With an equal passion for Canadian cinema and humanitarianism, Brampton-based filmmaker Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s mantra is to “make ripples where you are.”
That is the title of her 2018 TEDx Youth Toronto talk, it’s what inspired her Make Ripples Foundation, and it’s why she strives to make meaningful change in the Canadian screen industry — specifically for creators who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour.
As the director-writer soars with her acclaimed short film “Black Bodies” and upcoming features, she says she’s resisting the urge to move to the United States like so many Canadian artists do to find success. She’d rather try to help foster diversity and inclusivity here.
“Early on in my career, I remember talking to a mentor about that and she was like, ‘You have to be a martyr. You either stay and you build up and you don’t have a career, or you have a career (in the United States),’ ” Fyffe-Marshall, 32, said.
“And I, from that moment, was like: ‘No, I want both. I want to be able to have a very successful career here. But I also want to build up the industry. If no one stays, we won’t be able to build it up.’ ”
Now available on digital platforms as a bonus preceding Charles Officer’s Canadian crime-noir “Akilla’s Escape,” “Black Bodies” is an artistic, five-minute look at being Black in the 21st century.
Komi Olaf is surrounded by bodies on the ground in a warehouse as he delivers a spoken-word poem about police brutality in the Toronto production. The cast also includes Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast, who is Bob Marley’s granddaughter and is also in “Akilla’s Escape.”
“Black Bodies” is the sequel to Fyffe-Marshall’s short film “Marathon” and was inspired by a traumatic experience of being racially profiled in 2018 in California.
Fyffe-Marshall said she, Olaf, Prendergast and another peer were putting suitcases in their vehicle after a four-day stay at their rental property in Rialto, Calif., when a white woman — who thought they “didn’t belong in the neighbourhood,” said the filmmaker — called police to say they were burglars.
Seven police cars and a helicopter surrounded them, said Fyffe-Marshall. Police said the group was released after about 30 minutes.
Fyffe-Marshall, whose cellphone video footage of the incident went viral online, said they felt “what it was like to be Black in America during these times, during those times — what it’s been like to be Black in this world for the last 400 years, to be honest.”
“I was dealing with a lot of what we would call PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after the incident,” she said.
Fyffe-Marshall said she made “Black Bodies” to channel her emotions into something “powerful that can help a community speak up, but also help allies understand what the community is going through.”
It won a Canadian Screen Award for best live action short and made the Toronto International Film Festival’s Canada’s Top Ten list after premiering at the fest last year. Fyffe-Marshall also won the Shawn Mendes Foundation’s inaugural Changemaker Award at TIFF and the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist.
But the accolades did not transfer into the momentum she expected.
When “Black Bodies” made it into this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Fyffe-Marshall tweeted there were “crickets in Canada” in terms of media coverage.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted back saying she looked forward to seeing “Black Bodies” and that Fyffe-Marshall’s “beautiful Black Women team of collaborators should make Canada proud.”
Fyffe-Marshall’s tweet then went viral, leading to more news articles and attention.
“Only five people from Canada got into Sundance and we were the only Black team from Canada, and so we — and specifically I — wanted a lot more respect, because I feel like if we were a sports team, if we were in any other field, we would have gotten a lot more respect for that,” Fyffe-Marshall said.
“I tweeted out a frustration that I feel like that’s why Canada loses so much of its stars in film to the U.S. Because really, my next step should be to go to America, because I know that’s where I’ll be able to find the career that I deserve.”
But Fyffe-Marshall is staying put.
The England-born, Afro-diasporic filmmaker said her female-run production company Sunflower Studios —which she co-founded with Tamar Bird, Iva Golubovic and Sasha Leigh Henry — pushes for diversity on their sets and established a producer-mentorship program to help BIPOC talent get the credentials they need to enter screen unions.
“It’s important for me that as I continue to go back (on sets), I continue to bring more Black and brown faces with me,” said Fyffe-Marshall, whose short film “Haven” won an Audience Choice award at 2018 SXSW festival in Austin.
“We’ve been taught so long in Canada, specifically between the BIPOC creative community, this scarcity mentality, because rarely one makes it. But we’re now at a point where all of us can make it, and so it’s important that we teach everybody what we can do so we can all do it together.”
Fyffe-Marshall said she’s now working on two feature films: “When Morning Comes,” an immigration story she plans to shoot in Jamaica, and “Summer of the Gun,” based on a deadly summer in Toronto.
