The European Union’s executive commission gave the green light Wednesday to Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine, providing the 27-nation bloc with a second vaccine to use in the desperate battle to tame the virus rampaging across the continent.
The European Commission granted conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine. The decision came against a backdrop of high infection rates in many EU countries and strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people.
“We are providing more COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans. With the Moderna vaccine, the second one now authorized in the EU, we will have a further 160 million doses. And more vaccines will come,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
The EMA recommended the conditional authorization following a meeting earlier Wednesday.
“This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency,” said EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke. “It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO.”
The EMA last month granted the same conditional approval to a coronavirus vaccine made by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Both vaccines require giving people two shots.
The EU has ordered 80 million doses of the Moderna vaccine with an option for a further 80 million. The bloc also has committed to buying 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said that the vaccine authorization “will ensure that 460 million doses will be rolled out with increasing speed in the EU, and more will come. Member States have to ensure that the pace of vaccinations follows suit.”
German Health Minister Jens Spahn — who has in the past been critical of the slow pace of the EMA — said shortly before the announcement of the EMA authorization that he expected the Moderna vaccine to begin rolling out to EU nations next week. Germany would get 2 million doses in the first quarter and 50 million in all of 2021, Spahn told reporters in Berlin.
“The problem is the shortage of production capacity with global demand,” he said.
Spahn said that if further vaccines beyond the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna shots are approved in the EU, “we’ll be able to offer everyone in Germany a vaccine by the summer.”
He insisted that the strategy of bulk-buying for the entire bloc had been the right one as it had given manufacturers certainty to go ahead with production and ensured fair distribution among all the 27 EU countries.
Early results of large, still unfinished studies show both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines appear safe and strongly protective, although Moderna’s is easier to handle since it doesn’t need to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures.
The EU agency gave the green light to use the Moderna vaccine on people age 18 year and above. It said side effects “were usually mild or moderate and got better within a few days after vaccination.”
The most common side effects are “pain and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, chills, fever, swollen or tender lymph nodes under the arm, headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting,” the EMA said.
Cook stressed that EU authorities “will closely monitor data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to ensure ongoing protection of the EU public. Our work will always be guided by the scientific evidence and our commitment to safeguard the health of EU citizens.”
The United States, Canada and Israel have already authorized use of the Moderna vaccine. The U.S. gave it the green light for emergency use in people over 18 years on Dec. 18, followed by Canada five days later with an interim authorization also for people over 18. Israel authorized the vaccine on Monday.
Moderna said Monday that it is increasing its estimate for global vaccine production in 2021 from 500 to 600 million doses. The company said it is “continuing to invest and add staff to build up to potentially 1 billion doses for 2021.”
Both Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech’s shots are mRNA vaccines, made with a groundbreaking new technology. They don’t contain any coronavirus – meaning they cannot cause infection. Instead, they use a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spike protein on the surface of the virus, ready to attack if the real thing comes along.
The EU officially began giving out Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination shots on Dec. 27, but the speed of each nation’s inoculation program has varied widely. France vaccinated around 500 people in the first week, while Germany vaccinated 200,000. The Dutch were only beginning to give out vaccine shots Wednesday, the last EU nation to start doing so.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted that approval of the Moderna vaccine “is another important step in the fight against the pandemic. This means we have more vaccine available in the EU and can fight the pandemic faster.”
Four people died as supporters of President Donald Trump violently occupied the U.S. Capitol.
Washington, D.C., Police Chief Robert Contee said the dead on Wednesday included a woman who was shot by the U.S. Capitol Police, as well as three others who died in “medical emergencies.”
Police said both law enforcement and Trump supporters deployed chemical irritants during the hourslong occupation of the Capitol building before it was cleared Wednesday evening by law enforcement.
The woman was shot earlier Wednesday as the mob tried to break through a barricaded door in the Capitol where police were armed on the other side. She was hospitalized with a gunshot wound and later died.
D.C. police officials also say two pipe bombs were recovered, one outside the Democratic National Committee and one outside the Republican National Committee. Police found a cooler from a vehicle that had a long gun and Molotov cocktail on Capitol grounds.
The pro-Trump mob took over the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate, the offices of the House speaker, and the Senate dais, where one yelled, “Trump won that election.”
