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More than 100 health-care professionals challenge rejection of psilocybin access

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Shannon McKenney has had a severe migraine for about 1,500 days in a row.

“I have trouble sleeping and I have trouble staying asleep,” the musician from Burnaby, B.C., said during a recent phone interview while dealing with the same lingering headache that is often accompanied by dizziness and exhaustion.

“In April of 2011, my appendix ruptured, too, and that was life-changing. I have survived sepsis four times.

“I used to live my life with tons of energy and now I’m like an old cellphone that doesn’t quite work right and doesn’t charge properly.”

McKenney’s story is one of several included in a request for a judicial review submitted Monday in Federal Court on behalf of more than 100 health-care professionals across the country, including doctors, psychologists, clinical counsellors, social workers and nurses. They are challenging the federal health minister’s decision last month to reject their application to use restricted psychedelic drugs to train in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.

That therapy involves ingesting consciousness-altering substances like psilocybin, an active ingredient in magic mushrooms, in a clinical setting as part of more traditional psychotherapy. Other drugs could include ketamine, LSD or MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy.

The federal government had signalled earlier this year that it would refuse the applications, said Nicholas Pope, a lawyer representing TheraPsil, an advocacy group that operates the training program in which the health-care practitioners are enrolled.

Pope said at the time the only reason cited was that those professionals could access an existing clinical trial instead. Then in June, when the application was officially denied, Ottawa suggested they could run their own trial.

“So in our submissions, we said that’s not going to work for a number of reasons,” said Pope.

A major one is that existing trials are costly, and they don’t work for many of the professionals he’s representing because of timing and location.

“You can’t just throw together the clinical trial in a few days,” Pope said.

“Many patients on waiting lists have suicidal ideation because of their depression and many of them have end-of-life distress, have terminal cancer and could die soon.”

McKenney said she tried to participate in an existing trial as a patient but it was too costly for her as well.

“Being on disability, I can’t afford $6,000 for three rounds of therapy,” she said.

Pope said some professionals also don’t want to participate in existing trials because they are meant for research of psilocybin.

“That can interfere with training because the primary goal of a clinical trial is not the training, it’s gathering information. And there’s no uncertainty in the expert community about safety of psilocybin in healthy adults.”

In 2020, Health Canada started granting exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Actto provide psychedelics treatment to patients suffering from end-of-life psychological distress, treatment-resistant depression and major depressive disorder.

Documents submitted in court show hundreds of Canadians inquire about it every year, but Pope said there aren’t enough professionals in Canada to provide the treatment. Some asked for the substances to treat their anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses.

“In Manitoba, there are no fully trained and qualified health-care practitioners, but there are 10 patients on TheraPsil’s wait-list,” said a summary of the application.

“Two Manitoba health-care practitioners requested exemptions. If these two exemptions were approved, patients who otherwise have no qualified health-care practitioners within thousands of kilometres could gain access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.”

McKenney said if she wanted to, she could get the drugs from other channels. But she’s reluctant because she has a mental illness.

“If I were to do too much or have a bad trip, sometimes there’s no coming back fromthat. If I’m going to do it, I want to regulate it and I want it monitored just for safety’s sake.”

Pope said in the request for a judicial review that he also wants the federal government to acknowledge patients’ rights to life, liberty and security are being infringed upon.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said in a email that it is deeply concerned about the burden of mental illness on Canadians.

“Health Canada is aware that psilocybin is being studied by researchers in Canada and internationally for its potential to treat various conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and various substance use disorders,” said Marie-Pier Burelle.

“Each request for an exemption … is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of potential benefits and risks or harms to Canadians.”

McKenney said if more professionals were trained, and she had easier access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, her life would change.

“I’m 10 years into being relatively disabled. If I can get even a tenth of my former life back, that would be something.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Polio vaccine boosters offered to kids in London as virus linked to New York case detected – ABC News

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Children in London are being offered polio vaccine boosters after sewage samples with the virus were found in multiple areas across the city.

The U.K. Health Security Agency announced Wednesday that all children between ages 1 and 9 across the British capital will be eligible to receive an inactivated polio vaccine booster.

“This will ensure a high level of protection from paralysis and help reduce further spread of the virus,” the agency said in a statement.

“While the majority of Londoners are protected from polio, the [National Health Service] will shortly be contacting parents of eligible children aged 1 to 9 years old to offer them a top-up dose to ensure they have maximum protection from the virus,” Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London, added.

There are more than 1 million children between those ages who live in London as of mid-2020, the latest year for which data is available, according to the U.K. Office of National Statistics.

This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle.

Sarah Poser, Meredith Boyter Newlove/CDC via AP, FILE

Between February 8 and July 5 of this year, poliovirus has been detected in 19 sewage samples across nine boroughs including at Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in London, which is the largest sewage treatment plant in the U.K.

Recently, a report indicated a polio case in New York was genetically linked to the samples found in the U.K.