She’s also developing and writing with a TV drama series with Bird and plans to direct a movie starring Destiny’s Child alumna Kelly Rowland. Meanwhile, Henry has written a sitcom, she said.
“We need to build our own voices,” said Fyffe-Marshall. “That’s the kind of stuff I want to see on TV.”
Cover photo by Chris Young, The Canadian Press.
Today’s coronavirus news: Manitoba to reveal new set of COVID-19 rules as vaccinations continue to rise; China orders mass coronavirus testing for Wuhan – Toronto Star
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
8 a.m. The Greek Olympic team says the outbreak of COVID-19 cases among its artistic swimmers has ruled them out of competing at the Tokyo Games.
Three new cases were reported Tuesday and the entire artistic swimming squad was asked to leave the Olympic Village. Only one case had been previously confirmed.
The Greek team says they are all staying at a quarantine hotel. Greece was due to compete in the duet and team events.
7:40 a.m. The quickly approaching fall semester has America’s colleges under pressure to decide how far they should go to guard their campuses against COVID-19 while navigating legal and political questions and rising infection rates.
Hundreds of colleges nationwide have told students in recent months they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before classes begin.
California State University, the country’s largest four-year public university system, joined the list last week, along with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Their announcements cited concerns about the highly contagious delta variant and came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated mask guidelines based on new research regarding its spread.
CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro called case surges linked to the variant an “alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors.”
Yet many more colleges have held off on vaccine mandates in a reflection of the limits school leaders face in adopting safety requirements for in-person classes.
In many Republican-led states, governments have banned vaccine mandates, or school leaders face political pressure to limit their anti-virus actions even among students who live in packed residence halls. Opponents say the requirements tread on personal freedoms.
Some campuses have sidestepped pushback by instead offering enticements, such as prize drawings for free tuition and computers, as they seek to boost student vaccination rates to 80 per cent or higher.
And a few have gone against the grain of their GOP-led states, such as Nova Southeastern in Florida requiring employees to get the shots and Nebraska Wesleyan mandating vaccinations for its 2,000 students.
Private colleges like these have more legal leeway regarding coronavirus rules, experts say. Prominent private universities mandating student vaccinations include Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Duke and Stanford.
6:40 a.m. Barack Obama is turning 60 on Wednesday and he’s marking the milestone with a celebration.
The Obamas are hosting an outdoor party in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to celebrate the former president’s birthday with friends, family and former staff members, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY. In order to promote safety, guests are required to adhere to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health protocols, including a testing regimen managed by a COVID-19 coordinator.
Concerns about COVID-19 transmission reignited after the delta coronavirus variant caused a sharp spike in cases around the country in recent weeks. For the first time in more than three months, cases in the U.S. average more than 60,000 per day, according to USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
The Obamas have been strong advocates for the vaccine, emphasizing “the need and the urgency of our communities getting vaccinated” in a video with Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley in April and getting vaccinated themselves one month earlier.
6:25 a.m. Tokyo is experiencing a record surge in COVID-19 cases during the Olympic Games as the more infectious Delta variant rips through Japan, though contagion among those linked to the event appears to be relatively contained so far.
To date, organizers have announced 294 positive cases among people connected to the Olympics, including 25 athletes out of the more than 11,000 who are expected to participate. Of over 400,000 tests conducted so far on athletes and stakeholders, the positivity rate has been only 0.02 per cent, organizers said on Tuesday.
“There is a separation between the athletes and the various stakeholders, and the general population,” Mark Adams, International Olympic Committee spokesperson, told reporters Monday. “You can’t reduce the risk to zero, but we have with the playbooks pretty well covered the ability to reduce that risk as far as we can.”
The so-called playbooks set out COVID-prevention measures and rules for each Olympics participant including athletes, officials and media.
Breaking down the category of people with positive test results, the largest numbers are among Tokyo 2020 contractors — third-party personnel who are contracted to the games to provide various services — and games-concerned people, who include those affiliated with the IOC, National Olympic Committees and Olympic Broadcasting Services. There have been a cumulative 153 and 89 cases in those categories, respectively.
While athletes in the Olympic Village are required to test daily, requirements are less strict for volunteers who have less contact with athletes. The rules are also harsher for those flying in from overseas, compared to Japanese residents.
