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Canada not paying for tobacco company stake in vaccine-maker Medicago: minister

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OTTAWA — The federal government isn’t considering putting up money to help buy shares in the only domestic manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, but it is “working on a solution” with Medicago’s parent company.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been in Japan for the past week, pitching Canada as a good location for production of electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.

While meeting with the presidents of Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma and Mitsubishi Chemical, which owns a 79 per cent stake in Medicago, Champagne says there were discussions about the company’s future as a global vaccine manufacturer.

Its biopharmaceutical vaccine has been rejected by the WHO because tobacco company Philip Morris is a minority shareholder, and the UN agency has a strict policy about engagement with the tobacco industry.

The Covifenz vaccine was licensed by Health Canada in February for adults aged 18 to 64, and the federal government has signed a contract to buy up to 76 million doses with plans to donate vaccines to low-income countries.

But the donations are not allowed without WHO approval.

Champagne says the government is working with the company to make Medicago “a global leader when it comes to global health.”

But that doesn’t include buying shares at this point.

“What we have been considering with respect to Medicago, as we have seen, we’ve already invested to strengthen their (research and development) capacity, their manufacturing capacity,” Champagne said.

“We will see what would be needed in order to make Medicago a global champion.”

Mitsubishi has approached the Quebec government for support so Medicago’s vaccines “can receive a favourable reception from the WHO and be marketed on a large scale,” according to an entry in the Quebec Registry of Lobbyists.

“The nature, form and amount of funding are unknown,” the company states in the registry.

Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said in June that he has been in discussions with Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma executives to resolve the impasse, but the Japanese company must first negotiate the purchase of Philip Morris’s stake itself.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2022.

 

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Monkeypox in Canada: Experts concerned over potential further spread – CTV News

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Monkeypox infections continue to rise in Canada as the U.S. and the WHO declare the outbreak an emergency, leaving some experts concerned about the risk of further outbreaks.

There have been fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases in Canada since May, as of Friday. But on a per capita basis, the number of monkeypox cases in total in Canada has surpassed the United States.

On July 27, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam encouraged those at highest risk from monkeypox to get vaccinated, saying an “urgent” response is needed to address the outbreak.

But even though monkeypox has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, tells CTV National News that there is a strong chance the infection could spread outside of that community.

“I’m not saying that we have to panic. I think we just need to be prepared that there’s a possibility that this virus could spread to the larger general public, and so we shouldn’t be surprised of that possibility,” he said.

Monkeypox often presents as a flu-like infection with a rash and spreads through close personal contact with someone who is symptomatic.

While monkeypox has been endemic to certain parts of Africa for decades, it has also been neglected, Vinh said.

And while the smallpox vaccine does protect against monkeypox, questions remain over whether those who were inoculated decades ago will still be protected from the disease today.

“And so this is something else that we need to learn, and learn pretty quickly,” Vinh said.

The Biden administration in the U.S. declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday.

This came after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern on July 23.

However, Canada has yet to make a similar declaration

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the Government of Canada “acknowledges the WHO’s determination and recognizes that the global monkeypox outbreak requires an urgent global response.”

The spokesperson said more than 80,000 doses of the smallpox vaccine Imvamune have been sent to provinces and territories.

“PHAC also continues to work closely with international, provincial and territorial health partners to gather information on this evolving outbreak and to determine the best course of action to stop the spread of monkeypox in Canada,” the statement said.

“Canada will also continue to work with the WHO and international partners to strengthen the global response to the current monkeypox outbreak.”

Asked what Canada’s current vaccine stockpile status is, and the ability for Canada to increase its supply through additional procurements, the spokesperson said the agency “does not disclose details concerning medical countermeasures held by the NESS (National Emergency Strategic Stockpile), including types or quantities, due to security implications and requirements.”

At the local level, some are making efforts on the vaccination side.

This weekend, the public health unit in Windsor, Ont., will host its first monkeypox vaccine clinic at Sunday’s Pride event.

But on Friday, Ottawa Public Health announced it had to cancel its monkeypox vaccine clinics for the day “due to an unforeseeable short-term vaccine supply issue.”

Kerry Bowman, an assistant professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, said it’s still unclear where the monkeypox outbreak is going, but he believes there is more Canada can do.

“There’s a picture of a lack of clarity as to who’s eligible and the vaccination process itself is quite limited,” Bowman said.

Health officials have recommended vaccinations for high-risk groups, including health-care workers and men who have sex with men and have recently had multiple sexual partners.

But Bowman says he is also concerned about monkeypox spreading to non-human animals.

“I would like to see it contained because my fear is that it will become endemic — embedded — that it will get into non-human species the way I’ve seen it do in Africa, it will just keep circulating and coming back on people regularly,” he said.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello, The Associated Press and CNN.

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Canadian Blood Services urges donors to keep appointments as blood supplies reach new low – CBC.ca

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Canadian Blood Services is urging donors to keep their appointments because it predicts it will fall short of supplies of certain types of blood products next week.

