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“Everyone is impressed by Israeli vaccination, but I don’t think we’re a success story”

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Hadas Ziv
Hadas Ziv, head of policy
and ethics at Physicians for
Human Rights-Israel

Israel was originally praised for its approach to covid-19 vaccine distribution, and was hailed as a model for how to get things done. But the picture that has emerged since is a lot more complicated. Covid-19 infections have reached record highs, and a new lockdown has been extended until the end of January. Meanwhile, there is inequality and political turmoil behind the headlines, with the UN among those criticizing Israel for refusing to share its vaccines with some 4.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

We spoke with Hadas Ziv, the head of policy and ethics at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, about that country’s successes and setbacks. She was part of the expert team that presented covid-19 vaccine policy recommendations to the Israeli government, and the group was among those petitioning for prisoners to be vaccinated. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: If you’re an Israeli citizen who wants a vaccine, what steps do you need to take?

A: It’s very easy. You’re notified that you’re eligible, either by an SMS, or you can just go into the site of your [healthcare provider], and immediately you see whether you’re eligible or not.

You make an appointment on the internet, or they can send you a link to your phone. It’s very, very organized. And you just get the vaccine. That’s it.

Q: Is the vaccine free? Have there been any hurdles or confusing rollout processes?

A: The positive side of Israel is that we have a public health system, and everyone, all residents, are insured. So unless you’re in a specific group, like migrant workers or refugees or Palestinians in the occupied territories, you’re insured, and you’re part of the system. 

Q: Are you seeing problems around vaccine hesitancy or refusal?

A: I think that, in general, Israelis trust vaccines. There were a few conspiracy theories in the media, which made people think whether they should wait to see how it goes for those who are being vaccinated. But I think the fear of the disease is bigger than the fear of the vaccine, and the publicity that the vaccine is safe persuaded many. 

We have specific communities [like some ultraorthodox and Arab communities] where there is less trust and information. There should be an effort made by both the health system and the government to persuade and make the information accessible for them so they come and get the vaccinations.

Q:  Israel was seen as a model for the rest of the world in speedy vaccine distribution. But cases have been rising, and the country is in another lockdown. What does that tell us about the role vaccines play in overcoming the pandemic?

A: There’s a positive and a negative in the vaccination [process]. It was speedy—Israel acted like many other Western countries, in what is known as a trend of vaccination nationalism. Each country for its own. 

We have not solved the compliance of the public. There are big differences between different communities in Israel, and we do not enjoy social solidarity. For example, the ultraorthodox are a little bit above 10% of the population but 30% of new cases of covid-19. There is a danger that once you say this community does not obey the social distancing or cannot because of [social conditions] that there is a lot of public anger toward them. That may even deepen the social conflict within our society. 

If you do want to achieve herd protection, you need to reach at least two-thirds of your population. If we do not reach those communities that are now not likely to want the vaccination, we will not reach this number. 

Q. The government and Pfizer agreed to trade medical data for doses of vaccines. What’s the impact of that? Was the public given enough information on the details of this agreement?

We got a special agreement from Pfizer, and when they publicized the agreement, at least one-third of it was blackened out. And I think it’s done more damage than good, because now we don’t know how much information they get on us.

If indeed Israel is leading in vaccinating its population, and you do want to learn about the efficacy and adverse effects, why not give this information for free for all the health ministries and systems and laboratories? It’s a global challenge. Why make Pfizer the only one with this knowledge? I don’t know. This is something that we are trying to look into.

Q: What’s happening right now with vaccine access for Palestinians?

A: We do not give the vaccinations to the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The [Israelis and Palestinians] are in constant movement and they meet each other. And so not only morally—I speak mostly about the moral obligation to give them vaccinations—but also from a utilitarian public health aspect, we must. 

Citizens and permanent residents of Israel are eligible for vaccination according to the age groups. However, Israel also controls the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There’s lots of arguments whether it’s occupation or not, whether it’s apartheid or not. But I look at it from, what power we have, and what responsibility we have.

If we control how much water they [Palestinians] have, what they are allowed to bring in or out from Gaza, what equipment, what people, or what expertise, we have a tremendous effect on the economy, on their health system, and of course, on their capacity to deal with public health crises. I think Israel is obligated to take the Palestinians as part of their responsibility. 

Q: You’ve been part of the fight to vaccinate people in prisons. What is the danger of not vaccinating this population?

