Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced 2,206 new cases of COVID-19 detected in B.C. and 74 deaths since Christmas Eve.
Henry announced that as of Tuesday, there are 7,580 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C. A record high of 373 people are in hospital, including 80 in intensive care.
Henry choked up when speaking about the 74 lives lost to COVID-19. Their deaths mean that so far, 882 British Columbians have died of the disease.
“Our condolences go out to all the families who are mourning their loss,” Henry said. “To the care providers and to our communities who have lost loved ones.
“We know that this is the most challenging time to deal with these issues. Not only because of COVID, but because of the time of year. We mourn with you and feel your loss intensely.”
Henry reported eight new outbreaks in the health-care system over the last weekend. There are 56 active outbreaks in long-term care and eight in acute care.
While daily case numbers are trending downwards, Henry said her worry is that the trend is in part due to people not getting tested as often during the holiday period as they were before.
No more signs of U.K. variant — so far
As health officials revealed this weekend, a Vancouver Island resident in mandatory 14-day quarantine after arriving home from the United Kingdom tested positive for a new variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in the U.K.
Henry said there was no evidence suggesting the new variant is more likely to cause severe illness, nor is there evidence to suggest approved vaccines for COVID-19 will be any less effective.
WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about the person who tested positive for the U.K. coronavirus variant:
She said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been sequencing coronavirus genomes for months to find changes in the virus and to see where variants might be coming from.
Once the U.K. variant was identified, Henry said the B.C. CDC sequenced the genome of viruses from people who had tested positive in recent weeks and so far, no more instances of the U.K. variant have been found.
Other positive tests from people in B.C. who have come through the U.K. are being sequenced now, Henry said.
“It may well be that we will identify additional people who have this variant who are here in B.C. now,” Henry said.
Henry added that the suspected increased infectiousness of the U.K. variant drives home the need to follow public health guidelines and orders to stop the spread of the coronavirus — regardless of the strain.
That means keeping hands washed, staying away from others if you are ill, isolating if you’ve been exposed, wearing a mask where required, keeping physical distances and keeping numbers small.
“Right now, that’s also an order: that you need to stay with your household for any social gatherings,” Henry said, adding those who live alone can gather with one or two close friends.
That order is in place until Jan. 8 and must be followed on New Year’s Eve, Henry said. She appealed to British Columbians to do so in order to give health care workers a break.
Raise a glass to 2021, she suggested, get takeout, but keep it within the household or connect virtually.
“This is what we need to do to get over this hump in our pandemic and make sure we enter 2021 positioned to immunize people who are most at risk and to get us through this next hard few weeks,” Henry said.
Moderna vaccine on its way
Henry said 11,930 British Columbians have now been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine began arriving in B.C. on Tuesday, Henry said, with more arriving in coming days. She said as soon as it arrives it will go out to remote and isolated First Nations communities.
She said the groundwork has been laid with partners such as First Nations and the First Nations Health Authority to make sure logistics, training and supplies are in place.
“This is a very exciting and important move for us here in British Columbia,” Henry said.
The Moderna vaccine has less demanding handling requirements, which makes it more suitable for remote communities.
So far, Henry reported, two people have had allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccination. She said this was not unexpected.
Both people who had reactions were treated, she said, and have fully recovered. Both were health care workers.
1 dose instead of 2?
Vaccinations were down over the weekend but Henry said training and logistics were a focus in those days. She said those elements are both important to have right with the “fussy” vaccines, and it’s not accurate to say vaccination-related activity was on pause.
Responding to a question about the head of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force calling on Health Canada to “look into” the possibility of providing Moderna’s vaccine as a single dose, rather than two, Henry said such a change would “absolutely” be helpful to get the most out of the vaccine supply.
“It would be just wonderful if people only needed a single dose,” she said. “That would make our lives so much easier.”
Henry said experts around the world are looking at data about vaccine efficacy after just the first dose, but right now it is a two-dose program.
For December and January, all the doses B.C. has received of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being used for first doses. None are being held back for second doses because there is greater confidence in the supply chain.
Henry said second doses for some people will occur in February — 35 days after the first — and there is good data suggesting immunity will hold out for that time.
