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Canadians can now see conflicts of interest declared by COVID-19 vaccine task force – Global News



Conflict of interest disclosures made by members of the government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force are now available for the Canadian public as the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

The move follows reporting by Global News into the fact that although the government acknowledged it was deliberately seeking out vaccine experts who could have a real or perceived conflict of interest to sit on that advisory board, none of their conflict of interest disclosures were being shared with Canadians.

READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccine task force members have declared 18 conflicts of interests so far

That meant that while members of the task force had recused themselves 18 times from discussions since June, none of the details of those recusals or the reasons given were public.

That came amid the rising spread of misinformation online from anti-vaxxers and data suggesting skepticism among some in the country about whether to get a vaccine if one becomes available.

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READ MORE: Safety of COVID-19 vaccine concerning some Canadians, StatCan survey shows

The COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force is an advisory body set up to provide recommendations to the government about which coronavirus vaccine research is promising and which deals to pursue. It includes 12 experts from the medical research and development industry along with four ex-officio members of the federal public service.

In order to have people considered “leading experts” in the field involved, the government says​ “the deliberate decision was made to include individuals who may have a real or perceived conflict of interest (COI) with respect to one or more proposals to be evaluated by the (COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force).”

Each individual was required to fill out a conflict of interest disclosure form and bureaucrats were tasked with monitoring and enforcing their observance of avoiding conflicts of interests — for example, by recusing themselves from deliberations where they had a conflict.

But unlike with politicians and public servants, whose conflicts of interest disclosures are registered publicly with the ethics commissioner, none of the disclosures of the experts recruited to the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force were being listed publicly.

A government official said earlier this month there were no plans to change that.

But on Tuesday, the government appears to have reversed course.

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Global News reached out asking whether two members of the vaccine task force who previously worked for Sanofi Pasteur recused themselves from deliberations on a deal announced on Tuesday to secure 72 million doses of the firm’s coronavirus vaccine candidate.

READ MORE: ‘Canada is at a crossroads’: Federal health officials warn coronavirus habits must change

In response, a spokesperson for the National Research Council shared a copy of a list of the members’ conflict of interest disclosures for each meeting of the task force about a vaccine deal current to Sept. 22.

Another official confirmed the new information was published on Sept. 22 and will be updated going forward.

“Given the significant interest in the vaccine task force’s process, the task force is taking the exceptional step of publishing a registry of declared interests,” said John Power, press secretary for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains in an email to Global News.

“The registry will be updated on the [National Research Council]’s website following each vaccine announcement that is based on a task force recommendation.”

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That means there will still be meetings where Canadians do not know what was discussed or who may have recused themselves, but that any meetings leading to actual vaccine deals will be listed so the public can see who made what declarations.

The list outlines the topic of each of the five meetings held so far along with the names of each member, any previously declared conflicts of interest, and what action was taken if required to prevent the individual from being in a conflict of interest.

READ MORE: Widespread coronavirus vaccine not expected until mid-2021: WHO

For the most recent meeting on Sept. 3 at which the task force discussed the Sanofi vaccine deal, task force co-chair and former Sanofi Pasteur president Mark Lievonen is listed as having recused himself because of his previous work with the firm and the fact he still owns “modest” shares in it.

Michel De Wilde, who was previously a vice president of research and development for Sanofi Pasteur, did not attend that meeting while Dr. Joanne Langley, also a co-chair, disclosed that the university where she works has received research funding from Sanofi Pasteur, among other sources.

READ MORE: Task force worries Trump’s rush to approve COVID-19 vaccine will cause concern in Canada

The norm in the medical research field is for individuals publishing work in any kind of credible, serious medical journal to disclose and publish any conflicts of interest at the same time.

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Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of The BMJ — formerly known as the British Medical Journal — said this has become standardized in an effort to maintain trust in medical research and that vaccine research, in particular, is an area where it is difficult to find experts without some kind of conflict of interest.

“I think it’s a basic issue of trust that people want to see what’s gone into decisions or recommendations, and that includes both the person’s expertise and the potential or real influences on any recommendations or decisions they may make,” she said in a previous interview with Global News.

“It’s become a standard thing.”

Coronavirus: Canada signs agreement with Sanofi for 72 million possible COVID-19 vaccine doses

Coronavirus: Canada signs agreement with Sanofi for 72 million possible COVID-19 vaccine doses

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

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Local resident disgruntled about WestJet's response time, six months after pandemic started – West Kelowna News –



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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that cancellations of flights have become far more regular than in pre-pandemic times.

Peachland resident John Wardley is just one of many who have experienced it, after his WestJet flight from Kelowna to Mexico via Calgary booked just a few weeks ago for Nov. 28 was cancelled last week.

However, Wardley says it’s not the cancellation that bothered him the most – it was the inability to talk with someone on the other end of the phone. 

“I went to the website [on Monday], the flights were cancelled and there was a phone number. When you call that number, the answering machine says that there is a six to eight hour wait, and if you leave your number, you can call back. Which I did, I called back and that was 36 hours ago, I haven’t had a call back.” 

