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Daily Current Affairs 05.06.2022 (Corbevax gets nod as COVID-19 booster dose, Housing scheme lags in urban areas, Uncertainty over Accessible India Campaign deadline, Surrogacy law faces challenge in court, Monkeypox virus mutates at a higher rate, Inhaled vaccine to be more effective, China to not give advanced safety to emperor penguins)

Daily Current Affairs 05.06.2022 (Corbevax gets nod as COVID-19 booster dose, Housing scheme lags in urban areas, Uncertainty over Accessible India Campaign deadline, Surrogacy law faces challenge in court, Monkeypox virus mutates at a higher rate, Inhaled vaccine to be more effective, China to not give advanced safety to emperor penguins)

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1. Corbevax gets nod as COVID-19 booster dose

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved Hyderabad-based Biological E. Limited (BE)’s COVID-19 vaccine Corbevax as a COVID-19 booster dose.

The vaccine can be administered to adults six months after the administration of second dose of Covaxin or Covishield for restricted use in emergency situations.

Corbevax is India’s first approved heterologous COVID booster (when the third dose is different from earlier doses), the company said.

“Recently, BE furnished its clinical trials data to the DCGI, which after a detailed evaluation and deliberations with the Subject Experts Committee, granted approval for administering Corbevax vaccine as a heterologous booster dose to people who have taken two doses of either Covishield or Covaxin,” said the release.

It added that clinical trial data showed that Corbevax booster dose provided significant enhancement in immune response and good safety profile required for an effective booster.

Mahima Datla, managing director, Biological E. Ltd., said: “BE has conducted a multi-centre phase III placebo controlled heterologous booster clinical trial in 416 subjects from 18 to 80 years of age, who were previously vaccinated with two doses of either Covishield or Covaxin at least six months prior to the booster dose.” The study indicated that the booster dose of Corbevax vaccine increased the neutralising antibody titres in the Covishield or Covaxin groups significantly when compared to placebo.

The company added that Corbevax heterologous booster vaccine was well tolerated and safe.

BE hasn’t received WHO’s emergency use listing for the jab. WHO’s EUL procedure assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and is a prerequisite for COVAX vaccine supply. It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Corbevax:

It is India’s indigenous Covid-19 vaccine which is currently undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials.

Working:

  • It is a “recombinant protein sub-unit” vaccine.
    It means it is made up of a specific part of SARS-CoV-2 – the spike protein on the virus’s surface.
  • The spike protein allows the virus to enter the cells in the body so that it can replicate and cause disease.
  • However, when this protein alone is given to the body, it is not expected to be harmful as the rest of the virus is absent.
  • The body is expected to develop an immune response against the injected spike protein.
  • Therefore, when the real virus attempts to infect the body, it will already have an immune response ready that will make it unlikely for the person to fall severely ill.

Difference between Corbevax and Other Covid-19 Vaccines:

  • They are either mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), viral vector vaccines (Covishield and Sputnik V) or inactivated vaccines (Covaxin, Sinovac-CoronaVac and Sinopharm’s Vero Cell).
  • Viral vector and mRNA vaccines use a code to induce our cells to make the spike proteins against which the body has to build immunity.
  • In the case of Corbevax, protein itself is given.
  • mRNA vaccines work by using messenger RNA (mRNA), which is the molecule that essentially puts DNA instructions into action. Inside a cell, mRNA is used as a template to build a protein.
  • Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver important instructions to our cells.
  • Inactivated vaccines include killed particles of the whole SARS-CoV-2 virus, attempting to target the entire structure of the virus.
  • Corbevax, like the mRNA and viral vector Covid-19 vaccines, targets only the spike protein, but in a different way.