First update in 5 days
Henry and Dix had held their last news conference on Dec. 23. New numbers were released online on Christmas Eve, but the province hasn’t had any fresh data since.
It will still be several days before numbers reflect whether holiday gatherings lead to a spike in new cases, given the virus’s 14-day incubation period.
Calgary company begins clinical trials for Canadian-made COVID vaccine candidate – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 26, 2021 5:47PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 26, 2021 5:48PM EST
A prospective COVID-19 vaccine touted as a made-in-Canada response has begun human clinical trials in Toronto, and the company says it’s already preparing a followup that will target more infectious variants.
Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says if all goes well, it could start manufacturing millions of doses of its first prospective vaccine by the end of the year, guaranteeing a Canadian stockpile that wouldn’t be subject to global supply pressures or competition.
That’s if the formulation proves safe and effective, of course.
Among the challenges of developing a vaccine amid a raging pandemic is the uncertainty of how more infectious variants now emerging will complicate the COVID battle.
Even if successful, by the time Providence Therapeutics releases its vaccine hopeful, much of the country could be in the throes of a more infectious virus that does not respond to this formulation, said company CEO Brad Sorenson.
“We don’t believe that this is going to be resolved by a single vaccine,” said Sorenson, whose biotech also produces a personalized mRNA-based vaccine against cancer.
It’s a challenge now facing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have each said its products appear to respond well to the variant initially identified in the United Kingdom, and to a lesser degree, the variant first detected in South Africa.
Moderna said earlier this week it plans to test two booster vaccines aimed at the variant associated with South Africa.
Sorenson said Providence is already internally testing a vaccine candidate that targets the variants, and he hoped to begin clinical trials by the end of the year.
“We believe that there’s going to be a need to be in a position of readiness to be able to respond as these variants are coming up, and to be able to make sure that we have that capacity.”
That doesn’t mean Providence is changing production runs just yet.
Sorenson said the immediate focus is to establish the safety and efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed PTX-COVID19-B and designed in the early days of the pandemic last March.
It uses messenger RNA technology and focuses on the spike protein located on the surface of a coronavirus that initiates infection, similar to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products.
The trial involves 60 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 25 who will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected in February.
The subjects are divided into four groups of 15, three of which will get three different doses. The fourth group gets a placebo.
Sorenson said immediate pandemic efforts should be focused on the novel coronavirus currently devastating many parts of the country.
“It’s a matter of capacity. Right now these variants are there, they’re concerning, and we’re keeping a close eye on it, but that’s not predominantly what the needs of the population are,” said Sorenson.
“Right now the needs of the population are still tied to the primary spike protein virus that’s out there and is ravaging around the world.”
Sorenson said his next vaccine candidate takes a broader approach by attempting to elicit a T-cell response, thereby creating a longer-term vaccine “and cover what we believe would be a lot more variants.”
“We have to prove it out, but we believe that if we are successful that it will allow for a much more durable immunity and a much broader immunity.”
The other goal is to prepare for large-scale manufacturing in Calgary, if all goes well with the trials and approval process.
Sorenson said doses for the Phase 1 trial are being made in Toronto, but the plan is to commercially manufacture the completed vaccine through a contract with the Calgary-based Northern RNA Inc.
That won’t be up and running by the end of the year, Sorenson allowed, so the short-term plan is to send raw materials made in Canada to a plant in the United States that would make the commercial product.
Eventually, the whole process would be completed in Canada, he said.
“We’re building the entire chain within Canada, so we’re not going to run into a problem where this particular input into the vaccine is unavailable,” he said.
Much of this also depends on financial support from the federal government, Sorenson added.
While the National Research Council of Canada has backed Phase 1 trials, Sorenson said he’s awaiting word on further support. He’d also like Ottawa to back Providence’s efforts to address the new COVID variants.
“They’ve already recognized the importance of mRNA technology. What they don’t realize is the power of mRNA technology to be responsive to these challenges that are coming up,” he said.
“Hopefully the politicians and the people that cut the cheques and write the policies that give direction to the bureaucrats will hear that and we’ll start seeing a more concerted approach that looks at a fuller picture.”
