India delivers one billion COVID-19 vaccines

India has administered more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, a remarkable feat just months after a second wave of infection killed thousands of people across the country

India delivers one billion COVID-19 vaccines

India has administered more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, a remarkable feat just months after a second wave of infection killed thousands of people across the country.

But as India celebrated passing the milestone on Thursday, some experts warned the pandemic threat was not over in a nation of 1.3 billion, as millions of people are yet to receive any dose at all.

So far, India has fully vaccinated just 30 per cent of its adult population and given one dose to 74 per cent, according to India's Ministry of Health on October 16.

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Those statistics don't include children under 18 who make up 41 per cent of India's population and aren't yet eligible for the jab.

But even as India races to fully vaccinate its adult population, the country is opening up and exporting millions of vaccine doses.

On Friday, the first foreign tourists arrived in the country after an almost 18-month pause, and within the country millions are travelling to celebrate various festivals, with movement expected to increase in November during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

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A young man receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Guwahati, India.

Experts fear interstate travel and the possibility of new variants could lead to a third surge in infection, leaving unvaccinated people and children most at risk.

"It's difficult to predict because the global experience shows that things could turn sour at any point of time," said Dr Anant Bhan, a global health and policy expert from the central Indian city of Bhopal.

"But the trend in India right now is very encouraging. The number of vaccines administered is high and there is no upswing in cases."

Up to eight million doses are being administered on a typical day, but the Indian Medical Association is calling for the government to cease exports until more people are vaccinated at home.

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A medical worker observes patients inside a COVID-19 ward that was set up inside a sports stadium in New Delhi.

Second COVID-19 wave beat vaccines

India has had two waves of COVID-19, one last year before vaccines were available, and the second that began only weeks into the country's ambitious inoculation program earlier this year.

The first doses started rolling out in January to vulnerable citizens and frontline workers, part of a priority group of 300 million people, almost as many people as the entire US population.

At the same time, millions of doses of Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India, were being exported to other countries and the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX.

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A health worker administers a COVID-19 test on the outskirts of Amritsar on May 3.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed India was saving the "entire humanity" from tragedy.

But at home, the world's largest vaccination program was struggling.

"We absolutely faced hiccups in the beginning," Dr J. A. Jayalal, president of the Indian Medical Association told CNN.

"We weren't able to meet our huge demand, and there was a lot of hesitancy, especially among our rural population."

Vaccination rates were still very low as the second COVID-19 wave built in early March, and by the end of the month, the government had stopped vaccine exports to prioritise Indians.

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A woman hugs her son after arriving to receive free oxygen in New Delhi on May 1.

The surge in COVID-19 cases brought panic and despair as millions tried to navigate the country's collapsing health care system.

Some desperately posted for help on social media, hopeful to secure a hospital bed or medical oxygen.

In April, weeks before cases peaked at more than 400,000 a day, vaccine supplies dried up, with at least five out of India's 29 states reporting severe shortages.

Several districts in the western state of Maharashtra had to temporarily suspend vaccination drives, including more than 70 centres in financial capital Mumbai, according to the state's health minister, Rajesh Tope.

The government faced widespread criticism for its handling of the crisis.

For many, Mr Modi underplayed the severity of the pandemic.

Authorities belatedly ramped up the vaccination program, and in August more vaccination centres were opened and education campaigns rolled out in rural areas.

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A health worker administers a COVID-19 test in Siliguri on April 30.

On September 17, Mr Modi's birthday, India set a single-day vaccination record by administering more than 25 million shots.

That week, the country crossed a major milestone by delivering at least one dose to more than 60 per cent of its eligible adult population.

But like many countries, India's vaccination rates aren't evenly spread.

In rural areas, more than 64 per cent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

In urban India, where people live in more crowded cities and towns, the figure is close to 35 per cent, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

India's challenge is to improve rates across the country, and most importantly, to vaccinate its children.

Children next in line

Since the pandemic began, fewer than one per cent of India's COVID-19 deaths were of children under 15, according to the country's Health Ministry.

But several states are taking extra precautions and preparing for a worst-case scenario should a third wave hit.

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People queue for the Covishield vaccine in Siliguri, West Bengal, on October 1.

Hospitals are stockpiling medical oxygen and some states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, are building COVID-19 treatment facilities, especially for children.

