The UK’s first vaccinations will be given next week
In a world first, the UK granted emergency approval for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday. The country’s hospitals have already started emailing staff to notify them of vaccination appointments. The first doses will be given on Monday at 7 a.m. in London.
Pfizer plans to ship 800,000 cans to the UK in the coming days, with a total of 40 million on orders. Each patient needs two doses one month apart.
Frontline hospital workers may be among the first to receive the vaccine, followed by nursing home residents and workers. People older than 80; and other health and social workers.
One of the final hurdles for drug manufacturers is to test the vaccine on children, who have more active immune systems than adults and could have stronger reactions.
The growing impact of a hotter planet
In an annual report on climate change and health published by The Lancet, authors around the world say global warming has already resulted in a 50 percent increase in heat-related deaths of people over 65, particularly in Japan, China, India and parts of Europe.
In the US, rising temperatures, combined with pollution and forest fires, threaten the health of Americans with fatal consequences for many elderly people. The authors advocated a rapid transition to a green economy and called on legislators to take aggressive action against gas warming over the next five years. “Climate protection is a recipe for health,” one of the authors told reporters.
Iran reacts to the murder of a top scientist
In response to the assassination of its leading nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran enacted law on Wednesday that provided for an immediate increase in its uranium enrichment to levels closer to weapons-grade fuel. The move also requires expulsion of international nuclear inspectors if US sanctions are not lifted by early February.
Officials in Iran this week attempted to rewrite the murder as a science fiction episode as competing intelligence agencies evaded the blame for a tremendous security loss. Israel had executed Mr Fakhrizadeh entirely by remote control, a report suggested, spraying bullets from an automated machine gun propped up in a parked Nissan without a single assassin on site.
Iranian officials have vowed to avenge the murder of Mr. Fakhrizadeh. The prospect of a counter-attack against Israel or the West threatens to hamper efforts by the new government of Biden to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
Connected: Israel moved closer to yet another early election, the fourth in two years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners joined the opposition in a preliminary vote to overthrow the unity government.
If you have 5 minutes, it’s worth it
A 1,020 year old store survived the pandemic
Ichiwa, a small cedar shop next to a shrine in Kyoto, Japan, has been serving grilled rice flour cakes since the year 1000 – during wars, epidemics, natural disasters, and the rise and fall of empires.
Now that the coronavirus is devastating much of the global economy, the family who run the store are among the few business owners who are not concerned about their finances. Part of the reason we keep on going, said owner Naomi Hasegawa, is that we all hate the idea of being the one to let it go.
The following also happens
Soccer: Despite repeated cases of inappropriate interactions with young prospects, the French Football Federation allowed a man to move from job to job calmly and maintained a highly valued certificate from the federation that helped him continue working in the sport.
Afghan peace talks: The Afghan government and the Taliban negotiators in Qatar have agreed on how the peace negotiations should continue. The next phase of talks will most likely focus on a political roadmap and a long-term nationwide ceasefire.
Legalization of cannabis: A United Nations commission voted in a highly anticipated decision to remove marijuana for medical purposes from a category of the world’s most dangerous drugs.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong: Democracy-friendly activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were sent to jail last year for their roles in an anti-government demonstration.
Moon landing: China released video footage on Wednesday showing the arrival of its Chang’e-5 robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface. You can see it here.
Laboratory meat: Singapore approved a laboratory-grown meat product from a US start-up, becoming the first company in the world to receive government approval.
Snapshot: Above kimchi in a market in Seoul, South Korea, in November. A spit rages on social media between China and South Korea after a Chinese state tabloid warned that China has set a global standard for pickled vegetables.
Lived life: Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the conservative former president of France who struggled to change his traditional, politically polarized country over a period of seven years, died on Wednesday at the age of 94 from the effects of Covid-19.
What we read: Vox’s “The Goods” newsletter, a twice-weekly thorough guide to what we are buying and why we are buying it. “I read everyone,” says Taylor Lorenz, a technology reporter at the Styles desk. She especially likes the TikTok Tuesday Edition by Vox reporter Rebecca Jennings.
Now a break from the news
Clock: TikTok users have created a musical version of the animated Disney film “Ratatouille” that plays in lush 60-second increments. Good Appetite!
Whether you’re looking for a project or just want to see something, At Home has a comprehensive collection of ideas for what to do while staying safe at home.
And now for the background story about …
Why the UK first approved a vaccine
Benjamin Mueller, a London-based correspondent, explains what prompted the UK to quickly approve the vaccine, made by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Why did the UK approve a vaccine before the US?
The two countries study vaccines differently. Rather than accepting the results of the vaccine manufacturers as regulators in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, American regulators are carefully re-analyzing the raw data from the studies to validate the results.
To speed up the process, the UK drug and health products regulator had asked their experts to review the available vaccine data and separate teams were working in parallel on different parts of the process rather than waiting for another to complete. The question of whether she was moving in a hurry or whether the US was wasting valuable time nonetheless sparked a lively debate among scholars and industry experts on Wednesday.
What about the rest of Europe?
The UK has left the European Union’s regulatory orbit to get early approval for a vaccine as the bloc gives countries emergency powers in the event of a pandemic. Once the UK separates from the EU on December 31st, those vaccine-only powers will become permanent.
Other EU countries are waiting for the Union’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency, to approve a vaccine, which will not happen until December 29th.
Will UK approval affect delivery of the vaccine by other countries?
Pfizer executives said Wednesday they had heard from other countries that they wanted to speed up their own approval processes in the face of UK approval.
The UK decision offered little relief to poorer countries that could not afford to buy supplies in advance and may struggle to pay for both the vaccines and the exceptional requirements for their distribution.
Thank you for joining me for today’s briefing. Until next time.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach Natasha and the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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