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Russians flock to Serbia for Western-made COVID-19 vaccines

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — When Russian regulators approved the country’s own coronavirus vaccine, it was a moment of national pride, and the Pavlov family was among those who rushed to take the injection. But international health authorities have not yet given their blessing to the Sputnik V shot.

So when the family from Rostov-on-Don wanted to visit the West, they looked for a vaccine that would allow them to travel freely — a quest that brought them to Serbia, where hundreds of Russian citizens have flocked in recent weeks to receive Western-approved COVID-19 shots.

Serbia, which is not a member of the European Union, is a convenient choice for vaccine-seeking Russians because they can enter the allied Balkan nation without visas and because it offers a wide choice of Western-made shots. Organized tours for Russians have soared, and they can be spotted in the capital, Belgrade, at hotels, restaurants, bars and vaccination clinics.

“We took the Pfizer vaccine because we want to travel around the world,” Nadezhda Pavlova, 54, said after receiving the vaccine last weekend at a sprawling Belgrade vaccination center.

Her husband, Vitaly Pavlov, 55, said he wanted “the whole world to be open to us rather than just a few countries.”

Vaccination tour packages for Russians seeking shots endorsed by the World Health Organization appeared on the market in mid-September, according to Russia’s Association of Tour Operators.

Maya Lomidze, the group’s executive director, said prices start at $300 to $700, depending on what’s included.

Lauded by Russian President Vladimir Putin as world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V emerged in August 2020 and has been approved in some 70 countries, including Serbia. But the WHO has said global approval is still under review after citing issues at a production plant a few months ago.

On Friday, a top World Health Organization official said legal issues holding up the review of Sputnik V were “about to be sorted out,” a step that could relaunch the process toward emergency use authorization.

Other hurdles remain for the Russian application, including a lack of full scientific information and inspections of manufacturing sites, said Dr. Mariangela Simao, a WHO assistant director-general.

Apart from the WHO, Sputnik V is also still awaiting approval from the European Medicines Agency before all travel limitations can be lifted for people vaccinated with the Russian formula.

The long wait has frustrated many Russians, so when the WHO announced yet another delay in September, they started looking for solutions elsewhere.

“People don’t want to wait; people need to be able to get into Europe for various personal reasons,” explained Anna Filatovskaya, Russky Express tour agency spokeswoman in Moscow. “Some have relatives. Some have business, some study, some work. Some simply want to go to Europe because they miss it.”

Serbia, a fellow-Orthodox Christian and Slavic nation, offers the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinopharm shots. By popular demand, Russian tourist agencies are now also offering tours to Croatia, where tourists can receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, without the need to return for a second dose.

“For Serbia, the demand has been growing like an avalanche,” Filatovskaya said. “It’s as if all our company is doing these days is selling tours for Serbia.”

The Balkan nation introduced vaccination for foreigners in August, when the vaccination drive inside the country slowed after reaching around 50% of the adult population. Official Serbian government data shows that nearly 160,000 foreign citizens so far have been vaccinated in the country, but it is unclear how many are Russians.

In Russia, the country’s vaccination rate has been low. By this week, almost 33% of Russia’s 146 million people have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, and 29% were fully vaccinated. Apart from Sputnik V and a one-dose version known as Sputnik Light, Russia has also used two other domestically designed vaccines that have not been internationally approved.

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko recently said administrative issues were among the main holdups in the WHO’s review process.

Judy Twigg, a political science professor specializing in global health at Virginia Commonwealth University, expects Sputnik V to be approved eventually but not this year.

“The WHO has said that it needs more data, and it needs to go back and inspect some production lines where it saw issues early on. Those re-inspections are a multiweek process, with good reason. It’s not something that they just gloss over lightly.”

Amid low vaccination rates and reluctance by the authorities to reimpose restrictive measures, both Russia and Serbia have seen COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations reach record levels in the past weeks.

The daily coronavirus death toll in Russia topped 900 for a second straight day on Thursday — a day after reaching a record 929. In Serbia, the daily death toll of 50 people is the highest in months in the country of 7 million that so far has confirmed nearly 1 million cases of infection.

Pavlova said the “double protection” offered by the Pfizer booster shots would allow the family “to not only travel around the world, but also to see our loved ones without fear.”

Since the vaccine tours exploded in popularity about a month ago, they have provided welcome business for Serbian tour operators devastated by the pandemic in an already weak economy. The owner of BTS Kompas travel agency in Belgrade, Predrag Tesic, said they are booked well in advance.

“It started modestly at first, but day by day numbers have grown nicely,” Tesic said.

He explained that his agency organizes everything, from airport transport to accommodations and translation and other help at vaccination points. When they return for another dose in three weeks, the Russian guests also are offered brief tours to some of popular sites in Serbia.

Back in Russia, some Moscow residents said they understood why many of their fellow Russians travel abroad for vaccines. But Tatiana Novikova said homegrown vaccines remain her choice.

“I trust ours more, to be honest,” she said.

