The Covid vaccine, which may now be marketed under its brand name Comirnaty, is the first to receive full approval.
Tens of millions of shots have already been administered under an emergency use authorization (EUA) that was granted on December 11, 2020.
The decision to award it approval was based on updated data from the drug’s clinical trial, including a longer duration of follow-up, with safety and effectiveness evaluated among more than 40,000 people.
The US military has previously announced it will mandate the vaccine as soon as it receives full approval, and a slew of private businesses and universities are expected to follow.
The vaccine remains available under emergency use authorization to children aged 12 to 15, but because it has now been fully approved, physicians may prescribe it to children under 12 if they believe it will be beneficial.
The Taliban warned on Monday there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies extend the presence of troops in Afghanistan beyond next week, as chaos continued to overwhelm Kabul airport.
The rapid fall of the country to the hardliners last weekend shocked Western nations, coming just two weeks before an August 31 deadline for all troops to fully withdraw from the country.
Instead, thousands of soldiers have poured back in to manage the frantic airlifting of foreigners and Afghans — many who fear reprisals for working with Western nations — out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday.
Staying beyond the agreed deadline would be “extending occupation”, he added.
The rush to leave Kabul has sparked harrowing scenes and killed at least eight people, some crushed to death while at least one person died after falling from a moving plane.
One Afghan was killed and three others were injured in a dawn firefight on Monday that according to the German military erupted between Afghan guards and unknown assailants.
German and American troops “participated in further exchange of fire”, the German army said in a statement.
The Taliban, infamous for an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia law during their initial 1996-2001 rule, have repeatedly vowed a softer version this time.
– Impossible to meet deadline –
The Taliban’s victory ended two decades of war, as they took advantage of US President Joe Biden’s decision to exit the country and end America’s longest war.
Biden has insisted he wants to end the US military presence and the airlifts by August 31.
But with the European Union and Britain saying it would be impossible to get everyone out by then, Biden is under pressure to extend the deadline.
Speaking at the White House on Sunday, Biden said talks were under way to explore the possibility of extending the deadline.
He also acknowledged the tragic scenes at the airport, which have also included babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.
But he said they were part of the cost of departure.
“There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see,” he said.
– ‘Peace and calm’ –
Biden spoke after the Taliban, who have been holding talks with elders and politicians to set up a government, slammed the evacuation.
“America, with all its power and facilities… has failed to bring order to the airport,” Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.
“There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport.”
In the streets of the capital, the Taliban have indeed enforced a calm of a kind, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints.
Visually, they have also been looking to stamp their authority, ensuring the tri-coloured national flag is replaced with their white banner.
At a roadside in Kabul at the weekend, young men sold Taliban flags, which bear in black text the Muslim proclamation of faith and the regime’s formal name: “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
“Our goal is to spread the flag of the Islamic Emirate throughout Afghanistan,” said seller Ahmad Shakib, who studies economics at university.
– Resistance –
Outside of Kabul, there have been flickers of resistance against the Taliban.
Some ex-government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital — long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.
The Taliban said Monday their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in the valley, but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them.
Taliban fighters “are stationed near Panjshir”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, saying they had the area surrounded on three sides.
“The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve this issue peacefully,” he added.
The announcement follows scattered reports of clashes overnight, with pro-Taliban social media accounts claiming gunmen were massing, and Afghanistan’s former vice president Amrullah Saleh saying resistance forces were holding strong.
One of the leaders of the movement in Panjshir, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The NRF is prepared for a “long-term conflict” but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, its spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP in an interview on the weekend.
“The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban are decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all,” he said.
An Afghan woman has delivered a baby girl just after touching down aboard a US evacuation flight.
The US Air Mobility Command posted photos of the woman on its social media platforms early Sunday.
She gave birth in the cargo bay of a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft moments after landing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on Saturday.
“During an evacuation flight from an Intermediate Staging Base in the Middle East, the mother went into labor and began experiencing complications due to low blood pressure,” the Air Mobility Command said.
“The aircraft commander made the decision to descend in altitude to increase air pressure in the aircraft, which helped stabilize and save the mother’s life. Upon landing, Airmen from the 86th MDG came aboard and delivered the child in the cargo bay of the aircraft. The baby girl and mother were transported to a nearby medical facility and are in good condition.”
