OTTAWA — Members of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine task force are casting worried eyes at the Trump administration’s political push to get a vaccine approved before the U.S. presidential election in November.
Dr. Joanne Langley, the task force co-chair, and member Alan Bernstein say they are concerned about “vaccine hesitancy” in Canada, the phenomenon where people have doubts about taking a readily available vaccine because of concerns about its safety.
Langley says that when a vaccine against COVID-19 is eventually found, governments and health-care professionals will have to mount a vigorous information campaign to counter opposition.
And it won’t help that President Donald Trump has said a pandemic-ending vaccine could be rolled out as soon as October, stoking concern that he is rushing the timeline to further his re-election chances on Nov. 3.
Countering concerns that an apparent hurry to approve a vaccine could spook people out of getting it is an ongoing concern among the approximately one dozen health experts on the government’s vaccine advisory panel.
It’s tasked with recommending which vaccine candidates the government should be spending money on.
This past week, Trump chided the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for being “confused” when he testified at a Senate committee that a safe and effective vaccine wouldn’t be ready by U.S. election day.
“As a scientist, and as a citizen, that’s concerning to me because the regulator is designed to be independent of any political influence,” Langley said in an interview. She is an expert in pediatric infectious disease at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University.
“All the decisions are made based on the evidence of science, which includes the immune response, how well it protects, all of the adverse events,” she added. “And really, politicians have nothing to do with that.”
Bernstein said if politicians successfully pushed health regulators to approve a vaccine prematurely, that would violate public trust and discourage the widespread vaccine use needed to end the pandemic.
“I think it would be a big mistake. So I don’t see it happening before Nov. 3, no,” Bernstein said in an interview. Bernstein is the head of CIFAR, a Canadian-based global research organization.
“What a disaster it would be if we actually got a great vaccine, but in the U.S., the population didn’t trust it, because they felt that the decision was being compromised.”
In Canada, the federal government has made advance purchase deals with a handful of international biotech companies for tens of millions of vaccine doses if they are found to be safe and effective.
Canadian politicians and public health officials have said that widespread use of a vaccine is key to stamping out the novel coronavirus.
Bernstein said the government’s purchasing decisions have been based on recommendations born out of the painstaking research that his advisory group has undertaken. The task force reports to Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.
“They’ve been very conscientious in terms of listening to us, visiting with us, talking with us. Both ministers,” said Bernstein, who was the first president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He serves on medical advisory boards in the U.S., Britain and Australia, and with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Science is driving the decisions.”
Langley said there is an onus on governments and health professionals to communicate to Canadians the merits of taking a safe vaccine when a viable candidate is found and approved for use.
“We want to make sure that the Canadian public has a chance to learn about the very high standards that will have to be met for these vaccines,” she said, “and that they feel confident that people have chosen these vaccines with a view to their best interest.”
Bernstein said Canadians have a high level of trust in the institutions and political leaders.
“I’m not a Liberal or Conservative. I’m not commenting on Prime Minister Trudeau, but just in general, Canadians are pretty trusting, and that trust has been earned.”
Langley and her co-chair Mark Lievonen spent half a day briefing the Liberal cabinet during its two-day retreat in Ottawa this past week.
“It was all about the health consequences for Canadians of COVID and what we know so far, and what we might further be able to do and what the future is going to look like,” said Langley.
The vaccine task force was formally announced by the government in early August but it has been working since June. Over the summer it met in six-hour Zoom sessions at least twice a week, “interviewing various companies, various scientists, comparing notes with other national task forces to hear what they’re up to,” said Bernstein.
He and Langley are hopeful at least one viable vaccine candidate will emerge before the end of December from the several ongoing human trials.
They both say it could take several months after that before Health Canada gives the necessary final approval.
“We have to educate the public,” said Langley.
“It will be absolutely our responsibility to make sure that the public is informed so that they’re confident and can get those vaccines for themselves and their families knowing that the regular high standards that we have in Canada for vaccines are all met.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2020.
German GDP saw 8.2% bounce-back in third quarter – Toronto Star
BERLIN – The German economy bounced back strongly in the third quarter compared to the previous three months, when the country was hit by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to official figures released Friday.
Germany’s Federal Statistical Office said the country’s gross domestic product grew by 8.2% from July to September compared to the second quarter.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the data was better than predicted and the government now expects a full-year decline in GDP of 5.5%, better than the government’s forecast in September of a 5.8% drop.
German GDP is expected to grow 0.4% in the fourth quarter, less than previously expected due to the recent upsurge in new COVID cases.
Altmaier said officials expect the economy to have recovered from the impact of the pandemic by 2022.
Finding the Best Health Insurance
Canadian health insurance quotes can be easily accessed via the Internet. But having each provider’s rates isn’t the only thing you need to remember. Other essential considerations need to be considered to ensure that you get the best deal for the insurance policy that is most suitable for you and your family. The steps below are intended to help you get out of it.
- Decide how much of the deductible your finances can afford. The deductible is the annual payment to be charged by you for the total of all medical costs that you reported from your insurance provider throughout the year. Bear in mind that the higher the deductible, the lower the rate. Therefore, before receiving a Canadian health insurance quote, decide the premium amount your budget can pay for your annual health-related expenses.
- Check to see if you need extra coverage. Since the Canadian government’s standard health insurance coverage is minimal, you will want to include supplementary coverage in the health insurance package you consider, i.e., serious illness insurance, vision care, and other forms of coverage. Required disease insurance helps if you are unexpectedly afflicted with some serious or life-threatening conditions covered by the policy. Vision insurance provides a range of eye care programs. If you have decided which extra coverage is ideal for your situation, your Canadian health insurance quotes will better represent accurate prices.