They mocked its leaders, posing for photos in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one with his feet propped on her desk, another sitting in the same seat Vice President Mike Pence had occupied only moments before during the proceedings to certify the Electoral College vote.
This began as a day of reckoning for President Donald Trump’s futile attempt to cling to power as Congress took up the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. It devolved into scenes of fear and agony that left a prime ritual of American democracy in tatters.
Trump told his morning crowd at the Ellipse that he would go with them to the Capitol, but he didn’t. Instead he sent them off with incendiary rhetoric.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “Let the weak ones get out,” he went on. “This is a time for strength.”
His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd, “Let’s have trial by combat.”
What happened Wednesday was nothing less than an attempted coup, said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a frequent Trump critic, said: “Today, the United States Capitol — the world’s greatest symbol of self-government — was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard.”
Sasse went on: “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Authorities eventually regained control, as night fell, and Congress resumed its process of confirming Biden’s Electoral College win.
Heavily armed officers brought in as reinforcements started using tear gas in a coordinated effort to get people moving toward the door, then combed the halls for stragglers, pushing the mob farther out onto the plaza and lawn, in clouds of tear gas, flash-bangs and percussion grenades.
Video footage also showed officers letting people calmly walk out the doors of the Capitol despite the rioting and vandalism. Only about a dozen arrests were made in the hours after authorities regained control. They said a woman was shot in the chest inside the building during the chaos, was taken to a hospital and died.
Early on, some inside the Capitol saw the trouble coming outside the windows. Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota surveyed the growing crowd on the grounds not long after Trump had addressed his supporters by the Ellipse, fueling their grievances over an election that he and they say he won, against all evidence.
“I looked out the windows and could see how outmanned the Capitol Police were,” Phillips said. Under the very risers set up for Biden’s inauguration, Trump supporters clashed with police who blasted pepper spray in an attempt to hold them back.
It didn’t work. Throngs of maskless MAGA-hatted demonstrators tore down metal barricades at the bottom of the Capitol’s steps. Some in the crowd were shouting “traitors” as officers tried to keep them back. They broke into the building.
Announcements blared: Due to an “external security threat,” no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said. A loud bang sounded as officials detonated a suspicious package to make sure it was not dangerous.
It was about 1:15 p.m. when New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas, a Democrat, said Capitol Police banged on his door and “told us to drop everything, get out as quickly as we could.”
“It was breathtaking how quickly law enforcement got overwhelmed by these protesters,” he told The Associated Press.
Shortly after 2 p.m., Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Vice President Mike Pence were evacuated from the Senate as protesters and police shouted outside the doors.
“Protesters are in the building,” were the last words picked up by a microphone carrying a live feed of the Senate before it shut off.
Police evacuated the chamber at 2:30 p.m., grabbing boxes of Electoral College certificates as they left.
Phillips yelled at Republicans, “This is because you!”
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when protesters began storming it. He said security officers urged lawmakers to put gas masks on and herded them into a corner of the massive room.
“When we got over to other side of the gallery, the Republican side, they made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault, it looked like,” he said. “They had a piece of furniture up against the door, the door, the entry to the floor from the Rotunda, and they had guns pulled.” The officers eventually escorted the lawmakers out of the chamber.
Shortly after being told to put on gas masks, most members were quickly escorted out of the chamber. But some members remained in the upper gallery seats, where they had been seated due to distancing requirements.
Along with a group of reporters who had been escorted from the press area and Capitol workers who act as ushers, the members ducked on the floor as police secured a door to the chamber down below with guns pointed. After making sure the hallways were clear, police swiftly escorted the members and others down a series of hallways and tunnels to a cafeteria in one of the House office buildings.
Describing the scene, Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut said “there was a point there where officers had their guns and weapons pointed at the door, they were obviously expecting a breach through the door. It was clear that there were pretty close to pulling the trigger so they asked us all to get down in the chamber.”
As he walked out of the Capitol, Himes said he lived in Latin America and “always assumed it could never happen here.”
“We’ve known for for years that our democracy was in peril and this is hopefully the worst and final moment of it,” Himes said. “But with a president egging these people on, with the Republicans doing all they can to try to make people feel like their democracy has been taken away from them even though they’re the ones doing the taking, it’s really hard, really sad. I spent my entire political career reaching out to the other side. And it’s really hard to see this.”
Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley was also in the balcony. “It’s not good to be around terrified colleagues, with guns drawn toward people who have a barricade ... people crying. Not what you want to see.”
“This is how a coup is started,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. “This is how democracy dies.”
In a race to “save lives, livelihoods and end this pandemic”, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that it's important to remember that COVID-19 is just one of a number of major disease outbreaks facing communities across the world.
In his first regular media briefing of the new year, on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists that the UN health agency was also “picking up and analysing hundreds of potential signals every week”, concerning other life-threatening illnesses.
But he made it clear the pandemic remains “a major public health crisis”, while assuring that the agency is “working day and night” to accelerate science, provide solutions on the ground and build global solidarity.
“This is as important for tackling the pandemic as it is for getting essential services back up and running again," Tedros was quoted by UN News as saying.
‘Investment in overall development’
Pointing out that WHO’s work stretches “far beyond emergencies”, the UN's top health official explained that its operations encompass improving “human health in all its aspects from birth to old age”.
He also elaborated on the breadth of the agency’s activities – from keeping mothers and babies alive during childbirth to tackling mental health and controlling HIV and other diseases.
“We have learned a lot in the last year; not least that health is an investment in overall development, critical for thriving economies and a key pillar of national security,” said the WHO chief.
Integrated primary healthcare systems are imperative to prevent, screen and treat infectious and noncommunicable diseases.
Citing the pandemic, Tedros said that infectious viruses put those with underlying conditions “at highest risk of dying”, and that the countries with high numbers of people with health conditions put “extra stress on the health system”.
He maintained that health cannot be “an afterthought when we have an emergency” and underscored the need to “invest in preparedness and surveillance to stop the next pandemic”.
New vaccine development standard
At the dawn of 2021, scientists and public health experts from inside and outside WHO are continuing to break down the latest data and put forward solutions to “build back greener and stronger health systems”, Tedros said.
“My one hope is that there’s less politicking about health in the year ahead," he said.
Pointing out that the scientific community has “set a new standard for vaccine development”, he urged the international community to set a new standard for access.
“People must come first over short-term profits. It’s in countries self-interest to shun vaccine nationalism," the WHO chief said.
A shot in the arm
Last week, WHO cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use and this week the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University, began in the United Kingdom.
With 190 “countries and economies” backing the COVAX international vaccines-for-all initiative, Tedros wants to see all manufacturers quickly channel supplies there, to enable rollouts to protect high-risk people globally.
“We owe it morally to health workers everywhere who have been fighting this pandemic round the clock for the best part of a year, to vaccinate them all as soon as possible," he said.
Georgia officials began counting the final votes of the nation’s turbulent 2020 election season on Tuesday night as polls closed in two critical races that will determine control of the U.S. Senate and, in turn, the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
The two Senate runoff elections are leftovers from the November general election, when none of the candidates hit the 50% threshold. Democrats need to win both races to seize the Senate majority — and, with it, control of the new Congress when Biden takes office in two weeks.
President Donald Trump encouraged his loyalists to turn out in force even as he undermined the integrity of the electoral system by pressing unfounded claims of voter fraud to explain away his own defeat in Georgia.
Around 9 p.m. Tuesday, the race was too early to call.
Both Democrats had a small lead in votes counted, but much of that vote came from ballots cast before Election Day, which generally favor Democratic candidates. That left room for the Republicans to catch up as more votes cast on Election Day, which tend to favor the GOP, were added to the count.
In one contest, Republican Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s governor, faced Democrat Raphael Warnock, 51, who serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached.
The other election pitted 71-year-old former business executive David Perdue, a Republican who held his Senate seat until his term expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member.
The heightened significance of the runoffs has transformed Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the nation’s premier battlegrounds during the final days of Trump’s presidency.
Biden and Trump campaigned for their candidates in person on the eve of the election, though some Republicans feared Trump may have confused voters by continuing to make wild claims of voter fraud as he tries to undermine Biden’s victory. The president has assailed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, repeatedly for rejecting his fraud contentions and raised the prospect that some ballots might not be counted even as votes were being cast Tuesday afternoon.
State officials said there were no major problems with voting on Tuesday.
Gabriel Sterling, a top official with the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said voting was smooth across the state with minimal wait times, though lines of around an hour built up in Republican-leaning Houston, Cherokee, Paulding and Forsyth counties.
