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COVID: BioNTech founders warn of vaccine supply gaps – Al Jazeera English



Scientists fear shortages because other vaccines are not being approved, leaving Pfizer-BioNTech to fill gap.

BioNTech is working flat out with partner Pfizer to boost production of their COVID-19 vaccine, its founders have said, warning there would be gaps in supply until other vaccines were rolled out.

The German biotech startup has led the vaccine race but its shot has been slow to arrive in the European Union due to relatively slow approval from the bloc’s health regulator and the small size of the order placed by Brussels.

The delays have caused consternation in Germany, where some regions had to temporarily close vaccination centres days after the launch of an inoculation drive on December 27.

“At the moment it doesn’t look good – a hole is appearing because there’s a lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill the gap with our own vaccine,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel in an interview.

A shot from Moderna is expected to be cleared by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on January 6.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged the EMA to also quickly approve a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca that Britain cleared this week. The EU timeline for that treatment remains uncertain.

Sahin said the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the coronavirus, should be able to cope with a variant first detected in Britain that appears to be more contagious.

“We are testing whether our vaccine can also neutralise this variant, and will soon know more,” he said.

Asked about coping with a strong mutation, he said it would be possible to tweak the vaccine as required within six weeks – though such new treatments might require additional regulatory approvals.

New production line planned

Sahin founded BioNTech with his wife, Oezlem Tuereci, who is the company’s chief medical officer. Both criticised the EU’s decision to spread orders in the expectation that more vaccines would be quickly approved.

The United States ordered 600 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in July, while the EU waited until November to place an order of half that size.

“At some point it became clear that it would not be possible to deliver so quickly,” Tuereci told Spiegel. “By then it was already too late to place follow-on orders.”

BioNTech hopes to launch a new production line in Marburg, Germany, in February that could produce 250 million doses in the first half of the year, said Sahin.

Talks are under way with contract manufacturers on boosting output and there should be greater clarity by the end of January, he added.

Sahin also said BioNTech would make its vaccine, which requires storage at around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), easier to handle.

A next-generation vaccine that would keep at higher temperatures could be ready by late summer.

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Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being charged in Yukon over attempt to get COVID-19 vaccine – The Globe and Mail



Rod Baker, former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, in June, 2016.

Great Canadian Gaming

The chief executive officer of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. has stepped down after he and his wife were charged under Yukon’s emergency measures act with breaking quarantine rules and misleading authorities after they were accused of posing as motel workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Court documents say Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker, an actor, were charged under the territory’s Civil Emergency Measures Act on Jan. 21. The Vancouver couple were each fined $575 for failing to self-isolate for 14 days and for failing to behave in manner consistent with declaration.

“We had not been imagining that someone would go to this sort of length to mislead or deceive the [vaccination] team,” Yukon Minister of Community Services John Streicker said in an interview.

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The gambling and entertainment company announced Mr. Baker’s resignation on Monday, ending a tenure that began in 2011. He also stepped down from the company’s board of directors.

“Great Canadian’s board of directors has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values,” read a statement from Chuck Keeling, the company’s vice-president of stakeholder relations.

“Any such actions whatsoever that run contrary to the company’s core values, that do not comply with GCGC’s strict compliance policies in regards to travel, and ensure that the company and its employees follow all health guidance and directions, will not be tolerated.”

The company did not disclose terms of severance for Mr. Baker, who stands to receive more than $28-million from a private-equity fund that is acquiring Great Canadian.

Mr. Streicker said local administrators of the vaccine effort and others told him that a few days before the clinic, two people arrived from outside the territory, where they were obliged to self-isolate for 14 days. The couple checked into a hotel in Whitehorse.

“Fast forward to Thursday the 21st, two days later. What I am told is they chartered a flight. They flew to Beaver Creek. They showed up at the clinic. What they said at the clinic is that they were employed at the local motel,” he said.

The remote hamlet on the Alaskan border has one health clinic staffed by a nurse and a receptionist. A six-person medical team flew in to run the vaccination clinic.

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Chief Angela Demit of the White River First Nation in Beaver Creek said the community was chosen to get the vaccine because of its remoteness, elderly and high-risk population, and limited access to health care.

“These vaccines are for our community members, our citizens here,” Chief Demit said. “It’s alarming and disappointing that something like this happened.”

Rita Luxton, manager of the 1202 Motor Inn, where the two people told clinic staff they worked, expressed anger about the events.

“I risk my life every day to serve [travelling] Americans … but that’s a risk that we take – not a risk that somebody enforces upon us because they’re too ignorant,” she said.

Clinic staff knew something was off last Thursday, Ms. Luxton said.

“They phoned over here and asked if those people work here, which they don’t,” Ms. Luxton said. “I don’t think a $500 fine is going to give any kind of justice to anybody because the guy can obviously afford to charter a Goddamned plane.”

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Caulene May said the pilot of the small charter plane radioed in to her tiny airstrip saying he was landing there in about 10 minutes because it was too foggy to continue north.

The pilot sat in her small lounge while the two passengers caught a short ride into town, Ms. May said. Two hours later, they trudged the kilometre back to the airfield and the plane took off for Whitehorse, she said.

Mr. Streicker said the two people asked if someone could take them to the airport after they were vaccinated, which “raised flags” with the vaccination team. They called the enforcement unit for the Civil Emergency Measures Act.

Members of the unit found the charter flight from Beaver Creek at the Whitehorse airport and went to the hotel where the couple were staying. On learning the pair had checked out, they returned to the airport and found them waiting for a flight to Vancouver.

“They found these two individuals in the boarding lounge, and that’s when they got charged,” he said.

