India Expected to Ease COVID-19 Vaccine Export Restrictions

There is growing optimism that India could resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines as production expands at a rapid pace, putting the country on track to immunize its adult population in the coming months

“We had put a target of 1.85 billion doses for ourselves. That has been organized by the end of December and thereafter the government will be able to allow vaccine exports,” N.K. Arora, head of the national technical advisory group on immunization told VOA. “We will have several billion doses available next year.”

India, a vaccine powerhouse, was expected to be a major supplier of affordable COVID- 19 vaccines to developing countries.

However, after supplying 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries, New Delhi halted exports in April following a deadly second wave of the pandemic, slowing inoculation programs of countries from Africa to Indonesia.

There is no official comment on a timeline for resumption of exports, with officials stressing that for the time being, the focus is on India’s domestic rollout.

“First, all of our adults will have to be immunized, we have to take care of our own people,” Arora said.

The issue of vaccine supplies is expected to figure in the summit meeting of the Quad nations —  the United States, Japan, India and Australia — Friday in Washington.

Public health experts say India will likely wait to restart exports until the country’s festive season ends in November to ensure it does not have to grapple with a third wave. Currently authorities are racing to administer at least one dose to all adults.

India has given one shot to roughly two thirds of its population but only 20% of its approximately 900 million adults have been fully inoculated.

In April, as a ferocious surge in infections took a heavy toll, the government had faced criticism for exporting vaccines when most of its own population was not inoculated.

India has been urged to resume exports as the country’s vaccination program gains momentum and the supply of vaccines increases.

The World Health Organization told a press briefing in Geneva Tuesday that it has been assured that supplies from India will restart this year. Officials said that discussions in New Delhi have emphasized the importance of ensuring that India is “part of the solution for Africa.”

African countries have struggled to inoculate their populations — only about 3% of the continent’s population is vaccinated.

“Given the successful ramp-up of domestic production and the diminishing intensity of its own outbreak, we hope that India will ease its restrictions,” a spokesman for the Gavi alliance, co-leading the global vaccine sharing platform COVAX, told VOA.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of the AstraZeneca vaccines, has said that exports could resume as India nears a level where sufficient stocks are available for its inoculation drive.

“In the next two months, we do expect slow easement of exports. But you have to also check with the government; ultimately it is their decision,” SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla said on Friday.

The institute was to be one of the major suppliers of affordable vaccines to COVAX, but the vaccine-sharing platform’s ability to get sufficient doses for low- and middle-income countries took a hit when India shut down exports.

“Countries with a low level of vaccination can breed variants and if the world does not cover those people there is an opportunity for mutants to rise and creep into other countries, making it harder control the pandemic,” K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said.

Eyes will also be on the Quad summit next week to see how it makes headway on the vaccine initiative announced in March under which the four countries had decided to produce 1 billion doses in India by 2022 with financial backing from the United States and Japan.

“The summit will be a good opportunity to take stock and expedite that initiative. Some conversations have happened, let us see what progress is made,” an official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, who did not want to be named, said.

Vaccines produced under the Quad initiative were meant for countries in the Indo-Pacific region. These and other developing countries have turned to China, which has supplied over a billion doses, while Western countries are seen to have lagged in their efforts to vaccinate developing countries.

However, hopes are rising that India will emerge as a major global supplier as new production facilities are set up and the basket of vaccines expands.

The SII for example is set to ramp up production to 200 million doses next month –nearly three times its output in April when India halted exports. Indian companies are also set to make millions of doses of both domestically developed vaccines and those developed overseas, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and Russia’s Sputnik V.

“It may look like a presumptuous statement, but we will immunize many countries next year, and these will be with affordable shots. There is no confusion in that. India is committed to it and I see no difficulty at all,” Arora said. 

‘Change the Game’: Supermodel Halima Aden Reinvents Modest Fashion

Halima Aden, the first supermodel to wear a hijab and pose in a burkini, has ripped up her lucrative contracts in an industry she feels lacks “basic human respect” and entered the world of modest fashion design instead.

For the Somali-American who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, it was a matter of preserving her self-worth and well-being in a fast and loose sector that increasingly clashed with her Muslim values.

“Since I was a little girl, this quote — ‘don’t change yourself, change the game’ — has gotten me through so much in life,” she told AFP in an interview in Istanbul.

“When I took the decision to quit, that is exactly what I did,” she said. “So I am very, very proud.”

Aden’s departure last November delivered a shock to fashionistas and Muslim influencers who have admired her trailblazing career.

Aden, who turns 24 on Sunday, broke ground in Minnesota, where she became the first contestant to wear a hijab and a burkini — a full-body swimsuit whose appearance has stirred controversy on some European beaches — in a U.S. state beauty pageant in 2016.

She posed in them again for Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue when her fame was spreading in 2019.

But personally, Aden felt increasingly boxed in — sometimes literally.

“I was always given a box, a private place to change in, but many times I was the only one given the privacy,” she said.

“I got to see my fellow young women having to undress and change in public, in front of media personalities, cooks and staff, designers and assistants,” she recalled.

“To me, it was very jarring,” she said. “I couldn’t be in an industry where there is no basic human respect.”

‘Poison!’

Aden sounded liberated when she announced her decision to abandon photo shoots and catwalks last year. She is becoming a designer instead.

“Wow this is actually the most RELIEF I felt since I started in 2016. Keeping that in was literal POISON!” she said on Instagram.

She felt her traditions, starkly different from those of most other supermodels, were caricatured and turned into a gimmick by some brands.

