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Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine task force is waiting on Ottawa: provincial health minister – CBC.ca

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Manitoba’s health minister says a team of public servants, minus the province’s top doctor, has been enlisted to get a COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of as many people as possible.

But Cameron Friesen said the provincial task force is restrained by circumstances beyond their control.

“There is only so much advanced planning that we can do until we are in need of the detail that only the federal government can provide,” Friesen told reporters Wednesday.

As the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines is slated to arrive by early 2021, Manitoba insists its task force devoted to the coveted shot in the arm is doing everything possible, before then. 

The province said the task force is preparing for the needs of each vaccine candidate, such as freezer capacity, by identifying the resources Manitoba already has and those it still requires.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the province has a task force equipped to ensure a smooth rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The group is speaking with key stakeholders, participating on national vaccine committees and ensuring the province has the means of tracking new vaccines from inventory to uptake, the government said in an email. 

The task force will also make decisions on vaccine priority groups, as well as the logistics of receiving, storing and distributing it.

“This work involves significant risks, it involves significant contingency planning,” Friesen said.

“But those things, we will be ready for. We need the federal government, though, to say what’s happening.”

Friesen went on to cite the United States’ COVID-19 task force, named Operation Warp Speed, and implied that Canada’s effort might be lagging behind.

“It seems that we have a slow-lane approach to vaccine, at least expressed thus far from the federal government,” Friesen said.

Ottawa has deals in place to buy the vaccine and distribute them to provinces and territories, but Friesen said over the past week that Manitoba doesn’t know much in terms of vaccine, distribution and storage planning. 

He said a phone call Tuesday involving his federal counterpart, Patty Hajdu, didn’t alleviate his concerns.

Premier Brian Pallister told a national audience on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live Sunday that Manitoba needs national criteria to ensure fairness in distributing a vaccine. He added that vulnerable people and health-care workers are expected to be first in line.

WATCH | Manitoba’s premier says vaccine rollout should be equitable:

Brian Pallister cautions against ‘piecemeal’ plans for access to COVID-19 vaccines and wants a standard in place across all provinces and territories. 1:28

The province said in an email Wednesday that Manitoba has received an estimate on the number of available vaccine doses from the federal government, but would not reveal what that number is. 

Other provinces, including Saskatchewan and Ontario, have revealed an estimated dosage.

Manitoba’s task force will be comprised of staff from various government departments, including Health, Seniors and Active Living, Finance, and Central Services.

Dr. Brent Roussin will not be at the table, Friesen confirmed.

“Our chief provincial public health officer is very busy with his assigned duties, so therefore, we cannot task him also with this,” Friesen said, “but we have expertise here. We have taken a whole-of-government approach.”

The NDP’s health critic said Roussin’s voice shouldn’t be missing from the table.

“I was surprised to hear that Dr. Roussin wouldn’t be taking the lead in terms of what the vaccine’s going to look like once it reaches Manitoba and how that those decisions are going to be made,” Uzoma Asagwara said.

They added that the province should focus less on blaming Ottawa and more on preparing.

“We know it ends up with us being in a position to react instead of being proactive,” Asagwara said. 

“Where they’ve made many mistakes during this pandemic,” Asagwara said of the government, “this is an opportunity to get it right.”

Doctors Manitoba wants to be consulted

Doctors Manitoba, which represents physicians in the province, has yet to be consulted by provincial officials on vaccine rollout. President Dr. Cory Baillie hopes that will change.

“At this point, we’d like to ensure that physicians are involved in deciding who receives the vaccine first and ensure that physicians are involved in giving the vaccine,” he said.

“We know that physicians have built up trust with their patients and we think building on that trust is going to be very important in order to ensure maximum uptake in the population of the coronavirus vaccine.”

Friesen has previously said the vaccine distribution plan will be guided, in part, by the annual flu vaccination campaign, with some notable distinctions.

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Calgary company begins clinical trials for Canadian-made COVID vaccine candidate – HalifaxToday.ca

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A prospective COVID-19 vaccine touted as a made-in-Canada response has begun human clinical trials in Toronto, and the company says it’s already preparing a followup that will target more infectious variants.

Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says if all goes well, it could start manufacturing millions of doses of its first prospective vaccine by the end of the year, guaranteeing a Canadian stockpile that wouldn’t be subject to global supply pressures or competition.

That’s if the formulation proves safe and effective, of course. 