"We don't know how the virus will behave, but we cannot afford to be unprepared this time around," Suhas Prabhu, head of the Paediatric Task Force in the western state of Maharashtra, said, according to Reuters.

"No mother should have to run around looking for a hospital bed when her child is sick."

The first vaccine available for Indian children over 12, ZyCov-D, developed by Gujarat-based Cadila Healthcare Ltd, was given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in August.

About 10 million doses of the vaccine would be available per month, India's COVID-19 Task Force Chief, V.K. Paul, told CNN affiliate News18 on Wednesday, adding the government had asked India's National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation for guidance on how to allocate the shot.

"Our priority right now is to continue to explore options for children and adolescents for sure but our thrust is to cover the adult population for which there is no dearth of vaccines anymore," he said.

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Workers prepared beds for a COVID-19 isolation centre that was set up inside a stadium in Srinagar on April 27.

Another vaccine, India's homegrown Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, is expected to be given EUA for children aged two to 18 soon.

However, the World Health Organisation has not yet approved it for adults or children.

The US-developed Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines are also expected to roll out in India this year, although the timeline is not known, and neither have been approved for use on children in India.

Concern about exports

The delivery of one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses is a milestone for India, but experts say it has to do much more to reach its target of inoculating its entire adult population by the end of the year.

Dr Jayalal from the IMA says the country should be aiming to vaccinate at least 10 million people per day.

Then there is the issue of supplies.

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Health workers turned away an ambulance at the main entrance of the Lok Nayayak Jaiprakash Hospital in New Delhi on April 25.

The IMA worries that by resuming vaccine exports, India could find itself in a similar position to last year, when demand vastly outnumbered supply.

"Personally, we are not supporting exports," Dr Jayalal said.

"We are emphasizing that all our population should get the first dose at least before exports resume."

Some one million shots of Covaxin were shipped to Iran last week, the Indian embassy in Tehran confirmed on Twitter.

Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar have also received India-made vaccines in October, according to Indian officials.

Exports are expected to increase significantly in the next few months as domestic stocks build and most of India's population is inoculated with the first dose, officials said on October 14.

Dr Bhan, the global health and policy expert, said while India plays an important role in the world's vaccine supply, a balance must be met.

"We should, of course, offer some of that supply to other countries, especially those where there has been a trickle of supply," he said.

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A relative of a COVID-19 victim was consoled by another during a cremation in Jammu on April 25.

"We have ramped up production and local vaccine coverage is going up. But perhaps this is the time for us to enhance manufacturing in a way that supports local and export needs."

A spokesperson from Bharat Biotech, which manufactures Covaxin, said it is not facing any challenges in manufacturing the shot.

They said it is working towards making one billion doses in India this year by expanding its production capacity across multiple facilities in the country.

SII, which manufactures Covishield, will produce 200 million doses in October, up from 160 million in September, according to the company, after it improved access to raw materials required to make the vaccines.

CNN reached out to the Ministry of Health but did not receive a response.

K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said the country may not achieve full vaccination by the end of the year.

But he added authorities are "drawing comfort" from antibody surveys showing high positivity rates across the country, meaning there is some protection against the virus.

"This is being taken as an indicator of protective immunity acquired either during the Delta-driven second wave or through vaccination even from a single dose," he said.

Indian authorities will be hoping, even without both doses, that protective immunity offers Indians some safety as the long festival season gets underway.

The government hasn't announced a ban on religious gatherings and interstate movement, but it's urging the public to remain vigilant and avoid non-essential travel.

"We are starting to get back on our feet again, but we cannot afford to be complacent," Dr Jayalal said.

"We are requesting the government not to allow mass gatherings. It's definitely a possibility that a third wave will come, and we need to be ready for it."

Source : 9 News More   

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US cop who killed Aussie Justine Ruszczyk re-sentenced after murder conviction overturned

Mohamed Noor was initially convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual US-Australian citizen and yoga teacher who was engaged to be married

US cop who killed Aussie Justine Ruszczyk re-sentenced after murder conviction overturned

A Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed woman after she called 911 to report a possible rape happening behind her home was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison — the maximum allowed for manslaughter after his murder conviction was overturned.