The flight was carrying Afghans from an intermediate staging base in the Middle East.
The United States on Thursday offered a $5 million reward for the arrest of Guinea-Bissau’s former coup leader Antonio Indjai who is wanted for alleged drug trafficking on behalf of Colombia’s FARC rebels.
Indjai, then army chief of staff, staged a coup in 2012 between rounds of presidential elections in the long unstable West African nation.
US prosecutors filed charges against Indjai in 2013, saying he had agreed to store tons of cocaine for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, with the money used to buy weapons for the rebels and also to pay off officials in Guinea-Bissau.
“Indjai was seen as one of the most powerful destabilizing figures in Guinea-Bissau, operating freely throughout West Africa, using illegal proceeds to corrupt and destabilize other foreign governments and undermine the rule of law throughout the region,” a State Department statement said.
The Taliban is intensifying a search for people who worked with US and NATO forces, a confidential United Nations document says, despite the militants vowing no revenge against opponents.
The report — provided by the UN’s threat-assessment consultants and seen by AFP — says the group has “priority lists” of individuals it wants to arrest.
Most at risk are people who had central roles in the Afghan military, police and intelligence units, according to document.
The Taliban have been conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” of individuals they want to apprehend and their family members, the report says.
It adds that militants are also screening individuals on the way to Kabul airport and have set up checkpoints in major cities, including the capital and Jalalabad.
The document, dated Wednesday, was written by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, an organization that provides intelligence to UN agencies.
“They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families ‘according to Sharia law,'” Christian Nellemann, the group’s executive director, told AFP.
“We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions.
“This will further jeopardize western intelligence services, their networks, methods and ability to counter both the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist threats ahead,” he added.
The report says the militants are “rapidly recruiting” new informers to collaborate with the Taliban regime and are expanding their lists of targets by contacting mosques and money brokers.
The Taliban have launched a public relations blitz since sweeping back into power on Sunday, including promising a full amnesty for all who worked with the elected Afghan government.
But Afghans and observers have not forgotten the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime of 1996-2001 when brutal punishments, such as stoning to death for adultery, were imposed.
Despite its swift takeover of the government in Afghanistan, the Taliban will not have access to most of the nation’s cash and gold stocks, while the IMF announced it won’t provide aid.
A spokesperson for the Washington-based crisis lender on Wednesday said it had decided to withhold its assistance to Afghanistan amid uncertainty over the status of the leadership in Kabul.
“There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access… IMF resources,” the official said.
Central bank governor Ajmal Ahmady said on Twitter the Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) had around $9 billion in reserves, but most of that is held overseas, out of reach of the Taliban.
“As per international standards, most assets are held in safe, liquid assets such as Treasuries and gold,” said Ahmady, who fled the country on Sunday, fearing for his safety as the Taliban swept into the capital.
The US Federal Reserve holds $7 billion of the country’s reserves, including $1.2 billion in gold, while the rest is held in foreign accounts including at the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements, Ahmady said.
A US administration official told AFP on Monday that “any central bank assets the Afghan government have in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.”
Amid reports the Taliban were quizzing central bank staff on the location of the assets, Ahmady said, “If this is true — it is clear they urgently need to add an economist on their team.”
He repeated that Washington on Friday had cut off cash shipments to the country as the security situation deteriorated, which may have fueled reports the Taliban stole the reserves since the country’s banks could not return dollars to account holders.
“Please note that in no way were Afghanistan’s international reserves ever compromised,” and are held in accounts that are “easily audited,” Ahmady said.
No SDRs for Kabul
The IMF’s aid would include an existing $370 million loan program, as well as access to reserves in the form of Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the lender’s basket of currencies.
“As is always the case, the IMF is guided by the views of the international community,” the fund official said.
The International Monetary Fund has taken similar action against other regimes not recognized by a critical mass of member governments, as in the case of Venezuela.
The IMF is set to distribute 650 billion in SDRs on August 23 to all eligible members, of which Afghanistan’s share was valued at about $340 million, Ahmady said.
The IMF in June released the latest installment of the $370 million loan to Afghanistan approved in November and aimed at helping support the economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Bank has more than two dozen development projects ongoing in the country and has provided $5.3 billion since 2002, mostly in grants.