Other Types of Vaccine

  • Live-attenuated Vaccines:
  • Live vaccines use a weakened (or attenuated) form of the germ that causes a disease.
  • Because these vaccines are so similar to the natural infection that they help prevent, they create a strong and long-lasting immune response.
  • The limitation of this approach is that these vaccines usually cannot be given to people with weakened immune systems.
  • Live vaccines are used against: Measlesmumps, rubella (MMR combined vaccine), Rotavirus, Smallpox among others.
  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate Vaccines:
  • They use specific pieces of the germ – like its protein, sugar, or capsid (a casing around the germ). They give a very strong immune response.
  • They can also be used on people with weakened immune systems and long-term health problems.
  • These vaccines are used to protect against: Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) disease, Hepatitis BHPV (Human papillomavirus), Pneumococcal disease among others.
  • Toxoid Vaccines:
  • Toxoid vaccines use a toxin made by the germ that causes a disease. Toxoid vaccines are used to protect against: Diphtheria, Tetanus.

2. Housing scheme lags in urban areas

Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has a completion rate of only 50% in urban areas

The Narendra Modi government’s flagship programme, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G), aimed at constructing houses in rural areas, has a completion rate of 67.72% at the end of six years since it began in 2016, in contrast to the urban version of the scheme that started a year ahead but is lagging behind with a 50% completion rate.

The PMAY-G was initiated in November 2016 with a target of completing 2.7 crore houses. So far, according to the database maintained by the Union Rural Development Ministry, 1.8 crore houses have been constructed, which is 67.72% of the target.

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U) was initiated in June 2015 with a target of constructing 1.2 crore homes. According to the latest numbers from the Union Urban Development Ministry, only 60 lakh units have been completed to date.

Delayed by pandemic

Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Manoj Joshi blamed the pandemic for the slowdown in the PMAY-U. “The completion rate for houses sanctioned before the COVID-19 pandemic stood around 80%,” he told The Hindu. In urban areas, issues such as a lack of clear titles and other land documents tend to crop up, he added. The pandemic has sharply hit the completion rates in the PMAY-G too. According to the Rural Development Ministry’s data for the financial year 2021-22, only seven lakh houses were constructed as opposed to the pre-pandemic financial year of 2019-20, when 49 lakh were completed.

Six States account for 70% of the target units — West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Out of them only two States — Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — have a completion rate above the national average.

The PMAY-G brings huge political dividends for the BJP-led government at the Centre, and is the reason for a conflict between the Centre and the States.

Recently, the Centre withheld funds for the scheme in two States ruled by BJP rivals — West Bengal and Chhattisgarh. The Centre withheld the funds to West Bengal for the ongoing financial year following complaints from BJP MPs that the Mamata Banerjee government was repackaging the scheme as the “Bangla Awas Yojana”.

Funds for Chhattisgarh were withheld because the State failed to provide its share of contribution for the scheme; the Centre pays 60% and the States have to bear 40% of the cost.

While Chhattisgarh accepts that it defaulted on the payment because of a lack of funds, the West Bengal government has taken a more strident stand.

“This is nothing but an economic blockade. The Centre itself repackaged an existing scheme — the Indira Awas Yojana as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Assuming but not admitting that the Trinamool Congress government changed the name of the scheme The revenue in the Central pool also comes from the States,” party spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Sukendu Sekhar Ray said.

‘Unable to get loan’

Chhattisgarh Minister T.S. Singh Deo said the State was unable to get a loan to fund its share. “On Thursday, we completed the formalities of a loan from Punjab National Bank worth ₹762 crore to cover our contribution for the scheme,” Mr. Deo said.

The completion rate for PMAY-G in Chhattisgarh is 67%.

Out of the six States accounting for 70% of the target units, Bihar has one of the lowest completion rates at 59.4%.

“Bihar has 16 lakh houses pending from the previous Indira Awas Yojana scheme. It was decided that the backlog will be cleared before taking up construction under the PMAY-G scheme, which is why their numbers are low,” an official said.

Housing For All Scheme

The Housing for All scheme was an initiative of the Indian government to establish housing facilities for slum dwellers. It was introduced by the Indian government’s Ministry of Housing and urban poverty Alleviation. This is also known as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. It is for both people residing in urban and rural areas that fulfill certain criteria.

