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Manitoba looking to improve COVID-19 variant screening – CTV News Winnipeg



Manitoba is looking into the steps involved in discovering and confirming COVID-19 variant cases in the province, after 18 days passed between the initial positive test to when the case of the B117 variant, which was first observed in the United Kingdom, was reported to the public.

The traveller arrived in Winnipeg on January 19th.

The province said in the bulletin reporting the case that on January 22, the initial test results from the traveller were received and the sample was sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory for DNA sequencing.

A spokesperson for the National Microbiology Lab told CTV News that it didn’t receive the sample until February 4. Two of the four days the sample was processed on fell on a weekend, and the results were known on February 8. The variant case was reported to the public on Feb. 9.

On Friday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, said the whole process from sample collection to transport is being looked at.

“Just like any of our ongoing quality improvement that we do continually, we’ll look at all those factors,” said Dr. Roussin.

Roussin also said the province has since added the ability to screen for variants of concern at Cadham Provincial Lab, and the initial goal is to have that process complete within 48 hours of receiving a sample.

University of Manitoba biological sciences professor Jeffrey Marcus said in his experience, genetic sequencing can take six days to two weeks – depending on if the samples need to be transported to a different lab.

He said would expect better when dealing with a highly contagious virus.

“You would expect that everybody would be particularly diligent and do everything that they can to remove all the delays from the system,” Marcus said.

However, Marcus’ greater concern is the province isn’t tapping to the expertise and equipment available on university and college campuses to scale up the screening and sequencing abilities.

“It’s unfortunate, we have this sort of war on COVID and we are not treating it like a war,” he said. “We are not marshalling all (of) our resources we have available to achieve our goals.”

A part of this pattern, he said, is the 18 days it took to screen, sequence and report the first B117 variant case in the province. He said nothing involved with sequencing genetic material should take that long.

He also said Cadham Lab and the National Microbiology Lab are less than one block apart, so transport should not be a big issue.

“Which leads me to believe it was sitting in a freezer for about a week,” he said. 

Right now in Manitoba, about five per cent of screened samples are being sequenced for the three known variants of concern and the province is planning to do more.

When asked if the province would partner with universities or colleges, Roussin said that the Canadian COVID-19 Genomic Network has been up and running for quite some time.

“It is at par with any place in the world with the sequencing it does,” Roussin explained. “It’s a collaboration throughout the world, so the province has that expertise, and that expertise has been utilized.”

Roussin also noted the traveller in this first B117 case was returning from international travel.

“They had to isolate for 10 days,” he said. “And so that was done, it was done appropriately in this case, and we haven’t seen secondary transmission of it.”

Roussin said all of the close contacts for the case have since been tested twice; none have come back positive.  

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Alberta province halts AstraZeneca vaccine first shots due to supply issue



Alberta has stopped administering first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine because of limited supply, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said the change was due to supply issues rather concerns about rare side-effects.

“This decision is based on the fact that we are receiving no known future shipments of AstraZeneca at this time but are receiving large quantities of mRNA vaccines,” McMillan said in an email, referring to messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.

The shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines comes as the western oil-producing province of Alberta struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Last week the provincial government introduced new restrictions to curb infections.

Alberta has administered approximately 255,000 first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The remaining supply of about 8,400 doses will be used as second doses.

Last week, Alberta reported its first case of a patient dying from a blood clot condition after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been three such deaths in Canada.

Despite the deaths linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Canada‘s health regulator has continued to support the use of the vaccine and highlighted its benefits.

Dozens of countries paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine this year after reports of rare, but serious, blood clots. Several of them have now resumed use either fully or with restrictions after health regulators said the benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.

The province is now receiving large and consistent shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with more than 236,000 doses arriving this week.

