Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 therapeutic for use in adults 18 and older, paving the way for the distribution of a potentially lifesaving drug at a time when the country’s hospitals are overwhelmed.
Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an oral antiviral prescribed by a doctor and administered in pill form, is designed to help the body fight off the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reduce symptoms from an infection and shorten the period of illness.
After months of clinical trials, Pfizer reported in November that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by an impressive 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19.
The drug company’s laboratory studies also indicate the drug is likely to work against the Omicron variant, now the dominant variant among new cases in Canada.
The product has been hailed as a pandemic “game changer” by some doctors because it could reduce hospitalizations and deaths among COVID-19 patients.
Experts say an effective pill that’s easy to self-administer at home could relieve some of the pressure on the health care system and change the trajectory of the pandemic. Existing therapeutics approved for use in Canada — products like monoclonal antibodies and remdesivir — must be administered intravenously in a hospital setting.
WATCH: Health Canada approves Pfizer’s oral COVID treatment
Speaking at a press conference with reporters Monday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the regulator’s approval is “great news” because Paxlovid could drive down severe outcomes in the current wave and beyond.
“The regulator as well as the experts helping us with the guidance and the supply are all coming together at once and I think Canadians should be very happy today to hear that oral antivirals are beginning to become available in Canada,” she said.
Canada has placed an order for an initial quantity of one million treatment courses, with an option to buy up to 500,000 more. With global interest in antivirals running high as the Omicron variant wreaks havoc, Pfizer is promising to churn out 120 million courses of the treatment by year’s end.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said 30,000 treatment courses have arrived in Canada already and will be distributed to the provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.
Duclos said another 120,000 Paxlovid treatments will arrive between now and the end of March. The federal government is working with Pfizer to bring “additional treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible,” he said.
WATCH: Health minister says Canada should have 150,000 Paxlovid treatments by March
While championing Paxlovid as a treatment that will “save lives, reduce illness and lighten the load on our health care system,” Duclos said this antiviral is not a replacement for vaccines, which remain the best way to keep people out of hospital.
“This is welcome news — we have one more tool in our toolbox. But no drug, including Paxlovid, can replace vaccination and public health measures,” he said. “You don’t want to have to use that pill if you can instead be vaccinated. Vaccination will be a lot better in protecting you.”
Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is working with its provincial and territorial counterparts to determine how best to distribute antivirals, which are expected to be in short supply for the foreseeable future.
“This treatment, the first treatment taken orally and at home, will be in high demand,” she said. “We anticipate supply at the beginning will not be great anywhere.”
The product, which doesn’t prevent infection, has been authorized by Health Canada for use in high-risk adults with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said the country’s largest province will earmark its share — about 10,000 courses of treatment to start — for adults with “the highest risk of severe outcomes, including immunocompromised patients.”
A person should start taking Paxlovid no more than five days after symptoms start, which could be “one of the key challenges of these antivirals,” Tam said.
‘An important tool’
“They have to be given really early. Not easy, but everybody needs to give it a good try because it could be an important tool going forward,” she said. “It could potentially blunt the severity of the virus, which is a a key goal.”
Health Canada said Pfizer’s pills should only be used by patients who have tested positive on a SARS-CoV-2 viral test. Such tests are currently in short supply in some provinces and territories.
If a PCR test is not available, Tam said a positive result on a rapid antigen test would also suffice.
In a statement, Conservative MP Luc Bethold, the party’s health critic, urged the federal government to “rectify the lack of available testing” plaguing many provinces so these therapeutics can be deployed quickly.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, said Health Canada’s approval is “a very positive first step.”
“Everything we’ve heard about this pill is very promising but there are clearly logistical challenges ahead,” he said, adding that careful planning is required to make sure the pills get to those who need them most.
This drug regimen could be useful for people who have underlying conditions that increase the risk of hospitalization and death related to the coronavirus, such as heart disease or diabetes.
It could also be given to the unvaccinated, who are much more likely to experience severe outcomes. Tam pointed to PHAC data that suggest unvaccinated people are 19 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
Health Canada has warned, however, that the product shouldn’t be used while a patient is on any of a long list of other drugs, including common medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol and seasonal allergies, among others.
“If you’re on certain medications, you have to be careful when using this drug,” Tam said, urging prescribers to review contraindications before writing a script for Paxlovid.