How to apply for PMAY Scheme?

To apply for the PMAY scheme, you can follow the step mentioned below:

  1. Got to the homepage of the PMAY (pmaymis.gov.in)
  2. Click on the Citizenship Assessment section on the top navigation bar.
  3. Select the relevant option as required
  4. Enter the Aadhar number and name
  5. You will be redirected to the application page. Fill and save the application.
  6. Later, you can check the status of the application on the main website.

Who are eligible for PMAY scheme?

Eligibility for PMAY scheme are mentioned below:

  1. The maximum age limit of the beneficiary is 70 years.
  2. The beneficiary should have a family that comprises of husband, wife and unmarried children.
  3. The beneficiary should not own a Pucca House either in their names or in the name of any member of the family in any state of India.
  4. The annual income should be between 3 lakhs to 6 lakhs if the beneficiary is from LIG (Low Income Group).
  5. Membership of one adult female member of the family is mandatory in ownership of the house.

3. Uncertainty over Accessible India Campaign deadline

Cut-off for making government buildings, public transport, websites accessible for Persons with Disabilities was June 2022

With its deadline of June 2022 almost up, the status of targets under the Accessible India Campaign (AIC) is likely to be discussed during a meeting of the Central Advisory Board on Disability later this month, according to Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry sources.

A Board was likely to assess the progress made by the States so far and the possibility of an extension, an official of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) said.

Another official said the meeting of the Board was scheduled for June 24.

The campaign, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 3, 2015, aimed at making a proportion of government buildings, transport and websites accessible for persons with disabilities (PwD) by deadlines in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Deadline extended

However, the deadline was extended to March 2020 and then again to June 2022.

The DEPwD had written to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories recently asking about the progress made on the various targets and received a reply only from Tamil Nadu as of this week, the department official said.

Tamil Nadu had asked for an extension of a year to complete the targets, the official added. Another reminder would be sent to the States soon and the replies would be presented before the board, the official said. Incidentally, the Board, which is chaired by the Social Justice Minister and is required to meet once every six months by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, has not had a meeting since November 2020.

Delay due to COVID-19

The official attributed the delay to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a reply by the Ministry in the Rajya Sabha in February, 48.5% of State government buildings had been made accessible, almost at the target of 50%. Progress on public transport was less, with only 8.73% of buses fully accessible as against the target of 25%. All 35 international airports were accessible and all A and B category railway stations too, the data showed.

During meetings with the States on November 10 and 11, 2021, the DEPwD had “raised concerns about the slow pace of implementation of AIC and emphasised the need of concrete changes in the ecosystem of public infrastructure to make it accessible for Divyangjan,” the minutes of the meeting read.

4. Surrogacy law faces challenge in court

Its provisions deny choice and privacy and are discriminatory, say petitioners

The trauma and fatigue of her first pregnancy coinciding with the second wave of COVID-19 last year, juggling multiple responsibilities as a new mother and a desire to resume her practice as a psychologist, are the reasons why a 31-year-old married woman wishes to “outsource” the birth of her second child and “live freely”.

She has approached the Delhi High Court, along with another male petitioner, to question why marital status, age or gender should be the criteria for prohibiting someone from commissioning a surrogacy.

Under the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, 2021 a married couple can opt for surrogacy only on medical grounds. The law defines a couple as a married Indian “man and woman” and prescribes an age band of 23 to 50 for the woman and 26 to 55 for the man to opt for surrogacy.

The couple should not have a child of their own. Though the law allows a single woman to choose surrogacy, she has to be a widow or a divorcee between the age of 35 and 45. Single men are not eligible.

The woman petitioner, who does not want to be identified, and Delhi-based lawyer Karan Balraj Mehta, who is single, have challenged in the court the surrogacy law and the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act, 2021 which provides a regulatory framework for surrogacy.

They have also challenged the ban on commercial surrogacy. Last week, the court sought a response from the Centre to their petition.