One, American Eagle, replaced a headscarf with a pair of jeans on her head in a 2017 campaign.

“But… this isn’t even my style??” she protested on Instagram at the time.

“I got to a place where I couldn’t recognize my hijab the way I would traditionally wear it,” Aden told AFP.

Aden looked far more at ease in Istanbul, surrounded by Middle Eastern fashionistas while attending an event organized by Modanisa, her new home.

She will be designing collections exclusively for the Turkish online brand, which is one of the biggest names in the modest fashion industry, valued at $277 billion in 2019.

It already makes up more than a tenth of the $2.2 trillion global fashion industry, with plenty of room to grow, according to DinarStandard, an advisory firm specializing in emerging Muslim markets.

‘Taste of the world’

World capitals as diverse as Moscow, Riyadh and London have staged modest fashion shows in the past few years.

The trend is particularly strong in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where Aden rejoices at the melee of cultures on the streets.

 

“What I love the most about Turkey, especially Istanbul, is that it is very diverse, you see women who don’t wear the hijab right alongside women who wear the hijab,” she said.

“You get a taste of the world in Istanbul.”

The industry has taken off in the past decade, thanks in part to the modelling careers of women such as Aden.

Soft-spoken but smiley, Aden sounds confident in modest fashion’s ability to withstand crises like the coronavirus pandemic and changing fads.

“It is the oldest fashion staple, it’s been around for hundreds of years, it will continue to be around for hundreds of years,” she said.

Islam and fashion “are 100% compatible because there’s nothing in our religion that says you can’t be fashionable,” she said.

Luxury brands such as DKNY and Dolce & Gabbana have already picked up on the trend, creating collections catered to modest women.

But Aden hit out at “a lot of tokenism, especially in the fashion industry, where they want our money but they don’t want to support us in the issues that we are faced with.”

“I think fashion needs to do a greater job,” she said. “You are representing your clients who are Muslims, it is important to speak up when they are faced with injustices.” 

 

World Leaders Return to UN With Focus on Pandemic, Climate

World leaders are returning to the United Nations in New York this week with a focus on boosting efforts to fight both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which last year forced them to send video statements for the annual gathering.

As the coronavirus still rages amid an inequitable vaccine rollout, about a third of the 193 U.N. states are planning to again send videos, but presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers for the remainder are due to travel to the United States.

The United States tried to dissuade leaders from coming to New York in a bid to stop the U.N. General Assembly from becoming a “super-spreader event,” although President Joe Biden will address the assembly in person, his first U.N. visit since taking office. A so-called U.N. honor system means that anyone entering the assembly hall effectively declares they are vaccinated, but they do not have to show proof.

This system will be broken when the first country speaks — Brazil. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine skeptic, who last week declared that he does not need the shot because he is already immune after being infected with COVID-19.

Should he change his mind, New York City has set up a van outside the United Nations for the week to supply free testing and free shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Reuters that the discussions around how many traveling diplomats might have been immunized illustrated “how dramatic the inequality is today in relation to vaccination.” He is pushing for a global plan to vaccinate 70% of the world by the first half of next year.

Out of 5.7 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered around the world, only 2% have been in Africa.

Biden will host a virtual meeting from Washington with leaders and chief executives on Wednesday that aims to boost the distribution of vaccines globally.

Demonstrating U.S. COVID-19 concerns about the U.N. gathering, Biden will be in New York only for about 24 hours, meeting with Guterres on Monday and making his first U.N. address on Tuesday, directly after Bolsonaro.

His U.N. envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Biden would “speak to our top priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change … and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order.”

Due to the pandemic, U.N. delegations are restricted to much smaller numbers and most events on the sidelines will be virtual or a hybrid of virtual and in-person. Among other topics that ministers are expected to discuss during the week are Afghanistan and Iran.

But before the annual speeches begin, Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will start the week with a summit on Monday to try and save a U.N. summit — that kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31 — from failure.

As scientists warn that global warming is dangerously close to spiraling out of control, the U.N. COP26 conference aims to wring much more ambitious climate action and the money to go with it from participants around the globe.

“It’s time to read the alarm bell,” Guterres told Reuters last week. “We are on the verge of the abyss.” 

 

‘Compassion Fatigue’ Hitting US Doctors, Report Says

A report in The Guardian says U.S. physicians treating unvaccinated patients are “succumbing to compassion fatigue” as a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases sweeps across the country.

Dr. Michelle Shu, a 29-year-old emergency medicine resident, said medical school did not prepare her to handle the misinformation unvaccinated patients believe about the vaccine, calling the experience “demoralizing.”

“There is a feeling,” Dr. Mona Masood, a psychiatrist in Philadelphia told The Guardian, “that ‘I’m risking my life, my family’s life, my own wellbeing for people who don’t care about me.’”

The U.S. has more COVID-19 cases than any other country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, with over 42 million infections.

India’s health ministry said Sunday that it had recorded 30,773 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period and 309 deaths. Johns Hopkins reports that only the U.S. has more infections than India, which has over 33 million.

Johns Hopkins has recorded more than 228 million global COVID-19 cases and 4.6 million global deaths. Almost 6 billion vaccines have been administered, according to Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, in the southern U.S. state of Alabama on Friday, Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said that 2020 was the first year in the history of the state that it had more deaths than births – 64,714 deaths and 57,641 births. The state “literally shrunk,” he said. Alabama is headed in the same direction for 2021, Harris said, with the current rate of COVID deaths.