5:55 a.m. The United States on Monday finally reached President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70 per cent of eligible adults at least partly vaccinated.
The milestone came a month later than Biden had hoped as the country faced the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
There was no celebration at the White House. The announcement was made on Twitter by Cyrus Shahpar, the COVID-19 data director for the Biden administration. “Let’s continue working to get more eligible vaccinated!” Shahpar wrote.
The White House had hoped to announce the 70 per cent vaccination bench mark four weeks ago. Biden initially used Independence Day to declare a victory of sorts over the pandemic and some kind of return to normal life.
But that goal evaporated in recent weeks as the Delta variant spread rapidly, putting pressure on hospitals in regions with low vaccination rates, including many politically conservative areas in the south. Southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, for instance, have been hard hit, swamping hospitals.
In recent weeks, there has been an uptick in the vaccination rate in some states where cases have crested. Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Florida have seen steady increases.
5:45 a.m. Florida leads the U.S. in another alarming coronavirus statistic: kids hospitalized with COVID-19.
Florida had 32 pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations per day between July 24 and 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adjusted for population, that’s 0.76 kids hospitalized per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the country.
The Florida Department of Health reported 10,785 new COVID-19 infections among children under 12 between July 23 and 29. That’s an average of 1,540 new cases per day.
The surge is worse for children who are eligible for the vaccine — 11,048 new cases among those ages 12 to 19 in the same week.
Last Friday’s state data shows seven deaths among children under 16 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Florida stopped reporting COVID-19 deaths by age group to the CDC on July 17.
Dr. Claudia Espinosa, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida, said that she is deeply concerned about cases spiking when kids return to school this month. Hundreds of thousands of kids across the state will soon pack themselves into school buses, classrooms and cafeterias.
“I’m terrified of what’s going to happen,” she said.
Pediatric hospitalizations are the latest sign of the resurgent pandemic’s hold on Florida. Last week, the state accounted for nearly one out of every four new infections and hospitalizations in the nation, according to the CDC. State data shows Florida averaged more than 15,780 infections a day over the most recent seven-day period.
Tampa Bay pediatric hospitals are seeing those higher admissions themselves. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg diagnosed 113 COVID-19 cases in the first three and a half weeks of July, while the hospital only had 11 infections in the entire month of June, said Dr. Joseph Perno, the hospital’s vice president of medical affairs.
Every week in July set a new weekly record for the most cases the hospital has seen during the pandemic, Perno said.
The age range of infected patients is evenly spread between young children and teenagers. And the vast majority of them are unvaccinated, said Dr. Allison Messina, the hospital’s chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease. Children 11 and under cannot yet get the vaccine.
Pediatric COVID-19 patients in BayCare’s 15 Florida hospitals doubled in July compared to June, after two months of declining case numbers, said hospital system spokesperson Lisa Razler.
The vast majority of infected pediatric patients are hospitalized at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Razler said, one of the six BayCare facilities that paused elective surgeries requiring overnight stays to make more beds available for COVID-19 patients.
While infected children are at less risk of serious illness then adults, Messina said they can still develop serious long-term complications, Messina said.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome is an autoimmune disease that targets school-aged children and can occur two to six weeks after a coronavirus infection. Symptoms include fever, rashes, red eye, and diarrhea and vomiting. If left untreated, Messina said, the illness can be fatal or cause permanent heart damage.
5:33 a.m. Chinese authorities have announced mass coronavirus testing in Wuhan as an unusually wide series of COVID-19 outbreaks reached the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
The provincial capital of 11 million people in central China is the latest city to undergo city-wide testing. Three cases were confirmed in Wuhan on Monday, its first non-imported cases in more than a year.
China has largely curbed COVID-19 at home after the initial outbreak that devastated Wuhan and spread globally. Since then, authorities have tamped down and controlled the disease whenever it pops up with quick lockdowns and mass testing.
The current outbreaks are still in the hundreds of cases in total, but have spread much more widely than previous ones. Many of the cases have been identified as the highly contagious delta variant.
The National Health Commission said Tuesday that 90 new cases had been confirmed the previous day.
5 a.m. Ontario’s back-to-school plan will be front and centre this week as the province announces what protocols will be in place so boards can get ready to welcome kids back to in-person learning in just five weeks.
