EU regulator reviews extending Pfizer COVID booster for kids aged 12-15 – Arab News
DUBAI: The European Union’s drug regulator launched a review to evaluate whether the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can be used as a third booster shot in adolescents aged 12 to 15.
This comes even after several countries in the region have already started such a campaign.
In its statement on Tuesday, the European Medicines Agency added that a review of booster shots given to 16- and 17-year-old teenagers was ongoing.
Germany’s vaccine committee last month recommended that all children between the ages of 12 and 17 receive a booster, following the initial two-shot course, as infection rates continue to soar among youngsters in particular. Other states in the region followed suit.
EMA added on Tuesday that “advice on how vaccinations should be given remains the prerogative” of member states’ advisory groups.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a separate report on Tuesday that findings so far suggest an increase of vaccine effectiveness against infection in adolescents who received a booster compared to adolescents who have recently completed the primary vaccination course.
It added, however, that no data was yet available on the duration of protection from a booster dose and on the additional effectiveness against severe disease.
The ECDC said 10 countries in the European Economic Area, which comprises the 27 EU member states plus Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway, had already recommended a booster dose for those under 18 years of age.
ROME: Retired Pope Benedict XVI asked forgiveness Tuesday for any “grievous faults” in his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, but denied any personal or specific wrongdoing after an independent report criticized his actions in four cases while he was archbishop of Munich, Germany.
Benedict’s lack of a personal apology or admission of guilt immediately riled sex abuse survivors, who said his response reflected the Catholic hierarchy’s “permanent” refusal to accept responsibility for the rape and sodomy of children by priests.
Benedict, 94, was responding to a Jan. 20 report from a German law firm that had been commissioned by the German Catholic Church to look into how cases of sexual abuse were handled in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.
The report faulted Benedict’s handling of four cases during his time as archbishop, accusing him of misconduct for having failed to restrict the ministry of the four priests even after they had been convicted criminally. The report also faulted his predecessors and successors, estimating there had been at least 497 abuse victims over the decades and at least 235 suspected perpetrators.
The Vatican on Tuesday released a letter that Benedict wrote to respond to the allegations, alongside a more technical reply from his lawyers who had provided an initial 82-page response to the law firm about his nearly five-year tenure in Munich.
The conclusion of Benedict’s lawyers was resolute: “As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse,” they wrote. They criticized the report’s authors for misinterpreting their submission, and asserted that they provided no evidence that Benedict was aware of the criminal history of any of the four priests.
Benedict’s response was more nuanced and spiritual, though he went on at length to thank his legal team before even addressing the allegations or the abuse victims.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church,” Benedict said. “All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”
Benedict issued what he called a “confession,” though he didn’t confess to any specific fault. He recalled that daily Mass begins with believers confessing their sins and asking forgiveness even for“grievous faults.” Benedict noted that in his meetings with abuse victims while he was pope, “I have seen firsthand the effects of a most grievous fault.
“And I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen,” he wrote. “As in those meetings, once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness.”
His response drew swift criticism from Eckiger Tisch, a group representing German clergy abuse survivors, who said it fit into the church’s “permanent relativizing on matters of abuse — wrongdoing and mistakes took place, but no one takes concrete responsibility.”
Benedict “can’t bring himself simply to state that he is sorry not to have done more to protect the children entrusted to his church,” the group said.
The retired pope’s response will likely complicate efforts by German bishops to try to re-establish credibility with the faithful, whose demands for accountability have only increased after decades of abuse and cover-up.
The head of the German bishops conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, had previously said that Benedict needed to respond to the report by distancing himself from his lawyers and advisers. “He must talk, and he must override his advisers and essentially say the simple sentence: ‘I incurred guilt, I made mistakes and I apologize to those affected,’” Baetzing said.
But in a tweet Tuesday, Baetzing only noted that Benedict had responded.
”I am grateful to him for that and he deserves respect for it,” Baetzing wrote. The tweet didn’t address the substance of Benedict’s response.
The law firm report identified four cases in which Ratzinger was accused of misconduct in failing to act against abusers.
Two cases involved priests who offended while Ratzinger was archbishop and were punished by the German legal system but were kept in pastoral work without any limits on their ministry. A third case involved a cleric who was convicted by a court outside Germany but was put into service in Munich. The fourth case involved a convicted pedophile priest who was allowed to transfer to Munich in 1980, and was later put into ministry. In 1986, that priest received a suspended sentence for molesting a boy.
Benedict’s team had earlier clarified an initial “error” in their submission to the law firm that had insisted Ratzinger was not present at the 1980 meeting in which the priest’s transfer to Munich was discussed. Ratzinger was there, but the priest’s return to ministry was not discussed, they said.
Benedict said he was deeply hurt that the “oversight” about his presence at the 1980 meeting had been used to “cast doubt on my truthfulness, and even to label me a liar.” But he said he had been heartened by the support he had received.
“I am particularly grateful for the confidence, support and prayer that Pope Francis personally expressed to me,” he said.
The Vatican had already strongly defended Benedict’s record after the law firm report, recalling that Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of abuse, that he had issued strong norms to punish priests who raped children and had directed the church to pursue a path of humility in seeking forgiveness for the crimes of its clerics.
The Vatican’s defense, however, focused primarily on Benedict’s tenure as head of the Holy See’s doctrine office and his eight-year papacy.
Benedict reflected on his legacy in his letter.
“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” he wrote. “Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer. For I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings.”
Benedict’s response also rang hollow outside of Germany, with the US-based survivor’s advocacy group, SNAP, accusing him of “repeating words of apology that have fallen on deaf ears for decades.”
And Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney of “Spotlight” fame who has represented hundreds of abuse victims, said Benedict’s words re-victimized and insulted survivors.
“He’s a leader setting a poor example morally, and in the process he is encouraging further cover-up of clergy sexual abuse,” he said.
But Pope Francis’ top adviser on preventing abuse, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, found in Benedict’s letter sincere “contrition for what has been lacking in his stewardship.”
“Benedict’s acknowledgement of the irreparable harm caused by sexual abuse in the church and of his own failings to do everything to prevent such harm is a challenge to all those who hold positions of leadership in the church,” O’Malley said. “We must do better.”
WASHINGTON: US Secret Service agents rushed second gentleman Douglas Emhoff to safety on Tuesday, while students and administrators evacuated after a bomb threat was reported at a Washington, D.C., school celebrating a Black History Month event, Emhoff’s aides and school authorities said.
Emhoff, the husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, was at Dunbar High School in the US capital for an event commemorating Black History Month. Students and teachers at the school also evacuated the building.
A series of bomb threats were made last week to at least a dozen historically Black colleges and universities nationwide, forcing the institutions to cancel classes and raising fears among Black communities. No explosives were found at any of the locations but the threats are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Dunbar High school is the first high school for Black Americans in the United States, according to its website.
Emhoff’s staff told reporters that the school reported the threat to the US Secret Service, which protects US political leaders and their families. Emhoff was safe, his spokesperson said.
“We had a threat today to the facility so we … took the precaution of evacuating everybody, as you saw. I think everyone is safe. The building is clear. But I don’t have any specific details at this moment,” a District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) spokesperson said.
No other details were immediately available.
THE HAGUE: The fabled shrine city of Timbuktu was reduced to a “shadow of its former self” by extremists, and residents are still living in fear today, the International Criminal Court heard Tuesday.

