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First Canadian clinical trial for potential COVID-19 vaccine approved – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The first Canadian clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccination has been approved by Health Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday that the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University has been given the green light by the federal health authority to begin clinical trials of vaccine candidate.

Trudeau said the National Research Council of Canada will work with the manufacturers of the potential vaccine so that it would be able to be manufactured domestically should the trials be successful.

“If these vaccine trials are successful we could produce and distribute it here at home,” Trudeau said during his daily press briefing outside his home in Ottawa.

Health Canada has authorized 33 clinical trials for supportive care or treatments for COVID-19 to date. The vaccine trial announced Saturday, however, marks the first approved Canadian endeavour at finding a vaccine for the disease.

The announcement comes several days after the health agency announced the first authorized use COVID-19 serological tests, or antibody tests, in the country.

The Italian-made test, the DiaSorin LIAISON, was approved by Health Canada on Tuesday and will be used in Canadian labs to determine if a blood sample contains COVID-19 antibodies — evidence that an individual was exposed to the virus and recovered.

The federal government has made a billion-dollar investment in medical research to fight COVID-19, including $23 million to support pre-clinical testing and clinical trials of a potential vaccine in Canada and $29 million for the production of vaccines.

Experts say this puts Canada in a good position to manufacture a vaccine domestically, if and when one is approved, as countries around the globe race to develop their own solution to the pandemic.

Yet while the approval of a clinical trial is a step forward, much still needs to be done before a vaccine is available.

“Research and development take time, and must be done right, but this is encouraging news,” Trudeau said Saturday.

Vaccines are classified as biologic drugs under the Canadian Food and Drugs Act. According to Health Canada, biologic drugs differ from chemical drugs because they come from living organisms, which means they have more variables than chemical drugs.

“Biologic drugs require more regulatory oversight than chemical drugs,” reads the Health Canada website.

Clinical trials generally consist of three phases of studies in people before a vaccine is approved for general use. These studies often start with a few subjects, before they are broadened to include hundreds or even thousands of subjects.

CTVNews.ca has contacted the Canadian Center for Vaccinology for more information about its clinical trial.

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Coronavirus: What's happening across Canada on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

As efforts continue to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, where the number of reported cases has surpassed 89,000, a cluster of cases in Quebec’s elementary schools is shining a light on the cost of reopening the hardest hit provinces.

At least 41 staff and students tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the first two weeks after elementary schools outside the Montreal area reopened, the province’s education department says.

“It’s normal that by having the daycare, the school being open to the community, there can be cases,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s director of public health.

WATCH | Wastewater samples point to where COVID-19 cases are:

Wastewater samples from sewage are being used to determine the existence of COVID-19 in communities and could give advance warning of where a second wave is taking shape. 2:03

“The advantage in those areas is that they’re young children, and we didn’t put any personnel who was high-risk (in the classroom).”

The numbers came from a survey of school boards conducted May 25, which found that 19 students and 22 staff members were infected. Twelve of the province’s 72 school boards did not offer up data.

News of the outbreaks came as Quebec reported another 530 cases of the virus on Friday, pushing its total above the 50,000 mark. The death toll climbed by 61, to 4,363.

In Ontario, meanwhile, where officials announced the case count had surged by 344 for a total of 27,210 with 2,230 deaths, Premier Doug Ford said he was looking at reopening the province region by region.

“The reality on the ground is different in every part of the province,” Ford said.

Two-thirds of the province’s cases are in the Greater Toronto Area, while some other public health agencies say they have few or no current patients.

New Brunswick, which didn’t report any new cases of the virus for the two weeks leading up to May 21, continued to grapple with a new outbreak of eight cases in the Campbellton area. Two of those infected are in intensive care, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

WATCH | N.B.’s chief medical officer of health responds to new cluster of COVID-19 cases:

Dr. Jennifer Russell calls for people to reserve judgment until an investigation into an outbreak in Campbellton linked to a doctor who didn’t self-isolate is complete. 12:15

As of 6:00 a.m. ET Saturday, Canada had 89,418 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases, with 47,533 of them considered recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial data, regional information and CBC’s reporting stood at 7,046.

Russell said over the next four to five days, teams will be doing “a lot” of testing.

WATCH | Ban on large cruise ships in Canadian waters extended through October:

It’s another blow to the tourism industry, which is already struggling because of COVID-19 cancellations, closures, and travel bans. 1:58

Russell urged people to be patient and understanding as public health officials work to trace contacts and complete tests. The Campbellton region has been pushed back a level in terms of reopening, which has meant some businesses that were getting ready to open their doors will now wait at least another week.