With the government set to announce details as early as Tuesday, questions remain as to what the school year will look like, if the province has taken the advice of pediatric experts — and what has taken so long for the plan to be released.
While most of Ontario’s two million students are set to resume classes in person after Labour Day, some schools, on a modified calendar such as Peel’s Roberta Bondar elementary and York’s Bill Crothers secondary, are returning this week.
Tuesday 4 a.m. The Manitoba government is to announce changes Tuesday to its COVID-19 restrictions.
Premier Brian Pallister and the province’s chief public health officer are scheduled to hold a news conference on the updated orders.
Manitoba is running ahead of its vaccination targets, with roughly 80 per cent of people ages 12 and up having at least one dose and more than 70 per cent having two.
The current rules include a 50 per cent capacity limit at stores, museums, restaurants and gyms.
Casinos, bingo halls, movie theatres and some other facilities are open only to people who are fully vaccinated.
Household visits are also capped at five people in addition to residents of a home.
Monday 7 p.m. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted Monday he has tested positive for coronavirus, months after he was vaccinated.
The Republican senator said he started having flu-like symptoms Saturday night and went to the doctor Monday to be tested.
Graham described his symptoms as “mild,” and said his symptoms feel like he has a sinus infection.
He tweeted he will quarantine for the next 10 days, and, despite his diagnosis, is glad he was vaccinated.
“I was just informed by the House physician I have tested positive for #COVID19 even after being vaccinated. I started having flu-like symptoms Saturday night and went to the doctor this morning,” Graham tweeted. “I feel like I have a sinus infection and at present time I have mild symptoms. I will be quarantining for ten days. I am very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now. My symptoms would be far worse.”
Graham’s diagnosis is among the rising breakthrough cases reported across the country where vaccinated people are testing positive for the virus due to the rise in the delta variant.
South Carolina has also has reported a spike in cases during the past few weeks, seeing its most cases since February.
Monday 6:30 p.m. The positivity rate for COVID-19 testing in Quebec reached 1.4 per cent on Sunday — the highest it’s been since late May.
New COVID-19 infections are also on the rise, according to the Health Department. Officials reported 154 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 347 new infections identified on Friday and Saturday. Quebec has reported an average of 139 new cases a day over the past seven days, up from an average of 57 a week prior.
Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, says the trends are concerning. The rising positivity rate in the province “means that there is still ongoing community transmission,” he said in an interview Monday.
He is also concerned because Quebec’s rate on Sunday reflected fewer overall tests compared with late May. On May 31, Quebec recorded a test positivity rate of 1.5 per cent based on 15,783 tests. On Sunday, Quebec analyzed 11,202 tests.
The big question, Vinh said, is whether the jump in the positivity rate is a sign Quebecers should expect cases to rise even more in late August and September, when classes at schools, junior colleges and universities resume. “If it’s already increased when we are in the ‘safe’ outdoors, what’s going to happen when we’re in the indoors? That’s where the concern is,” he said.
Despite the rise in cases, deaths and hospitalizations linked to the novel coronavirus haven’t followed suit.
The Health Department, which no longer provides COVID-19 updates on weekends, said no deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus have been reported in the province since Thursday. It said the number of those hospitalized increased by one since its last report, to 61, and 17 people were in intensive care — unchanged since Friday’s update.
Health officials said 38,247 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered Sunday and Quebec’s public health institute reported that 84.6 per cent of residents 12 and up have received at least one dose of vaccine while 68 per cent are adequately vaccinated.
Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute and member of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, said it’s likely the number of active COVID-19 cases in the province is higher than testing data suggests.
“I think we should be worried, but I think that what we should be even more worried about is that we’re not worried enough,” Veillette said. “We’ve all become a little bit complacent.”
Veillette said the rise in cases in the province is likely the result of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Data from Quebec’s public health institute on Monday, however, indicates the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases involving variants dropped the week ending July 24, compared with the prior week. But Judith Fafard, a medical microbiologist at the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, said that data is incomplete.
It takes time, she explained, for results to be gathered and processed from the province’s decentralized laboratory network. The most reliable data on variants comes from the week ending July 17, which showed a rise in the percentage of cases involving the Delta variant from the prior week.
The percentage of cases involving the Alpha variant — which accounted for more than 80 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Quebec in mid-May — has also been dropping since the last week of that month, she said.