- Determine whether getting coverage for a prescription drug is necessary. Coverage for prescription medications is provided under the Canadian basic insurance plans. However, you may be limited to a specified monthly amount. Hence, if you are required to take multiple prescription drugs whereby the government health plan does not sufficiently cover costs, you might want to consider getting additional prescription drug coverage.
- Consider how far and how safely you drive if you fly several times a year, whether, for business or personal reasons, you can take travel insurance into account while looking for Canadian health insurance quotes since simple policies do not usually protect individuals who travel more than a week at a time.
- Obtain multiple health insurance quotes every time. Without a doubt, getting health insurance quotes from a few insurance providers helps in your search for the cheapest yet most appropriate health insurance coverage out there. Fortunately, this task is made more accessible now that it can be readily done online. Fill out the online forms provided on the insurers’ websites you have selected, and you can get multiple quotes within minutes. Remember, if the information you provide is nearly precise, you will obtain relatively accurate quotes.
- Compare plans based on the coverage and not on the price. As thrift-minded consumers, we often tend to buy the first cheap health insurance plan we are offered. Now, this practice can initially save you money, but should a case of illness in the family occur, and you may be left with insubstantial coverage. So when you are checking out insurance plans, make sure you do not assess them merely on cost and the details of the coverage.
- Opt to enlist the assistance of a third-party. Examining Canadian health insurance quotes can be tedious and time-consuming, but there is a way to expedite the process. A third-party firm can review the various insurance health plans you have investigated so that the task of meticulously examining and comparing the insurance coverage is simplified. Not only will it save you time, but it will also enable you to make informed decisions.
Bear in mind that the insurance quotes you obtain online may not be exact. For that reason, you must consult with a health insurance agent to get precise calculations for the coverage you want and, at the same time, get answers to all your insurance questions.
Next crop of COVID-19 vaccine developers take more traditional route – Reuters
CHICAGO/BERLIN (Reuters) – The handful of drugmakers dominating the global coronavirus vaccine race are pushing the boundaries of vaccine technology. The next crop under development feature more conventional, proven designs.
The world will need several different vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, given the sheer size of global need, variations in effects on different populations, and possible limits of effectiveness in the first crop.
Many leading candidates now in final-stage testing are based on new, largely unproven technology platforms designed to produce vaccines at speed.
They include messenger RNA (mRNA) technology used by Moderna Inc MRNA.O and Pfizer Inc PFE.N with partner BioNTech SE 22UAy.F, and inactivated cold virus platforms used by Oxford University/AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L, Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N and CanSino Biologics 6185.HK, whose vaccine has been approved for military use in China.
Merck & Co MRK.N in September started testing a COVID-19 vaccine based on a weakened measles virus that delivers genes from the new coronavirus into the body to stimulate an immune response to the coronavirus.
Of these, only the technology offered by J&J and CanSino that use cold viruses as vectors to deliver coronavirus genetic material have ever produced a licensed vaccine – for Ebola.
The next set of candidates – with late-stage trial results expected in the first half of 2021 – are heavily skewed toward approaches that have produced successful vaccines.
Conventional methods include using a killed or inactivated version of the pathogen that causes a disease to provoke an immune response, such as those used to make flu, polio and rabies vaccines.
Also more common are protein-based vaccines that use purified pieces of the virus to spur an immune response. Vaccines against whooping cough, or pertussis, and shingles employ this approach.
French drugmaker Sanofi SASY.PA is developing a protein-based COVID-19 vaccine employing the same approach it uses for its Flublok seasonal flu vaccine. Sanofi expects to start the final phase of testing in early December, with approval targeted in the first half of 2021.
While Novavax Inc NVAX.O has not yet produced a licensed vaccine, it is using similar purified protein technology and expects to start a late-stage U.S. trial involving 30,000 volunteers in late November.
“Those are more traditional approaches, so we can feel more comfortable that we have a lot of experience with them,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Offit also sees promise in some of the inactivated virus vaccines being developed by Chinese researchers, including Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group (CNBG), one of the few first-crop developers using a traditional technique.
Other second-wave developers are making vaccines based on virus-like particles (VLPs), which mimic the structure of the coronavirus but contain no genetic material from it.
VLP vaccines can be produced in a variety of different types of cells, including mammal, bacterial, insect, yeast and plant cells. This approach has been used to develop vaccines for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus.
Quebec’s Medicago is testing a VLP COVID-19 vaccine grown in tobacco plants with the backing of tobacco company Philip Morris PM.N.
Medicago has yet to produce an approved vaccine, but has completed large-scale testing for a seasonal flu vaccine using this approach. It plans to begin mid-stage trials of its COVID-19 vaccine next month and aims to make up to 1 billion doses a year by 2023.
Others are looking at alternative delivery methods, such as the nasal spray vaccine being developed by a team at Xiamen University, Hong Kong University and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which is based on a modified flu virus.
The second crop, however, could face problems completing large studies if the current leaders bring their vaccines over the finish line in the coming months.
“If we get a super vaccine in December, from company x, which is on the market, it will be difficult to recruit participants into other studies,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, Germany.
“Then everyone will say, if the vaccine exists, I will get vaccinated now with this vaccine. This will definitely prove a problem for recruitment,” added Kremsner, who is testing CureVac’s CVAC.O mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in early clinical trials with backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
On the flip side, it is easier and faster to prove efficacy when community spread of the virus is rampant as is happening again in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, a potential advantage for companies starting large-scale vaccine trials in the near future.
Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London, Ludwig Burger, Caroline Copley in Berlin, Sangmi Cha in Seoul and Allison Martell in Toronto; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot
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