Pending regulatory approval, Sorenson said a larger, international Phase 2 trial may start in May with seniors, younger subjects and pregnant people, followed by an even broader Phase 3 trial.
The Providence project is just one of several Canadian efforts underway to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
The biopharmaceutical company Medicago, based in Quebec City, began clinical trials on its plant-based candidate last July. If successful, the company has said manufacturing would take place in Durham, N.C., until it can complete a large-scale manufacturing facility set for Quebec City.
And last month, Health Canada gave the green light to the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan to launch its Phase 1 clinical vaccine trial.
Infectious disease expert Jason Kindrachuk, who works with VIDO but is not involved with its vaccine candidate, said a varied vaccine strategy will be key to controlling the pandemic.
“Vaccines are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all and maybe with this pandemic, people are getting a greater appreciation for some of the logistical hurdles of trying to transport vaccines. Cold chain storage is not something most people knew about or thought about prior to COVID and everybody in the community now I think has heard about it,” said Kindrachuk, a visiting scientist from the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair.
“This is something that, in regards to vaccine development, we really have to put a lot of thought into as a research community because of the fact that we have to make vaccines that are accessible for the communities that are ultimately going to be treated with them.”
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged Tuesday that appetite was strong for a homegrown answer but noted Providence was still a considerable ways from offering a viable option.
“First it has to go through the appropriate approval process, go through Health Canada to make sure that it’s going to be satisfactory and safe and efficacious,” said Elliott.
Tensions rise as AstraZeneca, EU spar over vaccine delays – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Raf Casert, Samuel Petrequin And Danica Kirka, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, January 27, 2021 2:08PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 27, 2021 6:00PM EST
BRUSSELS – The European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca sparred Wednesday over a delay in coronavirus vaccine deliveries amid a deepening dispute that raises concerns about international competition for limited supplies of the shots needed to end the pandemic.
AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot addressed the dispute for the first time, rejecting the EU’s assertion that the company was failing to honour its commitments. Soriot said vaccine delivery figures in AstraZeneca‘s contract with the 27-nation bloc were targets, not firm commitments, and the company was unable to meet them because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.
“Our contract is not a contractual commitment, it’s a best effort,” Soriot said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “Basically, we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed. In fact, getting there, we are a little bit delayed.”
AstraZeneca said last week that it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31 million doses from 80 million due to reduced yields from its manufacturing plants in Europe. The EU claimed Wednesday that it will receive even less than that – just one quarter of the doses that member states were supposed to get during January-March 2021.
The EU says it expects the company to deliver the full amount on time, and on Monday threatened to put export controls on all vaccines made in its territory.
Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, rejected Soriot’s explanation for the delays, saying that “not being able to ensure manufacturing capacity is against the letter and spirit of our agreement.”
Kyriakides said AstraZeneca should provide vaccines from its UK facilities if it it is unable to meet commitments from factories in the EU. The comments are certain to create tension in the UK, which completed its exit from the bloc less than a month ago.
“I call on AstraZeneca to engage fully to rebuild trust, to provide complete information and to live up to its contractual, societal and moral obligations,” Kyriakides said at a media briefing in Brussels.
The EU’s contract with AstraZeneca is confidential and can’t be released without the agreement of both sides. The EU has asked AstraZeneca for permission to release the contract, Kyriakides said.
After a third round of talks aimed at resolving the dispute on Wednesday evening, Kyriakides regretted the “continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule” and urged AstraZeneca to come up with a clear plan for a quick delivery of the doses reserved by the EU for the first quarter. In a message posted on Twitter, Kyriakides however noted “a constructive tone” in the discussions with Soriot.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said after the meeting that the company has “committed to even closer co-ordination to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring this vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic.”
The dispute comes as the EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic clout of the world’s biggest trading bloc, lags far behind countries like Israel and Britain in delivering coronavirus vaccines to its people.
The EU has signed deals for six different vaccines, but so far regulators have only authorized the use of two, one made by Pfizer and another by Moderna. The EU’s drug regulator will consider the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.
Robert Yates, director of the global health program at the Chatham House think-tank in London, said the EU-AstraZeneca dispute highlights the danger of “vaccine nationalism” as countries compete for limited supplies.