“It would be surprising if we were any different from England, the other provinces and the United States, so what’s replacing Alpha is probably the Delta variant,” she said.
“We know that the Delta variant is in Quebec and that it is growing.”
‘Get tested’ for COVID-19 even if you’re fully vaccinated, Fauci says as Delta variant rages – Global News
As health officials warn of an imminent 4th wave of Delta-driven COVID-19 infections, America’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is stressing the importance of getting tested for the virus — even if you are fully vaccinated.
“We used to say if you’re vaccinated and you come into contact with an infected person, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to test. You don’t need to isolate,” Fauci said during an interview with Global News reporter Jackson Proskow. “Now, that’s changed. Now, the recommendation is that you should be tested even if you’re vaccinated.”
Fauci’s comments come on the heels of a new study by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which warns that the Delta COVID-19 variant could be as contagious as the chickenpox, and a report that points to a chain of outbreaks among vaccinated individuals.
The Delta variant, first detected in India, is “substantially more efficient in transmitting from person to person” when compared to other variants, and “no vaccine is 100 percent effective,” Fauci explained.
“When you measure the level of [the] virus in the nasal pharynx of a vaccinated person who has [had] a breakthrough infection with Delta,” Fauci said, the detected virus level is “high and equivalent to the level of virus in the nasal pharynx of an unvaccinated person.”
That is not the case with other variants.
For instance, the level of virus found in the nasal pharynx of a vaccinated individual who happens to be infected with the Alpha variant is much lower than that of an unvaccinated person.
This “strongly” suggests that the Delta variant’s ability to transmit is unhindered by an individual’s vaccination status, Fauci said.
“It is very clear now that [vaccinated people] can transmit the infection to others.”
Last week, the U.S. CDC recommended that fully vaccinated Americans should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus — and especially the Delta variant — are spreading rapidly.
The change marked a reversal of the agency’s earlier announcement in May that motivated millions of vaccinated Americans to drop their face coverings.
Delta COVID-19 variant now dominant worldwide, detected in 100 countries: Fauci
Dr. David Doudy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the CDC guidance was motivated by a change in infection patterns.
“We’re seeing this doubling in the number of cases every 10 days or so,” he said.
The CDC said that 63 per cent of U.S. counties had high transmission rates that warranted mask-wearing.
New cases per day in the U.S. have increased six-fold over the past month to an average of nearly 80,000, a level not seen since mid-February. And deaths per day have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 259 to 360.
Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control at Colorado’s UCHealth said research from China suggests the Delta variant replicates much faster and generates 1,000 times more virus in the body compared to the original coronavirus strain, highlighting the biggest danger of this new wave.
“This is like a wildfire, this is not a smoldering campfire. It is full-on flames right now,” Barron said.
Other doctors said patients infected with Delta appeared to become ill faster, and sometimes showed more severe symptoms, than those they treated earlier in the pandemic.
“We are seeing more patients requiring oxygen sooner,” said Dr. Benjamin Barlow, chief medical officer at American Family Care, a 28-state chain of urgent care clinics.
Delta COVID-19 variant ‘greatest threat’ to U.S. pandemic response: Fauci
At his clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, Barlow recorded 20 per cent of the patients testing positive for COVID-19, compared with the two-to-three per cent a few weeks ago.
David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center, said the Delta variant is more infectious and leads to faster onset of illness.
“Frankly there’s a severity that comes from this variant that is a little more severe,” Montefiori said on a webcast last week. “It’s not just easier to transmit, it makes you sicker.”
Fauci reiterated the same.
“It’s just a very dominant variant,” he told Global News. “It’s already in over one hundred and twelve countries. So the horse is out of the barn, as it were.”
“Wherever Delta has been, it invariably is so efficient in transmitting from person to person that it always seems to push out the other variants and become dominant,” Fauci explained. “We’ve seen that in the United States. A few months ago it was two, three or so percent. Then it went up to 20, then 50, then 80, and now it’s close to 90 percent.”
Nevertheless, Fauci is optimistic.
He said adaption is key when it comes to dealing with this ever-evolving virus.
“[As] the science evolves, the evidence evolves,” he said. “Your approach and your guidelines and your recommendations need to evolve. And that’s exactly what happened in the United States with the change in the CDC guidelines.”
Canadian experts too are optimistic. However, they don’t think that a Delta-driven 4th wave would be as big as the previous ones given Canada’s current vaccinations rates.
