. They all rise appropriately. And indeed, the T cells are effective against all the variants. This is a paper by NIAID, Dr. Fauci’s organization, that he messaged to the White House task force meeting a couple of weeks ago, by Dr. Redd. There’s another paper by Dr. Sette that shows that even if you get the mRNA vaccine and you have a — are exposed to a variant, that your T cells stay active against that variant. So, I think, long term, we will be able to get out of this coronavirus pandemic with these vaccines, if we concentrate on our T cell immunity. So I’m actually not worried about the worst thing that can happen with variants, which is that they evade our immune response.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Gandhi, you’ve also advocated a “first dose first” strategy, which was, of course, employed in the U.K., extremely controversially at the time. Could you explain what the advantages of that strategy are? And you mentioned also — so, that’s one. Second, you mentioned earlier that there are people who are desperate for the vaccine who have not been able to get access to it. Could you talk about that, in particular with respect to people in poorer countries, the majority of whom are not expected to get the vaccine anytime this year, and possibly for several years?

DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yes. The idea around “first dose first” is that you’ll give the second dose eventually, but that you delay the time between doses. There are actually great reasons for this. Number one, there was no reason that we had to do three to four weeks with Pfizer and Moderna, respectively. That was just to expediate the trials. Actually, vaccinology has taught us that the longer between doses, the better. It actually gives you more of an immune response. For example, hepatitis B vaccine, we used to give doses sooner, and then we realized we had more immune responses if we give them longer. If you remember, childhood vaccinations, we don’t care if children come in a little late for their vaccines; we care if they come in too early.

And then, the most important reason is, we’ve seen the U.K. strategy, and they have delayed the second dose 'til 12 weeks, and there have been no implications for that, no emergence of variants. And, in fact, they've gone much faster, and they have very low cases in the U.K. and again are opening up more. So, I genuinely believe that the “first dose first” strategy would get more of our population vaccinated. We could bring immunity to more of our population, and then we can give the second dose later.

The reason it’s so important for the global equity question that you just asked is that right now we’re in this strange position where we have a global pandemic and we’re not working hard enough to get global equity to the vaccines. If you give first dose first, you can have more people just fundamentally get more of the first dose, which is up to 80 to 92% effective. And second is that we will never get to complete safety from COVID-19 unless we do whatever is in our power to increase global equity to the vaccines. And there are various ways to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And speaking of vaccine apartheid, Amnesty just criticized Israel last week for not providing vaccines to Palestinians, saying the move flagrantly violates Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law. Very significant, because, as you point out, Israel is often used as the gold standard when it comes to its population in Israel proper, but what’s devastating is what’s happening to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, I want to thank you so much for being with us, infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at UCSF. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe. Wear a mask.
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