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Omicron variant better at evading protection: study – CTV News

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The new Omicron variant may have a greater ability than other strains of the virus to escape immune protection from antibodies produced by previous COVID-19 infection, and potentially vaccines.

That’s according to a new, peer-reviewed study published on Saturday in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infection.

The Omicron variant has caused global panic prompting many countries, including Canada, to impose more stringent travel rules.

Experts say the Omicron variant is unusual because it has a high number of mutations in two key areas of the virus’ spike protein.

Dozens of cases of the variant have been detected across Canada.

The researchers said their study showed test tube samples of the Omicron variant “exceeded” all other COVID-19 variants in its ability to evade the protection gained from previous infection or vaccination.

Youchun Wang, senior research fellow from the National Institutes for Food and Drug Control in China, said the research supports recent findings in South Africa that suggest Omicron finds it “easy to evade immunity.”

“We found the large number of mutations of the Omicron variant did cause significant changes of neutralization sensitivity against people who had already had COVID,” Wang said in a press release.

“However, the average ED50 (protection level) against Omicron is still higher than the baseline, which indicated there is still some protection effect can be observed,” Wang continued.

Wang, the vice chairman of the Medical Microbiology and Immunology of the Chinese Medical Association, cautioned that because antibody protection from either vaccination or previous infection decreases over a period of six months, the variant “may be able to escape immunity even better.”

The study suggests that while a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine “can significantly boost immunity,” the protection it provides from Omicron “may be compromised.”

“In addition, it needs to be re-evaluated whether the therapeutic monoclonal antibodies can still be effective against the Omicron variant,” the study reads.

“More laboratory and the real-world studies are needed to understand whether Omicron can escape from the vaccine elicited immunity to cause more severe disease and death.”

In order to conduct the study, researchers looked at 28 serum samples from patients who were recovering from the original COVID-19 strain, known as SARS-CoV-2.

These were tested against test-tube or in-vitro samples of Omicron and other strains deemed “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization, including Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

Researchers also tested samples of variants of interest Lambda and Mu.

Wang said the study “verifies the enhanced immune escape” of the Omicron variant, “which sounds the alarm to the world and has important implications for the public health planning and the development of matching strategies.”

However, the team of researchers say more research is needed to better understand the variant, and said real-world studies, not just in-vitro, must be conducted.

The authors said research to determine whether the Omicron variant can “escape from the vaccine elicited immunity to cause more severe disease and death,” must also be conducted.

“It needs to be re-evaluated whether the antibodies can still be effective against the Omicron variant,” the authors wrote in the paper.

“The exact impact to human protection may be influenced by more factors such as the infectivity of Omicron variant relative to other variants to human populations and the viral fitness of Omicron once the humans are infected,” the study reads.

The authors call for “more population studies,” saying research into the level of immune protection and symptoms among people infected with Omicron are needed “to fully establish the global impact of Omicron to the control of [the] COVID-19 pandemic.” 

VACCINE DATA SO FAR

Meanwhile on Saturday, researchers in Israel said they found a three-shot course of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine provided significant protection against the Omicron variant.

The study released Saturday, was conducted by the Sheba Medical Center and the Health Ministry’s Central Virology Laboratory.

Researchers compared the blood of 20 people who had received two vaccine doses five to six months earlier to 20 individuals who received a booster a month before.

The study found people who received the second dose five or six months ago did “not have neutralization ability against Omicron.”

“They do have some against the Delta (strain,)” Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba told reporters.

“The good news is that with the booster dose it increases about a hundredfold,” she said. “There is a significant protection of the booster dose. It is lower than the neutralization ability against the Delta, about four times lower.”

What’s more, on Wednesday, Pfizer released preliminary data that suggests two doses may not be protective enough to prevent an Omicron COVID-19 infection.

However, the company said that a booster dose increased by 25-fold an individual’s level of antibodies against the Omicron variant.

Pfizer’s findings are preliminary though, meaning they have not yet been peer-reviewed.

With files from CTV News’ Nicole Bogart and Reuters 

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Gloomy Netflix forecast erases much of stock’s pandemic gains

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Netflix Inc dashed hopes for a quick rebound after forecasting weak first-quarter subscriber growth on Thursday, sending shares sinking nearly 20% and wiping away most of its remaining pandemic-fueled gains from 2020.

The world’s largest streaming service projected it would add 2.5 million customers from January through March, less than half of the 5.9 million analysts had forecast, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Netflix tempered its growth expectations, citing the late arrival of anticipated content, such as the second season of “Bridgerton” and the Ryan Reynolds time-travel movie “The Adam Project.”

Shares of Netflix plummeted nearly 20% to $408.13 in after-hours trading. Competitor Walt Disney Co, which has staked its future on building a strong streaming business, saw its shares sink 4%. Streaming device Roku Inc fell 5%.

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Pfizer's newly approved COVID-19 antiviral pills arrive at Queensway Carleton Hospital – Ottawa Citizen

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Pfizer’s Paxlovid treatment has been approved to treat mild to moderate COVID in adult cases where the patient has tested positive and is at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.

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The Queensway Carleton Hospital has received 700 courses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill, the first take-home medication for treating COVID-19.

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Health Canada announced the prescription antiviral treatment was approved on Monday. Each course of treatment involves two antiviral drugs, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. The treatment consists of two oral tablets of nirmatrelvir and one of ritonavir, taken together twice a day for five days.