Pfizer’s treatment is meant to be taken as 30 pills over five days. Patients take three pills at a time: two of Pfizer’s pills and one of a low-dose HIV drug known as ritonavir, which helps Pfizer’s drug remain active in the body longer.
US stocks rally as Fed minutes meet expectations – Al Jazeera English
Investors fear that overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed could tip the economy into recession.
Wall Street closed higher Wednesday, boosted after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest monetary policy meeting showed policymakers unanimously felt the United States economy was very strong as they grappled with reining in inflation without triggering a recession.
The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s May meeting, which culminated in a 50-basis-point rise in the Fed funds target rate – the biggest jump in 22 years – showed most of the committee’s members judged that further such rate hikes would “likely be appropriate” at its upcoming June and July meetings.
“The uniformity of opinion is a good thing,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird in Louisville, Kentucky. “There’s a lack of uncertainty of what needs to be done in the near term.”
“By the time [the Fed] gets to September, they will have plenty of economic data to make their move from there, so they continue to maintain optionality,” Mayfield added.
All three major US stock indexes gyrated earlier in the day amid increasing jitters stemming from business and consumer surveys, economic data and corporate earnings reports suggesting a cooling American economy – even as the Fed prepares to toss a bucket of cold water on it to tackle decades-high inflation.
Fears that overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed could tip the economy into recession despite evidence that inflation peaked in March has driven those concerns.
“There’s some credence to the idea that inflation is doing [the Fed’s] job for them,” Mayfield said. “There’s already a cooling occurring, and financial conditions have tightened over the last month because of dollar strength and equity market weakness.”
On Thursday, the Department of Commerce is due to release its second take on first-quarter GDP, which analysts are expected to show a slightly shallower contraction than the 1.4 percent quarterly annualised drop originally reported.
The Personal Consumption Expenditures report will follow on Friday, which will provide further clues regarding consumer spending and whether inflation peaked in March, as other indicators have suggested.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 191.66 points, or 0.6 percent, to 32,120.28, the S&P 500 gained 37.25 points, or 0.95 percent, to 3,978.73 and the Nasdaq Composite added 170.29 points, or 1.51 percent, to 11,434.74.
Nine of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 rose, with consumer discretionary stocks leading the pack with a gain of 2.8 percent.
Amazon.com Inc and Tesla Inc provided the strongest lift to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, rising 2.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.
Department store operator Nordstrom Inc surged 14.0 percent on the heels of its upbeat annual profit and revenue forecasts.
Fast-food chain Wendy’s Co jumped 9.8 percent after a regulatory filing revealed that shareholder Nelson Peltz was considering a potential takeover bid for the company.
Shares of Nvidia Corp fell more than 8 percent in after-hours trading after the company’s second-quarter revenue forecast missed expectations.
Gas Up Nearly 4 Cents; Price Freeze Lifts in Labrador – VOCM
Despite predictions to the contrary, the regulated price of gas is up in most parts of the province.
Gasoline is up by 3.9 cents a litre, except along the coast of Labrador. Diesel on the island is up by 1.3 cents while diesel in Labrador has dropped by 11.6 cents a litre. Furnace oil costs over a cent a litre more on the island while stove oil on the island up by the same amount. Stove oil in Labrador is down by 23.70 cents a litre.
Propane meanwhile is down by just under 2 cents.
The suspension of maximum price adjustments on the coast of Labrador lifts as of today as fuel deliveries resume for the season—that means significant increases, in some cases by about a dollar a litre, for some fuels.
Cheese not on the table in Canada-U.K. trade talks as Britain seeks market access
OTTAWA — The British foreign secretary has often been mocked for her preoccupation with cheese. It started eight years ago when Liz Truss expressed outrage in a speech to her party’s annual conference.
“We import two thirds of our cheese,” she raged. “That is a disgrace.”
Now Truss is facing another battle over cheese, this time with Canada.
Britain wants greater access to Canadian markets for more than 700 varieties of cheese including Stilton, Cheshire, and Wensleydale, a crumbly variety originating from Yorkshire.
But Ottawa has made it clear it does not want to see more British cheddar, let alone artisan varieties such as stinking bishop, renegade monk and Hereford hop, on Canadian fridge shelves.
