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Immunization committee to recommend provinces stop giving AstraZeneca vaccine to those under 55: sources –



Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is expected to recommend today a pause in the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on those under the age of 55 because of safety concerns, sources told CBC News.

The updated guidelines will be issued later today, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The expected change comes following reports of rare blood clots in some immunized patients.

Canada is expected to receive 1.5 million doses of this product from the U.S. on Tuesday.

Officials from NACI will provide an update to reporters at 3:10 p.m. ET. will carry the remarks live.

Meanwhile, Health Canada — which approved the vaccine for use in Canada in February — said its regulators would be adding “additional terms and conditions on the authorizations” for AstraZeneca and a biologically identical version of the drug manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, which has been branded Covishield.

The manufacturers will be required to conduct a “detailed assessment of the benefits and risks of the vaccine by age and sex in the Canadian context,” information that could lead to “additional regulatory actions.”

“This information will support the ongoing evaluation of these rare blood clotting events, and allow Health Canada to determine if there are specific groups of people who may be at higher risk,” the department said in a press release.

The AstraZeneca shot has not been widely used in people under the age of 55 in this country. Some jurisdictions, such as P.E.I., have been using some of their supply to immunize young people who work in public-facing sectors like grocery and convenience stores. In New Brunswick, the shot was made available to first responders and some teachers last week. 

A spokesperson for P.E.I.’s health department confirmed use of the vaccine had been suspended for those 18 to 29 years of age.

Speaking to reporters in Niagara Falls, Ont., Ontario Premier Doug Ford said today that the province would follow NACI’s guidance and reserve the current supply of AstraZeneca for those in the older cohort.

He said there have been reports of blood clots in younger women in other places.

“I won’t hesitate to cancel that in half a heartbeat. If it’s going to put anyone in harm, we just won’t use it, simple as that,” he said, adding he didn’t want to “roll the dice” by using AstraZeneca on a group that may have an outsized chance of developing complications.

“The guidance from the federal government is that it is safe for people over 55,” Ford said. “I’m talking about younger people taking it, 35 years of age and in that range, that’s where the problem is.”

After a review, the European Union’s drug watchdog, the European Medicines Agency, found the vaccine is not linked to an increase in the overall risk of blood clots.

The EMA said, however, that it could not definitively rule out a link between the vaccine and rare types of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, or low levels of blood platelets.

Specifically, it pointed to 18 cases of an extremely rare type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a condition that is much more common in women than men. Most of the cases occurred within 14 days of receiving the AstraZeneca shot, and the majority were in women under the age of 55.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead on Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, said that the province also would pause its deployment of the vaccine among people under 55 because of a “very rare subtype, one specific type of blood clot.”

She said that while there have been no complications reported in Canada, “out of an abundance of caution” Manitoba will restrict the shot to people 55 to 64, for now.

Reimer said it’s not known yet how common this rare blood clot side effect is but early data out of Europe suggest it could be an outcome for 1 out of 100,000 AstraZeneca shots deployed, or even more than that — the science isn’t settled, she said.

“This is a pause while we wait for more information to better understand what’s happened in Europe. This is an important and evidence-based change,” she said, adding this sort of shift is a testament to Canada’s robust vaccine monitoring system.

Reimer said it’s “probably” fine to use the vaccine on all groups — but she’s not comfortable with just “probably” and wants to wait to see more data from Europe.

Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it’s “possible” the vaccine may be associated with “very rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia.” Health Canada has maintained that the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks.

Health Canada has said it is aware that researchers in Europe have indicated that they have identified a possible cause for these very rare events, but says little information is available about the findings.

“We have been discussing the rare reports of blood clots and low platelet counts with the European Medicines Agency and other regulators,” Dr. Supriya Sharma, Canada’s chief medical adviser, said on Thursday. “Health Canada will make decisions for Canada based on the science and evidence.

“This is just the latest issue the company has faced over the last three months.

Earlier this year, a number of European countries halted vaccinations in response to questions about the AstraZeneca product’s efficacy in people over the age of 65, only to restart them after new evidence emerged.

After Health Canada approved the shot for all adults, NACI recommended the product be used only on people under the age of 65, citing a dearth of clinical trial data on the vaccine’s effectiveness in older people.

