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Race for a COVID-19 vaccine raises cost, safety – and trust – issues – NOW Toronto

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In all likelihood, there will be multiple manufacturers distributing their own variations of a vaccine in different countries, but who will have access and at what price?


As COVID-19 numbers rise again, the Prime Minister has re-emerged as a regular fixture at daily government briefings.

On Friday, September 25, Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government has signed another agreement to buy a vaccine. This time with AstraZeneca for up to 20 million doses of its COVID–19 vaccine.

That brings the number of agreements signed by the government with vaccine manufacturers to seven. The others are with Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer and Moderna.

Three of the companies have vaccine candidates in phase three trials. In all, the government has committed to purchasing some 300 million doses from vaccine manufacturers.

The Trudeau government has also announced its participation in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, or COVAX. It’s part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) effort to deliver “fair, equitable and timely access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

The Canadian government is contributing $220 million to the facility. Its mandate includes delivering vaccines to “low- and middle-income countries.” Canada’s participation in the effort gives it the option of purchasing another 15 million doses of a vaccine.

“We cannot beat this virus in Canada unless we end it everywhere,” says Trudeau.

COVID-19 vaccine: U.S., China and Russia go it alone

But while Trudeau is pushing an international approach to find a vaccine, other countries are going it alone.

The COVAX facility is backed by some 172 countries, but the U.S. is not supporting the effort. Neither is China or Russia.

And while the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine has seen unprecedented cooperation between nations, some experts say it seems to be headed for the kind of scenario that plagued the search for a vaccine for AIDS in the 80s and 90s.

Back then, pharmaceutical companies and their research and development backers chased profits, making what treatments became available unaffordable for many, especially in the developing world.

In Canada, where large pharmaceuticals enjoy high-level access in Ottawa, who pays for a COVID-19 vaccine and whether it is subsidized are also emerging questions.

Canadians could be asked to pick up some of the cost.

“There’s a lot of money on the table,” says Thomas Tenkate, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health.

He notes that pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders have historically placed a steep price on their research and development of new drugs.

Pandemic profiteering

While vaccines developed in the world have been distributed universally – polio comes to mind – the scenario with COVID-19 is shaping up to be much different. In all likelihood there will be multiple manufacturers distributing their own variations of the vaccine in different countries.

“With so many clinical trials on the boil you’ve got to think there will be a range available,” says Tenkate.

Tenkate says most researchers and countries will be looking to see what the U.S. does. “There’s a lot of political pressure in the U.S. to have something done [a vaccine] quickly.”

FDA approval usually opens the floodgates to approvals in other countries. But not necessarily in Canada, where Health Canada rules around the approval of new drugs are notoriously stringent.

At his press conference, Trudeau made a point of stressing that any vaccine approved for distribution in Canada will have to pass Health Canada standards. But that process can also be prone to politics.

Questions of transparency, for example, were recently raised about the government’s own Vaccine Task Force. The task force is made up of infectious disease experts and representatives of pharmaceutical companies. It’s advising the government on what research projects to explore.

Gary Kobinger, director of the Infectious Disease Research Centre at the Université Laval, quit the group last week citing potential conflicts among group members as a reason. “You need people to trust the vaccine,” Kobinger told the CBC.

The government responded by bringing in protocols that require potential conflicts of task force members to be made public.

Treatment not a cure

It usually takes anywhere from five to 10 years to develop a vaccine. But the big money is on a vaccine for COVID-19 by next spring or a little later. That’s a year and a half roughly since the onset of the disease.

Russia is already claiming to have developed a vaccine. The U.S. says it’s close. China has said a vaccine may be ready by November. The predictions are overly optimistic. Most of the larger clinical trials have just started in recent months.

There are some 126 clinical trials on the WHO’s radar. Some 26 involve human trials. Nine of those have reached phase three, but none will be completed until late 2022 at the earliest.

The largest human trial of 60,000 participants by Belgium-based Johnson & Johnson company Janssen Pharmaceutica won’t be completed until 2023, according to documents submitted to WHO.

The company says that it “anticipates the first batches of a COVID-19 vaccine to be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021, if proven to be safe and effective.”

Further monitoring of subjects after the trials are completed will be needed to make sure any side effects are manageable.

Tenkate worries that “corners may have to be cut because of the reduced timelines” to find a vaccine.

Whatever vaccine we end up with in the short term will be more akin to treatment than a cure.

Potential side effects

When politicians talk about a vaccine for COVID-19, it’s easy to jump to conclusions, but there is no magic pill. And there won’t be for some time, given that almost 20 years later there is no vaccine for SARS – COVID-19’s, genetic predecessor.

The danger with a COVID vaccine is that we will, in all likelihood, not know enough about the side effects.

Each country will have its own approval process. And while the rules around those “are pretty consistent around the world,” says Tenkate, there are differences. What is greenlighted for sale in Russia may not receive approval in other Western countries.

