Indian American Scientist Named Primary Contributor To Invention Of Moderna’s Covid Vaccine

An Indian American scientist has been identified by Moderna as the primary contributor to its Covid-19 vaccine. A filing by the company for its patent application for the coronavirus vaccine using the revolutionary RNA technique listed Pune-educated bioinformatics scientist Mihir Metkar as the “first named inventor,” a designation that usually recognizes the primary contributor to the invention.

He is also listed as one of the inventors in two other Covid-19 vaccine patent applications by Moderna to the U.S. Patent Office. Moderna is of the new class of vaccines that use what is called messenger RNA (mRNA) that cause the body to create some proteins similar to that in the Covid-19 virus and trigger the body’s immune system to make antibodies that will fight the coronavirus if it invades the body. (Conventional vaccines use either dead viruses or parts of them or a modified version of the gene of a different virus.)

Metkar’s identification as the “first named inventor” is in the document filed by Moderna to dispute the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health assertion that its scientists should also be credited as inventors of the vaccine, which was developed in collaboration with it and with $1.53 billion provided by the administration of former President Donald Trump under the Operation Warp Speed program to quickly produce vaccines.

Vladimir Presnyak and Guillaume Stewart-Jones are listed after him in the original application for the patent. Metkar received his MSc degree from the Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at the Savitribai Phule Pune University and worked at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune as a project assistant before coming to the United States, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He did his Ph.D. at the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and worked there as a post-doctoral fellow, before joining Moderna in 2018, the profile said. In a separate patent filing, Moderna listed Sunny Himansu, who has an MBBS degree, as one of the two inventors of the Betacoronavirus Vaccine.

Moderna’s vaccine is one of the two main vaccines in the U.S. and about 164 million doses of it have been given so far in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, millions of people have been vaccinated in Europe and elsewhere with the Moderna vaccine.

The other main vaccine used in the U.S. is the Pfizer-Biontech, which was developed in Germany and uses mRNA. A third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is also used in the U.S. It was developed by J&J’s Jansen Pharmaceutical, whose global head of research and development is Mathai Mammen.

The patent document naming Metkar as the “first named inventor” was filed on behalf of Moderna by an intellectual property law firm asserting that the three NIH scientists who collaborated with them should not be considered co-inventors as the NIH has asked.

If the NIH scientists are recognized as co-inventors, the NIH and the government may be entitled to receive a share of royalties from the use of the patents and also be able to allow others to make the vaccine.

An NGO, Public Citizen, has pointed out in a letter to the head of the NIH that co-ownership of the patent “can empower the U.S. government to authorize” other manufacturers around the world to use some of the patents to make the vaccine. The group said that with “huge gaps in global vaccine access” the need for the government to exercise control over the vaccine technology “only grows more urgent.”

India Joins Allies To Push For UNSC Reforms

United Nations– India and its three allies in the quest for Security Council reform have called for a determined push for the adoption of a text for conducting the negotiations and to set a time-frame for the changes.The foreign ministers of the G4 group “expressed their strong determination to work towards launching text-based negotiations without further delay in the IGN (Intergovernmental Negotiations), on the basis of a single document, with a view to its adoption in the General Assembly,” according to their joint statement issued after a meeting on Wednesday.

They also “decided to intensify dialogue with all interested Member States, including other reform-minded countries and groups, in order to seek concrete outcomes in a definite time-frame,” the statement said. The reform process known as the Intergovernmental Negotiaitons (IGN) has been crippled by its failure to adopt a negotiating text on which to base the discussions and proceed.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Foreign Ministers Carlos Alberto Franco Franca of Brazil, Heiko Maas of Germany and Motegi Toshimitsu of Japan met on the sidelines of the high-level meeting of the Assembly to evaluate the progress of the negotiations for reforms and map out future strategy.

The four countries work together for reforming the Security Council and support each other for permanent seats on a reformed body. A small group of countries known as United for Consensus (UfC) has blocked the IGN from adopting a negotiating text so the reform process can proceed. The UfC is led by Italy and includes Pakistan.

The Security Council last underwent changes in 1965 and since then the membership of the UN has increased from 117 to 193 with many of the new members coming from Africa, where the UN has most peacekeeping operations. The four ministers “expressed their strong support to the Common African Position (CAP) as enshrined in the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration” of the African Union.