(Reporting by Nia WilliamsEditing by Bill Berkrot and Nick Zieminski)

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BioNTech committed to deliver 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year



BioNTech SE said on Monday that its order backlog for delivery of COVID-19 vaccines this year together with partner Pfizer Inc had grown to 1.8 billion doses, underscoring its role as a major global supplier of immunization shots.

That was up from 1.4 billion doses announced in March.

Based on these delivery contracts, the company said it expects about 12.4 billion euros ($15.1 billion) in revenue from the vaccine this year, including sales, milestone payments from partners and a share of gross profit in the partners’ territories, up from a previous forecast of 9.8 billion euros.

More than 450 million doses of the two-shot vaccine known as Comirnaty were supplied globally as of May 6, 2021. By contrast, AstraZeneca, which has pledged to deliver up to 3 billion vaccine doses this year, said on April 30 it had supplied more than 300 million doses so far. That includes production from partners such as the Serum Institute of India.

BioNTech and Pfizer, which have been spared the type of production setbacks that have hobbled AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson , have repeatedly lifted projected delivery volumes amid a global scramble to speed vaccination campaigns.

Earlier on Monday, BioNTech unveiled plans to set up a new factory in Singapore to produce several hundred million doses of its mRNA vaccines per year from 2023.

BioNTech’s partner for China, Fosun Pharma , said on Sunday it would provide a factory with an annual capacity of up to 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine under a joint venture with BioNTech.

That followed a contract with the European Union for up to 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for 2021-2023, to cover booster shots, donations and reselling of doses.

BioNTech reported first-quarter total revenue of 2.05 billion euros, up from 27.7 million a year earlier, driven by vaccine sales, and including an estimated 1.75 billion euros from BioNTech’s share of gross profit from sales in Pfizer’s territories.

Quarterly net profit jumped to 1.13 billion euros, compared to a 53.4-million-euro loss in the year-earlier period.

The company said there was no evidence its current vaccine will need to be adapted to fight new virus variants, but added that it had developed strategies to address such variants should the need arise.

BioNTech reiterated that output capacity for the vaccine would reach 3 billion doses by the end of 2021, and more than 3 billion doses in 2022.

Pfizer last week said the pair was targeting production of as much as 4 billion doses of the shot next year, mostly for low- and middle-income countries.

($1 = 0.8222 euros)

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Thomas Escritt, Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

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Canada ready to discuss COVID-19 vaccine IP waiver, ‘not interfering or blocking’ -Trudeau



covid-19 vaccines

Canada is ready to discuss an intellectual property rights (IP) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and will not block one even though it stresses the importance of protecting patents, officials said on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines. Any such waiver would have to be negotiated through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We’ve been working with partners at the WTO to find a consensus-based solution and are ready to discuss proposals, in particular for COVID-19 vaccines,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

Biden’s proposal angered pharmaceutical companies. Firms working on vaccines have reported sharp revenue and profit gains during the crisis.

Canadian International Trade Minister Mary Ng earlier said that Ottawa firmly believed in the importance of protecting IP.

“I can assure you Canada is not interfering or blocking. Canada is very much working to find a solution,” said Trudeau, who did not give details of the Canadian negotiating stance.

Ng said Ottawa recognized how much the pharmaceutical industry had done to innovate COVID-19 vaccines, adding that many barriers to access were unrelated to IP, such as supply-chain constraints.

Canada is trying to quell a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic that is pushing some healthcare systems to breaking points, particularly in the western provinces of Alberta and Manitoba.

Manitoba officials said they were postponing some non-urgent surgeries to open space for COVID-19 patients and planned to announce tougher public health restrictions as daily cases soared to a near-record high.

The U.S. state of Montana will offer vaccines to around 2,000 Alberta truckers who regularly cross the border, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said.

Truckers will get vaccinated at a post being set up just south of the border, using Montana’s surplus Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The scheme mirrors an agreement that Saskatchewan and Manitoba reached with North Dakota.


(Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Goodman/Mark Heinrich, Grant McCool and Marguerita Choy)

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