“My first pregnancy was not a cakewalk. No pregnancy is, but mine came after a miscarriage and during COVID-19 so it was a particularly stressful and traumatic time for me, and therefore, if I want a second child I would rather outsource it,” the petitioner told The Hindu on the phone. The mother of a nine-month-old says women like her who are in a marriage and medically fit should also be allowed the option of surrogacy.

She believes that a second child is “necessary for the well-being of the first child”, but the decision for her to have one is a “hard no” because the “thought of a second pregnancy scares me” and “to navigate my pregnancy, my first child, my house is just not conceivable at the moment”.

She also does not want to put off her career any more. “My immediate concern is to get back to work, but if I have to go through the rigmarole of pregnancy again, you have to let go of a lot of things. ”

Denial of choice

What agitates her is the denial of choice under the law.

“We should be able to live the way we want, have the choice to make the choices we want to. Such decisions should not be contingent on medical situation, marital status or sexuality. If you want to have a biological child, you should have the option to do it via surrogacy to live freely,” she says.

Her co-petitioner, who is a 32-year-old single man, says that the two laws deny the “freedom given to us under the Constitution to exercise our reproductive choice”.

“ Although I am not married yet, I wish to have the choice irrespective. These laws discriminate against men like me,” he says. He feels that perhaps his profession which exposes him to cases of marital discord could have played a role in his decision.

Since the news of his petition broke, he has been inundated with messages from all over the country from single men who have similar stories and say they are watching the case with bated breath. He says that under the current law, there is hardly any privacy.

“I will obviously not go to my sister or my aunt, which means I have to go looking for the right person in my extended family but discussing such an issue can be awkward.”

The law requires that the surrogate mother should be genetically related to those seeking a child as it permits only altruistic surrogacy .

Mr. Balraj says he has been interested in surrogacy for a long time.

But his 82-year-old grandmother is a little worried about such reproductive choices. “What will happen to marriages,” she wonders.

Surrogacy

  • Surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman (the surrogate) agrees to carry and give birth to a child on behalf of another person or couple (the intended parent/s).
    • A surrogate, sometimes also called a gestational carrier, is a woman who conceives, carries and gives birth to a child for another person or couple (intended parent/s).
  • Altruistic surrogacy:
    • It involves no monetary compensation to the surrogate mother other than the medical expenses and insurance coverage during the pregnancy.
  • Commercial surrogacy:
    • It includes surrogacy or its related procedures undertaken for a monetary benefit or reward (in cash or kind) exceeding the basic medical expenses and insurance coverage.

Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, 2021

  • Provisions:
    • Under the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, 2021, a woman who is a widow or a divorcee between the age of 35 to 45 years or a couple, defined as a legally married woman and man, can avail of surrogacy if they have a medical condition necessitating this option.
    • It also bans commercial surrogacy, which is punishable with a jail term of 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakhs.
    • The law allows only altruistic surrogacy where no money exchanges hands and where a surrogate mother is genetically related to those seeking a child.
  • Challenges:
    • Exploitation of the Surrogate and the Child:
      • One could argue that the state must stop the exploitation of poor women under surrogacy and protect the child’s right to be born. However, the current Act fails to balance these two interests.
    • Reinforces Patriarchal Norms:
      • The Act reinforces traditional patriarchal norms of our society that attributes no economic value to women’s work and, directly affecting the fundamental rights of the women to reproduce under Article 21 of the constitution.
    • Denies Legitimate income to Surrogates:
      • Banning commercial surrogacy also denies a legitimate source of income of the surrogates, further limiting the number of women willingly to surrogate.
      • Overall, this step indirectly denies children to the couples choosing to embrace parenthood.
    • Emotional Complications:
      • In altruistic surrogacy, a friend or relative as a surrogate mother may lead to emotional complications not only for the intending parents but also for the surrogate child as there is great deal of risking the relationship in the course of surrogacy period and post birth.
      • Altruistic surrogacy also limits the option of the intending couple in choosing a surrogate mother as very limited relatives will be ready to undergo the process.
    • No Third-Party Involvement:
      • In an altruistic surrogacy, there is no third-party involvement.
      • A third-party involvement ensures that the intended couple will bear and support the medical and other miscellaneous expenses during the surrogacy process.
      • Overall, a third party helps both the intended couple and the surrogate mother navigate through the complex process, which may not be possible in the case of altruistic surrogacy.