Mohamed Noor was initially convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual US-Australian citizen and yoga teacher who was engaged to be married.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court tossed out Noor's murder conviction and 12 1/2-year sentence last month, saying the third-degree murder statute didn't fit the case because it can only apply when a defendant shows a "generalised indifference to human life," not when the conduct is directed at a particular person, as it was with Damond.

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Judge Kathryn Quaintance, who also presided at Noor's trial, granted prosecutors' request to impose the maximum sentence called for by state sentencing guidelines on Noor's manslaughter conviction, 57 months. In doing so, she brushed aside the defence's request for 41 months, which is the low end of the range. With good behaviour, Noor could be freed on supervised release by next summer.

"Mr. Noor, I am not surprised that you have been a model prisoner," Quaintance said. "However, I do not know any authority that would make that grounds for reducing your sentence." She cited Noor "shooting across the nose of your partner" and endangering others the night of the shooting to hand down the stiffest sentence she could.

Noor, who was fired after he was charged, has already served more than 29 months. In Minnesota, inmates who behave well typically serve two-thirds of their prison sentences and the remainder on supervised release.

Noor testified at his 2019 trial that he and his partner were driving slowly in an alley when a loud bang on their police SUV made him fear for their lives. He said he saw a woman appear at the partner's driver's side window and raise her right arm before he fired a shot from the passenger seat to stop what he thought was a threat.

He was sentenced to 12 1/2 years on the murder count and had been serving most of his time at an out-of-state facility.

Noor's appeal of his murder conviction was watched closely for implications in the case of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted of the same charge in George Floyd's death. After the state Supreme Court overturned Noor's third-degree murder conviction, experts said they expected the same eventual result for Chauvin but that it would likely have little impact because Chauvin was also convicted of a more serious second-degree murder charge in Floyd's death. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years.

Noor's attorneys, Tom Plunkett and Peter Wold, sought 41 months at the re-sentencing, citing Noor's good behaviour behind bars and harsh conditions he faced during many months in solitary, away from the general prison population.

Plunkett said Thursday that much attention has been given to the victim as a kind and giving person — "all true," he said. But Plunkett said there is "similar goodness" in Noor. He said Noor had always sought to help people around him, and recapped Noor's good behaviour while in prison.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy, meanwhile, asked Quaintance to give Noor the longest possible sentence. She said the case "is worse than typical" because of who Noor is. "The most serious sentence this court can impose is required," she said.

Damond's parents, John Ruszczyk and Maryan Heffernan, also asked the judge to impose the longest sentence. In a statement read by prosecutors, they called Damond's death "utterly gratuitous" and said that the Minnesota Supreme Court's overturning of a "poorly written law" didn't change the jury's belief that Noor committed murder.

"Our sorrow is forever, our lives will always endure an emptiness," they said.

The victim's fiancé, Don Damond, gave his statement via Zoom. He started by praising prosecutors for their "sound application of the law" and criticising the state Supreme Court for its reversal, which he said "does not diminish the truth that was uncovered during the trial."

"The truth is Justine should be alive. No amount of justification, embellishment, cover-up, dishonesty or politics will ever change that truth," he said.

But Don Damond also spoke directly to Noor, saying he forgave him and had no doubt Justine also would have forgiven him "for your inability in managing your emotions that night."

n this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Ruszczyk Damond at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.

Noor, wearing a suit and tie and donning a face mask, appeared impassive as the victim's loved ones' statements were read. He later addressed the court briefly, saying, "I'm deeply grateful for Mr. Damond's forgiveness. I will take his advice and be a unifier. Thank you."

Damond's death angered citizens in the US and Australia, and led to the resignation of Minneapolis' police chief. It also led the department to change its policy on body cameras; Noor and his partner didn't have theirs activated when they were investigating Damond's 911 call.

Noor, who is Somali American, was believed to be the first Minnesota officer convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting. Activists who had long called for officers to be held accountable for the deadly use of force applauded the murder conviction but lamented that it came in a case in which the officer is Black and his victim was white. Some questioned whether the case was treated the same as police shootings involving Black victims.

Days after Noor's conviction, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to Damond's family, believed at the time to be the largest settlement stemming from police violence in Minnesota. It was surpassed earlier this year when Minneapolis agreed to a $27 million settlement in Floyd's death just as Chauvin was going on trial.

Source : 9 News More   

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