The documents call for expanding the Council to give African nations two permanent seats.

The ministers said that it was essential “to reform the Security Council through an expansion of both categories, permanent and non-permanent seats, to enable the Security Council to better deal with the ever-complex and evolving challenges to the maintenance of international peace and security, and thereby to carry out its duties more effectively.”

The permanent membership of the Council is stuck at five — giving the leaders of the winning side in World War II a grip on its agenda — often leading to its immobilisation because of their veto powers. (IANS)

Biden, Harris Pledge To Work With Asians On Immigration Reforms

US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have pledged to work with the Asian community on immigration reforms, according to the White House. Last weekday, the two leaders told representatives of the Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community that they supported providing a path to citizenship for essential workers, farm labour, people from nations like Nepal and Myanmar who are given temporary protection status against deportation because of unsettled conditions in their home countries, and those who were brought to the US illegally when they were children.

Biden and Harris said they backed achieving this by using the budget process known to get the necessary legislation for it through the Senate, where the Democrats do not have the 60 votes needed for passing a separate law for it.

But their plan for urgent action through the budget process does not seem to cover the several thousands of Indian children who came to the country legally and followed the immigration rules and are threatened with deportation as soon as they turn 21 even while their parents are still legally waiting for their green cards or permanent immigrant status.

The White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday, July 5, announced the new comprehensive immigration bill that US President Joe Biden has proposed, and about the administration’s move on ‘documented dreamers’ including children of H1B visa holders.

Neil Makhija, the executive director of Indian American Impact, told reporters that he “raised issues of immigration, voting rights and specifically green card backlog in context of explaining how country caps are remnants of exclusionary laws in the past, particularly enacted in the 20s.”

Asked at her briefing about the protection for these children, Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki said that helping them was not in the current legislative effort through the budget legislation. “It’s not in the current, I think it’s not in the current discussions, but it is something the President would like to address.”

Psaki added that it is something that Biden “has proposed addressing in a comprehensive immigration bill”, and supports giving these children protection.

While the parents stay here on their H1-B or H4 visas and wait for green cards, their children will not be eligible to continue on their H-4 visas as soon as they turn 21 and can be deported.

This affects Indians because the wait for green cards is more than decade, a period long enough for many children to turn 21.

Ironically, if they had come in illegally or failed to follow the immigration laws, they would have received special consideration from the Democrats who give priority to illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal has reported quoting a State Department official that 100,000 green cards meant for those eligible because of their work status will go to waste if they are not distributed by the end of September.

Most of those affected will be Indians working in the tech sector “who have been waiting to become permanent residents in the US and are watching a prime opportunity to win a green card slip away”, the newspaper said.

The Journal said that this was because the government was not able to handle the green card applications because of backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the green cards not handed out by the end of next month will expire.

The newspaper pointed out that the the Democrats are trying to make six million people illegally in the country eligible for green cards through their $3.5-million budget package they are trying to get Congress to pass.

The loss of the 100,000 green cards would affect those who came to the country legally and have abided by the immigration laws. (IANS)

S. Jaishankar Discusses Covid Vaccines, Terrorism At UN

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has offered India’s support to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his re-election during a meeting in New York at which they discussed a range of issues from Covid-19 vaccines to terrorism.In a tweet after the meeting May 25, Jaishankar said that he told Guterres that India “values” his leadership and conveyed its support for his election to a second term. The global crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic featured prominently in their discussions.

Jaishankar tweeted that they emphasized the importance of finding “urgent and effective global vaccine solutions” and the critical need to ramp up the vaccine supply chain to “ensure greater production and fairer distribution.”With India set to assume the rotating presidency of the Security Council in August, their meeting covered a wide range of issues.In a series of tweets on the meeting, Jaishankar said that they talked about “regional challenges in India’s neighborhood” and “shared our concerns about ensuring that the gains of the last two decades in Afghanistan are adequately protected.”

U.S. President Joe Biden is pulling out the nation’s troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year deployment even as terrorist activities continue raising fears of regional instability.In his tweets Jaishankar said, “Countering terrorism and radicalization remain priorities for the entire region.”Jaishankar said that he “highlighted India’s constructive role” in the Security Council and “conveyed priorities of our presidency in August.” He added, “Maritime security and technology for peacekeeping address the needs of the day.”