The non-profit charitable organization says it has three days worth of O+ and O-, five days worth of A+, A- and B- and six days worth of B+ blood products, according to its national inventory.

Delphine Denis, spokesperson for Canadian Blood Services, said in an email on Saturday that the organization predicts it will fall short of its target for donations by 3,000 units next week based on the current number of appointments that have been booked. That means a drop of 17 per cent in its national inventory.

“We urge new and returning blood, platelet, and plasma donors to book and keep appointments,” she said. 

“It is important to remember that the need for blood, plasma and platelets is constant. Cancer patients, accident/trauma victims, people undergoing surgery and people with blood disorders rely on blood, platelets and plasma transfusions every day.” 

Denis said there are 57,000 open appointments that must be filled before the end of August across Canada for the organization to be able to provide patients across Canada with the essential blood products they need on time. Donations have been dropping since July 1.

The call for donors to keep appointments comes after the the organization suspended its mandatory masks and physical distancing policy in its buildings, vehicles and donation events on July 25. The organization says masks are still available and welcome.

The lifting of the mask requirement, however, has prompted an outcry from donors online. Some donors say they are thinking about cancelling appointments.

Mark McCauley, a donor who lives in Stratford, Ont., said on Saturday that he cancelled his appointment on Thursday, not because of the change in policy, but because of the messaging from the Canadian Blood Services about that change.

McCauley said the organization is “doubling down, even tripling down” on the policy. He became a donor at the start of the pandemic and has donated five times in the past two years.

He said donors want to be in a setting that is safe. He said, as a compromise, the organization could make the last hour of the day “mask optional.”

McCauley said the organization should reconsider the policy change, reverse it or at least modify it, and apologize to donors for making the change.

“If the bank is out of blood, that’s a really big issue. It’s a life or death issue,” he said.

Canadian Blood Services says there are 57,000 open appointments that must be filled before the end of August across Canada for the organization to be able to provide patients across Canada with the essential blood products they need on time. Donations have been dropping since July 1.  (Canadian Blood Services)

Denis, for her part, said the organization makes decisions after consulting medical experts, it has always met public health requirements and its approach has been “cautious and measured” since the start of the pandemic. She added that its donation centres are not medical settings.

“Canadian Blood Services is a unique organization. Although we provide life-saving products to hospitals, we are not a hospital or healthcare setting,” she said.

“As a community setting, we are able to shift from mandatory to optional measures. In recent months we have seen restrictions being eased in many other community venues. This can happen because the majority of Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19, and illness now caused by COVID-19 is far less severe in most cases.”

Surgical masks and N95 masks are available to staff, volunteers, visitors and donors at its venues, she said.

Reserves could be replenished, organization says

Summer is always difficult when it comes to donations, she said, but this year is considered more challenging because it is the first summer since 2019 when there have been few to no public health restrictions on travel and activities.

As well, there have been fewer in-person community events to recruit new donors and encourage existing donors to give blood, Denis said, and donors could be dealing with sickness or in isolation due to COVID-19.

“The national blood inventory continues to meet patients’ needs, but Canada needs 100,000 new donors this year to keep up with demand,” she said.

Denis said it is possible for national reserves to be replenished if people go and donate blood in the coming weeks.

“We closely monitor the days of supply, and while three or four days on hand is challenging, we can turn this around with the help of new and returning donors. We urge donors from all blood groups to book right away, or over the next few weeks leading up to Labour Day weekend and into September,” Denis said.

Same day and open appointment spots are available every day at donor centres and community events across the country, she added. 

“Missed or cancelled appointments are difficult for us to fill. If you make an appointment, try to keep it. If you are unable to make it to your appointment, please cancel it so we can find someone else to take your place or consider re-booking in coming months.”

Denis noted that the organization’s policy on donations from men who have sex with men is changing on Sept. 30, 2022. Currently, men are eligible to give blood if it has been more than three months since their last sexual contact with a man.  But on Sept. 30, that criteria specific to men who have sex with men will be lifted.

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Heat warning issued for southern Ontario, southern Quebec, N.B., N.S. this weekend

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Environment Canada has issued a heat warning spanning four provinces as a two-day heat event gears up across much of the central and eastern parts of the country.

The weather agency’s warning applies to broad swaths of southern Ontario, southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Environment Canada says maximum temperatures are expected to reach or surpass 30 C and hit the low forties when combined with humidity.

It says overnight temperatures are expected to be in the low to mid-twenties, bringing little relief from the daytime heat.

The Air Quality Health Index shows southern Ontario is currently in the low to moderate risk category, with southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the low risk category.

Cooler temperatures are forecast for Monday, although parts of Nova Scotia could continue to feel the overwhelming heat throughout the day.

Residents are advised to watch for signs of heat illness such as swelling, cramps and fainting, and to drink plenty of water, stay in a cool place and check on older family, friends and neighbours.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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