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US vaccines launched with gradual progress

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Here is today's foreign policy mandate: The US Introduction of the coronavirus vaccine go on slowly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to promote Iranian al-Qaeda links and the head of the United States Antonio Guterres will seek a second term.

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Even if the vaccine rollout stumbles, the US is ahead

It's been a month since the U.S. first approved a coronavirus vaccine, and the task of getting shots in the arms of Americans is showing slow progress.

By Monday, around 9.2 million people had been vaccinated with a first dose of vaccine, well below Health Minister Alex Azar's December estimate that 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of 2020.

Uneven results. The explanation for why the rollout has been so slow is the same that can be used for US performance over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic: a decentralized response that is unevenly conducted from state to state. About 1 in 20 residents of West Virginia have been vaccinated, while in California, fewer than 1 in 50 have received a vaccine.

It's not for lack of supplies. In California, for example, there are still more than 2 million doses of vaccine to be distributed. In New York, fears of prosecution for delivering vaccines to the wrong people appear to have rocked the response, although state officials recently decided to relax distribution guidelines in response.

Biden frustrated. Concerns about the speed of vaccinations have spread to President-elect Joe Biden's transition team. Politico reports that Biden has frustrated its employees in responding to coronavirus for poor performance and put Biden's goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office at risk.

Although the US vaccination program has not yet lived up to expectations domestically, the rollout is way ahead of most competitors (partly supported by early measures to secure vaccines before other countries). Only four countries: Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the United Kingdom have vaccinated higher proportions of their population, according to a census by Bloomberg. Israel leads the pack by a wide margin: more than 20 percent of its citizens have already received a dose.

Soft power strikeout. While domestic vaccine concerns mount, the United States may have missed an easy diplomatic victory overseas. Steve Cook wrote in Foreign Policy examining the current diplomacy of great power vaccines. "If Americans are concerned about the Chinese and Russian challenges, the United States' absence in fighting the coronavirus in several key locations, including the Middle East, is blatant," Cook writes.

What we are following today

Pompeo promotes the connection between Iran and Al Qaeda. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will claim a link between the Iranian authorities and al-Qaeda in a speech he will deliver today at the National Press Club. It is the latest in a series of measures against Iran that the Trump administration has taken since Joe Biden's victory in the US presidential election in November. In a 2019 letter, Mike Hirsh of Foreign Policy explained why an alliance between al-Qaeda and Iran is viewed with skepticism within US intelligence agencies.

The US House votes against pence. US lawmakers in the House of Representatives are due to vote today on a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment to the US Constitution to remove President Trump from office. The move precedes an impeachment vote in the House, which is expected to take place on Wednesday.

The aftermath of the Capitol riot continues as a number of lawmakers contracted the coronavirus, which likely contracted while protecting themselves from the mob with a number of their maskless counterparts.

Ireland the epicenter. Ireland has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic almost overnight as cases in the country soar to unprecedented levels. On Monday, the number of cases reported in Ireland was the highest per capita in the world.

Officials blame the sudden rise of a confluence of factors, including a more transmissible variant imported from the UK and increased social mixing during the Christmas season, as restrictions were relaxed. The designation is a dramatic drop as the falls were among the lowest in Europe in early December.

WHO to Wuhan. A team of World Health Organization experts whose members have been prevented from entering China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus are now being admitted into the country. The Chinese Foreign Ministry downplayed the delay as a "misunderstanding". The WHO team is now expected to begin its investigation in Wuhan and arrive on January 14th.

Crown Prince wanted. Oman's new leader, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, has announced constitutional amendments that will bring the country to a crown prince for the first time. Sultan Haitham was appointed the new leader of Oman after the death of Sultan Qaboos, who recommended his successor in a sealed envelope that was opened posthumously. The Omani state media did not say who the Crown Prince would be.

Guterres to go again. United States Secretary-General António Guterres announced that he would run for a second term of five years as head of the international body. The UK welcomed his decision and removed a major stumbling block. Guterres will now seek assistance from the other four permanent members of the United States Security Council, as any of them can veto his appointment.

A Moscow kebab shop named after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin has closed after opening just 24 hours after a series of complaints from angry residents. In its short existence, Stalin served doner items such as "Stalin with double meat" and "beria with tkemali sauce" – a reference to Stalin's notorious chief of the secret police.

The shopkeeper Stanislav Voltman was interviewed by the police for three hours after complaints. "They asked me if my head was screwed straight on," Voltman told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. "It's not like I have Hitler as the face of my brand," Voltman said.

Despite the public outcry over the kebabs, support for Stalin is growing in Russia. A poll at the Levada Center in 2019 found that 70 percent of Russians believe Stalin played a fully or relatively positive role in the life of the country.

That's it for today.

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Photo credit: Jim Watson / AFP

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