Assisted Reproductive Technology

  • ART is used to treat infertility. It includes fertility treatments that handle both a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm. It works by removing eggs from a woman’s body and mixing them with sperm to make embryos. The embryos are then put back in the woman’s body.
    • In Vitro fertilization (IVF) is the most common and effective type of ART.
    • ART procedures sometimes use donor eggs, donor sperm, or previously frozen embryos. It may also involve a surrogate carrier.
  • Legal Provisions:
    • The ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology Act) Regulation 2021 provides a system for the implementation of the law on surrogacy by setting up of the National Assisted Reproductive Technology and Surrogacy Board.
    • The Act aims at the regulation and supervision of ART clinics and assisted reproductive technology banks, prevention of misuse, and safe and ethical practice of ART services.
  • Shortcomings:
    • Exclusion of Unmarried and Hetrosexual Couples:
      • The Act excludes unmarried men, divorced men, widowed men, unmarried yet cohabiting heterosexual couples, trans persons and homosexual couples (whether married or cohabiting) from availing ART services.
      • This exclusion is relevant as the Surrogacy Act also excludes above said persons from taking recourse to surrogacy as a method of reproduction.
    • Reduces the Reproductive Choices:
      • The Act is also limited to those commissioning couples who are infertile – those who have been unable to conceive after one year of unprotected coitus. Thus, it is limited in its application and significantly reduces the reproductive choices of those excluded.
    • Unregulated Prices:
      • The prices of the services are not regulated; this can certainly be remedied with simple directives.

5. Monkeypox virus mutates at a higher rate

The mutation pattern does not conclusively prove sustained human-to-human transmission

As of June 1, 2022 over 550 lab-confirmed monkeypox cases have been reported from 30 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said at a press briefing.

These countries are predominantly in Europe and North America, which are not endemic for monkeypox virus.

With 190 cases as on May 30, the outbreak in the U.K. is the largest so far, with Spain (132 cases) and Portugal (132 cases) being the other countries with a large number of monkeypox cases.

The WHO once again stressed that the large number of cases detected in more than two dozen countries within a short time interval suggests that there “may have been undetected transmission for some time”.

The cases have predominantly been reported among men who have sex with men presenting with symptoms at sexual health clinics.

The two rave parties in Belgium and Portugal have turned out to be super-spreader events. In a statement released on May 31, 2022 the European Union underlined the link between these parties and cases.

It said, “Multiple countries have reported cases which appear to be linked to events taking place in Spain (Madrid and the Canary Islands) and Belgium (Antwerp).”

However, cases have been reported in people with no epidemiological link to the rave parties, travel history to countries in Africa or even contact with other people with infection, the statement noted.

Highly speculative

Though the first case that was detected on May 7, 2022 in the U.K. was in a person who had just returned from Nigeria, samples of at least two people, one in Canada and another in Portugal, that were collected prior to the return of the U.K. person had tested positive for monkeypox virus.

The notion that virus may have been imported from Nigeria is “highly speculative”, Christian Happi from Nigeria’s African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases told Science. 

Epidemiologist Ifedayo Adetifa, head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control also told Science that “there’s too much emphasis for whatever reasons in Western capitals and news media about trying to hold somebody responsible for a particular outbreak. We don’t think those narratives are helpful”.

So far in 2022, seven African countries have reported 1,392 suspected and 44 confirmed monkeypox cases to the WHO, which are slightly fewer than half of cases reported last year.

47 mutations 

Meanwhile, Dr. Andrew Rambaut from the University of Edinburgh found 47 mutations in the virus genome based on an analysis of the sequences from the current outbreak outside Africa and comparing it with the earlier genomes from samples from patients in 2017-19 in Singapore, Israel, Nigeria and the U.K.

