Indonesia suspends use of CTMAV547 batch of AstraZeneca vaccine following death; Covid-19 total now almost 1.74 million

JAKARTA, May 16 (Xinhua): The Indonesian government has suspended the use of the CTMAV547 batch of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine following the death of a recipient in the capital of Jakarta recently, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

“Not all batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been stopped for distribution and use, only the CTMAV547 batch, while waiting for the results of an investigation and testing from BPOM (Indonesia’s national agency of drug and food control) for around one or two weeks,” said Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the health ministry spokesperson for vaccination.

Indonesia received 3,852,000 doses of the British AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on April 26, including 448,480 doses of the CTMAV547 batch, through the COVAX facilitycu scheme initiated by the World Health Organisation.

The doses of vaccine of the CTMAV547 batch have been distributed to the army, parts of Jakarta, and North Sulawesi province in the South-East Asian country.

Trio Fauqi Virdaus, 22, had a high fever after receiving a dose of the the CTMAV547 batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine on May 5, and died the next day.

The National Commission on Post-Immunization Accidents suggested that BPOM carry out sterility and toxicity tests on the CTMAV547 batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine over the death.

“There is not enough evidence to link this accident to the impact of immunization. Therefore, further investigations are still needed,” said Hindra Irawan Satari, the commission’s head.

The confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Indonesia rose by 3,080 in the past 24 hours to 1,739,750, with the death toll adding by 126 to 48,093, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

According to the ministry, 3,790 more patients were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries from the coronavirus epidemic to 1,600,857.

The virus has spread to all the country’s 34 provinces.

Specifically, in the past 24 hours, West Java recorded 792 new confirmed cases, Riau 355, Central Java 346, Riau Islands 222 and East Java 164.

No new cases were detected in seven provinces, namely East Nusa Tenggara, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, West Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua. – Xinhua


Malaysians rejoice over opt-in for AstraZeneca vaccine

PETALING JAYA: Following the excitement of Sunday’s (May 2) voluntary AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine registration, Malaysians outside Selangor and Kuala Lumpur are now eagerly awaiting a similar rollout of the vaccine across other states in Malaysia.

Khairy Jamaluddin, the coordinating minister of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, had earlier tweeted that the country is scheduled to receive one million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via Covax.

Covax is a global initiative jointly led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi and the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to ensure fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccine worldwide.

Khairy said an “opt-in” option for the vaccine will be expanded to all other states, except Sarawak.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Minister said the government would also reach out to those who lack access to the Internet for sign-ups.

The announcement was well received, with many Malaysians responding with excitement while some advocated for states with higher Covid-19 caseloads to be prioritised.

@Shane_Subra suggested on Twitter that urban centres should be given the opportunity first.

“YB, I hope KKM considers other urban centres later – Penang, JB, Kuching, KK and important for me – Seremban.”

Echoing the emphasis on Seremban, @memezibang said many who live in Seremban actually have to commute to work daily to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, making the shot a necessity for them.

@fang_phang from Penang also welcomed the announcement, adding that “When the vaccination coverage is high, we can beat this demon.”

Jason Chan, who also currently resides in Penang, said he cannot wait for the vaccines to arrive in his state.

“All of us need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. That should be the top priority.

“I think it’s a smart move by the government to open up the AstraZeneca vaccines for people to volunteer,” Jason said.

“Hopefully with more people vaccinated, those who are sceptical will have more confidence to be vaccinated.”

Regarding the perceived risks, Jason added: “As much as there are many negative things said about the side effects of the vaccine, I think a lot of people just can’t wait to be vaccinated. I am one of them.”

@ssaravs agreed with the general sentiment and said: “If you are not from Klang Valley, hopefully you can book AstraZeneca by the end of this month when more doses arrive unless your state declines.”

Chey Vun Kheng took to Facebook to congratulate Khairy and his team while offering a message of support, saying: “Now please open up online registration for the rest of us outside Selangor/ KL. We are in this together. The sooner we get jabbed, the better!”

Arif Budi also reacted positively to the announcement on Facebook, saying: “Thank you Khairy for speed up the immunisations (thumbs up emoji) Malaysia can race against Covid-19 (sic).”


‘No Documented Death’ Linked to COVID-19 Vaccine

Scientists and health agencies in several countries, including the World Health Organization see no links in COVID deaths and vaccines.

The more recent denial of such occurrences is from a WHO researcher who dismisses such links. 

Soumya Swaminathan from WHO says no evidence exist linking deaths to any vaccine.

This statement came after numerous European Union countries and other nations suspended the usage of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Indeed, these countries fear it is causing blood clots.

“There is no documented death that’s been linked to a COVID vaccine,” Soumya Swaminathan, a WHO clinical scientist, says.

