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Pfizer says COVID booster ‘effective’ against Omicron variant – Al Jazeera English

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Lab tests show the three-shot course of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine neutralises Omicron, while two shots appear less effective.

Pfizer has said a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in lab studies, even though the initial two doses appear significantly less effective.

The announcement on Wednesday is the first official statement from vaccine manufacturers on the efficacy of current shots against Omicron.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said that lab tests showed a booster dose increased by 25-fold the level of so-called neutralising antibodies against Omicron. Their results have not been peer-reviewed.

According to the early laboratory research using blood serum from vaccinated people, a booster third dose generated around the same level of antibodies against Omicron as is seen after a second dose with other variants.

Scientists have speculated that the high jump in antibodies that comes with a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines might be enough to counter any decrease in effectiveness.

Antibody levels predict how well a vaccine may prevent infection with the coronavirus but they are just one layer of the immune system’s defences. Pfizer said two doses of the vaccine may still induce protection against severe disease.

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is maximised with a third dose of our vaccine,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

“Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Bourla said.

The companies also said an Omicron-specific version of their coronavirus vaccine, which is currently under development, would be available by March.

The findings are broadly in line with a preliminary study published by researchers at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa on Tuesday, saying that Omicron can partially evade protection from two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The findings also suggested that a third shot might help fend off infection.

The detection of the first Omicron cases two weeks ago coincided with a spike in infection numbers across the world.

The variant has fuelled concerns about a global COVID-19 resurgence.

Omicron has so far been found in 57 countries, according to the World Health Organization, with many reimposing travel restrictions to stem the spread.

No deaths have yet been associated with the variant, with some health officials saying that while Omicron may be more contagious than previous variants, early signs suggest it may cause less severe disease.

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House hunters in Canada face tightest market on record – Aljazeera.com

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There are so few homes for sale in Canada that people are starting to call it a housing crisis.

By Bloomberg

An unprecedented real-estate frenzy has left Canada with the fewest houses for sale in at least a quarter century.

The country had about 86,000 houses left for sale at the end of December on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to data from the Canadian Real Estate Association. That’s all that was left after buyers purchased a record 667,000 homes over the course of 2021, about 20% more than the previous annual record.

With supply depleted, benchmark home prices rose 2.5% in December from the previous month, and were up a record 26.6% from the year before.

“There are currently fewer properties listed for sale in Canada than at any point on record,” Shaun Cathcart, the real estate board’s senior economist, said in a press release accompanying the data.“So unfortunately, the housing affordability problem facing the country is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Bar chart showing home price increases in key Canadian residential markets

The national numbers follow trends seen earlier this month in Canada’s most expensive housing markets, Toronto and Vancouver, where available housing stock has fallen to unprecedented low levels. That has reinforced views that a national shortage is underpinning price increases that have sent the cost of housing spiraling out of reach for many working Canadians in the largest cities, regardless of whether they buy or rent.

What’s increasingly being called a housing crisis is starting to prompt politicians to start to look for answers. The benchmark home price in Canada is now C$811,700 (about $648,000)

“Policy makers are starting to say the right things, but now they have to act to change this course we’re on,” said the real estate board’s Cathcart. “An aggressive national push to build more homes is what will address the issue, but it will probably have to be a greater amount of building than anything we’ve ever undertaken. A touch over the status quo won’t cut it.”

In the meantime, with so little left to buy across Canada, the pace of sales is slowing down. The number of monthly transactions was little changed in December compared with November, though that was still enough for the second highest number of sales on record for that final month of the year.

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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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