“Forty-seven substitutions in the space of three-four years is an unexpectedly large number. As MPXV [monkeypox virus] is considered a zoonotic virus with limited human-to-human transmission, this long branch may be evidence of adaptation to humans allowing for the sustained transmission that is now observed,” he said in virological.org.

But Dr. Vinod Scaria, a senior scientist at Delhi’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), says the mutation rate of monkeypox virus has not been well established.

“The number (about two per year) comes from the limited data from other poxviruses which have been studied,” he explains. “The inaccuracies also stem from the fact that monkeypox virus is primarily a zoonotic disease and genomes have not previously come from sustained human-human transmission in the past.”

About the 47 mutations that appear in the genomes now being sequenced, he says, “While the number of mutations look significantly large from what is expected, this could mean many things — the mutation rate estimates for monkeypox could be different for different hosts (animals vs humans), and many intermediate paths of evolution and their representatives have not been sequenced to accurately ascertain the evolutionary path of these specific isolates.”

Sustained transmission? 

According to Dr. Rambaut, many of the mutations arise due to the action of a particular enzyme that is present in the host to prevent the virus from multiplying. Based on the mutation pattern seen in the genome of the virus isolated from people since 2017 is “indicative of replication in humans”, says Dr. Rambaut. And the “inheritance of the specific changes that occurred between 2017 and 2018, and then in the viruses from 2022 means that there has been sustained human-to-human transmission since at least 2017”.

However, Dr. Scaria is not convinced that the presence of the mutation pattern is indicative of sustained human-to-human transmission.

He says, “The evidence suggests many of the mutations match the profile of a unique set of enzymes. Whether this was in the primary host, an unknown intermediate host or in humans is still unknown and something difficult to conclusively prove with the data at hand, as we do not have genomes which span the period between the last major outbreak to present.”

While the presence of 47 mutations does indicate that the monkeypox virus mutates at a much higher rate than the previously believed rate of two-three mutations per year, the mutations do not necessarily suggest that the monkeypox virus has become more transmissible, says Dr. Scaria. 

“The mutations we see do not change the amino acids in protein. All adaptations to evolutionary pressure typically happen due to changes in the amino acid, which we don’t see here. This suggests that the mutations we see are relics of the enzyme action and not necessarily an evolutionary process or adaptations of the virus,” Dr. Scaria explains.

“Also, unlike the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which relies on a particular receptor to gain entry into cells, the monkeypox viruses don’t rely on receptors for cell entry. So a few mutations are unlikely to significantly increase infectivity,” he added.

But the presence of 47 mutations in the virus does point to sustained transmission in the last four-five years.

“But we do not know for sure if the virus collected these mutations in humans or in animals. We do not have genomes of the virus sequenced at intermediate time periods between 2017 and 2022, and so cannot say for sure if the sustained transmission has been in humans,” he says.

Higher rate

But the large collection of mutations does clearly suggest that the earlier notion of a mutation rate of two-three per year for monkeypox virus is a gross underestimation. The monkeypox virus indeed mutates at a higher rate than what was earlier assumed.

The 47 mutations seen in the genome sequence does indicate that the virus could have collected these mutations in a short period of time.

“This change in mutation pattern likely marks the jump from the original host to humans or an intermediate host where a host enzyme (maybe APOBEC3) might mutate the genome. The rate of change increased 10-20 fold and is now around one change per month,” Dr. Richard Neher from the University of Basel tweeted. “We don’t know what these mutations do. The great majority of them are likely inconsequential or deleterious to the virus and we have no evidence of viral adaptation. But they will help us tell apart different clusters of the outbreak of monkeypox and understand how the virus spreads.”

6. Inhaled vaccine to be more effective

Researchers in Toronto are conducting human trials of the vaccine

A multidisciplinary team from the McMaster University, Toronto is working to make inhaled vaccines a reality.