“While we need to continue to be very closely monitoring this, we do not want people to panic.”

“Countries should for the time continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca,” the scientist says.

Meanwhile, The EU’s European Medicines Agency earlier said the vaccine is safe.

They all believe “the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects.”

FIVE EU NATIONS

However, five EU nations France, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and Italy have all suspended usage of the vaccine.

The list of countries suspending the vaccine is growing. Norway, Denmark and Iceland have suspended their rollout of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.

This follows the death of a 60-year-old woman who developed a blood clot after being vaccinated.

Nevertheless, professor Robert Booy, a vaccine expert at the University of Sydney says there is no cause for concern.

‘The issue of blood clots occurring is, first of all, one of coincidence. We expect people to have clots coincidentally with vaccination in the previous day or week,’ newsGP quotes him as saying.

‘There’s no biological reason to think, from the information we already have via millions of people, that the vaccine is causing clots. But we do know that the disease does cause clots.

‘So the concern is that the increase in the risk of clotting with COVID-19 is the real factor at hand.’ 

In the meantime, the maker of the vaccine AstraZeneca says ‘no evidence’ linking the vaccine to clots.

AstraZeneca states that “around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine,” reports The Epoch Times.

NO SOLUTIONS?

The number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases expected among the general population.

Neither WHO nor the experts speaking about the blood clot has an answer or have a solution to prevent such incidents from happening.

Nevertheless, if they want to limit fear among people they should tell what to do and not do before and after taking the vaccines.


Mufti of Moscow to investigate if Sputnik V vaccines are halal

Russian Muslims are wary the vaccines will subdue them to bow to the government – based on socmed conspiracy theories?

After explaining to the Mufti of Moscow the composition of the Sputnik V vaccine, the latter will investigate whether the Muslims in Russia can get vaccinated.

The Mufti of Moscow, Ildar Alyautdinov, says 

Muslims are wary of COVID-19 vaccines. 

“The clergy intends to investigate the safety of the vaccine and its permissiveness from the point of view of Islam,” says the news portal, Realnoevremya. 

https://realnoevremya.com/articles/5236-sputnik-v-creators-report-that-the-vaccine-is-suitable-for-muslims

“In general, believers — and I communicate with a huge number of people — are permeated with doubts. They are permeated with opinions circulating on the Internet. And they say that they will wait a year or more,” the Mufti is quoted as saying.

Vladimir Gushchin from the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in a round table discussion says there are no forbidden components from the point of view of Islam in the composition of the Sputnik V. 

There are no components of any animal extracts, serums and other things, RIA Novosti reports Gushchin as saying.

Muslims in Russia voiced their concerns about the vaccine. The Mufti says the negative campaign and conspiracy theories on the internet has made people fearful of the vaccines.

However, the makers of the vaccine say they took into consideration to make sure the vaccines are not ‘haram’ for Muslims.

Anyone can find the information regarding the composition of the drug, on the way it is produced including the environment and the equipment used as well as its composition.

The scientists say there is no part of “dead animals, pigs, blood, and other things” in the Sputnik V.

Russia has developed the Sputnik V and EpiVakKorona. Muslims have written to the developers to ask for a disclosure of the content to test if it is halal.


How online misinformation spreads

Bill Gates’ syringe will update the human DNA to install the Windows Operating System? – Picture Pinterest

Misinformation is running rampant. To slow this infodemic, researchers are tracking how it spreads on social media.

2.11.2021

You may have heard the outlandish claim: Bill Gates is using the Covid-19 vaccine to implant microchips in everyone so he can track where they go. It’s false, of course, debunked repeatedly by journalists and fact-checking organizations. Yet the falsehood persists online — in fact, it’s one of the most popular conspiracy theories making the rounds. In May, a Yahoo/YouGov poll found that 44 percent of Republicans (and 19 percent of Democrats) said they believed it.

This particular example is just a small part of what the World Health Organization now calls an infodemic — an unprecedented glut of information that may be misleading or false. Misinformation — false or inaccurate information of all kinds, from honest mistakes to conspiracy theories — and its more intentional subset, disinformation, are both thriving, fueled by a once-in-a-generation pandemic, extreme political polarization and a brave new world of social media.

“The scale of reach that you have with social media, and the speed at which it spreads, is really like nothing humanity has ever seen,” says Jevin West, a disinformation researcher at the University of Washington.

One reason for this reach is that so many people are participants on social media. “Social media is the first type of mass communication that allows regular users to produce and share information,” says Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, an economist at the Paris School of Economics who coauthored an article on the political effects of the Internet and social media in the 2020 Annual Review of Economics.