A: Just a few days ago, the [public security minister], responsible for all the prisons in Israel, said that prisoners will not be vaccinated until all Israeli citizens outside will be vaccinated, and then not until all prison guards are vaccinated. The Ministry of Health said prisoners themselves are a priority, and in the prisons, those with chronic diseases and the elderly should be vaccinated at the same time as our citizens.

So we had to go to the High Court of Justice. [Public Security Minister Amir Ohana] did change his mind, but the damage was already done. In the government, you have officials who can take irresponsible, populist views that they think the public wants to hear that are contrary, not only to morality and ethics, but also to public health interests. 

Everyone is impressed by Israeli vaccination, fine. But look at the death toll, look at how we operate. Look how we lose public trust. Look at how we are in the third quarantine, but it’s not effective. I don’t think we’re a success story. Maybe in vaccinations we are. But if you look at covid-19, as a challenge that is both health and social and political crisis, I think we’re a failure.

Q: What are the lessons from Israel for the rest of the world?

A: You have to have a public health system that insures all people. I hope that our government will learn the lesson and will invest and better fund our public health system because this saved us. 

I think that they should not learn from Israel and be more generous about vaccination, certainly to your neighbors. It is a global pandemic and it can only be solved globally. Equal distribution among all countries all over the world, more cooperation, is crucial.

Q: The nature of the pandemic is constantly shifting and the challenges are evolving. What are you watching for?

A: The stability of governments. Israel is now going into a fourth election [in two years]. The combination of a public health crisis with a political crisis is extremely dangerous. The trust of the public in its government is crucial if we want to deal with pandemics. It’s not only the trust of my people in my government, it’s the trust of people in governments in the world system, because once you lose this trust, you cannot handle any crisis. 

This story is part of the Pandemic Technology Project, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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SpaceX’s Starship prototype flies to 32,000 feet and sticks the landing in third flight test

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SpaceX has launched SN10 — the tenth iteration of its current prototype series of Starship, the heavy-lift reusable spacecraft it’s developing. Starship SN10 took off from Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing the vehicle. It flew to a height of roughly 10 km, or 32,000 feet, before performing a maneuver to re-orient itself for a friction-assisted landing descent.

Unlike the last two Starship prototypes to fly this high, however, the roughly six-minute flight did not end in a fireball [UPDATE: Well, not immediately. The rocket did blow up while stationary on the landing pad a few minutes after landing, potentially due to a leak]. Instead, it completed its landing flip maneuver as intended and slowed itself for a soft touchdown, with the rocket remaining vertical and intact afterwards.

This was a fantastic outcome, and a nominal one in all regards according to SpaceX’s livestream. But why the prior explosions to get to this point? That’s partly down to the way in which it has been doing its development of this vehicle. All rocket development includes unexpected events and sub-optimal outcomes, but SpaceX has a couple of things at work that mean is efforts are subject to unusual scrutiny versus your average spaceship manufacturer.

First, it’s doing this out in the open — the Boca Chica facility is basically just a couple small buildings, some concrete pads, some storage tanks and some scaffolding. It’s extremely close to a public roadway (which is closed during testing, while the surrounding area is evacuated), and people can and do just drive up and set up cameras to film what’s going on. That’s not at all how legacy rocket makers have typically done things.

Second, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has been adamant that SpaceX pursue a development strategy of rapid iteration and prototyping with Starship’s development. That has meant it’s manufacturing and assembling Starship prototypes simultaneously, making small changes as it goes, rather than stepping back after each test and doing a prolonged, multi-month analysis before proceeding with building and flying another version.

A launch attempt earlier in the day was cut short after a brief engine fire, when instrument readings from the rocket showed a slightly high thrust value that violated what Musk termed “conservative.” The fix that SpaceX instituted was actually adjusting the limit higher in order to avoid the abort initiation.

No doubt the company will do an investigation into the cause of the explosion that followed the successful flight and landing maneuver, but the test was still successful in all the ways that matter most for SpaceX at this stage of development. Next up for Starship is likely increasing the height of these test flights. Eventually, the goal is to reach orbit, of course, but SpaceX is likely to try a few launches that remain atmospheric but far exceed this one before it attempts making that trip.

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The Aston Martin DBX is a tale of two vehicles

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The Aston Martin DBX is the brand’s first SUV — and the stakes for the iconic British luxury car maker couldn’t be higher.

Like Astons before it, the DBX is objectively handsome. Its sculptural form stretches out to unapologetic ample proportions, and stands out in the crowd of SUVs that frequent the private-school pickup lane. It’s an opulent design that scores high on aesthetics, performance and character. It’s also a vehicle that arrives late to the ultra premium SUV segment, and lacks the in-car technology and fuel economy of others of its ilk. Sales of the DBX, which starts at $176,900, began overseas last summer and entered the U.S. market in late 2020. (The version Aston Martin provided to TechCrunch for a test drive had the option-loaded retail price of $205,186 DBX, including delivery fees.)

Call it a tale of two vehicles in a time of dueling principles vying for luxury auto buyer budgets. Demand for SUVs continues to skyrocket, just as the mobility sector inclines sharply toward electrification. Aston Martin set a goal of selling 14,000 vehicles by 2023, a steep hike for a small, boutique brand. However, under new leadership, the company has dialed back those projections to 10,000 as part of its reorganization dubbed “Project Horizon.”

After an underwhelming year due to the pandemic, a new major owner and a new CEO are in place. It’s unclear which narrative will determine the DBX’s fate. The future of the company rests on its success.

Aston Martin said the DBX met sales expectations in 2020, with 1,516 units sold. The company anticipates that the DBX will make up 40% to 60% of global volume in 2021 — its first year of full production.

A tale of two vehicles

How to achieve best-in-class tech in both engineering and in-car experience is a quagmire for low-volume supercar makers who aren’t owned by a larger automaker that can lend that expertise. Aston took steps to solve this problem through an agreement reached with Mercedes-Benz AG to develop engines and electric architecture back in 2013. Tobias Moers, who headed up Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division until last summer, is Aston’s new CEO, a clue on how vital Aston still sees Daimler’s technical performance to its future.

Aston Martin has recently reentered Formula One racing, and true to the brand’s motorsports history, the DBX has sports car-like power, sprinting from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds, using Mercedes-Benz AMG engines.

On the interior, the DBX scores high as a total sensory experience to drive (and floss in), affording its passengers panache and comfort, all swathed in Bridge of Weir leather. There are nifty options such as a snow pack, complete with a ski boot warmer.

Image Credits: Aston Martin

The other half of this product’s interior story raises more pragmatic questions about the role of in-car tech in the super luxury segment, and gets at the crux of Aston’s dilemma. Aston will always be at least one generation behind the latest Mercedes advancements. For a vehicle with a starting price of $180,000, cars that cost half the price have more advanced in-car features.

User experience

The Aston Martin DBX is equipped with COMAND, an infotainment system that Mercedes introduced in 1998, refreshed in 2014 and updated again in 2016. When it comes to tech, a few years feels like a lifetime. 

The challenge is that it’s not as simple as replacing a head-unit, Nathan Hoyt, a spokesperson for Aston Martin, told TechCrunch.

“The car would need to be revised to work a whole new electrical architecture” he said. “That said, the closer alignment we previously announced between Mercedes and Aston Martin means we will continue using MB technology for the foreseeable future.”

While Aston Martin is saddled with an older system, Mercedes-Benz has since moved on to MBUX, a new more technologically advanced infotainment system that was introduced in 2018 and has already been updated. No word on when MBUX will find its way to Aston Martin products.

In practical terms, that means a 2021 luxury vehicle that’s missing a touchscreen. What’s in its place is far too much clunky plastic to be called classic analog, which perhaps would make more sense. Think Mac keyboard, circa 2014. Apple CarPlay is standard on the DBX, but it lacks Android Auto.

aston-martin-dbx interior

Image Credits: Aston Martin

Instead of slick knobs, there are plastic buttons that seem out of step with the rest of the vehicle’s swanky naturally sourced woods. Plastic is also present on the air vents and gear selector.

In fairness, the everything-but-the-kitchen sink isn’t the best solution to in-car technology. Many carmakers have far too much frustrating and tactile tech on the dash that isn’t intuitive.

aston-martin-dbx-hyper-red-a1-aml-213-jpg.

Image Credits: Aston Martin

The tech that stood out

Aston’s done what it can to make DBX’s inner working distinct from the traditional Mercedes system. Creative thinking shows up in the 10.2-inch display’s slick graphics made for DBX on the center stack. A DB5, James Bond’s vehicle of choice, is used as an icon to indicate adaptive cruise control activation.

Aston manages to use the tech that it does have to its advantage — and it’s a whole mood.

Ambient lighting offers 64 different colors in two zones and a sound system that feels of the moment. The custom sound system boasts 790 watts over 13 speakers and a sealed subwoofer, and noise compensation tech that drowns out road noise. The combination of that cushy cabin and the boom of those speakers makes it feel as if one is driving around in a high-end theater, back when we all went to the movies, or if you’re an Aston owner, escaped into your personal home theater.

ADAS: form and function

Aston compensates for lack of computational power by making adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring all standard safety features.

Each function is housed in one of the aforementioned plastic buttons. Adaptive cruise control is on the left of the steering wheel, and can be adjusted to monitor distance and speed. The lane-keeping assist button is on the right of the center console.

The controls on the center console require the driver to glance down for a brief moment, causing the eyes to flit off the road. When lane-keeping assist is engaged, a light on the dash and a gentle twitch of the wheel alert the driver. Other switches control driver performance and Aston’s air suspension settings.

Character study

Stateside, Aston might be limited to James Bond, but for the British car culture enthusiasts, the brand is steeped in emotion, gravitas and significance. I attended the Aston centenary in 2010 in England, where I saw an outpouring of love across the U.K. for the brand’s heritage.

Under former CEO Andy Palmer, Aston was in pursuit of its future. A more modern factory in Wales was built to make DBX. But part of Aston’s intrinsic appeal is that some components are still hand built to suit the low-volume connoisseur of a few thousand-of-a-kind vehicle. As cars become more complex computerized systems, hand built becomes more of a liability.

The DBX’s path comes down to what the prospective driver wants and needs this vehicle to be in place of proper high-six figure dream machine such as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan owned by the BMW group, or Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne, which fall under the collective VW umbrella. Or Tesla, which is Tesla.

aston-martin-dbx

Image Credits: Aston Martin

As slick technological features become more important, Aston Martin may need to rethink how it solves for lagging behind. That may mean doubling down on what it means to be unapologetic and classic. Or using future powertrain variants to push the 21st century automaker messaging. The latter seems most likely.

A 2020 agreement with Mercedes that builds off of an existing partnership will give Aston Martin access to a wide range of technology, including electric, mild and full hybrid powertrain architectures through 2027.

Aston Martin indicated in its latest earnings call that offering a hybrid SUV will be important for the company. Tobias Moers, Aston Martin’s new CEO and the former head of Mercedes-Benz AMG, said a plug-in hybrid DBX will be offered before 2024. All-electric vehicles are part of the company’s plans as well, and have been targeted for middle of the decade.

The question is whether Aston Martin will give the infotainment system the needed upgrade to match the hybrid and EV tech.

When it comes to high-six figure SUVs, the air is thin at the top.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

 

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Daily Crunch: Google swears off ad-tracking

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Google says it’s focusing on privacy-friendly approaches to ad targeting, Okta acquires Auth0 and a flying taxi startup raises $241 million. This is your Daily Crunch for March 3, 2021.

The big story: Google swears off ad-tracking

While Google had already announced it would be phasing out support for third-party cookies in Chrome, it went further today by declaring that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

In fact, Google’s David Temkin argued in a blog post that attempts to build alternative approaches to ad-tracking will not “meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.” Instead, he pointed to Google technologies like its interest-based Federated Learning of Cohorts.

The tech giants

Okta acquires cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5B — With Auth0, Okta gets a cloud identity company that helps developers embed identity management into applications.

Netflix launches ‘Fast Laughs,’ a TikTok-like feed of funny videos — This feature (now rolling out on iOS) allows users to watch, react to or share the short clips as well as add the show or movie to a Netflix watchlist.

Facebook’s Oversight Board already ‘a bit frustrated,’ and it hasn’t made a call on Trump ban yet — Board member and former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger implied that the binary choices the board has at its disposal aren’t as nuanced as he’d like.

Startups, funding and venture capital

‘Flying taxi’ startup Volocopter picks up another $241M, says service is now two years out — Alongside its vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas.

Identiq, a privacy-friendly fraud prevention startup, secures $47M at Series A — Identiq takes a different, more privacy-friendly approach to fraud prevention, without having to share a customer’s data with a third party.

After 200% ARR growth in 2020, CourseKey raises $9M to digitize trade schools — CourseKey’s B2B platform is designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Eleven words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck — Weeks or even months of working on your pitch deck could come down to the 170 seconds (on average) that investors spend looking at it.

Create a handbook and integrate AI to onboard remote employees — Professionals have adapted to remote working, but the systems they use are still playing catch-up.

First impressions of AppLovin’s IPO filing — AppLovin’s filing tells the story of a rapidly growing company that has managed to scale adjusted profit as it has grown.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cables could help soft robots transform into harder structures — The sub-category of soft robotics has transformed the way many think about the field.

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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