For Canada, it will come down to “understanding the risks,” Tenkate says, particularly with the possibility of multiple vaccines.

“Ultimately, for a lot of people, it’s going to come down to trust.”

@enzodimatteo


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Exclusive: Montreal to convert downtown hotel to 380-bed homeless shelter for COVID-19 winter – CTV News Montreal

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MONTREAL —
The City of Montreal is set to take over a downtown hotel to house hundreds of homeless people this winter, creating the city’s bigger shelter by far, CTV has confirmed.

A formal announcement is set for Thursday. The deal means the hotel, which hasn’t yet been named, will get funding in order to give over its rooms until March 31.

The hotel is currently an active hotel, not a vacant property. The facility will be run by the Welcome Hall Mission.

The plan, according to a source who has been working on the file, is to put dividers in each of its rooms and therefore house two people per room.

That will create spots for 380 homeless Montrealers. 

By comparison, the Macaulay men’s shelter at the Welcome Hall Mission has 110 spots, the old Royal Victoria Hospital, which has been in use since last winter, can house 175, and other shelters are significantly smaller.

The hotel’s public funding will come from the local health authority. 

The announcement, slated for Thursday at 1 p.m., will include other new plans for winter resources for the homeless. 

Earlier this year, when COVID-19 first hit Canada, Toronto leased hotels to provide emergency housing for homeless Torontonians as well.

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Canadian Press NewsAlert: Quebec reaches more than 100000 total cases of COVID-19 – Vancouver Courier

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MONTREAL — Quebec reached more than 100,000 total cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, becoming the first province in Canada to hit the somber milestone since the pandemic began in March.

But despite remaining the country’s coronavirus epicentre, public health experts say a recent downward trend of infections is an encouraging sign.

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“It’s a moment where we all sit up and say wow, 100,000 – that’s a lot of zeroes,” said Erin Strumpf, an associate professor at McGill University specialized in health economics.

“But again I think the more important thing to be paying attention to is the trend that we’ve been seeing recently in the province.”

The province reported 879 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 100,114infections since the start of the pandemic.

The curve of new infections appears to have flattened over the past few weeks though, Strumpf said in an interview.

That downward trend, she said, coincides with stricter public health guidelines that aimed to stem the spread of the virus.

The government ordered the closure of bars and gyms, among other places, in hard-hit areas and advised residents to limit their contact with people who do not live in their households.

Montreal and Quebec City are among several Quebec regions that remain under the highest COVID-19 alert.

Strumpf said it is hard to pinpoint what exact measures are responsible for flattening the curve, however.

She added that she expects to see many public health restrictions remain in place moving forward. “It’s very difficult to know right now or to predict how long those closures may stay in place,” she said.

Still, the high COVID-19 infection numbers bring up painful memories for Quebecers who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

July Mak, whose 68-year-old father Paul contracted COVID-19 in a long-term care home in Montreal and died at the end of March, said the pain of her father’s death has not eased with time.

“To see these numbers this high… it blows my mind,” Mak said in an interview Sunday.

She said she wants the Quebec government to recognize that its COVID-19 data is more than just numbers — and thousands of people across the province have been directly affected.

“They mattered,” Mak said, about the thousands who have died.

On Sunday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said on Twitter that the number of new infections is “stable but remains high.”

Those cases can turn into hospitalizations and deaths, Dube warned, urging Quebecers to remain vigilant to reduce transmission.

Quebec health officials also reported 11 additional deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to 6,143.

Five of those additional deaths took place in the past 24 hours, five were reported between Oct. 18-23 and one occurred at an unspecified date.

Hospitalizations went up by two across the province, for a total of 551. Of those, 97 people were in intensive care — an increase of four compared to the previous day.

The province said it conducted 25,378 COVID-19 tests on Friday, the last date for which the testing data is available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2020.

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Ontario dog becomes first known to test positive for COVID-19 in Canada | News – Daily Hive

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An Ontario dog has tested positive for COVID-19 after a research study proved the possibility by placing the animal in an infected household.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, they had been notified of the confirmed case contracted by a Niagara region dog on October 23.

The dog was part of a research study “following the diagnosis of COVID-19 in several people in the same household,” according to the release by OMAFRA.

“This dog did not have any clinical signs of disease. The current understanding of COVID-19 is that the overall risk of infection and illness in most domestic animals is low.”

The release states that current evidence suggests that mink, ferrets, cats, and (rarely) dogs can be infected with the virus; however, there is still “uncertainty” surrounding what this means for animals and how the virus behaves through different animal species.

“As a precautionary measure, people with COVID-19 symptoms, or those who are self-isolating due to contact with a COVID-19 case, should restrict contact with their pets, livestock or any other animals, and exercise the same infection control precautions they would around people,” read the release.

“Pets belonging to owners infected with COVID-19 should be kept indoors as much as possible and contact between these pets and anyone other than their designated caretaker should be avoided as much as possible.”

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