The status of those programs is unclear as the development lender works to pull staff out of the country.
An internal memo to World Bank personnel obtained by AFP said “senior management is working around the clock to arrange an urgent evacuation of our staff and their family members.”
Meanwhile, Western Union announced Wednesday it was temporarily cutting off wire transfers to the country — another vital source of cash for the people.
US President Joe Biden on Sunday authorized the deployment of another 1,000 US troops to Kabul to aid in the effort to evacuate thousands of US and Afghan civilians, a Pentagon official said, as the Taliban entered the Afghan capital and took control.
In all, 6,000 US soldiers will be in Kabul “in the coming days,” the official said on condition of anonymity, as those seeking safe passage out of Afghanistan converged on the airport.
The US health department said Thursday it will require all its public-facing health care workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19, amid a surge in hospitalizations driven by the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
The policy will apply to around 25,000 Department of Health and Human Services employees who could come into contact with patients — just under a third of its total workforce.
“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce. And vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from Covid-19, prevent the spread of the Delta variant, and save lives,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
The HHS is the third federal department to introduce a vaccine mandate, following similar edicts from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon in recent weeks.
President Joe Biden announced in July that all federal employees must attest to being vaccinated or face tough restrictions such as regular testing.
The latest announcement also applies to health care and research staff at the Indian Health Service and National Institutes of Health who come into contact with patients, as well as contractors and volunteers.
Covid-19 vaccines are free and widely available in the United States, yet only half the population is fully vaccinated.
Propelled by the highly-contagious Delta variant, coronavirus infections have soared to a daily average of more than 100,000, a level not seen since the winter surge.
Average daily hospital admissions in the week to August 3 were 7,707 — a 40 percent jump in just one week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As President Biden has said, we have to do all we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe,” Becerra added.
“Instructing our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers and the patients and people they serve.”
The requirement is expected to go into effect by the end of September, US media outlets reported.
The US Senate early Wednesday approved a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that would greatly expand social spending with major investments in health, education and tackling climate change.
The measure passed 50-49 along party lines after a marathon “vote-a-rama” session of amendment votes.
“Senate Democrats just passed our budget resolution to provide historic investments in American jobs, American families, and the fight against climate change,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted after the vote.
“It puts us on track to bring a generational transformation to how our economy works for average Americans.”
Democratic leaders intend to push the package through over the coming months using a fast-track process known as reconciliation that allows budget-related legislation to pass by simple majority in the Senate rather than the usual 60 votes.
The 10-year budget blueprint pushes Congress toward the next step in President Joe Biden’s ambitious vision for his first term in office and follows on the heels of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, which the Senate approved in a bipartisan vote Tuesday and which now moves to the House of Representatives.
It was largely written by independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who has called it the “most consequential” social spending plan since president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s in response to the Great Depression.
The spending plan includes funding for climate measures, new investments in infrastructure including items left out of the targeted Senate package, residency status for millions of migrant workers, and two years of paid tuition at public universities.
Senators have until September 15 to submit their amendments.
Before the vote early Wednesday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats were “about to take their first step toward yet another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree.”
“It will push costs even higher for families. It will shatter President Biden’s promise of no middle-class tax hikes,” he tweeted.
Congress must approve the final spending bills by September 30 to prevent a government shutdown, or extend the current year’s budget into the new fiscal year while debate continues.
But while Senate Democrats are ready to give the green light to the budget resolution in a procedural vote as early as this week, moderates in the party have expressed strong reservations about the total price tag, which means tough negotiations are likely.
American visitors trickled across the Canada-US border on Monday, cheering the reopening of the world’s longest land boundary 17 months after all non-essential travel was halted to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ottawa lifted quarantine requirements for US citizens and permanent residents arriving with proof of vaccination.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Vicki Poulin said of the border reopening. “We’re just so happy to be here.”
The Canadian-born resident of Queensbury, New York, her American husband and their dog Sully used to make the trip to see her extended family in Montreal every month, but have not visited since the border was shuttered in March 2020.
“I was so happy that they opened (the border) because I have a lot of friends in Canada,” echoed Richard Antaki, who drove nonstop from New York City to be among the first in line at the Lacolle, Quebec border crossing.