Polio vaccines are part of routine immunizations for children. In the U.S., vaccinated children are not recommended to get a booster shot at this time.

According to the UKHSA, the booster program will begin in the areas where the virus has been detected and where vaccination rates are lowest before being rolled out across the city.

“The NHS in London will contact parents when it’s their child’s turn to come forward for a booster or catch-up polio dose — parents should take up the offer as soon as possible,” the agency’s statement read.

On July 21, health officials reported a case of polio was discovered in Rockland County in New York — just north of New York City — in a 20-year-old unvaccinated man.

The man contracted vaccine-derived polio, which means he was infected by someone who received the oral polio vaccine, which is no longer used in the U.S. or the U.K.

The oral vaccine uses a live weakened virus, which — in rare cases — can spread through fecal matter and infect unvaccinated individuals. Comparatively, the injectable polio vaccine, uses an inactivated virus.

As of Aug. 5, 11 samples were genetically linked to the Rockland County patient including six samples collected in June and July from Rockland County and five samples collected in July from nearby Orange County, health department data shows.

However, health officials have said the majority of the population is not at risk for polio because most were vaccinated as part of their regular childhood immunizations, but that it’s important for those who are unvaccinated to get their shots.

The New York State Health Department told ABC News its focus would be on ensuring immunizations.

“Our current focus is to ensure unvaccinated New Yorkers and children get immunized against polio and that they are up to date with their polio immunization schedule,” the department said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the organization in the U.S. that makes vaccine recommendations, but has not suggested any such move to add a fifth dose of polio vaccine to the current vaccine schedule underway.

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

The agency recently told ABC News the U.S. health agency is deploying a team to New York to investigate the case in Rockland County. The team will also administer vaccines in the county.

“These efforts include ongoing testing of wastewater samples to monitor for poliovirus and deploying a small team to New York to assist on the ground with the investigation and vaccination efforts,” the agency said in a statement.

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Monkeypox: Manitoba's top doctor gives vaccine update | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg

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Manitoba will be offering more vaccination appointments for monkeypox.

A news release from the province Thursday confirmed that additional appointments will be available “soon,” but no dates were listed.

Appointments can be made online or by calling Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.

Manitoba recently expanded eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine, but on Monday, tweeted all appointments were booked.

To date, no monkeypox cases have been found in Manitoba.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said the province has a “scarce resource” of the monkeypox vaccine.

“It has to be stored properly, and it’s scarce because there are outbreaks happening in other jurisdictions,” he said. “We want to do whatever we can to avoid any wastage.”

While infections have primarily been reported in the gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) population, Roussin said it is important to avoid stigmatizing populations.

“There is a balance between risk communication and doing whatever we can to avoid stigmatizing those populations,” he said.

Roussin added the province will be releasing data on total monkeypox vaccines administered next week.

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Canada to start testing some wastewater for polio 'as soon as possible' – CBC News

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After new reports of polio cases abroad, and virus samples in the wastewater of several other developed countries, Canada intends to start testing wastewater from a number of cities “as soon as possible,” CBC News has learned.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) already works to monitor polio activity around the world, a spokesperson said in an email response to CBC News questions.

Currently, PHAC’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg does have the diagnostic tools available to test samples for poliovirus. Any suspected positive Canadian samples of poliovirus will be sent to that lab for further laboratory analysis and confirmation, with results shared with the respective local health authorities “so appropriate public health measures can be taken if necessary.”

According to the statement, PHAC has been communicating with national and international partners who are experts in this field to finalize a wastewater testing strategy. It will be testing wastewater samples that were collected earlier this year from “key high-risk municipalities” to determine if polio was present prior to the reported international cases. 

PHAC will also be sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional confirmation.

“However, it is important to acknowledge that accurately testing wastewater for poliovirus is a developing science,” the statement continued. “For example, wastewater detections can be affected by extreme precipitation events, such as flooding in a community.”

WATCH | 100s could be infected with polio in New York state: 

100s could be infected with polio in New York, health officials say

2 days ago

Duration 2:19

A health official in New York State says hundreds of people could be infected with the polio virus.

Reports of polio in U.S., U.K., Israel

On Wednesday, British health authorities announced they will offer a polio booster dose to children aged one to nine in London, after finding evidence the virus has been spreading in multiple regions of the capital.

The agency said it was working closely with health authorities in the U.S. and Israel, as well as the World Health Organization, to investigate the links between polio viruses detected in those two countries. 

In July, Israel announced a recent outbreak of polio infections appeared to be under control, after multiple people became infected, including a Jerusalem girl who was paralyzed and now requires rehabilitation, according to the Jerusalem Post.

More recently, in the state of New York, one unvaccinated young adult suffered paralysis after a polio infection in Rockland County — an area known for low vaccination rates — which marked the first case reported in the U.S. in nearly a decade. 

Outbreaks also remain common in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Africa — areas of the world where vaccination efforts have not yet eradicated the virus.

Polio can often be asymptomatic, but in some cases, the viral infection can lead to paralysis or death.

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