Among the challenges of developing a vaccine amid a raging pandemic is the uncertainty of how more infectious variants now emerging will complicate the COVID battle. 

Even if successful, by the time Providence Therapeutics releases its vaccine hopeful, much of the country could be in the throes of a more infectious virus that does not respond to this formulation, said company CEO Brad Sorenson. 

“We don’t believe that this is going to be resolved by a single vaccine,” said Sorenson, whose biotech also produces a personalized mRNA-based vaccine against cancer.

It’s a challenge now facing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have each said its products appear to respond well to the variant initially identified in the United Kingdom, and to a lesser degree, the variant first detected in South Africa.

Moderna said earlier this week it plans to test two booster vaccines aimed at the variant associated with South Africa.

Sorenson said Providence is already internally testing a vaccine candidate that targets the variants, and he hoped to begin clinical trials by the end of the year.

“We believe that there’s going to be a need to be in a position of readiness to be able to respond as these variants are coming up, and to be able to make sure that we have that capacity.”

That doesn’t mean Providence is changing production runs just yet. 

Sorenson said the immediate focus is to establish the safety and efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed PTX-COVID19-B and designed in the early days of the pandemic last March.

It uses messenger RNA technology and focuses on the spike protein located on the surface of a coronavirus that initiates infection, similar to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products.

The trial involves 60 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 25 who will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected in February. 

The subjects are divided into four groups of 15, three of which will get three different doses. The fourth group gets a placebo.

Sorenson said immediate pandemic efforts should be focused on the novel coronavirus currently devastating many parts of the country.

“It’s a matter of capacity. Right now these variants are there, they’re concerning, and we’re keeping a close eye on it, but that’s not predominantly what the needs of the population are,” said Sorenson.

“Right now the needs of the population are still tied to the primary spike protein virus that’s out there and is ravaging around the world.”

Sorenson said his next vaccine candidate takes a broader approach by attempting to elicit a T-cell response, thereby creating a longer-term vaccine “and cover what we believe would be a lot more variants.”

“We have to prove it out, but we believe that if we are successful that it will allow for a much more durable immunity and a much broader immunity.”

The other goal is to prepare for large-scale manufacturing in Calgary, if all goes well with the trials and approval process.

Sorenson said doses for the Phase 1 trial are being made in Toronto, but the plan is to commercially manufacture the completed vaccine through a contract with the Calgary-based Northern RNA Inc.

That won’t be up and running by the end of the year, Sorenson allowed, so the short-term plan is to send raw materials made in Canada to a plant in the United States that would make the commercial product.

Eventually, the whole process would be completed in Canada, he said.

“We’re building the entire chain within Canada, so we’re not going to run into a problem where this particular input into the vaccine is unavailable,” he said.

Much of this also depends on financial support from the federal government, Sorenson added.

While the National Research Council of Canada has backed Phase 1 trials, Sorenson said he’s awaiting word on further support. He’d also like Ottawa to back Providence’s efforts to address the new COVID variants.

“They’ve already recognized the importance of mRNA technology. What they don’t realize is the power of mRNA technology to be responsive to these challenges that are coming up,” he said.

“Hopefully the politicians and the people that cut the cheques and write the policies that give direction to the bureaucrats will hear that and we’ll start seeing a more concerted approach that looks at a fuller picture.”

Pending regulatory approval, Sorenson said a larger, international Phase 2 trial may start in May with seniors, younger subjects and pregnant people, followed by an even broader Phase 3 trial.

The Providence project is just one of several Canadian efforts underway to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. 

The biopharmaceutical company Medicago, based in Quebec City, began clinical trials on its plant-based candidate last July. If successful, the company has said manufacturing would take place in Durham, N.C., until it can complete a large-scale manufacturing facility set for Quebec City.

And last month, Health Canada gave the green light to the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan to launch its Phase 1 clinical vaccine trial.

Infectious disease expert Jason Kindrachuk, who works with VIDO but is not involved with its vaccine candidate, said a varied vaccine strategy will be key to controlling the pandemic. 

“Vaccines are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all and maybe with this pandemic, people are getting a greater appreciation for some of the logistical hurdles of trying to transport vaccines. Cold chain storage is not something most people knew about or thought about prior to COVID and everybody in the community now I think has heard about it,” said Kindrachuk, a visiting scientist from the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair.

“This is something that, in regards to vaccine development, we really have to put a lot of thought into as a research community because of the fact that we have to make vaccines that are accessible for the communities that are ultimately going to be treated with them.”