He said he was so eager to reconnect with friends in Montreal that he hasn’t seen in more than a year and a half that he “didn’t touch the brakes” of his car the entire ride up.
Most travellers interviewed by AFP said their crossings went smoothly, with lineups much shorter than expected.
The changes come, however, as Covid-19 cases are starting to surge once again across North America, led by the Delta variant after a steep drop in infections in early summer.
Ottawa and Washington had faced increasing pressure from travel and tourism groups to ease travel and border restrictions.
A strike by Canadian border agents last week risked throwing border reopening plans into turmoil, but quick negotiations led to a new collective agreement and in the end there were no major disruptions.
US citizens and permanent residents who have had their full course of doses of a vaccine approved by Canadian authorities at least 14 days before arrival will be allowed to cross.
Travellers must also be asymptomatic on arrival.
Washington, however, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, was “continuing to review” its border restrictions for Canadians wishing to head south for a vacation.
Half of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while 81 percent of Canadians have received a single dose and 68 percent are fully immunized.
The victims were shot Monday at a theater that was showing “The Forever Purge,” about a totalitarian government that one night a year allows any crime to be committed, including murder.
Theater staff found the two shot in the head after the movie, which was sparsely attended. Goodrich died at the scene and Barajas was rushed to a hospital.
“Based on the evidence provided to our office, this appears to be a random and unprovoked attack,” local prosecutors said in a statement Friday.
Joseph Jimenez, 20, has been charged in the shooting. Police acting on tips from witnesses arrested him at his home the day after the assault.
Police have said he apparently acted alone and did not know the victims.
Barajas had nearly 930,000 followers on TikTok and was reportedly a standout soccer player in high school.
The United States has a long and painful history of deadly gun violence, in the form of a steady daily toll of shootings as well as high-profile mass killings that have targeted schools, workplaces and shopping centers.
In 2012, a heavily armed man killed 12 people in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, during the screening of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises”.
The United States said Monday it was ready to take in thousands more Afghans whose US links put them at risk from the Taliban as Western troops leave, but the asylum-seekers will face an arduous journey to safety.
Less than a month before the United States is set to end its longest-ever war, the State Department expanded the eligibility of refugee admissions beyond the roughly 20,000 Afghans who have applied under a program for interpreters who assisted US forces and diplomats.
“In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States,” the State Department said in a statement.
“This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their US affiliation,” it said.
The State Department said that the expanded eligibility will include Afghans who worked with US-based media organizations or non-governmental organizations or on projects backed by US funding.
The State Department will also let in more Afghans who served as interpreters or in other support roles to forces of the US-led coalition but did not meet earlier requirements on time served.
A first group of more than 200 interpreters were flown into the United States on Friday as part of what has been dubbed Operation Allied Refuge amid gains on the ground by the Taliban.
– Long road to US – Unlike with the interpreters, the United States said it had no immediate plans to fly out the newly eligible Afghans.
Instead, they will need to find their own way out of Afghanistan and support themselves during the lengthy process.
“However, we continue to review the situation on the ground, and we continue to examine all options to protect those who served with or for us,” a US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The applicants cannot seek directly to come to the United States but need to have referrals by their current or former employers. Once they make it outside Afghanistan, processing will take one year to 14 months, the official said.
Another US official said that Washington, while not helping the new applicants escape, has asked other countries including Pakistan to keep their borders open to them.
But Pakistan was the historic backer of the Taliban and has also seen violence against Afghans, especially from the Hazara Shiite minority. Just Monday, the United States and Britain jointly accused the Taliban of massacring civilians in a town they recently captured on the Pakistani border.
The other major recipient of Afghan refugees is Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States. The second US official said that potential applicants had already moved on from Iran to Turkey, already the temporary home to millions of refugees from Syria.
The State Department is designating the new refugees under so-called Priority 2, the same level given to persecuted minorities from a number of countries.
President Joe Biden has ordered a withdrawal of remaining US troops by the end of the month, ending the longest war in US history.
With the Taliban going on the offensive, the Biden administration acknowledges fears for the stability of the internationally backed government.
But it insists that the United States has done all that it can and long ago accomplished its stated mission of eliminating al-Qaeda extremists who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks.