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A look at what Canada can learn from America’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan – Global News

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Canadians perusing social media may be coming across photos of their American peers bearing wide smiles and vaccination cards that show they’ve been inoculated against COVID-19.

A recent ramping up of the United States’s vaccine rollout has it vastly outpacing its northern neighbour, and some Canadians are wondering why distribution here is lagging so far behind.

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease doctor in South Carolina, says that while the speed of the American rollout has been impressive lately, it’s not been without its faults.

Read more:
Coronavirus vaccine tracker: How many Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19?

Communication between states has been mostly lacking, she says, and the absence of a uniform standard for vaccine eligibility has led to inconsistencies across jurisdictions. Some states, for example, include teachers high on their priority list while others are still working on inoculating those 80 years and older.

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Confusion in the early stages of the rollout caused frustration and dampened trust, she added. And while the shift to a new presidential administration last month has led to some improvements, Kuppalli says there’s room for more.

“I don’t think we’re the model of success,” she said in a phone interview. “We’ve had a lot of challenges. … but it’s getting better.

“Communication is better, there’s definitely greater transparency, and states have been very forthcoming in ramping up vaccine measures and rolling out mass vaccination sites. So all that’s helping.”


Click to play video 'U.S. on a slow march to another grim COVID-19 milestone'



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U.S. on a slow march to another grim COVID-19 milestone


U.S. on a slow march to another grim COVID-19 milestone

The U.S. was vaccinating an average of 1.7 million Americans per day this week, and had administered at least one dose to more than 12 per cent of its population as of Friday.

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Canada, which recently dealt with weeks of shipping delays and disruptions from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, has doled out nearly 1.4 million doses since its rollout began mid-December, covering about 2.65 per cent of its population with at least one dose.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday vaccine delivery is set to rapidly increase, however, with provinces preparing to roll out almost a million and a half doses over the next three weeks.

The Americans have many factors in their favour when speeding up vaccine distribution, experts say, including a much more expansive supply than Canada’s that’s bolstered by production from U.S.-based Moderna.

While having supply is the first step, Kuppalli says getting those vaccines into pharmacies, where they can be easily administered, has also helped. The American government announced weeks ago its aim to supply vaccines to about 40,000 drugstores in the coming months.

Canada has not yet reached the pharmacy stage of its vaccine rollout, but Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, expects that to happen once we have enough supply to branch out.

Read more:
Coronavirus tracker: how many new cases of COVID-19 in Canada today?

“We have the exact same plan, we just need the critical mass of vaccines,” said Bogoch, who’s also on Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force. “When we get that, you’re gonna see from coast to coast vaccines offered at many different settings.”

While pharmacy distribution makes sense for a quick rollout, it also can lead to problems with wasted doses if people aren’t showing up for their appointments, says Kelly Grindrod, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.

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Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines need to used within a relatively short timeframe after they’re thawed from ultra-cold storage temperatures, Grindrod says, and once a vial has been punctured, that interval decreases further.

She says Canada has been learning from wastage setbacks other countries are experiencing, and she expects Plan B lists to be compiled of individuals who can quickly fill in when no-shows arise.

Those lists have to be made fairly though, she cautions.


Click to play video 'Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine 80-90% effective after 1st dose'



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Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine 80-90% effective after 1st dose


Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine 80-90% effective after 1st dose

“You have to make sure there’s no queue-jumping. So it’s not your friend coming in, it’s actually people who would fall normally on the next round of priority.”

Grindrod says queue-jumping — where people with lower risk of contracting the virus or experiencing a bad COVID outcome are vaccinated before higher-priority groups — has been more culturally unacceptable in Canada than it has in the U.S., a country without a universal health-care system.

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So there’s some justifiable outrage, she adds, when Canadians see American friends boasting about getting their jabs, especially if they’re not in high-risk populations.

“Equity is probably the most important principle of the Canadian vaccine rollout,” Grindrod said. “And I’m not sure that’s the case in the U.S.”

While the American rollout has had its faults, Grindrod admires some of the more unique approaches happening south of the border to ensure high-risk groups can get their doses.

Read more:
Moderna vaccine approved: What we know about side effects, ingredients and doses

She noted the recent role Black churches have played in co-ordinating inoculation drives among typically underserved neighbourhoods, and the pharmacists who have been driving vaccines into remote communities to inoculate those who can’t easily get to an immunization centre.

“You’re seeing really positive examples where communities themselves are helping to create effective outreach,” she said.

“So I think those are the real lessons we can learn from the U.S.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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AMC expects people to return to theaters as vaccine rollout gathers pace

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(Reuters) -AMC Entertainment Holdings said on Thursday its business was expected to improve in the coming months as the mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines draws moviegoers back to the cinema chain’s theaters.

A strong slate of big-budget movies, including “Fast & Furious” film “F9” and Marvel’s “Black Widow,” in the summer is expected to fuel a rebound in box-office sales after the pandemic-driven slump in 2020.

“We finally can now say that we are looking at an increasingly favorable environment for movie-going and for AMC as a company over the coming few months, Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron said in a statement.

However, the company’s revenue fell to $148.3 million in the quarter ended March 31, from $941.5 million a year earlier, missing a Refinitiv IBES estimate of $153.43 million.

Its net loss shrunk to $567.2 million, or $1.42 per share in the quarter, from a loss of $2.18 billion, or $20.88 per share, a year earlier.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

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Drugmakers say Biden misguided over vaccine patent waiver

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By Stephanie Nebehay and Ludwig Burger

GENEVA/FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Drugmakers on Thursday said U.S. President Joe Biden’s support for waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines could disrupt a fragile supply chain and that rich countries should instead share more generously with the developing world.

Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, angering research-based pharmaceutical companies.

If adopted by the World Trade Organisation, the proposal would invite new manufacturers that lack essential know-how and oversight from the inventors to crowd out established contractors, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said.

“I have heard many (vaccine makers) talking about ‘our resources are stretched, our technicians are stretched’,” IFPMA Director General Thomas Cueni told Reuters. He warned of a possible free for all if “sort of rogue companies” were allowed to become involved.

Vaccine developers echoed his comments that waiving intellectual property rights was not a solution.

“Patents are not the limiting factor for the production or supply of our vaccine. They would not increase the global production and supply of vaccine doses in the short and middle term,” said Germany’s BioNTech, which aims to supply up 3 billion doses together with Pfizer this year.

BioNTech said it took more than a decade to develop its vaccines manufacturing process and replicating it required experienced personnel and a meticulous technology transfer, among several other factors beyond patents.

Another German company CureVac, which hopes to release trial results on its messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine as early as this month, said patents were not to blame for supply bottlenecks.

“Since mRNA technology has emerged as the key technology in the fight against COVID-19, the world now needs the same raw materials in unfathomable amounts. The biggest problem is how to coordinate this,” a spokeswoman said.

IFPMA’s Cueni said the real bottlenecks were trade barriers, in particular the U.S. Defense Production Act (DPA).

The DPA is a decades-old U.S. law that prioritised procurement orders related to U.S. national defence, but it has been widely used in non-military crises, such as natural disasters.

Cueni said the way to kickstart low-income countries’ vaccination campaigns was for rich countries to donate vaccine, rather than widen eligibility to young and healthy people at home.

Moderna, which on Thursday reported quarterly results, said waiving intellectual property rights would not help to increase supply of its vaccines in 2021 and 2022.

The U.S. drugmaker said last year it would not enforce its vaccine patents. CureVac said on Thursday it would also not enforce its patents during the pandemic and that it knew of no other developer that would.

Italy’s ReiThera which is in late-stage tests on an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, was also critical of patent waivers.

“There is proprietary know-how that has to be transferred by the owner. And then there is the problem with process materials, which at the moment have delivery times of almost a year,” ReiThera’s chief of technology Stefano Colloca said.

In contrast to the industry reaction, the GAVI vaccine alliance, which co-leads the COVAX dose-sharing programme with the WHO and faces major supply constraints, welcomed Biden’s support for waiving intellectual property rights.

(Writing by Ludwig BurgerAdditional Reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan; editing by Barbara Lewis and Jane Merriman)

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EU supports COVID vaccine patent waiver talks, but critics say won’t solve scarcity

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By Philip Blenkinsop and Carl O’Donnell

BRUSSELS/NEW YORK (Reuters) -The European Union on Thursday backed a U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, but drugmakers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed willingness to explore a waiver after President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted the plan, reversing the U.S. position.

“The main thing is, we have to speed this up,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Thursday as India battled a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. “None of us are going to be fully safe until … we get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

A patent waiver is “one possible means of increasing manufacture, and access to vaccines,” he said, as the White House denied a split among officials over the waiver idea.

Biden’s administration endorsed negotiations at the World Trade Organization to gain global agreement.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the U.S. move. “We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying,” she said.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached for capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s move a “MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19,” and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States.”

Despite that enthusiasm, drugmakers, who stand to lose revenue if they are stripped of patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines, and other critics found flaws in the proposal.

The complexities of manufacturing means free access to the intellectual property is not enough to immediately increase vaccine production, they said. Moderna waived its patent rights in October, and on Thursday noted the lack of companies able to rapidly manufacture a similar vaccine and secure approval for it.

Combined, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have forecast over $45 billion in sales this year for their COVID-19 vaccines.

In the long term, a waiver would discourage pharmaceutical companies from rapidly responding to future global health threats with large research investments, some said.

Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying vaccine shortages were due to limited production capacity and quality standards rather than patent protection issues.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said he shared Biden’s goal of providing the whole world with vaccines. But a government spokeswoman said in a statement that “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”

Moreover, a waiver would take months to negotiate and require unanimous agreement among the 164 countries in the WTO. Drug companies urged rich countries instead to share vaccines more generously with the developing world.

DOES NOT ADDRESS ‘THE REAL CHALLENGES’

Stock prices for drugmakers largely recovered after initially falling sharply after Biden backed the waiver idea. Moderna was off 1.3% after earlier dropping 12%, and the U.S. shares of its German partner BioNTech SE shed 0.6% after falling as much as 15% earlier. “The bottleneck is neither access nor patents (or price) butsimply that there aren’t enough vials, raw materials, etc tomanufacture it regardless of patents,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said of expanding COVID-19 vaccine production.

The pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group, PhRMA, said: “This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.”

There have been more than 155 million confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide and almost 3.4 million peopled have died for COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally.

But the vast bulk of the 624 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Our World in Data website, live in wealthier countries.

The global COVAX vaccine distribution program, led by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), that aims to supply vaccines to low-income countries, has so far handed out around 41 million doses.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very much in favour” of opening up intellectual property. However, a French government official said vaccine shortages was the result of a lack of production capacity and ingredients, not of patents.

“I would remind you that it is the United States that has not exported a single dose to other countries, and is now talking about lifting the patents,” the official said.

The United States has shipped a few million vaccine doses it was not using to Mexico and Canada on loan.

South Africa and India made the initial waiver proposal at the WTO in October, gathering support from many developing countries, which say it will make vaccines more widely available.

Until now, the European Union has been aligned with a group of countries, including Britain and Switzerland – home to large pharmaceutical companies – that have opposed the waiver.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Sabine Siebold in Brussels, additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Francesco Guarascio and John Chalmers in Brussels, Emilio Parodi in Milan, Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris, Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt aboard Air Force One, Andrea Shalal in Washington, Carl O’Donnell and Michelle Nichols in New York, and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Writing by Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Mark Heinrich and Bill Berkrot)

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