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged Tuesday that appetite was strong for a homegrown answer but noted Providence was still a considerable ways from offering a viable option.

“First it has to go through the appropriate approval process, go through Health Canada to make sure that it’s going to be satisfactory and safe and efficacious,” said Elliott.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19: What you need to know for January 27 – TVO

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This article was last updated on Wednesday at 10:32 a.m.

  • According to data as of January 25, there are 745 new cases in Toronto, for a total of 83,474 since the pandemic began; six of them are in hospital. In total, six people have died.
  • Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), said data from Public Health Ontario suggests that the COVID-19 variant is now present in the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, formerly known as Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene, reports CBC. Further testing is still required to confirm if the variant is one first detected in the United Kingdom.

  • Canada Post has said that customers “should expect delays with their parcels” as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak at a facility in Mississauga, reports CP24. In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Canada Post said that they are aware of 224 positive cases at their Gateway facility since January 1, including a dozen that have come to light over the last 24 hours.

  • 22 support staff at Beverly School, a public school in Toronto’s downtown that serves students with developmental and physical disabilities, are refusing to work for a second consecutive day due to concerns about their safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic, reports CTV News. The Toronto District School Board has confirmed that there have been a total of five positive COVID-19 cases at Beverly School, one involving a student, one involving a staff member and three involving bus drivers.

  • Starting next month, Toronto will close its outdoor skating rinks to out-of-towners, reports the Toronto Star.The city’s park, forestry and recreation division said Tuesday that it had received “a number of complaints” to its customer service phone lines over the holidays about non-Torontonians making skate reservations online.
  • On Tuesday, Hamilton recorded eight new COVID deaths and a record-high 53 active outbreaks, reports the Hamilton Spectator. Of the city’s 53 outbreaks, more than half are in retirement homes, long-term-care homes and hospitals, six are in workplaces, four are in shelters and two are in daycares.

  • In reponse to reporting by the Hamilton Spectator on the tragic conditions workers at the Grave Villa long-term-care home, APANS Health Services, which operates the home has said, “the safety of our residents, staff and family members is paramount and these statements are deeply concerning,” said CEO Mary Raithby to the newspaper. Workers at the home sent letters and emails to their local MPP’s detailing conditions at the home, which has become the site of Hamilton’s deadliest outbreak.

  • Hospitals in Hamilton won’t say how many staff go vaccinated sooner than they should have. As the Hamilton Spectator reports, staff were able to evaluate which priority group they fell into, thus determining when they would get their first dose. Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare both say most staff registered correctly, but would not confirm how many people did not. The paper also reports that Hamilton’s medical officer of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, could not say on Monday how many staff or residents are left to vaccinate in long-term care homes, or how many people in Hamilton have been vaccinated overall. She said that while staff know who has been vaccinated, Ontario’s system does not allow for a breakdown of the numbers.
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    China, India's COVID-19 vaccinations to stretch to late 2022 – study – The Guardian

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    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – COVID-19 vaccination programmes in China and India will stretch until late 2022 due to the sheer size of their population, and more than 85 poor countries will not have widespread access to vaccines before 2023, a study showed on Wednesday.

    While rapid development of vaccines has raised hopes for an end to the year-long pandemic, concerns over unequal distribution have also mounted due to production problems and large bilateral deals between wealthy countries and drug makers.

    U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the United States aims to secure an additional 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech and Moderna Inc by summer.

    In Europe, the European Commission is setting up a proposal to restrict COVID-19 vaccine exports amid frustration over delays in deliveries of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and other supply problems.

    “Most developing countries will not have widespread access to the shots before 2023 at the earliest,” Agathe Demarais, director of the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research division of the Economist Group, said in its study.

    “Some of these countries—particularly poorer ones with a young demographic profile—may well lose the motivation to distribute vaccines, especially if the disease has spread widely or if the associated costs prove too high.”

    Most countries in Africa are unlikely to get widespread vaccination coverage until early 2023, while many Asian countries will have broad access to vaccines by late 2022.

    The report said vaccine deliveries to poor countries by global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, backed by the World Health Organization, may be slow due to delays in delivery to wealthy nations first and poor infrastructure in the developing world.

    COVAX said 1.8 billion doses would be supplied to 92 poorer countries in 2021 and that would correspond to approximately 27% coverage of populations in those countries.

    (Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)

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