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Canada's first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine shows high efficacy – CBC.ca

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Canada’s first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine has shown high efficacy against infection during Phase 3 clinical trials, the drugmakers behind the plant-based shot reported Tuesday, fuelling hopes it could soon get a stamp of approval for use.

Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Quebec City, and British-American vaccine giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are now gearing up for their final regulatory submission to Health Canada.

The vaccine’s overall efficacy rate against all virus variants studied was 71 per cent, with a higher efficacy rate of 75 per cent against COVID-19 infections of any severity from the dominant delta variant, the companies said in a news release.

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The results followed a global, Phase 3, placebo-controlled study of the two-dose vaccine that was launched last March. The newly discovered omicron variant — recently confirmed in various countries around the world, including Canada — was not circulating during the trial period.

If licensed in this country, the shot would be the first COVID-19 vaccine using virus-like particle technology and the first plant-based vaccine ever approved for human use, Brian Ward, medical officer for Medicago, said during a recent interview with CBC News.

“This would be a first for the world,” he added, “not just for Quebec and Canada.”

The shots use Medicago’s plant-derived, virus-like particles — which resemble the coronavirus behind COVID-19 but don’t contain its genetic material — and also contain an adjuvant from GSK to help boost the immune response.

In the vaccine’s Phase 3 trial, no severe cases of COVID-19 were reported in the vaccinated group, the release notes. No related serious adverse events were reported either, and reactions to the shots were “generally mild to moderate and transient,” with symptoms lasting, on average, only one to three days.

“I think there will be an important need for our vaccine, both to increase the number of doses available for those who haven’t had any vaccines yet, but also possibly for those who need a booster dose,” Ward said.

Canada’s first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine has shown high efficacy against infection during Phase 3 clinical trials, the drugmakers behind the plant-based shot reported Tuesday. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Results are promising, immunologist says

National Advisory Committee on Immunization working group member Matthew Miller, an immunologist at McMaster University in Hamilton who is working on developing a different type of vaccine for COVID-19, said the Medicago trial results are promising on both efficacy and safety.

He noted that the public information was so far limited to a news release, much like previous announcements from other vaccine manufacturers.

The trial itself was also hindered by time constraints and didn’t specifically break down the level of protection against severe illness. That’s because there were too few serious COVID-19 cases in the placebo arm and none in the vaccine arm, limiting the ability to draw strong conclusions, Miller said.

“Nevertheless, I think we can expect that with 75 per cent protection against any infection, you would expect even stronger protection against severe illness; that’s been universally true of every single other vaccine,” he added.

“The durability of that response, I think, is still a question that we’d have to wait and see.”

WATCH | Canada’s long-term plan for homegrown vaccines: 

Canada’s long-term strategy to make vaccines for COVID-19 and beyond

11 months ago

Duration 8:15

Canada may not have a vaccine in production yet but it does have a long-term strategy in the works — to develop a made-in-Canada vaccine and the vaccine independence that comes with it. 8:15

The Phase 2 portion of the trial at multiple sites in Canada and the United States involved a mix of healthy adults, those with comorbidities and seniors over the age of 65, while the Phase 3 portion expanded to more than 24,000 participants in various countries.

If approved for use, the shot may help jump-start Canada’s sluggish vaccine production sector, said Miller, who has no current affiliation with Medicago but previously sat on a panel advising the company on influenza vaccines.

Canada lost its vaccine manufacturing capacity over time, but that could change with several Canadian COVID-19 vaccines currently in development, said Lakshmi Krishnan, director general of human health therapeutics at the National Research Council of Canada.

“We hope that in due time, all of that will align and we will be able to produce vaccines in Canada,” she said.

Trial looked at range of variants

Medicago is now one of the first to share trial results on how well its vaccine works against a range of variants, Ward said, unlike those earlier in the pandemic, which focused on the earliest strain of SARS-CoV-2.

The trial showed nearly 89 per cent efficacy against the gamma variant, with no cases of alpha, lambda or mu variants observed in the vaccinated group, while 12 cases were observed in the placebo arm.

While there’s concern over the omicron variant and whether it may evade some level of vaccine- or infection-based immunity, Ward said the company plans to get that data for its vaccine as soon as possible.