Fiona Smaill, Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, and a part of the multidisciplinary team, said that they are testing a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine that the earlier research in animals suggests will last longer, will be more effective and stand up well to future variants of the virus.

“Before COVID-19 emerged, our team of researchers at McMaster University were working to develop a new inhaled form of vaccine delivery that could finally take on one of the most challenging respiratory infections —tuberculosis— still a scourge in low-and middle-income countries and in remote areas across the globe. In Canada, it disproportionately affects people living in Inuit Nunangat and First Nations living on reserve,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, being truly global, created a huge demand for vaccines, such as the now-familiar ones from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

These vaccines have got us through the immediate crisis, as the COVID-19 virus was spreading rapidly, and have served us well, preventing serious illness and death in countries where vaccines were available.

“These vaccines represent great strides, but they are not as effective in all populations, nor are they as robust against new variants as they are against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” she said.

She added that after decades of work, the progress made was steady, but slow.

She added that her team’s research suggests that the next-generation COVID-19 vaccine that they are currently testing will be more effective for longer use, and will protect against new variants.

“We are conducting human trials of our new COVID-19 vaccine. The phase one clinical study is evaluating safety of the vaccine, as well as testing for evidence of immune responses in blood and the lungs. Our new multivalent vaccine, manufactured for our clinical trial in the Robert E. Fitzhenry Vector Laboratory, targets multiple viral proteins, both the spike protein on the surface and also the proteins inside the virus,” she said.

7. China to not give advanced safety to emperor penguins

Beijing to consider implications of upgraded protection

China has blocked efforts to step up protection of emperor penguins that are increasingly threatened by the effects global warming is having on their natural habitat in Antarctica, officials said on Friday.

Dozens of countries had backed giving the world’s largest penguins special protection status at a 10-day meeting in Berlin of parties to the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty was forged in 1959 to ensure that the continent remains the preserve of science, and free of arms.

“An overwhelming majority of parties held the opinion that there is sufficient scientific evidence for the species to be put under the special protection,” the German government, which hosted the May 22-June 2 meeting, said in a statement.

While a formal decision was “blocked by one party,” it said that most countries attending the meeting planned nevertheless to put in place national measures to protect emperor penguins.

Chinese delegates attending the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Beijing had made clear that it wanted more time to consider the implications of upgrading the protection status of the penguins.

Russia, which like Ukraine is active in Antarctica, was represented at the meeting by an official from its embassy in Berlin, with other delegates participating remotely by video link.

Despite differences with Beijing over the penguins and the deep diplomatic discord between Moscow and the West over Ukraine, the meeting was able to adopt by consensus a package of conservation measures for Antarctica.

These included moves to designate four new protected areas in the future and limit tourism to the frozen continent.

Emperor penguin

  • Scientific name: Aptenodytes forsteri.
  • Wild Emperor penguins are only found in Antarctica.
  • It is the largest member of the penguin order (Sphenisciformes), which is known for its stately demeanor and black-and-white coloration.
  • It is also the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species.
  • Emperor penguins breed exclusively in Antarctica during winter.
  • The species gathers together into approximately 50 colonies that settle on ice shelves and landfast ice along the coastline of Antarctica.
  • Its diet consists primarily of fish, but also includes crustaceans, such as krill, and cephalopods, such as squid.
  • They endure temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius and wind speeds approaching 144 kilometers per hour by huddling together in groups of several thousand birds.
  • But they can’t survive without sufficient sea ice.
  • The penguins breed on fast ice, which is sea ice attached to land.
  • Sea ice is also important for resting, during their annual moult and to escape from predators.
  • Emperor penguins are capable of diving to depths of approximately 550 metres (1,800 feet) in search of food; they are the world’s deepest-diving birds.
  • It has several adaptations to facilitate this, including an unusually structured haemoglobin to allow it to function at low oxygen levels, solid bones, the ability to reduce its metabolism and shut down non-essential organ functions.
  • The greatest threat emperor penguins face is climate change.
  • IUCN Conservation status: Near threatened.
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