Trying to stamp out online misinformation is like chasing an elusive and ever-changing quarry, researchers are learning. False tales — often intertwined with elements of truth — spread like a contagion across the Internet. They also evolve over time, mutating into more infectious strains, fanning across social media networks via constantly changing pathways and hopping from one platform to the next.

Misinformation doesn’t simply diffuse like a drop of ink in water, says Neil Johnson, a physicist at George Washington University who studies misinformation. “It’s something different. It kind of has a life of its own.”

The Gates fiction is a case in point. On March 18, 2020, Gates mentioned in an online forum on Reddit that electronic records of individuals’ vaccine history could be a better way to keep track of who had received the Covid-19 vaccine than paper documents, which can be lost or damaged. The very next day, a website called Biohackerinfo.com posted an article claiming that Gates wanted to implant devices into people to record their vaccination history. Another day later, a YouTube video expanded that narrative, explicitly claiming that Gates wanted to track people’s movements. That video was viewed nearly 2 million times. In April, former Donald Trump advisor Roger Stone repeated the conspiracy on a radio program, which was then covered in the New York Post. Fox News host Laura Ingraham also referred to Gates’s intent to track people in an interview with then US Attorney General William Barr.

But though it’s tempting to think from examples like this that websites like Biohackerinfo.com are the ultimate sources of most online misinformation, research suggests that’s not so. Even when such websites churn out misleading or false articles, they are often pushing what people have already been posting online, says Renee DiResta, a disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory. Indeed, almost immediately after Gates wrote about digital certificates, Reddit users started commenting about implantable microchips, which Gates had never mentioned.

In fact, research suggests that malicious websites, bots and trolls make up a relatively small portion of the misinformation ecosystem. Instead, most misinformation emerges from regular people, and the biggest purveyors and amplifiers of misinformation are a handful of human super-spreaders. For example, a study of Twitter during the 2016 election found that in a sample of more than 16,000 users, 6 percent of those who shared political news also shared misinformation. But the vast majority — 80 percent — of the misinformation came from just 0.1 percent of users. Misinformation is amplified even more when those super-spreaders, such as media personalities and politicians like Donald Trump (until his banning by Twitter and other sites), have access to millions of people on social and traditional media.

Thanks to such super-spreaders, misinformation spreads in a way that resembles an epidemic. In a recent study, researchers analyzed the rise in the number of people engaging with Covid-19-related topics on Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Instagram and a right-leaning network called Gab. Fitting epidemiological models to the data, they calculated R-values which, in epidemiology, represent the average number of people a sick person would infect. In this case, the R-values describe the contagiousness of Covid-19-related topics in social media platforms — and though the R-value differed depending on the platform, it was always greater than one, indicating exponential growth and, possibly, an infodemic.

Differences in how information spreads depend on features of the particular platform and its users, not on the reliability of the information itself, says Walter Quattrociocchi, a data scientist at the University of Rome. He and his colleagues analyzed posts and reactions — such as likes and comments — about content from both reliable and unreliable websites, the latter being those that show extreme bias and promote conspiracies, as determined by independent fact-checking organizations. The number of posts and reactions regarding both types of content grew at the same rate, they found.

Complicating matters more, misinformation almost always contains kernels of truth. For example, the implantable microchips in the Gates conspiracy can be traced to a Gates Foundation-funded paper published in 2019 by MIT researchers, who designed technology to record someone’s vaccination history in the skin like a tattoo. The tattoo ink would consist of tiny semiconductor particles called quantum dots, whose glow could be read with a modified smartphone. There are no microchips, and the quantum dots can’t be tracked or read remotely. Yet the notion of implanting something to track vaccination status has been discussed. “It isn’t outlandish,” Johnson says. “It’s just outlandish to say it will then be used by Gates in some sinister way.”

What happens, Johnson explains, is that people pick nuggets of fact and stitch them together into a false or misleading narrative that fits their own worldview. These narratives then become reinforced in online communities that foster trust and thus lend credibility to misinformation.

Johnson and his colleagues track online discussion topics in social media posts. Using machine learning, their software automatically infers topics — say, vaccine side effects — from patterns in how words are used together. It’s similar to eavesdropping on multiple conversations by picking out particular words that signal what people are talking about, Johnson says.

And as in conversations, topics can evolve over time. In the past year, for example, a discussion about the March lockdowns mutated to include the US presidential election and QAnon conspiracy theories, according to Johnson. The researchers are trying to characterize such topic shifts, and what makes certain topics more evolutionarily fit and infectious.

Some broad narratives are especially tenacious. For example, Johnson says, the Gates microchip conspiracy contains enough truth to lend it credibility but also is often dismissed as absurd by mainstream voices, which feeds into believers’ distrust of the establishment. Throw in well-intentioned parents who are skeptical of vaccines, and you have a particularly persistent narrative. Details may differ, with some versions involving 5G wireless networks or radiofrequency ID tags, but the overall story — that powerful individuals want to track people with vaccines — endures.