NACI changed course earlier this month after reviewing three “real-world studies,” saying the two-dose viral vector vaccine can and should be used on seniors.

Last week, the U.S. Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), which keeps an eye on clinical trials, found “outdated information” may have been reported by the company when it released data on U.S. trials. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and the head of the NIAID, said the monitoring board was surprised by the the better-than-expected efficacy results published by AstraZeneca.

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Bitcoin tops $60,000, nears record high, on growing U.S. ETF hopes



Bitcoin hit $60,000 for the first time in six months on Friday, nearing its all-time high, as hopes grew that U.S. regulators would allow a futures-based exchange-traded fund (ETF), a move likely to open the path to wider investment in digital assets.

Cryptocurrency investors have been waiting for approval of the first U.S.  ETF for Bitcoin , with bets on such a move fuelling its recent rally.

The world’s biggest cryptocurrency rose 4.5% to its highest level since Apr. 17, and was last at $59,290. It has risen by more than half since Sept. 20 and closing in on its record high of $64,895 hit in April.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is set to allow the first U.S. bitcoin futures ETF to begin trading next week, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday.

Such a move would open a new path for investors to gain exposure to the emerging asset, traders and analysts said.

“ETFs open up a raft of avenues for people to gain exposure, and there will be a swift move to these structures,” said Charles Hayter, CEO of data firm CryptoCompare, which tracks ETF products.

“It reduces the frictions for investors to gain exposure and gives traditional funds room to use the asset for diversification purposes.”

Bitcoin’s moves on Friday were spurred by a tweet from the SEC’s investor education office urging investors to weigh risks and benefits of investing in funds that holds bitcoin futures contracts, said Ben Caselin of Asia-based crypto exchange AAX.


Graphic: Bitcoin on the rise


Several fund managers, including the VanEck Bitcoin Trust, ProShares, Invesco, Valkyrie and Galaxy Digital Funds have applied to launch bitcoin ETFs in the United States.

Crypto ETFs have launched this year in Canada and Europe, growing in popularity amid surging interest in digital assets.

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has previously said the crypto market involves many tokens which may be unregistered securities and leaves prices open to manipulation and millions of investors vulnerable to risks.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Bloomberg report said proposals by ProShares and Invesco, based on futures contracts, were filed under mutual fund rules that Gensler has said provide “significant investor protections”.

The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

“It’s one of the final frontiers for mandate access,” said Joseph Edwards, head of research at crypto broker Enigma Securities.

“Plenty of Americans in particular have strings attached to how they deploy a lot of their wealth. It allows bitcoin to get in on the sorts of windfall that keep U.S. equities as consistently strong as they are.”


(Reporting by Tom Wilson in London and Alun John in Hong Kong, and Mrinmay Dey and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; editing by Alexander Smith and Jason Neely)

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Pharmacies doling out Moderna and Pfizer in pilot project just before younger kids expected to be OKed for vaccine – CTV News Vancouver




Dozens of pharmacies in B.C. are delivering mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, yet still don’t know if they will be part of the immunization plan when it comes to kids aged five to 11.

At the Fort St John pharmacy, demand for the Moderna shot isn’t exactly overwhelming, but increasing every week, according to pharmacist Michael Ortynsky. He says aside from some paperwork, things have run smoothly, thanks in large part to specialized vaccine fridges.

“It’s checked every day, twice a day, as a minimum and it’s connected to an alarm if the temperature rises above five degrees,” he explained in an interview with CTV News.

Once refrigerated, the vaccine can last up to 30 days.

Several Northern pharmacies have been able to distribute the mRNA vaccine since late August. In the Lower Mainland, 54 pharmacies are doing the same — many administering Pfizer — as part of a pilot project. According to the ministry, they’re delivering on average 4,000 doses each week.

Yet despite two months of experience, it’s still unclear whether pharmacies will be part of the vaccine rollout for kids aged five to 11 who are expected to get the green light for a jab next month.

On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters, “There will be some pharmacies that will be involved, but also health authority clinics in different settings.”

Pharmacists did provide AstraZeneca but B.C. has so far resisted a wide-scale approach involving pharmacies.