A spokesperson for India’s UN Mission said that India planned to hold high-level meetings on those topics during its presidency. Jaishankar also noted that Guterres expressed “appreciation of India’s peacekeeping operations including at Goma, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) recently.”India peacekeepers based in Goma have been involved in rescue operations after the eruption of the Mount Nayargongo volcano displaced several thousand people in the region last week. Several hundred people are also missing following the calamity.

Climate change, a topic that Guterres gives top priority to, also was discussed, Jaishankar tweeted. “Greater resources are essential for larger ambitions (in setting goals for combatting climate change). Financing will determine our seriousness and credibility,” he added.The spokesperson for India’s UN mission said that Jaishankar “apprised the Secretary General of India’s efforts to meet its Paris commitments (on curbing greenhouse emissions), enhance renewable energy goals, as well as its leadership role in the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.”

Jaishankar “underlined our strong development partnership with Africa, Small States and Small Island Developing States,” the spokesperson said. “The Secretary-General conveyed his appreciation for the consistent role played by Indian peacekeepers in support of international peace and security. Their response in aiding the people of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the volcanic eruption was recognized,” the diplomat added.In the discussion of fighting Covid-19, they felt that “the proposal by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of vaccine patents “can also contribute to greater production and more equity,” the spokesperson said. The U.S. has agreed to the waiver, but it is facing opposition from several countries including Germany.

Guterres’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that they “discussed a number of issues relating to peace and security” but said he had no further details on those topics. He also said that they discussed the Covid situation and the development of vaccines.Guterres is running for re-election with no credible opposition and in the election India gets two votes, one in the Security Council and another in the General Assembly. A Canadian of Indian descent, Arora Akanksha, has declared she is running for the office, as have at least five others, but lacking a government sponsorship, their candidacy has not so far been accepted officially.

U.S. International Religious Freedom Report: India Encouraged to Consult Religious Communities

International Religious Freedom senior official Dan Nadel, speaking at a news conference to announce the annual International Religious Freedom Report at the State Department in Washington, DC, on May 12, 2021, said: “When laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment…the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities.” (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A senior State Department official dealing with religious freedom said the U.S. is regularly engaging with Indian officials on protecting the rights of minorities and the government has opportunities to address the concerns of civil society groups.Briefing reporters about the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom May 12, Daniel Nadel said: “With respect to India, I think there’s genuine opportunities there for the government to address some of the concerns they hear from Indian civil society through greater dialogue and engagement.

“We do regularly engage with Indian government officials at all levels, encouraging them to uphold human rights obligations and commitments, including the protection of minorities, in keeping with India’s long tradition of democratic values and its history of tolerance.”The report said that among the issues discussed with officials were “the Muslim community’s concerns about the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), difficulties faced by faith-based (religious) NGOs in the wake of amendments to the FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act), and allegations that Muslims spread Covid-19.”

Nadel, the senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, said that the U.S. encourages the Indian government to consult “religious communities, these outside actors” on passing laws to avoid alienating them.”When laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment; at times, of alienation. And the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities.”

The annual report, which is mandated by Congress, did not grade India nor deliver an overall verdict on the state of religious freedom in the country.It listed incidents involving attacks on minorities taken from reports by the media and religious and civil society groups, and legislative actions.

Releasing the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world. We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue.”He acknowledged that “anti-Muslim hatred is still widespread in many countries, and this, too, is a serious problem for the U.S.”

Among the incidents it lists were the protests in February 2020 against the CAA, which it said “became violent in New Delhi after counter-protesters attacked demonstrators. According to reports, religiously motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 53 persons, most of whom were Muslim, and two security officials.”Another incident it mentions is the Islamic TablighiJamaat organization’s conference last year in New Delhi, which the report said the government and media initially blamed for some of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But the report also said that “in an online address to the nation on April 26, Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, called on Indians not to discriminate against anyone in the fight against Covid-19. In a reference to the March TablighiJamaat conference, he asked people not to target members of a ‘particular community’ (i.e., Muslims) ‘just because of the actions of a few’.”Some of the incidents listed in the report relate to actions taken against Muslim and Christian groups over alleged violation of Covid regulations in holding religious services.