The province says 15 hospitals will be receiving Paxlovid. For now, it’s unclear how it will be distributed, although the Public Health Agency of Canada has released preliminary guidelines for categories of patients to be prioritized.

Until now, COVID-19 medications were given intravenously or by injection in a hospital or health-care settings. Paxlovid is expected to be in high demand, but the global supply is limited.

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The Queensway Carleton Hospital is actively working on creating a regional process with other hospitals, led by director of pharmacy Joe Dagenais, to identify which patients are eligible and the criteria they need to meet to receive this treatment, hospital spokesperson Kelly Spence said. Dagenais is also head of the regional pharmacy committee and is spearheading regional plans.

  1. Pfizer’s antiviral treatment for COVID-19 is approved for adult patients with mild or moderate symptoms at high risk of becoming more seriously ill.

    Health Canada approves Pfizer anti-viral pill for treatment of COVID-19

  2. (FILES) This file handout photo courtesy of Pfizer shows the making of its Covid-19 antiviral pills inside a laboratory in Freiburg, Germany.

    Experts stress Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 treatment not a replacement for vaccines

“We are waiting to receive patient eligibility guidance from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, hopefully coming this week,” Spence said.

Ontario expects to receive about 10,000 courses of treatment from the federal government in January, Ministry of Health spokesperson W.D. Lighthall said in a statement.

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“Based on the limited supply we expect to receive from the federal government, we have worked with our hospital partners and are prepared for distribution of antivirals at 15 sites across the province as soon we receive them.”

Initially, the medication will be prioritized for adults with the highest risk of severe outcomes, including immunocompromised patients, Lighthall said.

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The Ontario Medical Association is seeking more details but understands clinical assessment centres may have key roles in prioritizing testing and eligibility and ensuring timely delivery, spokesperson Leslie Shepherd said.

Manotick physician Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, past chair of the association’s section on general and family practice, said family physicians are still learning more about these medications and support the province’s plan at this time.

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“We want to have access to prescribing these medications in a month or so.”

Health Canada received the Paxlovid submission from Pfizer on Dec. 1 and conducted an expedited review, including information confirming its effectiveness against the Omicron variant.

Paxlovid has been approved to treat mild to moderate COVID in adult cases where the patient has tested positive and is at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.

It’s not approved for patients who are already hospitalized or to prevent COVID. Paxlovid can’t be used more than five days in a row and has not been approved for those under 18 years old.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s interim set of guidelines for prioritizing patients includes those who have the highest likelihood of severe illness, including patients who are immunocompromised, regardless of their vaccination status, as well as those over the age of 80 whose vaccinations are not up to date.

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Patients over 60 who live in underserved rural or remote communities, long-term care homes, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities are also prioritized under the interim guidelines.

Pfizer reported in November that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent compared with a placebo in high-risk adults who were not hospitalized.

Health Canada’s review found the benefits outweigh potential risks, but also cautioned that Paxlovid has the potential to interact with other prescription drugs.

Health officials also said public health measures and vaccinations remain key ways to prevent infection, and no drug is a substitute for vaccination.

Paxlovid could help keep thousands of people out of hospitals, Lighthall said.

“The arrival of these pills gives us increased confidence as we continue to review key indicators and data to determine when we can begin safely and gradually lifting public health measures, and we look forward to providing additional details in the near future.”

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Amazon to open fashion store where algorithms suggest what to try on

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Amazon.com Inc’s recipe for the department store of the future includes algorithmic recommendations and what one corporate director called “a magic closet” in the fitting room.

The online retailer is making another push to grow its fashion business, announcing on Thursday it will open its first-ever apparel store this year, with a tech twist. “We wouldn’t do anything in physical retail unless we felt we could significantly improve the customer experience,” said Simoina Vasen, a managing director.

At 30,000 square feet (2,787 sq meters), the planned “Amazon Style” shop near Los Angeles is smaller than the typical department store. Model items are on the racks, and customers scan a code using Amazon’s mobile app to select the color and size they would like. To try on the clothes, which are stored in the back, shoppers enter a virtual queue for a fitting room that they unlock with their smartphone when it is ready.

Inside, the dressing room is “a personal space for you to continue shopping without ever having to leave,” Vasen said. Each has a touchscreen letting shoppers request more items that staff deliver to a secure, two-sided closet “within minutes,” she said.

“It’s like a magic closet with seemingly endless selection,” Vasen said.

The touchscreens suggest items to shoppers too. Amazon keeps a record of every good a customer scans so its algorithms personalize clothing recommendations. Shoppers can fill out a style survey as well. By the time they arrive in a fitting room, employees have already deposited customers’ requested items and others that Amazon has picked.

Shoppers can opt out with a concierge’s help, Amazon said.

Amazon has unveiled tech to help customers choose outfits before. The company has surpassed Walmart Inc as the most-shopped clothing retailer in the United States, according to analyst research.

But it still has room to expand and compete with the likes of Macy’s Inc and Nordstrom Inc, which have opened smaller-format stores. Amazon’s lineup of physical grocery and convenience shops have yet to upend brick-and-mortar retail.

The company’s new store aims to attract a broad range of shoppers with hundreds of brands, Vasen said, declining to name examples.

It has hundreds of associates, and no cashier-less checkout like some Amazon stores, Vasen said. Still, using a biometric system known as Amazon One, customers can pay with a swipe of their palm.

 

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto, California; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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