A statement from Angie Gaddy, communications director for the BC Pharmacy Association, says in part, ‘We are in discussions with the government on planning for mRNA vaccines in B.C. pharmacies and what it will take to roll out on a large-scale basis.”

Dr. Brian Conway with the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre is encouraging government to let go of control and “democratize” the system.

“There are over 300,000 children aged five to 11 in this province. That’s not a small task getting them all vaccinated, ” he told CTV News.

Conway thinks it will be essential to get as many kids immunized as quickly as possible. As of Wednesday nearly 89 per cent of those aged 12 and older had at a least one shot of vaccine. It’s not been enough to slow transmission, which has been rising in children.

Earlier this week — Dr. Henry ruled out using doctors’ offices. Conway thinks that’s a mistake pointing out parents will have questions.

“And as soon as they’re finished asking their questions and they’re decide to be going ahead with the vaccination of that child, that vaccination should be immediately available,” added Dr. Conway.

In the Peace, Ortynsky agrees saying he spends time answering questions.

“My experience is there’s a lot of misinformation out there and we’ll gladly take the time to talk to people about it,” said Ortynsky.

He adds the extended hours of operation – beyond typical clinic hours – allows pharmacists to reach more people.

“I know most of the pharmacists I communicate with during the week are more than willing to, you know, accommodate the patient’s needs to give them this really important vaccine, when they need it.”

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'Strong conviction': Top strategist pounds the table on Buy Canada – BNN



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The chief strategist of National Bank of Canada says the S&P/TSX Composite Index is the place to be for investors – particularly those who want a hedge against inflation. And he’s warning pension funds that have turned their back on Canada may come to regret the decision.

“The global economy, notwithstanding some uncertainty relating to the global supply chain, is just chugging along and … you know inventories are so depleted that there’s going to be high demand for global industrial production for the foreseeable future. You would expect the Canadian economy and the Canadian stock market to do well in this environment,” said Stéfane Marion, who also serves as National Bank’s chief economist, in an interview Thursday.

Marion and his team presented historical data to clients Thursday to illustrate their view that Canada offers attractive baked-in hedges against inflation. According to National Bank, the TSX delivered an average annualized return of 2.3 per cent in periods when inflation topped four per cent for prolonged periods. By comparison, the S&P 500 posted a negative return of 5.9 per cent during those same periods.

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In the interview, Marion acknowledged that Canada’s equity market — and the energy sector in particular — has fallen out of favour in some circles as pressure mounts on major global institutional investors to take ESG (environmental, social, governance) factors into consideration. As far as he is concerned, however, Canada’s energy sector isn’t getting the credit it deserves.

“I understand that ESG concerns are paramount now for investment decisions,” he said. “But at the same time, it is false to say that the Canadian energy sector isn’t doing anything.”

And while there have been some high-profile examples of top international investors turning their back on Canadian energy stocks, most notably when Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund blacklisted names like Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. last year, it has recently also become a domestic phenomenon.

Last month, as part of its broader climate strategy, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec said it will exit its exposure to oil production by the end of next year. 

“To the extent that [Canadian energy is] transitioning, I don’t think that we should discourage them to transition,” Marion said, while pointing to Europe’s energy crisis as a case study in “disastrous scenarios” that the world faces if economies abandon fossil fuel in haste.  

“I think that from an investment perspective, you have a responsibility to protect your downside and at the same time, yes – you can still be ESG and invest in Canadian energy, provided that you pick the right companies. As I say, I insist we have global leaders in terms of carbon capture and so not all energy is bad in this type of framework.”

Canada’s energy stocks have become the star performers on Bay Street this year, with the TSX’s energy subgroup surging almost 46 per cent year-to-date through the end of trading Thursday, when once again the group contributed to gains on a day when the index came within two points of closing at a record. 

And as far as Marion is concerned, there are more gains to come.

“We have uncertainty relating to monetary policy going forward so that could rock the markets; but on a relative basis, I absolutely have strong conviction that Canada is the place to be and that will also mean a stronger Canadian dollar,” Marion said, going on to add that according to his team’s models, the loonie is undervalued by as much as 10 cents.

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