While they have no merit, Trump’s claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election have resonated with Republican voters in Georgia. About 7 in 10 agree with his false assertion that Biden was not the legitimately elected president, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,600 voters in the runoff elections.
Election officials across the country, including the Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, as well as Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have confirmed that there was no widespread fraud in the November election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, where three Trump-nominated justices preside.
Even with Trump’s claims, voters in both parties were drawn to the polls because of the high stakes. AP VoteCast found that 6 in 10 Georgia voters say Senate party control was the most important factor in their vote.
In Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, 37-year-old Kari Callaghan said she voted “all Democrat” on Tuesday, an experience that was new for her.
“I’ve always been Republican, but I’ve been pretty disgusted by Trump and just the way the Republicans are working and especially the news this weekend about everything happening in Georgia,” she said. “I feel like for the Republican candidates to still stand there with Trump and campaign with Trump feels pretty rotten. This isn’t the conservative values that I grew up with.”
But 56-year-old Will James said he voted “straight GOP.”
He said he was concerned by the Republican candidates’ recent support of Trump’s challenges of the presidential election results in Georgia, “but it didn’t really change the reasons I voted.”
“I believe in balance of power, and I don’t want either party to have a referendum, basically,” he said.
Even before Tuesday, Georgia had shattered its turnout record for a runoff with more than 3 million votes by mail or during in-person advance voting in December. The state’s previous record was 2.1 million in a 2008 Senate runoff.
Democrats counted on driving a huge turnout of African Americans, young voters, college-educated Georgians and women, all groups that helped Biden win the state. Republicans, meanwhile, have been focused on energizing their own base of white men and voters beyond the core of metro Atlanta.
If Republicans win either seat, Biden would be the first incoming president in more than a century to enter the Oval Office facing a divided Congress. In that case, he would have little shot for swift votes on his most ambitious plans to expand government-backed health care coverage, address racial inequality and combat climate change.
A Republican-controlled Senate also would create a rougher path to confirmation for Biden’s Cabinet picks and judicial nominees.
This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the heated 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting. The results also will help demonstrate whether the political coalition that fueled Biden’s victory was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new landscape.
Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast in November.
Mexico approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for emergency use Monday, hoping to spur a halting vaccination effort that has only given about 44,000 shots since the third week of December, about 82% of the doses the country has received.
The Pfizer vaccine had been the only one approved for use in Mexico, until Mexican regulators approved the AstraZeneca shot Monday.
Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote in his Twitter account Monday that “the emergency approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine is very good news ... with this, production will begin very soon in Mexico!”
A Mexican firm has arranged to do part of the finishing and packaging of the vaccine.
Assistant Health Secretariat Hugo López-Gatell said he erroneously reported approval for Chinese vaccine maker CanSino, noting it had not yet submitted full study results for safety and efficacy.
Mexico has pinned much of its hopes on the inexpensive, one-shot CanSino vaccine. “It will makes things a lot easier for us,” López-Gatell said.
The Mexican Social Security Institute also released more information about a doctor in northern Mexico who had such a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer vaccine last week that she was hospitalized in intensive care.
The doctor suffered difficulty breathing, brain inflammation and convulsions a half-hour after getting the shot. Experts are running tests to determine whether she suffered a rare inflammation of the spinal cord called transverse myelitis. She is reportedly recovering.
López-Gatell, who heads up efforts to deal with the pandemic, had to explain why he was spotted at a Pacific coast beach, apparently sitting at sea-side restaurant without a face mask on.
López-Gatell has repeatedly counselled Mexicans to stay at home. He has also cast doubt on how whether face masks protect people from catching coronavirus.
López-Gatell said he saw nothing wrong with going to the Pacific coast state of Oaxaca to see friends and relatives, noting that the virus alert level was lower there.
Over the weekend, local media posted photos of López-Gatell sitting in the open-air restaurant, reportedly in the laid-back beach resort of Zipolite, in southern Oaxaca state, which has mandatory rules about face masks.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called López-Gatell “a good public servant.” Mexico has nearly 1.45 million coronavirus cases and 127,757 deaths.
“It’s a good thing that there is this scrutiny, but a public servant has rights, too,” said López Obrador.