Statistics Canada, meanwhile, has announced that gross domestic product fell at an annualized rate of 8.2 per cent in the first three months of 2020 — the worst quarterly showing since 2009 — even though efforts to contain the novel coronavirus by shuttering businesses and schools didn’t begin in earnest until March.

Many of those businesses are now reopening in a bid to re-employ some of the three million people who lost their jobs, putting workers and clients in close proximity and lending new urgency to the testing and tracing process.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories 

British Columbia this week has had the lowest number of deaths and new cases since a public health emergency was declared on March 18.  In the past seven days, there has been a total of 56 new cases, including four announced on Friday. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Alberta has ordered 20 million non-medical masks and plans to distribute them to residents, offering up to four masks per person at no cost. McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and A&W restaurants have partnered with the province to distribute the masks at drive-thrus. The province reported 24 new cases of coronavirus Friday, but no new deaths. There are 616 active cases in province, with 55 people in hospital, four of them in intensive care. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan reported two more coronavirus cases on Friday, one in the south and one in the Saskatoon area. The province has 61 active cases. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

WATCH | An infectious disease specialist answers questions about COVID-19, including whether someone who has recovered can stop physical distancing:

An infectious disease specialist answers viewer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether someone who has recovered from COVID-19 can stop physical distancing. 2:46

Manitoba reported no new cases on Friday after confirming that two new cases on Thursday were related to out-of-province travel. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he’s considering a regional phased approach to reopening the province, an approach he had previously resisted. Ford said that the province’s expanded testing guidelines, released Friday morning, will help public health officials better understand trends and hot spots. The new strategy will focus on communities with relatively high numbers of cases and certain high-risk workplaces while also boosting Ontario’s contact-tracing work. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

WATCH | Lack of data hampers Ontario’s fight against COVID-19:

Issues continue to surround Ontario’s failure to gather and share data about COVID-19, which many say is key to controlling outbreaks. 1:44

Quebec reached a grim milestone Friday, surpassing 50,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, nearly 60 per cent of all confirmed cases in Canada. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs is hoping any reopening of the border with Maine will be delayed. Higgs raised his concerns on a federal call Thursday night, where he and other premiers learned the border might be reopened soon for people in communities next to them. Higgs said the reopening for border friends and families could come in the next few weeks or even days. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Nova Scotia reported no new cases and one new recovery on Friday, bringing its case total to 1,055, with 978 considered resolved. It’s the first day with no new cases since March.The province has reported 59 deaths to date, with most linked back to the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.

In Prince Edward Island, Health Minister James Aylward said more than 1,100 surgeries have been delayed because of COVID-19. The surgeries, which included almost 500 eye surgeries, were all postponed during the 10-week period in which elective surgeries were put on hold. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I., which again reported no new cases on Friday.

WATCH | Buying or selling a home during the pandemic — what to expect:

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what happens when you buy or sell a house. Andrew Chang walks through what’s changed in the real estate game. 1:48

Newfoundland and Labrador will allow people to expand their household bubbles, officials said Friday. The government first allowed for bubbles of two households on April 30. Now households can expand their bubbles by up to six more people. New members of a bubble do not have to be from the same household, but cannot be changed once decided. The province, which announced a new COVID-19 case related to travel on Thursday, had no new cases on Friday. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

Yukon health officials say the territory is on track to allow people in July to travel freely between the territory and neighbouring B.C. That means anybody arriving in Yukon from B.C. would no longer need to self-isolate for 14 days. Read more about what’s happening across the North.

Here’s what’s happening around the world

WATCH | Italians nervous as regional borders reopen:

Many Italians are concerned about the potential for more COVID-19 spread as the country reopens its borders to free travel and people start returning to workplaces. 1:58

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COVID-19 border closures worry Americans who come to Canada to buy insulin – CBC.ca

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When Travis Paulson drove from his home in northern Minnesota to the Canadian border last month, he thought he’d have little trouble crossing over to buy his insulin.

Paulson, a Type 1 diabetic, has made the trip many times for himself and others as the price of the lifesaving drug has skyrocketed in the United States over the last decade. A vial in Canada costs roughly $25 US, a fraction of the $350 to $400 he would be charged in his home country.

Paulson called Canada Border Services ahead of time to see if he’d still be able to come into Canada. Travel between the two countries has been restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Paulson said he was told he could still make the trip if he only went to the pharmacy and came back the same day.

But when he arrived at the border near Fort Frances, Ont., he said he was told there had been a policy change that very morning — and he couldn’t come into Canada because his trip was not deemed essential.

“It’s devastating because your life depends on it. You’re literally being denied the air that you need to breathe,” said Paulson, the director of the diabetes organization Northern Minnesota Advocacy Group.

