Saturday, August 29, 2020

Asian countries & the race for COVID-19 Vaccine

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Representative image of Vaccine | Source: Dimitri Houtteman via Unsplash

Our relationship with the new strain of coronavirus is almost 8 months strong now. Countries like the US, Russia, UK, China, India, and many more have already set their brainy scientists in the task of developing a vaccine, turning it into a race which desperately needs a winner, since no one wants this deadly relationship to endure. Several attempts have proved to be successful, especially in countries like Russia, USA, India, and China.

China was the first to start scouring for a vaccine the day WHO declared that the new strain of SARS-CoV, originating in Wuhan-China, has resulted in a pandemic. It is a fierce competitor, especially to the US, as almost 8 of the 24 promising vaccines approved for clinical trials are from China. It used the technology of ‘inactivated vaccine’ which basically means killing the actual virus and using that to create a vaccine. This method is quite useful in treating measles and influenza, thus, increasing the chances of success in the case of COVID-19 as well.

“It’s a tried and true strategy”, Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said  about the inactivated vaccine. One potential vaccine from China-based Sinopharm is already in the phase 3 of trials whereas Sinovac will enter the third phase this month. Moreover, China has permitted Sinovac and Sinopharm to dilute phase 1 and 2 of vaccine trials on humans to hasten the process.

The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, had also been injected with a potential vaccine on July 28, 2020. “I’m going to reveal something undercover: I am injected with one of the vaccines'' Gao Fu said in a webinar hosted by Alibaba Health, an arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant, and Cell Press, an American publisher of scientific journals. However, he did not reveal any more details about how and when exactly he administered himself with the vaccine and ‘hopes’ that the vaccine works.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia | Source: Wikimedia

Elsewhere in Russia, on August 11, 2020, President Vladimir Putin proudly announced that Russia was the first country to grant regulatory approval to their vaccine after carrying out human trials for less than 2 months by the Gamalei Institute in Moscow. Regulatory approval permits vaccination of the masses. Although it has not undergone phase 3 of trials, Russia expects to initiate mass production of the vaccine by the end of this year. Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund states that the vaccine will be called ‘Sputnik V’, named after Sputnik 1, the first satellite launched by Soveit Union which was a euphoric moment for Russia. More recently, China and Russia have joined hands in proceeding with the clinical trials of their vaccines.

These two instances seem to bring a new hope for the future, yet raise alarms and invite scepticism from the experts in the field of public health. One major concern is that without prolonged trials, vaccines should not be authorized for public use. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert based in the US said “I do hope the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccines before they are administering the vaccine to anyone. Because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing is problematic at the very least”. Hence, some people are still in doubt regarding the safety of the product. Putin, however, rubbished such concerns and said "I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks".

An Indian biotechnological company, Bharat Biotech developed ‘Covaxin’ in collaboration with Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), using the mechanism of inactivated vaccine. It was successful in getting approval for human trials which were scheduled to begin in July, 2020. Initial reports stated that it would be ready for mass use by August 15, 2020, which also marked the 73rd Independence Day of India. However, Bharat biotech was clear in letting the public know that phase 1 of the trials are still on-going. ICMR cleared the confusion by stating that it would prepare the results of the phase 1 trials by August 15, 2020, not the actual vaccine for use. Phase 2 of the trials are awaited in September, 2020.

So far, the results of phase 1 trials have been positive as no serious side-effects are observed in the vaccine candidates. “The vaccine has been safe. No adverse effect has been reported. Even the point of injection pain, which is normal in vaccines, has been very mild” said Dr Kushwaha of Prakhar Hospital.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government stated on August 21, 2020, that it will secure adequate vaccine supply to its citizens by cooperating with international bodies and promoting local drug development. Three South Korean companies have started the process of making a vaccine and all are in the clinical trial phase. Bill Gates asserts that the South Korean pharmaceutical company, SK Bioscience, will have around 200 million vaccine doses ready by June 2021.

Japan is jointly collaborating with the UK, France and other European countries to establish a $20 billion fund to buy coronavirus vaccines, with Japan pledging a contribution of $800 million. It’s vaccine program aims to focus on giving primary attention to its medical workers and the elderly people of the country when the first doses of the vaccine are made. The state-funded vaccination program is believed to be officially adopted by Japan in September this year with negotiations with the UK and US based drug makers already in place.

With the race to bring COVID-19 vaccine seemingly coming to a close and it will hopefully be ready by the end of 2020 or early 2021. Till then, the entire world is watching this race with bated breath.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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