He called WestJet another 6 or 7 times later that evening, and listened to a different answering machine telling him they were accepting call backs for Sunday – six days later. 

“I realize everybody has to change their business models, but you’ve got to make sure that the people who are supporting you, your paying customers, treat them right. Tell them why this is happening, this is what we’re going to do, not you can book a phone call in a week’s time, which I still couldn’t do. 

“You’re allowed six different attempts, you pick six times, and I picked six different times, and then the recording says you’ve extinguished all your attempts – goodbye.”

Eventually resolving his case by posting a critical review on WestJet’s Facebook page, Wardley hopes the company will make changes to ensure others will not find themselves in the same position he did. 

However, booking onto another WestJet flight scheduled for Dec. 5 hasn’t been without further costs on his part. 

Wardley rented out his home for the five months he planned to be in Mexico, and has now been forced to make other arrangements due to the schedule change. 

“As of Dec. 1, I’m homeless. I’ve rented my house out for five months and my flight date was Nov. 28, so as of Dec. 1 I have nowhere to live … I took the Dec. 5 flight, but the problem with that is I’m now going to have five days of hotel bills and food bills.”

Although Wardley understands airlines are doing it tough during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says customer service should still be top priority. 

“I don’t know why they can’t just have the staff. They know this is going to happen. WestJet is not a small organization. They’re one of only two main carriers in this country and they’ve got a lot of support from people over the years … all we want, especially people my age, we just want somebody to talk to.”

WestJet has laid off more than half of its 14,000-strong workforce since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic.

Public relations advisor Morgan Bell told Castanet they are “fully staffed,” and working hard to take care of guests as quickly as possible. 

“We continue to experience very high volumes for our phone, email and social media support channels and apologize for any delays our guests are facing while trying to reach out. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has hit WestJet and the global aviation industry with devastating force and we continue to monitor frequently-evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance carefully to ensure we are managing our airline responsibly. We are adjusting our schedule more frequently than normal to meet the needs of our guests, our employees, as well as our airline and unfortunately changes can significantly impact our contact centre wait times.  

“We appreciate and thank our guests for their patience and understanding during this time.”

For more information on WestJet’s travel policies, visit the website

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Short-video app Quibi shutting down just months after launch – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Tali Arbel, The Associated Press

Published Wednesday, October 21, 2020 8:43PM EDT

Short-video app Quibi said it is shutting down just six months after its early April launch, having struggled to find customers.

The company said Wednesday that it would wind down its operations and plans to sell its assets. “Quibi is not succeeding,” its top executives bluntly declared in a letter posted online.

The video platform – designed for people who were out and about to watch on their phones – was one of a slew of new streaming services started to challenge Netflix over the past few years, most of which were part of much bigger tech and entertainment companies, like Apple and Disney.

Quibi, short for “quick bites,” raised $1.75 billion from investors including Hollywood players Disney, NBCUniversal and Viacom and its leadership were big names: entertainment industry heavyweight Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman.

But the service struggled to reach viewers, despite a 90-day free trial, as short videos abound on the internet and the coronavirus pandemic kept many people at home. Part of the appeal of the service, which started at $5 a month, was supposed to be that you could watch short videos while out, without access to a TV. Being stuck at home made TV more desirable than watching on a phone, and Quibi only later and slowly rolled out TV options. Katzenberg blamed the pandemic for Quibi’s woes.

Katzenberg’s connections helped line up stars to make and star in its videos, including Reese Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Lopez. There was a short version of “60 Minutes” and reality shows. The shows never achieved big name recognition, although the platform scored some Emmys earlier this year.

Why did it fail? “Likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing,” Katzenberg and Whitman wrote. “Unfortunately, we will never know but we suspect it’s been a combination of the two.”

Quibi doesn’t release subscriber figures. Mobile research firm Sensor Tower estimates 9.6 million installations of Quibi’s mobile app since its launch; that doesn’t mean those are actually users. Other streaming services have benefited from having customers stuck at home during the pandemic. One of the most successful new services, Disney Plus, has more than 60 million subscribers. Netflix has had a blockbuster year.

“While we have enough capital to continue operating for a significant period of time, we made the difficult decision to wind down the business, return cash to our shareholders, and say goodbye to our talented colleagues with grace,” Whitman, the CEO, said in a statement.

The company said that money from the sale of its assets will go toward paying off liabilities and whatever remains will be returned to investors.

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Quibi app to shut down – Entertainment News –



Movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile streaming service, Quibi, is shutting down, six months after it launched with original series and films featuring Anna Kendrick and Sophie Turner.

Katzenberg and his partner Meg Whitman are expected to confirm their decision to wind down the short-form video service this week after speaking with investors, according to Deadline.

The service launched in April just after COVID-19 shut down Hollywood.

Initial pay-to-view items on the service included projects directed by heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, and Antoine Fuqua, while Kendrick’s series Dummy and Kiefer Sutherland’s remake of The Fugitive became quick hits. The service also produced the Emmy-winning series #FreeRayshawn.

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