“Every few hours you need it, every day. And that you might not be able to get it, I would say it’s a little terrifying.”

When coming to Canada, Paulson often buys insulin for himself and for others. (Submitted by Travis Paulson)

Many Americans rely on going up north to buy insulin, where it is roughly a tenth of the price. Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, a federal agency that establishes the maximum price that can be charged for patented drugs, keeps the prices affordable.

But the COVID-19 border restrictions have meant that option is no longer available.

While some pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. are offering programs for cheaper insulin during the pandemic, advocates say still not enough is being done to make it affordable.

A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said Americans may be allowed to enter the country to purchase medications, but the agency offers little clarity on who will be allowed in and when.

“Entry to Canada is decided on a case-by-case basis and based on the information made available to the border services officer at the time of entry,” spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said in an email.

Until at least June 21, there is a temporary restriction on all non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. That could be further prolonged if deemed necessary, Gadbois-St-Cyr said.

Transport trucks approach the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont., in March. The border closure between the two countries has been extended until at least June 21. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Quinn Nystrom, a long-time diabetes and affordable health-care advocate in Minnesota, said she’s received several calls since the border closures began, including one from a panicked mother.

“She said her nine-year-old son was on his last insulin pen,” Nystrom said, adding that the woman’s husband had been planning a trip to Canada in the spring to buy more.

“They were just completely distraught over it.”

Quinn Nystrom holds the insulin she bought on her trip to Canada in the spring of 2019. (Submitted by Quinn Nystrom)

Nystrom gained international attention last year for organizing and taking part in several Caravans to Canada — trips to show just how easy and affordable it is to buy insulin outside of the U.S.

A Type 1 diabetic herself, Nystrom went to her congressman, Pete Stauber, last spring, begging him to protect people with pre-existing conditions and vote to help lower the cost of insulin.

“He promised me he would do that. And after leaving his office and following up with him over the next couple of months, he unfortunately voted against those things,” she said.

“It was so unfortunate to me that I decided to file and run against him.”

On Sunday, Nystrom won the Democratic nomination in Minnesota’s 8th congressional district and will be up against Stauber on the ballot in November.

The small group drove five hours from Minnesota to Ontario to buy insulin at one-tenth the cost in the spring of 2019. Travis Paulson and Quinn Nystrom are on the left, and Nicole Smith-Holt and Lija Greensied are on the right. (Rachel Nystrom)

Access to affordable insulin can be a matter of life and death for Americans.

Nicole Smith-Holt’s son died in June 2017 at just 26 years old, less than a month after he aged off of his parents’ insurance plan. He couldn’t afford the cost at a pharmacy in Minnesota and chose instead to ration his insulin.

Smith-Holt said the border closures to Canada and Mexico put up “one more barrier” for struggling Americans, especially as many of them have lost their jobs and therefore their insurance during the pandemic.

“People are going to start rationing and people are going to suffer some very long-term health effects or possibly death,” she said.

“A Type 1 diabetic really should not be lowering their dosage or missing doses. It proved fatal for Alec and countless other people.”

But Alec Smith’s family, friends and supporters worked to make sure his death wasn’t in vain.

Nicole Smith-Holt with her son, Alec Smith, who died in 2017 from diabetes complications after rationing his insulin when he couldn’t afford it. (Submitted by Nicole Smith-Holt)

On July 1, the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act will come into effect in Minnesota. It will allow people who cannot afford their insulin to access a 30-day supply at their pharmacy for just $35. 

The new law also streamlines the process to access insulin in the long-term and manufacturers can be fined up to $3.6 million for not participating in the program.

“It means that we’re going to have the ability to save lives,” Smith-Holt said. 

“People right now, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, are really struggling. It’s going to be a lifeline for people.”

Pharmaceutical companies making pandemic programs

Since the pandemic started, some pharmaceutical companies in the United States have created programs to help struggling diabetics. 

Eli Lilly, the U.S. manufacturer of fast-acting insulin Humalog, created a program in April to help those without insurance access a month’s supply for $35.

But these programs are difficult to apply for, advocates say, and often many people don’t meet the criteria to be eligible.

It’s also just a temporary solution, Nystrom said, adding that the issue of insulin affordability won’t go away when the pandemic does.

Several American groups made international headlines in 2019 for the Caravan to Canada, and launched a social media campaign under the hashtag #Insulin4all. (Submitted by Lija Greenseid)

With few options due to border restrictions, some Americans, like Paulson, are turning to online Canadian pharmacies. 