“For politicians, this is red hot. And, you know, unfortunately, what we’re seeing as well is that Brexit politics is playing into this,” he said.
“This is this is really, really bad news – not only bad news for the European countries involved,” he said. “I think what’s much worse is that these squabbles between rich countries potentially deny vaccines to people in the rest of the world.”
AstraZeneca is setting up more than a dozen regional supply chains worldwide to meet regional demand for its vaccine. Overall, AstraZeneca plans to deliver up to 3 billion doses to countries around the world by the end of 2021.
However, establishing each facility is a complicated process that involves training people and ensuring each batch of vaccine is safe and effective. Sometimes this goes smoothly, but in other cases there are problems, Soriot said.
“We train them on how to manufacture,” he said. “And then, you know, some people are new to this process … They don’t know how to make the vaccine and they’re not as efficient as others.?
There are two basic steps in producing the vaccine. The first is a biological process that involves growing cells, which are injected with a virus, Soriot said. The second involves turning this “drug substance” into the final product, filling vials and testing each batch of vaccine.
Soriot said AstraZeneca had to reduce deliveries to the EU because plants in Europe had lower than expected yields from the biological process used to produce the vaccine. This has also happened in other regions as AstraZeneca sought to rapidly expand production capacity to meet demands from countries battling the pandemic.
“We’ve also had teething issues like this in the U.K. supply chain,” Soriot said. “But the U.K. contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal, so with the U.K. we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced. As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches.”
An official from the European Commission, the EU’s executive, said the bloc has agreed to give 336 million euros ($407 million) to AstraZeneca to develop its vaccine and deliver doses. The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the commission would be entitled to recover part of the money if the company fails to live up to the terms of this advance purchase agreement.
“We reject the logic of first come, first served,” Kyriakides said. “That may work at the neighbourhood butchers, but not in contracts and not in our advance purchase agreements. There’s no priority clause in the advanced purchase agreement.”
The shortfall in planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine is coming at the same time as a slowdown in the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech shots as Pfizer upgrades production facilities at a plant in Belgium.
“There are a lot of emotions running in this process right now, and I can understand it: people want vaccine,” Soriot said. “I want the vaccine too, I want it today. But, at the end of the day, it’s a complicated process.?
Danica Kirka reported from London.
Discord bans r/WallStreetBets server (for hate speech) – Gamasutra
The GameStop trading fiasco has taken a new turn. Discord has announced that it’s banning the /r/WallStreetBets server from the platform.
While all of the finance industry is in an uproar over what a small group of redditors have accomplished (driving up the price of GameStop stock to counter a planned short sell by a hedge fund group), Discord says its reasons are not tied to the group’s current news activity. It’s apparently being banned for violating the platform’s hate speech policies.
“The server has been on our Trust & Safety team’s radar for some time due to occasional content that violates our Community Guidelines, including hate speech, glorifying violence, and spreading misinformation,” the company said in a statement. “Over the past few months, we have issued multiple warnings to the server admin.”
“Today, we decided to remove the server and its owner from Discord for continuing to allow hateful and discriminatory content after repeated warnings.”
Elsewhere, the group’s Reddit page
suddenly switched to private, (Updated: it’s public again) though it’s unclear if this is over language used in the group or over the possibility that the US Securities and Exchange Commission might be monitoring it for fraudulent activity.
A colleague who checked in on the subreddit briefly confirmed to Gamasutra that one could quickly find ableist slurs all over the group.
This is the second time Discord has banned a server that’s affiliated with a specific Subreddit in the last month. The first was the TheDonald Discord server, which was shut down after the right-wing siege of the US Capitol on July 6th.
Discord seemed intent on communicating that today’s ban was not related to the group’s successful manipulation of GameStop’s stock price. “To be clear, we did not ban this server due to financial fraud related to GameStop or other stocks. Discord welcomes a broad variety of personal finance discussions, from investment clubs and day traders to college students and professional financial advisors,” it stated.
“We are monitoring this situation and in the event there are allegations of illegal activities, we will cooperate with authorities as appropriate.”
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