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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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Health Canada approves Pfizer's COVID-19 therapeutic – CBC News

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Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 therapeutic for use in adults 18 and older, paving the way for the distribution of a potentially lifesaving drug at a time when the country’s hospitals are overwhelmed.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an oral antiviral prescribed by a doctor and administered in pill form, is designed to help the body fight off the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reduce symptoms from an infection and shorten the period of illness.

After months of clinical trials, Pfizer reported in November that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by an impressive 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19.

The drug company’s laboratory studies also indicate the drug is likely to work against the Omicron variant, now the dominant variant among new cases in Canada.

The product has been hailed as a pandemic “game changer” by some doctors because it could reduce hospitalizations and deaths among COVID-19 patients.

Experts say an effective pill that’s easy to self-administer at home could relieve some of the pressure on the health care system and change the trajectory of the pandemic. Existing therapeutics approved for use in Canada — products like monoclonal antibodies and remdesivir — must be administered intravenously in a hospital setting.

WATCH: Health Canada approves Pfizer’s oral COVID treatment

Health Canada approves Pfizer’s oral COVID treatment

6 hours ago

Duration 1:29

Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser to the deputy minister of health, announces Canada’s approval of a new prescription COVID treatment. 1:29

Speaking at a press conference with reporters Monday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the regulator’s approval is “great news” because Paxlovid could drive down severe outcomes in the current wave and beyond.

“The regulator as well as the experts helping us with the guidance and the supply are all coming together at once and I think Canadians should be very happy today to hear that oral antivirals are beginning to become available in Canada,” she said.

Canada has placed an order for an initial quantity of one million treatment courses, with an option to buy up to 500,000 more. With global interest in antivirals running high as the Omicron variant wreaks havoc, Pfizer is promising to churn out 120 million courses of the treatment by year’s end.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said 30,000 treatment courses have arrived in Canada already and will be distributed to the provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.

Duclos said another 120,000 Paxlovid treatments will arrive between now and the end of March. The federal government is working with Pfizer to bring “additional treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible,” he said.

WATCH: Health minister says Canada should have 150,000 Paxlovid treatments by March 

Health minister says Canada should have 150,000 Paxlovid treatments by March

4 hours ago

Duration 1:02

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says over 120,000 Paxlovid treatments are expected by March, in addition to the 30,000 already distributed. 1:02

While championing Paxlovid as a treatment that will “save lives, reduce illness and lighten the load on our health care system,” Duclos said this antiviral is not a replacement for vaccines, which remain the best way to keep people out of hospital. 

“This is welcome news — we have one more tool in our toolbox. But no drug, including Paxlovid, can replace vaccination and public health measures,” he said. “You don’t want to have to use that pill if you can instead be vaccinated. Vaccination will be a lot better in protecting you.”

Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is working with its provincial and territorial counterparts to determine how best to distribute antivirals, which are expected to be in short supply for the foreseeable future.

“This treatment, the first treatment taken orally and at home, will be in high demand,” she said. “We anticipate supply at the beginning will not be great anywhere.”

The product, which doesn’t prevent infection, has been authorized by Health Canada for use in high-risk adults with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said the country’s largest province will earmark its share — about 10,000 courses of treatment to start — for adults with “the highest risk of severe outcomes, including immunocompromised patients.”

A person should start taking Paxlovid no more than five days after symptoms start, which could be “one of the key challenges of these antivirals,” Tam said.

‘An important tool’

“They have to be given really early. Not easy, but everybody needs to give it a good try because it could be an important tool going forward,” she said. “It could potentially blunt the severity of the virus, which is a a key goal.”

Health Canada said Pfizer’s pills should only be used by patients who have tested positive on a SARS-CoV-2 viral test. Such tests are currently in short supply in some provinces and territories.

If a PCR test is not available, Tam said a positive result on a rapid antigen test would also suffice.

In a statement, Conservative MP Luc Bethold, the party’s health critic, urged the federal government to “rectify the lack of available testing” plaguing many provinces so these therapeutics can be deployed quickly.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, said Health Canada’s approval is “a very positive first step.”

“Everything we’ve heard about this pill is very promising but there are clearly logistical challenges ahead,” he said, adding that careful planning is required to make sure the pills get to those who need them most.

This drug regimen could be useful for people who have underlying conditions that increase the risk of hospitalization and death related to the coronavirus, such as heart disease or diabetes.

It could also be given to the unvaccinated, who are much more likely to experience severe outcomes. Tam pointed to PHAC data that suggest unvaccinated people are 19 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.

Health Canada has warned, however, that the product shouldn’t be used while a patient is on any of a long list of other drugs, including common medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol and seasonal allergies, among others.

“If you’re on certain medications, you have to be careful when using this drug,” Tam said, urging prescribers to review contraindications before writing a script for Paxlovid. 

Pfizer’s treatment is meant to be taken as 30 pills over five days. Patients take three pills at a time: two of Pfizer’s pills and one of a low-dose HIV drug known as ritonavir, which helps Pfizer’s drug remain active in the body longer.

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Workers at Teck Resources’ British Columbia mine to hold ratification vote

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Canadian miner Teck Resources Ltd said on Monday that a union representing 1,048 workers at its British Columbia mine has agreed to hold a ratification vote on the mediators’ recommendation.

The union will schedule a ratification vote to be concluded no later than January 24, the company said.

Last week, the company said it had received a strike notice https://reut.rs/3A7TJZQ from the union at its Highland Valley Copper Operations in British Columbia, without providing any reasons behind the potential strike.

 

(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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Markets split on BoC decision as business survey, inflation loom – BNN

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The Bank of Canada is getting a pair of key indicators this week ahead of a rate decision next Wednesday that’s virtually a coin toss, as far as markets are concerned.

First up on Monday, the central bank releases its quarterly Business Outlook Survey, which provides a snapshot of how approximately 100 corporate leaders are feeling about the economy and their own business fundamentals.

When the last survey was released in October, it showed the broadest gauge of sentiment was at the highest level in the survey’s history. That was despite worsening labour shortages and as more than half of respondents (57 per cent) said they expected labour costs to accelerate over the next year.

“[Monday’s] Business Outlook Survey might have been completed too early to catch Omicron uncertainties, so expect respondents to retain a healthy dose of optimism,” said CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld in a report to clients Friday.

“The survey could show a majority expecting inflation to run above the top end of the Bank of Canada’s one-three per cent inflation band. If not for Omicron, that would spell a rate hike in January, but the uncertainties surrounding how long this disruption will last should be enough to defer that decision.”

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada will release the consumer price index for December on Wednesday. Economists are expecting to see inflation rose 4.8 per cent year-over-year in the month; that would be the fastest rate of growth since 1991.

As of 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, market data shows investors see a 59 per cent chance of a rate hike when the Bank of Canada delivers its decision on Jan. 26.

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