Lawyers representing 1,946 victims of the year-long extremist occupation of the fabled Malian city stated their case before the Hague-based court, where a Malian extremist police chief is on trial.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, 44, is charged by the International Criminal Court with war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, torture and sexual slavery for his role in the invasion of the city, known as the “Pearl of the Desert” a decade ago.

“Timbuktu was… reduced to a shadow of its former self and this will be remembered for thousands of years to come,” said Seydou Doumbia, a Malian lawyer representing the victims.

“The victims… continue to endure acts of violence — abductions, kidnappings, looting and threats of death,” said Doumbia, speaking via videolink.

“They rub shoulders with death on a daily basis and their persecutors are still in their midst, capable of causing panic at any time,” he said.

Prosecutors say Al Hassan was a key figure in the police and court system set up by the militants after they exploited an ethnic Tuareg uprising in 2012 to take over cities in Mali’s volatile north.

Al Hassan committed “unimaginable crimes,” personally overseeing corporal punishments, including floggings and amputations as well as arranging for women and girls to be forced to marry militants as part of a system of gender-based persecution, prosecutors said.

The extremists from Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Ansar Eddine groups also destroyed the centuries-old shrines of Timbuktu.

“The arrival of the extremists in Timbuktu gave rise to great social upheaval. There was a shockwave that was as far reaching as the most remote areas of the region,” Doumbia said.

Al Hassan is the second extremist to face trial at the ICC for the destruction of Timbuktu’s shrines, following a landmark 2016 ruling at the world’s only permanent war crimes court.

In the court’s first case to focus on cultural destruction, the ICC judges found Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi guilty of directing attacks on the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

He was sentenced to nine years in jail.