——

Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic and Ivana Bzganovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Daria Litvinova and Daniel Kozin reported from Moscow.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic



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Every Day, Biden Smells Like More of a Loser

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Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty

With a hint of confusion in his eyes and a whiff of failure in the air around him, Joe Biden is watching his approval ratings continue to plummet to the point where just 42 percent of Americans approve of his job performance.

Which makes sense, since at least so far Biden really doesn’t seem very good at this whole being president thing despite dreaming of and preparing for it for decades. With his staff trying to hide him from the press, and his penchant for saying confusing things, Biden isn’t rhetorically equipped to talk himself out of this mess. He was elected on a simple mandate to not be Trump, but after promising not to do Trump things, doing his own thing has proven more difficult.

To some degree, he put himself in this corner. By governing as he campaigned (as a competent centrist), Biden might have locked in a governing majority of alienated center-right Americans along with his extant Democratic coalition. However, Biden chose to abandon efforts to transcend the current political paradigm, choosing instead to appease his base. Talk about a tragic plot twist.

His deference to progressives was foreshadowed early on: first when he flip-flopped on taxpayer funding of abortion during the campaign, and then with the partisan passage of his COVID-relief bill in February. But real trouble arrived this summer, when he prematurely declared “independence” from the virus (followed by mixed messaging over boosters), and his Afghanistan withdrawal went dangerously sideways. Then it became clear that allowing progressives to hold his bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage would result in more than just a temporary delay.

One could argue that Biden’s decision to pander to the leftward flank of the Democratic Party caused or exacerbated the various crises he now confronts—ranging from the border crisis (his “compassionate” policies and rhetoric served as a magnet) to violent crime (it’s hard to blame Biden for this, though his party’s “defund the police” rhetoric didn’t help) to inflation, which is now tied with COVID as Americans’ biggest concern (Biden ignored Larry Summers’ warnings about overheating the economy). The current stalemate over his legislative agenda is the clearest example of this deference to progressives. And since his stalled legislative agenda feels especially like a self-inflicted wound, it’s worth spending a little additional time here.

This One Basic Mistake Is Blowing Up Biden’s Presidency

Had Biden aggressively moved to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, he would likely have garnered dozens of Republican votes, and progressives would have likely either caved to his will or been shown to be impotent. This is my counterfactual analysis, at least.

Instead, though, Biden let progressives press him into (sort of) linking passage of the bipartisan bill with a $3.5 trillion social welfare reconciliation package. By trying to have it all, there’s now a chance that he could get neither.

Why would an experienced former senator and vice president—who spent his career working across the aisle—make this mistake? Here’s one hypothesis: Ideas have consequences. And the assertion has taken root that Americans are so polarized and ideologically sorted that persuasion is a fool’s errand.

Since Bill Clinton, every U.S. president has essentially bought into this premise, despite all of them except Trump having explicitly campaigned as game-changing uniters. Bush and Obama won re-election with this formula, which probably explains why it isn’t easily abandoned, even as the trajectory of America this time at least feels like it has been headed downard. Biden had a fresh opportunity to break the cycle, but he has instead followed the path of his predecessors.

That aside, his even more fundamental problem is a lack of competence. We saw this in Afghanistan, where the dubious decision to withdraw all U.S. troops was compounded by the hamfisted manner in which the withdrawal was executed. And this same lack of competence is evident when it comes to Biden’s stalled legislative agenda.

If Biden was going to make the foolish decision to link the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the reconciliation bill, he could have first made sure he had all 50 Democratic Senators on board.

It’s no surprise that Manchin, who hails from West Virginia, would pose a roadblock when it comes to passing the Democrats’ “green” agenda items, so discussions with him should have begun on day one. Instead, Biden and the Democrats tried to jam their own framework through—and retroactively sell it to him.

Of course, it’s even more complicated, since Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema is the other holdout. Unlike previous examples where duos like recalcitrant Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine could be won over simultaneously, Manchin’s problems with the bill (mainly climate related) are entirely different from Sinema’s (generally having to do with taxes). And don’t forget the fact that appeasing them too much could alienate other, more progressive, Democratic votes. This is just one big mess.

And the problem for Biden (and America) is that the problems keep piling up. China is menacing Taiwan and testing hypersonic weapons (Biden says we will defend Taiwan if they are attacked). Gas prices are up, with Biden admitting they’re not coming down any time soon. And then there is the ongoing supply chain crisis.

Biden’s problems are piling up so fast that it reminds me of lyrics from Hank Williams, Jr., “The interest is up and the stock market’s down. And you only get mugged if you go downtown.”

Those lyrics, recorded in 1981, reflected those dark times. It’s worth noting that Ronald Reagan went on to win 49 states, three years later.

Joe Biden better hope for a similar turnaround.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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Jake Tapper Says Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Has ‘Issues’ After Her Rant On Bannon Vote

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CNN’s Jake Tapper came down hard on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Friday, declaring she has “real issues” and is “not tethered to reality.”

He was referring to Greene’s outburst Thursday when, as described by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), she “started screaming” at Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

The House was voting to support the criminal contempt resolution against Donald Trump’s former White House strategist Steve Bannon after Bannon ignored a subpoena to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Greene blasted fellow lawmakers for not punishing Black Lives Matter protesters and singled out Cheney by calling her a “joke.” Cheney, in turn, said Greene was a “joke” who has pushed the wild claim that Jewish-funded “space lasers” were responsible for wildfires.