“The goalposts have moved,” Ward said.

Full results of the Phase 3 study will be released in a peer-reviewed publication, Medicago’s release noted.

If Health Canada gives the green light to the vaccine, it would be the fifth COVID-19 shot approved for use in Canada, alongside those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.


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Coronavirus: Omicron peaking in some provinces – CTV News

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The Omicron-fuelled fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be peaking in some provinces, while others say the worst is likely still to come.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it is bracing for a tide of COVID-19 hospitalizations and absenteeism among workers until mid-February, while Alberta says hospitalization rates are rising to levels not seen since mid-October.

The growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Prince Edward Island has prompted the province to reduce gathering sizes and close gyms and restaurant dining rooms until at least the end of the month.

Even as they both set new records for hospitalizations, officials in Ontario and Quebec say the daily rate seems to be decreasing slightly, although they caution the health-care system remains under tremendous pressure.

There are 3,417 COVID patients in Quebec hospitals, while Ontario has 4,183, including 580 people in intensive care.

B.C. recorded 1,975 cases of COVID-19 with 854 people in hospital, as the province’s top doctor described her decision to allow the reopening of gyms and other fitness facilities Thursday as a “cautious step” in lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said a proof-of-vaccination card will still be required to use gyms, and the facilities will need to operate under capacity limits and provide seven metres square for every person who is exercising.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.

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Canada terminates $222M PPE contract following forced labour probe – CBC News

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Public Services and Procurement Canada has terminated two supply contracts with Supermax Healthcare Canada following allegations that the nitrile gloves it manufactured in Malaysia for use by Canadian health care workers were made with forced labour.

These contracts for synthetic rubber medical gloves, worth over $222 million, were part of the $8 billion push led by former procurement minister Anita Anand to equip Canadian health care workers with the personal protective equipment they needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In November, the department announced that deliveries from this company were being held until the government could review the results of an independent audit of Supermax’s operations.

“Based on the seriousness of the allegations and expected timelines for the final audit results, the Government of Canada has decided, and Supermax Healthcare Canada has agreed, to terminate by mutual consent the two existing contracts for the supply of nitrile gloves,” the department told CBC News in an email Tuesday, confirming an earlier report from Reuters that Canada’s contract with the Malaysian supplier had ended.

U.S. moved to ban shipments first

Canada’s move follows action taken by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Oct. 21.

American officials banned shipments of gloves manufactured by Supermax Corporation Bhd. and its subsidiaries based on information that “reasonably indicates their use of forced labor in manufacturing operations.” The U.S. investigation identified 10 of the International Labour Organization’s indicators of forced labour.

Malaysia provides an estimated two-thirds of the world’s supply of disposable medical gloves. (China is the other major global manufacturer.)

Following public allegations last January of human rights violations and the possible abuse of migrant workers among Malaysian glove makers, Canadian officials asked six suppliers — including Supermax — more questions about how their workers were being treated.

Based on the company’s initial response, Canada maintained its contracts with Supermax at first, but following the American move it sought further assurances that it wasn’t using forced labour. The company hired an independent firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of its operations.

“The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that it does not do business with companies that employ unethical practices, either directly or within their supply chains,” the department said in November as it put further Supermax deliveries on hold.

Taking compliance issue ‘seriously’: Supermax

PSPC has yet to respond to follow-up questions from CBC News about how many gloves were delivered before deliveries were put on hold, or what kind of checks the government made on the company’s employment standards before signing the contracts.

In a statement earlier this month, Supermax said it takes compliance “seriously” and has been working to meet ILO standards since 2019. It laid out a new foreign worker management policy and other changes to its human resources practices that it said had been in effect since November 2021.

The competitive global procurement race for PPE at the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020 was described as “the wild West.”

British solicitor Nusrat Uddin said that’s no excuse for countries to turn a blind eye to labour conditions she compares to “modern slavery.”

Governments were warned, lawyer says

Her firm, Wilson Solicitors, is starting legal action against the U.K. government, calling for a judicial review of the decision by its National Health Service to continue to buy gloves from Supermax, notwithstanding its own pledges to crack down on forced labour.

Uddin told CBC News Tuesday that governments knew as far back as 2013 or 2014 that the medical glove industry in Malaysia was highly problematic and workers were at high risk of being abused. 