And in online networks, these narratives can spread especially far. Johnson focuses on online groups, like public Facebook pages, some of which can include a million users. The researchers have mapped how these groups — within and across Facebook and five other platforms, Instagram, Telegram, Gab, 4Chan and a predominantly Russian-language platform called VKontakte — connect to one another with weblinks, where a user in one online group links to a page on another platform. In this way, groups form clusters that also link to other clusters. The connections can break and relink elsewhere, creating complex and changing pathways through which information can flow and spread. For example, Johnson says, earlier forms of the Gates conspiracy were brewing on Gab only to jump over to Facebook and merge with more mainstream discussions about Covid-19 vaccinations.

These cross-platform links mean that the efforts of social media companies to take down election- or Covid-19-related misinformation are only partly effective. “Good for them for doing that,” Johnson says. “But it’s not going to get rid of the problem.” The stricter policies of some platforms — Facebook, for example — won’t stop misinformation from spilling over to a platform where regulations are more relaxed.

And unless the entire social media landscape is somehow regulated, he adds, misinformation will simply congregate in more hospitable platforms. After companies like Facebook and Twitter started cracking down on election misinformation — even shutting down Trump’s accounts — many of his supporters migrated to platforms like Parler, which are more loosely policed.

To Johnson’s mind, the best way to contain misinformation may be by targeting these inter-platform links, instead of chasing down every article, meme, account or even page that peddles in misinformation — which is ultimately a futile game of Whac-A-Mole. To show this, he and his colleagues calculated a different R-value. As before, their revised R-value describes the contagiousness of a topic, but it also incorporates the effects of dynamic connections in the underlying social networks. Their analysis isn’t yet peer-reviewed, but if it holds up, the formula can provide a mathematical way of understanding how a topic might spread — and, if that topic is rife with misinformation, how society can contain it.

For example, this new R-value suggests that by taking down cross-platform weblinks, social media companies or regulators can slow the transmission of misinformation so that it no longer spreads exponentially. Once regulators identify an online group brimming with misinformation, they can then remove links to other platforms. This needs to be the priority, Johnson says, even more than removing the group pages themselves.

Fact-checking may also help, as some studies suggest it can change minds and even discourage people from sharing misinformation. But the impact of a fact-check is limited, because corrections usually don’t spread as far or as fast as the original misinformation, West says. “Once you get something rolling, it’s real hard to catch up.” And people may not even read a fact-check if it doesn’t conform to their worldview, Quattrociocchi says.

Other approaches, such as improving education and media literacy, and reforming the business model of journalism to prioritize quality over clicks, are all important for controlling misinformation — and, ideally, for preventing conspiracy theories from taking hold in the first place. But misinformation will always exist, and no single action will solve the problem, DiResta says. “It’s more of a problem to be managed like a chronic disease,” she says. “It’s not something you’re going to cure.”

This article is part of  Reset: The Science of Crisis & Recovery , an ongoing series exploring how the world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, its consequences and the way forward. Reset is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine, an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews. Sign up for the newsletter.

Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews


Malaysia, China deepens cooperation in vaccine development

KUALA LUMPUR, 18 NOVEMBER 2020 – Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China have signed an agreement on cooperation in safe and efficacious vaccine development.

The Agreement aims to forge greater collaboration between both countries in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement today, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation Malaysia say the agreement was signed in a virtual ceremony.

The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Khairy Jamaluddin and his Chinese counterpart, HE Wang Zhigang are the signatories.

This particular Agreement will be operationalized under the supervision ofthe High Level Committee, which will be chaired by the two Foreign Ministers; Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Minister of Foreign Affairs and HE Wang Yi, State Councilor of the State Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs of China.

An agreement was reached between both nations on 13 October 2020 to promote pragmatic cooperation and a more coherent approach in addressing post pandemic challenges.

During a bilateral virtual engagement, both Khairy and Wang Zhigang had agreed to increase collaboration in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic through science diplomacy.

PRIORITY ACCESS

The Agreement provides for Malaysia to be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines developed by China, knowledge sharing and expertise as well as facilitate scientific and technological capabilities to advance vaccine development in both countries.

Both countries will also support the participation of their public and private sectors including universities, institutions, societies and organisations in joint collaborative projects.

Both Governments have further agreed that both countries will also support and encourage their enterprises to establish all-round cooperation in vaccine research and development (R&D) and supply.

This Agreement shall remain in force for an initial period of five (5) years and shall be automatically extended for a further period of one (1) year each at a time, upon mutual agreement by both parties.