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Canada could get multiple coronavirus vaccines. Experts say there are unique challenges – Global News

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Vaccine-related news has dominated the waterfall of coronavirus headlines in recent weeks and so far, it’s been refreshingly positive.

Multiple COVID-19 vaccines could be approved in the coming months, and Canada has deals to secure millions of doses of various candidates. The question then becomes, which one will Canada roll out, and why?

“I don’t think it’s going to be a winner-takes-all situation,” said Jean-Paul Soucy, an epidemiology PhD student at the University of Toronto. “Nothing is stopping them from them all being approved.”

Read more:
Canada’s coronavirus vaccine rollout — Who will get it first?

So what happens if they do?

It would be an “unexpected blessing,” said Soucy, but one that might come with unique challenges.

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Timing will be everything, he said.

“There are a million things that could speed things up or hold things back at this point,” said Soucy. “The biggest conversation now should be around planning.”


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Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective


Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective

Challenges

The vaccine candidates expected in the new year are likely to pose significant logistical and distribution challenges.

The federal government is already seeking assistance from the military and provinces are currently working on their individual plans to identify where vaccines should be deployed.

All of the above will become more complicated should multiple vaccines be approved around the same time, said Soucy.

“You’ll probably have some places with one, some have another, depending on shipping and manufacturing, differences in population,” he said.

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“Even if there are modest differences in effectiveness between the various vaccines, speed is going to be way more important to the effort.”

Read more:
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Kelly Grindrod, a pharmacist and professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy, said some of the challenges that lie ahead are “long-standing” for Canada.

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Namely, vaccination tracking.

Canada does not have a national vaccine registry, and even at regional and provincial levels, “it’s really hard to track,” she said.

“There are multiple vaccines on the horizon, many of which require two doses,” she said. “So you’re not just tracking one dose, you’re tracking two. That’s going to emerge as a real challenge.”

Then there are approved vaccinators. Grindrod believes it’s here the web could become even more tangled.

In the past few years, Canada added pharmacists as vaccinators to increase capacity, especially in rural areas.

“But what happens when people are moving locations?” she asked. “Do you get one dose at your doctor’s office and one at the pharmacy? Or are they all given centrally, like at a hockey arena? This stuff has to be solved.”

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Coronavirus: WHO chief warns vaccines do not mean time for complacency


Coronavirus: WHO chief warns vaccines do not mean time for complacency

A “good, robust tracking system” may provide more flexibility, she said.

Canada does have a national system that monitors adverse effects following immunization, which Grindrod said will become “critical” with a new vaccine. But as of now, it’s not set up for success.

“In an ideal scenario, this is all in one big connected system, but it’s not,” she said. “They’re two separate parts to the same problem.”

Opportunities

To experts, overall, the pros outweigh the cons.

“There are challenges we are facing, but what a great challenge it is to have many COVID-19 vaccine candidates,” said Alyson Kelvin, a Dalhousie University researcher who specializes in emerging diseases.

“One company cannot simply supply vaccines for the entire world.”

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There are vaccine frontrunners, but no official approvals. Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca all have trials to complete before the world can truly know the effectiveness profiles of each vaccine, and how they differ.

Pfizer’s announcement of its preliminary trial results showed its vaccine candidate was about 90 per cent effective. That was followed up about a week later with final trial results and safety data, indicating a 95 per cent effectiveness rate.

Then there was Moderna. The company announced preliminary results for its own vaccine on Nov. 16, which indicated an effectiveness of about 95 per cent.

AstraZeneca is the latest to join the positive-news party. The drugmaker said Thursday that its late-stage trials found its vaccine was well tolerated and produced a strong immune response in people over 70 — a significant development given vaccines often don’t work as well in older people, who are at highest risk of serious infection from COVID-19.


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Coronavirus: Trudeau won’t confirm date of receiving Moderna and Pfizer vaccines


Coronavirus: Trudeau won’t confirm date of receiving Moderna and Pfizer vaccines

Once each successful candidate’s effectiveness is more clearly defined — and there’s more than one to choose from — there might be some variation in how they’re doled out to key populations, as identified by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

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Final decisions will depend on vaccine efficacy, both Kelvin and Grindrod noted.

“If there is a difference in responses in, say, people over 65, which we often see, then you may see one vaccine being preferentially given to that demographic,” said Grindrod.

That’s why the recent developments in AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate are so significant.

“It specifically shows the vaccine is effective in older people,” she said. “That’s a piece of information we’ve been waiting for.”

Read more:
Number of Canadians who plan to get coronavirus vaccine on the rise, poll shows

There will still be specialized research to do even after the first roll-out of vaccines, Grindrod added.

For ethical reasons, children and pregnant women are not part of the broader research at this point. Pfizer’s experimental coronavirus vaccine has only been tested in 12-year-olds, while Moderna says it would test teenagers “very soon,” followed by children under the age of 12.

With “multiple companies reaching similar midpoint check-ins,” Grindrod is hopeful there will be positive developments for targeted populations in the near future.

“This isn’t a one-off fluke,” said Grindrod.

“This is moving extraordinarily fast. It’s a week-by-week thing now, not a year-by-year thing. What we don’t have this week, we might have by next.”

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— with files from The Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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