Some Canadian pharmacies will ship insulin to the U.S., but the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities in Ottawa said it’s important to verify the legitimacy of an outlet if ordering online by checking with the province’s regulating body

One of the most well-known pharmacies to Americans is Mark’s Marine Pharmacy in Vancouver, just 40 kilometres from the U.S. border. It ships insulin to people across the U.S., but requires a doctor’s prescription to do so — a requirement in America.

People also turn to GoFundMe, social media and “underground networks.”

Lija Greenseid stands at a pharmacy in Fort Frances, Ont., last spring holding insulin for her teenage daughter. Greenseid organized the Caravan to Canada on the first weekend in May 2019 to buy cheaper insulin. (Submitted by Lija Greenseid)

Lija Greenseid, an insulin advocate in St. Paul, Minn., and mother of a 14-year-old daughter who has Type 1 diabetes, said people in local diabetes Facebook groups will share extra insulin if they switch brands and even give up unused vials if someone has died.

“That’s another strange consequence of our health-care system,” said Greenseid, who organized a Caravan to Canada last spring. 

While some insurance companies have now capped their deductibles at $25 a month, the list price for insulin in the U.S. hasn’t been cut.

‘The ultimate goal is to be like Canada’

Greenseid had always been comforted by the knowledge that Canada was a short drive away. It’s an option no longer there.

“What is reassuring is knowing that there is an insulin underground network of people who get insulin and give it to people who need it. That’s always there.” Greenseid said.

Nystrom said Americans don’t want to have to rely on outside countries to get affordable medications — and she hopes to make that possible if elected in November.

“The ultimate goal is to be like Canada, where somebody can just go to a pharmacy and pick up insulin for $30 US. That’s our goal,” she said.

“So people don’t have to rely on a pharmaceutical company deciding to be charitable.”

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Students upset as some Canadian universities hike tuition fees – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Some Canadian universities are raising tuition fees for the new school year much to the consternation of students, who argue their costs should be going down, not up in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While schools argue they need an infusion of cash to deal in part with higher costs of remote teaching and learning, students say they already face challenges, such as difficulty in finding summer employment.

“Students are struggling more than ever with skyrocketing tuition increases they have faced over the years,” Sofia Descalzi, national chairwoman the Canadian Federation of Students said on Friday. “It really is disappointing to see that in a time of crisis, universities and colleges are not ensuring affordability and accessibility of their education and reducing tuition fees, but they are going the opposite way.”

For example, the University of Manitoba announced last week it would be raising tuition by an average of 3.75 per cent. Most undergrads will be paying about $250 more a year for a full course load but others will pay $640 more.

The school said provincial grants have been falling while remote teaching and learning in light of the pandemic is adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to its costs. The university said it was setting aside another $600,000 in student aid.

“We know that cost is a barrier to many, even in the best of times,” said Janice Ristock, a vice-president.

Even in Ontario, where tuition was cut and then frozen for two years last year, the University of Guelph is among schools that have raised tuition for international students, who generally pay significantly more than their Canadian counterparts.

Horeen Hassan, with the Central Student Association at the university, said students were shocked at the increases, which the school estimates at between three and 15 per cent. International students already pay on average three times more than domestic students, she said, and COVID has wrecked their employment plans, too.

“Many international students are heartbroken that an institution they love so much is putting such a financial burden on them,” Hassan said in a release.

The university said the increase that took effect this spring was similar to hikes adopted by peer institutions although its overall rates were lower than theirs. At the same time, it said it would bolster supports available to students in need.

“We understand that the increases may represent a hardship for some continuing and returning international students, particularly amid challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the University of Guleph said.

Similarly, the University of Toronto said tuition for international undergrads has gone up for the summer session by an average of 5.4 per cent — 4.2 per cent for graduates — and will remain at that level in the fall. The school said it has also been providing emergency relief funding for those impacted by COVID.

Students, who have long complained about the cost of post-secondary education, said the pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Even with some emergency financial help from the federal government, many will have difficulty getting through the summer let alone being able to deal with more expensive education in the fall, Descalzi said.

A recent survey for the federation and the Canadian Association of University Teachers found a significant number of students were rethinking their plans. Among the reasons were lost income, limited support, and concerns about remote learning. In all, almost one-third of those asked said they might not go to school given the situation.

Descalzi said universities should resort to belt-tightening at the administration and executive levels or dip into reserves before placing a higher financial burden on those furthering their education.

“We are in times of crisis,” she said. “They should not be raising fees.”

Dalhousie University, which is raising tuition three per cent, said it was taking steps to cut costs and limit non-essential spending. The school noted that 41 per cent of its operating money comes directly from students and increases were necessary to maintain academic standards.

“This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and is even more apparent today,” spokeswoman Janet Bryson said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 29, 2020

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