During the first round of negotiations of the U.K.-Canada trade deal, Canada told Britain that a larger quota for British cheese is not on the negotiating table.
When it was a European Union member, Britain was part of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, giving it some access to Canada’s cheese market.
After the U.K. left the EU, a “continuity agreement” with Canada was swiftly put in place to maintain the CETA arrangement until a bilateral trade deal could be struck.
Ralph Goodale, Canada’s high commissioner to the U.K., said if Britain wants more access to Canadian markets for its cheese as part of a bilateral free-trade agreement, it will have to knock on Brussels’ door and get its part of the dairy quota back.
“The point is we have already provided that volume in the EU deal and the British left it there without taking it with them,” he said in an interview. “That’s an issue they need to resolve with the Europeans because the Europeans have their quota.”
Goodale said the U.K.’s request for extra access for British cheese — on top of the access given to the EU — is “what the Canadian negotiators consider to be pretty much a dead end.”
“You are talking about a double concession — one we have already made to the EU and the request is being made by the U.K. for yet another one on top of that,” he said.
The high commissioner said Canada values its trading relationship with the U.K., adding that he is confident that a mutually-beneficial trade deal will be reached.
But if Canada allows the British to export more of their cheese it would involve “a major commitment of compensation to dairy producers” in Canada to make up for lost incomes.
In 2018, after the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement gave the U.S. fresh access to the Canadian dairy market, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would compensate Canadian dairy farmers.
Canada’s dairy industry was worth over $7 billion in 2020, according to the Canadian Dairy Commission’s annual report.
There are over 10,000 dairy farms in Canada — most of them in Quebec and Ontario — with an average of 92 cows per farm, it said.
Until at least the end of next year, Britain will be able to keep exporting its cheese to Canada under the trade continuity agreement, the U.K.’s trade department said.
This allows U.K. cheese exporters to access the Canadian market tariff-free under the EU portion of Canada’s World Trade Organization cheese tariff rate quota.
As part of the 1995 WTO agreement on agriculture, Canada established tariff rate quotas for cheese and other dairy products. The quotas set out quantities of dairy that could enter Canada with little or no duty.
For Britain, a fully fledged free trade deal with Canada is crucial after Brexit left it looking for fresh tariff-free markets.
“We want to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive new agreement with Canada that will strengthen our close and historic bilateral trade relationship,” said a U.K. government trade spokesman in a statement, adding the relationship was worth about $34.5 billion in 2021.
In March, U.K. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan flew to Canada to announce with Canada’s Trade Minister Mary Ng that bilateral negotiations had officially begun.
In a speech in the House of Lords in London earlier this month, Goodale reported on progress in the talks, saying that “both sides are optimistic that, as good as CETA and the continuity agreement were, we can do better still when Canada and the U.K. negotiate a deal face-to-face, directly with each other.”
Like Goodale, Ng said Canada is confident a free-trade deal with Britain will be reached, enhancing co-operation in a number of areas, including on renewables, sustainability and the digital economy.
“Canada values the relationship with the United Kingdom. They are … an important trading partner and a trade agreement with the U.K. will be very good for Canadian businesses,” she said in a phone interview from Thailand last weekend.
But she was also firm about the need to protect Canada’s dairy producers, and that means keeping more British cheese out.
“I have been very clear, our government has been very clear, that we will not provide access to our supply-managed sector,” she said. “We have been clear about that from the get-go.”
The Canadian dairy sector now produces 1,450 varieties of cheese, including ewe, goat and buffalo varieties, as well as the cheese curds used in the Québécois dish poutine.
At least half of Canada’s cheese is made in Quebec, which is home to a number of artisan varieties including bleu l’ermite, or blue hermit, and Oka, a popular semi-soft rind cheese.
Pierre Lampron, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, has made it clear he will fiercely protect Canadian cheese from British interlopers.
Lampron said he had “validated that the issue of access to the Canadian dairy market was not on the agenda of these trade talks.”
Canada’s protectionist stance toward its dairy industry may have pleased farmers. But it has caused some tension with close allies.
Earlier this month, New Zealand launched a formal trade dispute against Canada, accusing the federal government of breaking promises to give access for dairy imports under the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
The Biden administration also recently said it was asking for a second dispute settlement panel under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to review a trade dispute with Canada over dairy import quotas.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press
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