Even with the country’s rise in cases, Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University said that the virus would primarily affect unvaccinated communities, highlighting the fact that over 97 per cent of all new cases in Canada were among those who did not get a jab.
Canada added at least another 218 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing its total infections to 1,431,219. Two additional deaths were reported as well, with the country’s overall death toll now standing at 26,600. Over 1.39 million people have recovered from the coronavirus and more than 49.5 million vaccinations have been doled out so far.
Dr. Ronald St John, former WHO director for the Americas and national manager for Canada’s response to SARS, also expressed caution when interpreting the findings of the internal CDC report.
Speaking on the Roy Green show, he mentioned that the data in the report was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.
“How often [the Delta variants] spread, the frequency of spread — that’s what’s not clear to me in the data that’s been presented so far,” he said. “I think it’s just been an internal document that’s been spread around. So I’m waiting to see a little more data.”
-With files from Global News’ David Lao and Reuters
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Study Will Test Different Time Intervals for COVID-19 Vaccines in Pregnant Individuals – Technology Networks
A new UK-based clinical trial will test the most appropriate time interval between two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant individuals.
COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy
In 2020, clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines now authorized for human use did not include pregnant or breastfeeding individuals. This approach is typical for the clinical study of a new investigational medicinal product and is enforced by regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect both mothers and pregnancies.
As the global rollout of several COVID-19 vaccines commenced, many pregnant individuals opted to be immunized against SARS-CoV-2 regardless. This enabled scientists to gather real-world retrospective data on the safety and efficacy of the different types of vaccines in this population. Based on the growing data supply, in April, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that pregnant persons in the UK should be offered two doses of mRNA-based vaccines (Pfizer–BioNTech’s BNT162b2 or Moderna’s mRNA-1273) where available.
However, data gaps remain, Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Paul Heath from St George’s University of London explained in a recent press release: “Tens of thousands of pregnant women have now been vaccinated in both the US and the UK with no safety concerns reported, but we still lack robust, prospective clinical trial data on COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women.”
More information is required to determine the best time schedule for administering the two mRNA COVID-19 vaccine doses in pregnant individuals in order to achieve the optimum immune response. A new study led by Heath – known as Preg-Cov – will provide this vital clinical information.
Vaccine dose intervals in pregnancy
Preg-Cov will recruit over 600 low-risk pregnant women aged 18-45-years-old across a number of sites in the UK. All participants will receive two doses of an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine (either Pfizer–BioNTech’s BNT162b2 or Moderna’s mRNA-1273). The eligibility criteria permits the inclusion of individuals that have received their first dose prior to enrolling in the trial. Speaking to Technology Networks, Heath said: “All will be blinded to the COVID-19 vaccine they receive except for the group that have received a dose before pregnancy – as they obviously know what they had already.”
Participants must be between 13 and 34 weeks pregnant on the date of the first COVID-19 vaccination, and will be divided into two groups: short interval and long interval dosing. The short interval group will receive their second COVID-19 vaccine between four to six weeks after their first dose, whereas the long interval group will receive their second dose between 8 and 12 weeks after their first. Consequently, some individuals will receive their second dose after delivering their baby. The study will follow all recruits for a period of one year.
“It’s important to highlight that all participants in this study will receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This is particularly important with the rising number of cases, the easing of restrictions and low vaccine uptake among pregnant women,” Professor Asma Khalil, lead obstetrician for the trial said.
Throughout the duration of the trial, various data will be collected. Recruits will be asked to maintain a symptom diary and blood samples will be obtained from the mother. In some instances, cord blood will also be extracted. “The blood samples are taken from all mothers but cord blood only from mothers at certain sites. This is because we don’t actually need to take as many samples to address the question about transfer of antibody from mother to baby in the cord blood,” Heath told Technology Networks.
The trial – which is now open for enrollment – is supported by £7.5 million worth of funding from the UK government. “Pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 and we know that vaccines are safe for them and make a huge difference – in fact no pregnant woman with two jabs has required hospitalisation with COVID-19,” said the Minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment, Nadhim Zahawi. “This government-backed trial will provide more data about how we can best protect pregnant women and their babies, and we can use this evidence to inform future vaccination programmes.”
Professor Paul Heath was speaking to Molly Campbell, Science Writer for Technology Networks.
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