The Bakers did not respond to several attempts by The Globe to contact them. A call on Monday to Ms. Baker’s personal cell and an e-mail account listed on her IMDb page were not answered. Her agent in Toronto said she would pass along The Globe’s request for comment.

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Ms. Baker had a small role in an action comedy starring Alec Baldwin released last year and had a larger role in a crime drama with Morgan Freeman listed as in production, according to her IMDb page.

Mr. Baker had a $900,000 annual salary as of 2019, according to the most recent disclosure from Great Canadian Gaming. From Dec. 31, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2020, stock-trading records showed he made a profit of $45.9-million exercising 1.45 million Great Canadian Gaming options.

The Toronto-based company operates 25 casinos in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

With a report from David Milstead

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

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Ontario reports 1,958 new coronavirus cases; 43 new deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News




Ontario’s top public health official says that the transmission of COVID-19 appears to be a on the wane after a worrisome spike in cases following the holidays.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams made the comment during a briefing on Monday, hours after the Ministry of Health reported 1,958 new COVID-19 cases and 43 more deaths.

The seven-day average of daily cases fell from 2,460 to 2,371 over the last 24 hours. That is down from 3,074 at this point last week and 3,394 on Jan. 11.

“A lot of the health units their numbers per 100,000 are coming down pretty well across the board, there’s a few sort of plateauing and levelling off, but it tells us that we’re going in the right direction and that you’re doing the right things you need to do,” Williams said, while acknowledging that the trend should still be taken with “a grain of salt” due to the circulation of a new, more contagious variant that originated in the United Kingdom.

Provincial labs processed about 36,000 test specimens in the past 24 hours, generating a positivity rate of at least 5.4 per cent.

There have been 5,846 deaths and 227,494 recoveries from coronavirus infection since Jan. 25, 2020.

Another 23,620 active cases remain in Ontario, and that number is down approximately 2,000 in the past week.

Twenty-seven of the deaths reported on Monday involved residents of the long-term care system.

There were at least 1,425 patients receiving care in Ontario hospitals on Monday, according to local public health units and hospital networks, and the Critical Care Services of Ontario report from Sunday said there were 415 adult patients in intensive care across Ontario, along with one child.

ICU occupancy has held roughly steady for the past two weeks.

About 283 people were breathing with the help of a ventilator.

Michael Garron Hospital intensivist Dr. Michael Warner said that admissions to hospital appear to be stabilizing, but the situation could worsen dramatically because of the highly infectious B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom.

“I think it is great that case numbers are coming down, we can’t dispute that, and ICU admissions are stable around 415 for the past week or so. I guess that is good but we can’t let our guard down. And we really have no idea how much B117 and other variants are circulating in Ontario or Canada,” he said.

On Sunday, officials in Simcoe-Muskoka said they detected another what was believed to be the 21st case of the B.1.1.7 variant, in a retail store worker who had contact with residents of a Bradford long-term care home.

Williams, however, said during Monday’s briefing that the total confirmed number of cases involving the variant is actually 34, up from 15 last week.

Public Health Ontario is conducting a “point-prevalence study” of all positive samples collected on a given day last week to see how many cases of the UK variant are circulating in the community.

Of the new cases confirmed on Monday, 727 are in Toronto, 365 are in Peel, 157 are in York, 62 are in Durham, 55 are in Hamilton and 54 are in Halton.

Meanwhile, supply restrictions continue to limit the number of additional COVID-19 vaccinations administered per day.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said about 6,000 more doses were administered on Sunday, bringing the total to about 292,000 injections to date.

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Ford wants more COVID-19 testing at Pearson Airport as hundreds of travellers test positive – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Ontario Premier Doug Ford wants anyone who lands at Toronto Pearson International Airport to take a COVID-19 test as more than 100 travellers tested positive for the disease after arriving into the country within a two-week time frame.

The premier made the comments at a news conference held Monday afternoon.

“I can’t stress this enough,” he said. “We have to test every person that comes in to Pearson, and any other land crossing. It’s absolutely critical. We need to put barriers up every which way we can.”

“Every time I look up in the sky I’m thinking how many cases are coming in. This has to stop.”

According to the federal government, at least 156 flights have landed in Canada between Jan. 10 and Jan. 23 that had passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in the country.

The majority of the flights landed in Toronto (76), Montreal (40), and Calgary (24).

There were also 70 domestic flights that had a passenger later test positive for the novel coronavirus.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since March, with the latest extension set to expire on Feb. 21. Travellers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their travel date, and must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently urged Canadians to cancel all non-essential trips abroad.

“No one should be taking a vacation right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it,” Trudeau said last week. “If you are thinking of traveling across the country for spring break – now is not the time.”

The Ontario government also announced a pilot program earlier this month offering voluntary COVID-19 testing for anyone landing at Pearson Airport. It’s not yet clear how many people have used the program.

Despite the regulations and the availability of testing, it appears that COVID-19-positive cases are still being traced back to travel, causing concern by local politicians trying to curb the spread of the disease.

On Monday, the mayors and chairs of the 11 largest municipal governments across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area released a statement calling for stricter travel measures.

“The federal government is urged to adopt increased quarantine enforcement mechanisms including technology which do not rely on local officials who are already hard pressed,” the news release said.

“In addition to the recently instituted three-day advance testing requirement for travellers arriving in Canada, the mayors and chairs urged the federal government to consider additional testing measures at the airports to detect the presence of viral variants.”

Ford renewed that same call for more COVID-19 testing and stricter regulations, adding that he will be going to Pearson Airport on Tuesday.

“Let’s make sure that we test every single person that comes into our country, rather than having 750 people flying into Pearson that are positive.”

“It just doesn’t make sense whatsoever.”

No further details were provided about the reason for the premier’s visit to Pearson Airport.

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