However, the report also listed the deaths of two Christians, P. Jayaraj and his son Bennicks, in police custody after they were arrested for allegedly keeping their shop open in violation of a curfew as if those were religious violence.The report mentions two cases of Hindu women being killed for refusing to convert to Islam and of Christian women “forcibly” converted.It noted Amnesty International India ending operations in the country “after the government froze its bank accounts in response to a FCRA investigation that the NGO says was motivated by its critical reporting against the government.”

Biden Issues High Alert On China; Vows To Deepen India Partnership With India

Issuing a high alert about the growing dangers to the international system from China, President Joe Biden has called for building alliances with like-minded countries and said the US will deepen its ties with India.

The Interim National Security Guidance he released on Wednesday singled out China as the only “competitor” capable of mounting a sustained challenge with its multifarious capabilities to the international order.

He said in the document that the US will support China’s neighbours and declared, “We will deepen our partnership with India.”

Introducing the document, he said it would “convey my vision for how America will engage with the world” and guide his administration while Washington begins work on a new National Security Strategy.

He sketched a vision of a cooperative of democracies to face China, which “has rapidly become more assertive”.

He called Beijing “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system”.

To counter this as well as the challenge from Russia, the US will have to “promote a favorable distribution of power to deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions”, he said.

“We can do none of this work alone. For that reason, we will reinvigorate and modernise our alliances and partnerships around the world,” he said.

“Our democratic alliances enable us to present a common front, produce a unified vision, and pool our strength to promote high standards, establish effective international rules, and hold countries like China to account,” he said.

Envisaging the framework for the alliance of democracies to face the China challenge, he said, “Beyond our core alliances, we will also double down on building partnerships throughout the world, because our strength is multiplied when we combine efforts to address common challenges, share costs, and widen the circle of cooperation.”

Biden drew attention to the risk from China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative that seeks to bring countries around the world, especially developing nations, under its economic dominance.

To counter this Chinese programme, he said, “We will support China’s neighbours and commercial partners in defending their rights to make independent political choices free of coercion or undue foreign influence. We will promote locally-led development to combat the manipulation of local priorities.”

China has set debt traps by making loans to countries for infrastructure projects that they cannot pay back in the long term and then has sought to take control of them.

Biden also said, “Terrorism and violent extremism, both domestic and international, remain significant threats.”

At its core, though, the guidance is his own version of a kinder, gentler America First that seeks to strengthen the US the unparalleled world leader.

“America is back. Diplomacy is back. Alliances are back. But we are not looking back,” he said.

“The United States must lead by the power of our example, and that will require hard work at home — to fortify the founding pillars of our democracy, to truly address systemic racism, and to live up to our promise as a nation of immigrants,” he said.

“Our success will be a beacon to other democracies, whose freedom is intertwined with our own security, prosperity, and way of life.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s foreign policy emphasizing “that American leadership and engagement matter”.

In his address on “Foreign Policy for the American People”, he said, “Whether we like it or not, the world does not organize itself. When the US pulls back, one of two things is likely to happen: either another country tries to take our place, but not in a way that advances our interests and values; or, maybe just as bad, no one steps up, and then we get chaos and all the dangers it creates. Either way, that’s not good for America.”

On the economic front, Blinken echoed one of former President Donald Trump’s constant refrains: “We will fight for every American job and for the rights, protections, and interests of all American workers.” He also portrayed China as the main challenge to the US and world and stressed building alliances to meet it. (IANS)

India ‘Critical Partner’ For US In Meeting Indo-Pacific Challenge: Pentagon

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin considers India “a critical partner” for meeting the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and gives priority to ties with it, according to Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby.

 

“The secretary is prioritising this relationship, wants to see it continue to grow and develop and to get stronger,” Kirby said on Wednesday at a news briefing in Washington.

 

“He looks very much looking forward to working on initiatives to do just that,” Kirby said in reply to a reporter’s question about Austin’s views on relations with India.

Austin considers India “a critical partner, especially when you consider all the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region,” he added.

 

Austin spoke last month with India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and “emphasised the Department’s commitment to the US-India Major Defence Partnership, observing that it is built upon shared values and a common interest in ensuring the Indo-Pacific region remains free and open”, the Pentagon said.

 

President Joe Biden announced the formation of the new strategy task force so that “we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters” during a visit to the Pentagon last week.

 

“We need to meet the growing challenges posed by China to keep the peace and defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific and globally,” he said. (IANS)

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