“Congressman Raskin and Congresswoman Cheney are talking on the floor and, according to my sources …. Congresswoman Greene goes over to them and she starts screaming at them,” Tapper said to his CNN co-hosts.

“Look, I’m not a licensed psychologist, I don’t know her, but her behavior suggests somebody that has real issues, that is not tethered to reality or basic standards of decent behavior,” Tapper said.

He also referred to Greene’s conspiracy theory that “wealthy Jewish Americans were using laser technology to cause fires in California for some financial incentive.”

“I mean, it is a deranged anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and yet that is somebody with whom many Republicans are siding,” Tapper added.

“Marjorie Taylor Greene and Liz Cheney really represent the two doors for the Republican Party right now. Which one does the Republican Party want to emulate?” he asked.

Greene is known for her outbursts. Last month, she yelled at a group of Democrats as they held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol about legislation to guarantee the right to an abortion. Greene loudly interjected that “unborn women” have a “right to life.”

Greene has repeatedly shouted at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Earlier this year, Ocasio-Cortez said Greene needed “help” from a “proper professional.

Check out Tapper’s remarks in the video clip up top. His comments about Greene begin at about 0:36.

Also on HuffPost

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.





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Biden proves himself unaware of basic economics during Baltimore town hall: 'The Five'

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Biden proves himself unaware of basic economics during Baltimore town hall: 'The Five'



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Family’s new dog attacks and kills 7-year-old boy, Oklahoma cops say. ‘Gut-wrenching’

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A 7-year-old boy was killed Wednesday when his family’s new pet dog attacked him, Oklahoma officials say.

Deputies in Creek County were dispatched around 7:20 p.m. Wednesday for reports of a missing child, the sheriff’s office said. Fifteen minutes later and not long after deputies arrived on the scene, a family member found the body of the boy, according to the sheriff.

The boy was identified by KOCO as James McNeelis, who was playing outside with the dog before it attacked him. Family members told KJRH the dog was a sheltie-corgi mix and they only had it for three weeks after rescuing it as a stray.

Shannon Edison, a neighbor of the family, described the incident as “gut-wrenching” in an interview with KOTV.

“We knew something was wrong. As a mother, you know that scream, if anybody has ever heard that scream, you know that scream,” Edison said. “Something was catastrophically wrong.”

The sheriff’s office said an animal control facility has possession of the dog.

Family dog attacks and kills 6-month-old in Tennessee, officials say

Dog with jaws locked on smaller dog’s throat shot by officer, Colorado police say

Young child dashes for help as 120-pound dog kills mom in home, Oregon officials say



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Joey Logano not sure fighting is "ever the right way"

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Joey Logano not sure fighting is "ever the right way"



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Matt Gaetz Gives Himself, Boebert And Taylor Greene A Nickname And It Doesn’t Go Well

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Matt Gaetz Gives Himself, Boebert And Taylor Greene A Nickname And It Doesn’t Go Well



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Ashanti’s Seductive Bikini Video Ignites a Social Media Commotion, Fans Bring Up Singer’s Ex Nelly

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Ashanti‘s month-long birthday celebration known as “Shantober” appeared to be in full effect on Oct. 21 after she uploaded a sultry bikini video.

The singer, who turned 41 last week, is currently in the Bahamas with friends as she commemorates her birthday.

Ashanti’s new bikini video from her Bahamas vacation. (Photo: @ashanti/Instagram)

In the short clip first posted by her stylist Tim B, Ashanti was seen enjoying the festivities as she danced on what appears to be a boat in a beaded turquoise bikini complemented with a tiara and two ribbons pinned to her swimsuit straps.

When “The Shade Room” posted Ashanti’s bikini video on the site’s Instagram page, many flooded the comment section with remarks about her ex Nelly. A few even brought up the infamous hug that occurred between the two last month.

“Y’all better stop before Nelly come thru the phone screen to ask for a Hug.”

“Nelly bout to walk across the Atlantic to get a hug.”

“No wonder Nelly went for that hug trying to rekindle a flame that’s been blazing by itself.”

“Nelly somewhere snatching that band-aid off.”

“Nelly somewhere figuring it out.”

Ashanti commented on her viral bikini video that was posted on “The Shade Room.” Photo:theshaderoom/Instagram

Ashanti commented on her viral bikini video that was posted on “The Shade Room.” Photo:theshaderoom/Instagram

In addition to the Nelly statements, Ashanti commented that the video was all in good fun by saying, “My birthday month!!”

Last week on Oct. 13, Ashanti celebrated her actual birthday by going to dinner with family and friends in New York. The singer also took Instagram to explain how priceless it is to celebrate life with those you love.

She said, “Super overwhelmed with the birthday wishes. I’m grateful to God that I wake up to so much love…and so many blessings. Incredibly grateful for another year. One thing we’ve all seen is that tomorrow isn’t promised… Being surrounded by friends and family, celebrating life is priceless. Thank you to each and everyone of you for all the love!!! I genuinely appreciate it from my heart 10/13.”





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