She commended U.S. officials for taking the allegations seriously and working with groups on the ground to investigate how the migrant labourers that make these gloves are treated.

Health care workers in Edmonton in full PPE gear. (Massimo Pinca/Reuters)

Most come from Bangladesh and Nepal, she said, and are heavily indebted from paying problematic “recruitment fees” to their employers. Their families depend on them to send income home, but they are economically dependent on their employer.

Their work days are long and hot; Malaysia only recently changed its law to prohibit working seven days a week. Uddin said she’s seen evidence of workers housed in row upon row of bunks in overcrowded accommodations.

She said the workers’ movements were restricted during the pandemic. Some had their passports taken away and were unable to leave their employer’s premises for up to 18 months, she added.

“It’s an extremely complex and sophisticated system of controlling the workers and exploiting them for the billions of profits that are being made off their backs in this global pandemic,” she said.

U.S. leading push to crack down

Americans led on this issue by banning gloves from five Malaysian manufacturers, Uddin said. Previously, due diligence audits only operated on a surface level.

When buyers from rich countries look deeper and start cutting companies off one by one, Uddin said, it becomes possible to start changing industry norms.

The U.S. now is pushing close trading partners like Canada to crack down on forced labour.

Whether it resulted from American pressure or not, Canadians should be proud to see these contracts terminated, she said.

“We can’t simply protect our own people by exploiting other people,” she said. “The world is becoming smaller. We’re really understanding how many of our products — whether it’s in our supermarkets … our clothes … now our medical supplies — are really tainted with the exploitation of others around the world.”

Canada only finalized changes to its procurement code of conduct to prohibit the use of forced labour by government suppliers a few months ago.

But the use of forced labour is prohibited in several of Canada’s current trade treaties — including the revised North American trade deal that Canada works with U.S. and Mexican officials to enforce.

Canada struggling with enforcement

The Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) also bans the use of forced labour. Malaysia was one of its original signatories but it has yet to ratify and implement the agreement. Canada ratified the CPTPP in 2018 and was one of the original six partners when it entered into force at the end of that year.

Canada’s currently in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (ASEAN), of which Malaysia is a member. Trade Minister Mary Ng calls Canada’s trade deals “high-standard agreements” when it comes to things like protecting workers’ rights, suggesting that any deal ASEAN reaches with Canada would include a labour chapter that reflects Canada’s progressive values.

The allegations against this glove manufacturer suggest some ASEAN partners may struggle to match and enforce ambitious standards.

But Canada is also struggling to keep products made with forced labour out of its domestic market.

Last year, an investigation by CBC’s Marketplace revealed that Canadian retail giant Reitmans Ltd. was selling clothing made at a factory in China suspected of using North Korean forced labour. In another episode, Marketplace also revealed that major Canadian grocery retailers were selling tomato products harvested and manufactured by Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities under oppressive working conditions in China.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan’s mandate letter asks him to introduce legislation to remove forced labour from Canadian supply chains and ensure Canadian companies do not contribute to human rights abuses abroad. 

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UK PM’s former adviser to be questioned over claims Johnson lied about party – Mirror

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A former senior adviser to Boris Johnson who claims the British prime minister lied about a party held at his residence during a COVID-19 lockdown will be questioned by an investigation into allegations of rule-breaking, the Mirror reported.

British media have reported that at least 11 gatherings took place at 10 Downing Street – the prime minister’s official residence and office – or in other government departments between May 2020 and April 2021, when COVID-19 rules limited how many people could meet socially. An internal investigation is being carried out to establish the facts.

Dominic Cummings, an architect of Britain’s departure from the European Union and a former senior adviser to Johnson who left government under acrimonious terms in November 2020, will be interviewed by Sue Gray, a senior government official who is carrying out the investigation, according to the Mirror.

Cummings said on Monday the prime minister knew in advance about a drinks party at his residence during the first coronavirus lockdown despite later claiming he had not realised it was a social gathering.

Johnson last week apologised to parliament for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020, but said he had thought it was a work event.

Cummings claims Johnson misled parliament because he had agreed the drinks party should go ahead.

“The PM agreed it should,” Cummings said in his blog. “The events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to parliament about parties.”

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Alistair Smout)

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