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Province focuses on first doses of vaccine, won't hold back supply – Times Colonist

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B.C. won’t be holding back vaccines and instead plans to vaccinate as many health-care and long-term care workers with first doses as possible this month and next, with second doses to start in February.

“To date we have delivered 11,930 doses of vaccine to people across British Columbia in every health region now, including over the last five days,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.

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The Moderna vaccine, the second vaccine licensed by Health Canada, arrived in B.C. Tuesday with more expected today. It is easier to handle, so it will be sent to rural and remote First Nations communities as well as the North, Interior and some parts of the Island “to be able to provide immunization to smaller long-term care facilities in smaller communities,” Henry said.

The Moderna vaccine can be stored in freezers that can run at around -20 C, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs specialized freezers that can drop to -70 C.

“We are working very closely with our First Nations Health Authority and First Nations leadership in B.C. to make sure that we can identify those communities and people at risk as efficiently as possible,” Henry said. It has been working with First Nations on training and supplies are in place.

Both vaccines are “fussy” to use and so Henry made no apologies for fewer vaccinations being administered over the holidays and said people spent a lot of time this weekend in particular training people to safely transport and administer it.

“I know every health authority was busy training, making sure we had the logistics in place, the complexity of pulling together plans for the Moderna vaccine,” Henry said.

The province is committed to getting vaccine to as many people as possible, safely and efficiently, she said.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are licensed as a two-dose regimen and both have an effectiveness of upwards of 80 per cent after two weeks of one dose, Henry said. It’s not known how long that immunity lasts.

“We made the decision that for December and January, all of our doses of both Pfizer and Moderna will be both going to protect people with their first dose because we can do that and protect over almost twice as many people” compared with using those doses to give people a second shot within the 21-28 day period as recommended by the manufacturers, Henry said.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization allows delaying the second dose, Henry said. On average second doses will begin in February or about 35 days after the first dose.

“I hope there will be some data that shows — it would be just wonderful — if people only needed a single dose, that would make our life so much easier,” Henry said.

The priority list for vaccinations from December through February includes about 150,000 people:

• About 70,000 residents and staff of long-term care

• About 13,000 residents and staff of assisted-living residences

• About 2,000 individuals in hospital or in the community who have been assessed and are awaiting a long-term care placement

• About 8,000 essential visitors in long-term care and assisted living

• About 30,000 health-care workers providing front-line care in intensive-care units, medical/surgical units and emergency departments, and paramedics

• About 25,000 individuals in remote/isolated First Nation communities

The vaccination schedule for February through March includes about 400,000 people:

• About 260,000 community-based seniors 80 and older (65 years and older for Indigenous seniors and elders)

• Up to 40,000 people experiencing homelessness and/or using shelters, in provincial correctional facilities, in group homes (adults) and in mental-health residential care (adults)

• About 60,000 long-term home-support recipients and staff

• About 20,000 hospital staff, community general practice physicians and medical specialists

• About 25,000 people in First Nation communities

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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B.C.'s COVID-19 updates for Jan. 27 | Columbia Valley, Cranbrook, East Kootenay, Elk Valley, Kimberley, Ktunaxa Nation – E-Know.ca

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B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, today (Jan. 27) issued the following joint statement regarding updates on the COVID-19 response in British Columbia.

Today, we are reporting 485 new cases, for a total of 65,719 cases in British Columbia.

There are 4,299 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. There are 303 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 74 of whom are in intensive care. The remaining people are recovering at home in self-isolation.

Currently, 6,520 people are under active public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases and a further 58,778 people who tested positive have recovered.

Since we last reported, we have had 115 new cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 210 new cases in the Fraser Health region, 45 in the Island Health region, 83 in the Interior Health region, 32 in the Northern Health region and no new cases of people who reside outside of Canada.

To date, 124,365 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., 4,160 of which are second doses. Immunization data is available on the COVID-19 dashboard at: www.bccdc.ca

There have been four new COVID-19 related deaths, for a total of 1,172 deaths in British Columbia. We offer our condolences to everyone who has lost their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have one new health-care facility outbreak at Glenwood Seniors Community and the outbreak at Villa Cathay is now over. There is also an outbreak at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre.

We continue to see new community clusters around the province – in the Fernie and Williams Lake regions, and elsewhere. These hot spots show, once again, how easily the virus spreads between us.

One year ago today, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in our province. Since that day, the impact has been severe; people have become seriously ill and died, our lives have been disrupted and health-care workers everywhere have faced challenges at a scale never experienced before.

In response, people throughout the province have stepped up to put normal routines and activities aside, doing all they can to protect our communities, elders and loved ones. Thank you.

When we are tired, it is easy to let things slip and let our guard down. Yet this only gives the virus a chance to spread a bit more. In these days – when COVID-19 vaccinations are starting, but for most of us are still weeks or months away – the actions we take may seem small, but will ave a big impact to stop the virus in its tracks.

“If you are in the grocery store, follow the pathways and arrows and be sure to give people space at the check-out. If you are going to work or school, remember to wash your hands often throughout the day and wear your mask.

The more people you see and the more places you go, the higher the risk is to you and those around you, which is why gatherings of any size are on pause right now. If you are invited over to spend time with a friend, choose to go outside for a walk instead. And, just as important, if you are thinking about travelling beyond your community for anything other than what is essential for work or medical care, stay home.

Let’s encourage those around us to do the right thing and show kindness and compassion to those who appear not to be.

As we have seen over the past year, one case can turn into thousands. But just as important, the effort we put into keeping ourselves and each other safe can also push our COVID-19 curve back down again.

Lead image: Sanitization station at an entrance to the Prestige Inn and Fire and Oak Restaurant in Cranbrook. Carrie Schafer/e-KNOW photo

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45 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Island Health – CHEK

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British Columbia health officials have reported 485 new cases – including 45 in Island Health – and four deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

The number of confirmed cases in B.C. climbs to 65,719 while the province’s death toll now stands at 1,172.

Of the new cases, 115 were recorded in Vancouver Coastal Health, 210 were in Fraser Health, 45 in Island Health, 83 in Interior Health, and 32 in Northern Health.

There are currently 4,299 active cases in the province, 303 people in hospital — 74 of whom are in intensive care — and 6,520 people under active public health monitoring due to possible exposure to an identified case.

A total of 58,778 people in B.C. have recovered from COVID-19 and 124,365 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across, 4,160 of which are second doses.

Today’s data was released by health officials in a statement to the media.

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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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