Timbuktu’s tombs were rebuilt after the extremists were thrown out, but the city remains in the grip of insecurity and tourists who once flocked there are now scarce.
BOSTON: Three female graduate students at Harvard University filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing the Ivy League school of ignoring for years the sexual harassment of students by a professor who they said threatened their academic careers if they reported him.
The students filed the lawsuit in federal court in Boston days after Harvard placed John Comaroff, an anthropology professor and expert on South Africa, on administrative leave following a university investigation into his conduct.
Margaret Czerwienski, Lilia Kilburn and Amulya Mandava alleged that Comaroff for years “kissed and groped students without their consent, made unwelcome sexual advances, and threatened to sabotage students’ careers if they complained.”
They said they were among the students who reported Comaroff to Harvard officials. Yet despite those warnings, Harvard watched as he retaliated by ensuring the students would have “trouble getting jobs,” the lawsuit said.
Comaroff, who joined Harvard in 2012, was not named as a defendant. His lawyers — Norman Zalkind, Janet Halley, and Ruth O’Meara-Costello — in a joint statement said he “categorically denies ever harassing or retaliating against any student.”
Harvard had no comment. In January, it placed Comaroff on leave for the spring semester and barred him from teaching required courses after finding he engaged in verbal conduct that violated its sexual harassment and professional conduct policies.
Those sanctions have divided the Harvard community, where nearly 40 faculty members signed onto an open letter questioning the investigation and calling him an “excellent colleague.”
In Tuesday’s lawsuit, the women said Harvard’s inaction allowed Comaroff to repeatedly and forcibly kiss Kilburn, grope her in public and even graphically described ways she would be supposedly raped or killed in South Africa for being in a same-sex relationship.
All three said their academic trajectories and career prospects had been “profoundly altered” and that Harvard violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which protects students from discrimination based on sex, and various Massachusetts laws.
NEW DELHI: Noor Zahid Paiman wanted to obtain his computer science degree from an Indian university this year and return to Afghanistan to become a lecturer.
But like many other Afghan students enrolled in Indian colleges, he has been unable to go to his campus at Sharda University in Noida for half a year now, waiting for his visa to be renewed.
About 4,000 students from Afghanistan used to arrive in India every year to pursue higher education — hundreds of them on Indian government scholarships.
Many traveled home last year when India went into a lockdown during a devastating second wave of the pandemic. They have been unable to return ever since, as the lifting of virus restrictions in India coincided with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August, which prompted New Delhi’s decision to suspend diplomatic ties with Kabul.
The students have been holding numerous protests in front of Indian consulates across the country. In the latest one last week, dozens demonstrated in front of the Indian embassy building.
“Our future is at stake now since we have already missed one full semester due to lack of visa,” Paiman, a native of the eastern Khost province, told Arab News over the phone.
“For five months, I have been stranded here and my final year exam is already happening. I am really nervous about what’s going to happen to my future,” he said. “I had plans to become a university professor and work for our people.”
When the Indian embassy suspended its operations, it canceled the visas it had issued, asking holders to reapply online.  
Students say there has been no response to their applications. “I had a valid visa, but the Indian government canceled it, and this happened with around 2,500 students who are stuck in Afghanistan,” Paiman said.
Farzana Ayubi, also from Khost, found herself in the same situation. She wondered why New Delhi has not helped them leave Afghanistan like other countries did.
“Other countries who were not close to Kabul evacuated Afghan students,” the second-year business student at Goa University said. “Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, European countries and Bangladesh evacuated their students from Afghanistan, but India is still waiting.”
Jalal Ahmad Baryal, from the Oruzgan province, was worried about what would happen as he was about to miss his final exams at the Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management in Bangalore.
“For 20 years, the Indian government was with us,” he said. “But in this hour of grave crisis, it is not helping us.”
It is unclear whether the student visa policy will change. 
“On the specific issue of visas, I have to refer you to the Home Ministry,” India’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
But officials at the Home Ministry have not replied since last week despite attempts to reach them. The Afghan Embassy in New Delhi said it is also waiting for Indian authorities to respond.
“It’s a difficult situation for us,” Abdul Haq Azad, press secretary at the embassy, told Arab News. “We have been pursuing the matter with the Indian government for the last few months, but so far there has not been any response.”
Shukria Barakzai, former Afghan lawmaker and ambassador to Norway, said it was “unbelievable” that neighboring India had turned its back on Afghans at a time of crisis while countries far away offered them shelter. “Even countries that are far away, such as Mexico, are trying to support Afghans. Australia, Europe, America, Canada and even some countries in Africa are trying to provide a safe shelter for Afghans,” she told Arab News.
“We are expecting our friends to stand beside us,” she said. “We will remember our friends, their help and support to us.”