White House says US can roll out COVID boosters next week

The Biden administration’s embattled plan to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to most Americans faced its first key hurdle on Friday as a government advisory panel met to decide whether to recommend extra doses of Pfizer vaccine. (AP)
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Updated 17 September 2021

White House says US can roll out COVID boosters next week

  • In August, President Joe Biden said the government would provide boosters in the week of Sept. 20
  • Critics have said the Biden administration's booster plan is putting pressure on scientists

WASHINGTON: The United States is ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccine booster shots next week but will do so only if health regulators approve the plan, White House officials said on Friday.
In August, President Joe Biden said the government would provide boosters in the week of Sept. 20 to address waning vaccine immunity and the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“We’ve been working through the last few weeks, intensely with our partners, our governors, state, and local health officials, federal pharmacy programs, the community health centers to ensure that we are ready for next week,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zientz said at a briefing.
While some health officials, other countries and vaccine makers say boosters are needed, many experts disagree, including two top scientists at the Food and Drug Administration who are leaving the agency later this year.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told reporters boosters will be available once the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approve the plan. Critics have said the Biden administration’s booster plan is putting pressure on scientists or getting ahead of their evaluations.
“We have always said that this initial plan would be contingent on the FDA and the CDC’s independent evaluation. We will follow that evaluation and their recommendations. We will make sure our final plan reflects it,” he said.
Murthy was among eight top US health officials including the FDA and CDC chiefs who have said boosters are necessary.
A panel of independent expert advisers to the FDA is debating whether Americans should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and was set to vote later on Friday.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet next week to discuss boosters.


Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4 bln deal

Updated 11 sec ago

Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4 bln deal

  • fizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales.

LONDON: Pfizer Inc. on Monday agreed to pay $5.4 billion in cash for sickle cell disease drugmaker Global Blood Therapeutics, as it looks to capitalize on a surge in revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
Pfizer will pay $68.50 per GBT share, which represents a 7.3 percent premium to its Friday closing price. The deal is at a more than 40 percent premium where GBT was trading before the Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer was in advanced talks to buy it on Thursday.
Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales. With the addition of its COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid, Pfizer is expected to generate around $100 billion in revenue this year, but sales from both products are expected to decline going forward.
Pfizer has been on the lookout for acquisitions that could bring in billions in annual sales by the end of the decade.
“We have very deliberately taken a strategy of diversification in our M&A deals,” Aamir Malik, Pfizer’s top dealmaker, said in an interview. He said the company was focused on improving growth for the second half of the decade, rather than large deals that generate value through cost cuts.
“We think that there are opportunities across all therapeutic areas that we’re active in,” Malik said, noting that the company was also agnostic about size for future deals.
In May, Pfizer struck an $11.6 billion deal for migraine drug maker Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding and recently also completed a $6.7 billion deal to buy Arena Pharmaceuticals.
With the acquisition of Global Blood Therapeutics, Pfizer adds sickle cell disease treatment Oxbryta, which was approved in 2019 and is expected to top $260 million in sales this year. It will also pick up two pipeline assets — GBT601 and inclacumab — targeting the same disease.
Pfizer said if they are all approved, it believes GBT’s drugs could generate more than $3 billion in sales annually at their peak.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people in the United States.
GBT Chief Executive Officer Ted Love said that Pfizer’s resources and multinational infrastructure will allow the company to launch Oxbryta in additional markets and boost its uptake.
“We really have no infrastructure outside of that (US and western Europe) and it takes time and money to build out those infrastructures and Pfizer already has all of it,” Love said.
Shares of Global Blood rose 4.5 percent following the deal announcement.


Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

Updated 08 August 2022

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

  • Army blames the attack on ‘terrorists’, using the term it typically uses for militants

BAMAKO: At least four soldiers, two civilians and five assailants were killed on Sunday in an attack in a strategic border zone between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Mali’s army said.
The army blamed the attack on “terrorists” in an announcement late Sunday, using the term it typically uses for militants.
Earlier, it had said its troops had been repelling an attack by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, affiliated with the Daesh organization.
The army’s death toll could be “much higher,” an elected official said, asking not to be named for security reasons.
The two civilians killed were local elected officials, their relatives said.
Tessit is located on the Malian side of the so-called three-border area in a vast gold-rich region beyond state control.
Armed groups under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda aligned militants Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM, are fighting ISGS there.
The Malian army, which has a military camp next to the town of Tessit, has frequently been attacked in the area.
UN peacekeepers and, until a few months ago, French soldiers from Operation Barkhane, have also been deployed there.
Thousands of residents have fled the area, many heading to the town of Gao, some 150 kilometers away.
The Tessit area, like the whole of the so-called three-border zone, is even more isolated during the rainy season when heavy rainfall prevents passage.
In a separate attack Sunday morning, five police officers were killed in Sona, in the Koutiala area of southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso.
On Friday, suspected militants killed about 12 civilians in central Mali with explosives planted in the bodies of slain civilians that relatives had come to collect.
Mali is struggling with a long militant insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Violence that began in the north has spread to the center and south of the country, as well as to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.


Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

Updated 08 August 2022

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

  • 27-year-old arraigned for causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission

BANGKOK: The owner of a music pub in eastern Thailand where a fire last week killed 15 people and injured more than three dozen others was released on bail when he was brought to court Monday to hear criminal charges against him.
Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district of Chonburi province, about 160 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, turned himself in late Saturday. Police charged the 27-year-old with causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission. He could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,580).
At his Monday court appearance, he was granted release on bail of 300,000 baht ($8,390) on condition he wear a tracking device.
Live bands regularly played on a stage at the pub, including as the fire started early Friday morning on the ceiling above them. Police have said the venue was licensed only for operation as a restaurant.
The site of the fire, which took place early Friday morning, remained sealed off Monday as forensic police and building inspectors worked to determine the cause of the blaze and whether the pub had met building standards.
“I am sorry. I want to say sorry to the victims’ families,” said Pongsiri to reporters through a window at the back of a police prison van at the court in Pattaya. Pongsiri, whose face was concealed by a mask, a hat and a towel, said he will compensate the victims.
Many of the injured from the fire suffered severe burns that left them in critical condition. Thirteen died at the scene, one more in a hospital on Friday and the 15th victim, Thanakrit Neenoi, died on Saturday. His sister told local media that Thanakrit went to the pub with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife remains in the hospital for treatment.
The governor of Bangkok, Thailand’s biggest city, said Saturday that the city had inspected more than 400 entertainment venues in the city before the fire and found 83 places failing to comply with safety standards. Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters the venues would be ordered closed if they did not act to fix their problems.
Sixty-six people were killed and more than 200 injured in a fire during a Jan. 1, 2009, New Year’s Eve celebration at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok. That blaze was apparently sparked by an indoor fireworks display. Toxic smoke flooded the venue and contributed to the death toll as the entire club caught fire.


Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Updated 08 August 2022

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

  • Ten ships have already sailed since the first last left week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

ISTANBUL: Two more ships, carrying corn and soybeans, departed from Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey and Ukraine said, taking the total to ten since the first ship sailed last week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the agreement last month after warnings the halt in grain shipments caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

The Sacura, which departed from Pivdennyi, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, Turkey’s defense ministry said on Monday, while the Arizona, which left Chornomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.

Separately, the Polarnet, which departed on Friday, reached its final destination in northwestern Turkey’s Derince on Monday morning to be unloaded, marking the completion of the first shipment since the exports were re-launched.

So far, around 243,000 tons of corn has been exported from Ukraine on seven ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, according to a Reuters tally of data from Turkey’s defense ministry.

The other ships carried 11,000 tons of soybeans, 6,000 tons of sunflower oil and 45,000 tons of sunflower meal.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, confirmed the two latest ships left on Monday, adding Pivdennyi, the third Ukrainian port included in the deal, was finally up and running as part of the initiative.

Kubrakov had said previously the opening of Pivdennyi would push Ukraine’s total export capacity up to three million tons a month.

In peacetime, Ukraine exported up to six million tons of grain a month from its ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coast.

The four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey’s defense ministry said, adding they would be inspected on Tuesday.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine for what it calls its “special military operation,” the two countries together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.

The Razoni, which was the first ship to depart, was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday but is currently at anchor off Turkey’s southern coast, according to Refinitiv ship tracker data.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Sunday the Fulmar S, the first foreign-flagged bulk ship to reach the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk since the conflict, was ready for loading.

A second ship traveling to Ukraine, the Osprey S, was inspected in Istanbul on Sunday and was nearing Ukraine on Monday morning, Refinitiv data also showed.


Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Updated 08 August 2022

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

  • The agreement also includes participation in a national, inclusive dialogue

DUBAI: Chad’s military government and some rebel groups signed a pledge Monday in Qatar ahead of planned national reconciliation talks, though the deal did not include the country’s main opposition group.

Under the terms of the deal in Doha, those who signed have agreed to a cease-fire ahead of the Aug. 20 talks planned in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. Chad’s junta also agreed to “not take any military or police operations against the signing groups” in neighboring countries.

However, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the main rebel group in the country, did not sign the pledge. The shadowy group, known by its French acronym FACT, is blamed for the 2021 killing of Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country since 1990.

That immediately called into question whether the deal would be enough to ensure the success of the talks as a planned 18-month transition from military rule to democracy winds down.

FACT did not immediately comment publicly on its decision not to sign the pledge.

We hope “other groups will join the march of reconciliation and peace, with a view to achieving the aspirations and dreams of the Chadian people,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told those gathered for the signing ceremony. “The initial peace agreement we are celebrating today will be an important turning point toward stability and prosperity for the Chadian people.”

“It is no secret that the negotiations faced many challenges which were addressed through your estimated efforts,” Sheikh Mohammed added.

Those challenges include some 20 rebel groups walking out of the talks in July, accusing the military government under Deby’s 38-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, of “harassments, intimidation, threats and disinformation” amid the negotiations.

Rebels have called for Deby to declare he would not run in any coming elections, though the military junta has insisted that can only be decided in the national dialogue talks. The pledge signed Monday in Qatar do not include any prohibition on Deby running in any coming vote.

Chad had grown frustrated by the 30 years of rule by Deby’s father, leading to years of rebel uprisings in the former French colony that borders Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. Unrest in those surrounding countries have seen Chadian rebel forces hide across the border.