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Race for a COVID-19 vaccine raises cost, safety—and trust—issues – The Georgia Straight

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

On 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 and 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 accine 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,” Trudeau says.

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.

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,” Tenkate says.

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.

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 and 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.

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.”

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Finding the Best Health Insurance

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Health Insurance

Canadian health insurance quotes can be easily accessed via the Internet. But having each provider’s rates isn’t the only thing you need to remember. Other essential considerations need to be considered to ensure that you get the best deal for the insurance policy that is most suitable for you and your family. The steps below are intended to help you get out of it.

 

  1. Decide how much of the deductible your finances can afford. The deductible is the annual payment to be charged by you for the total of all medical costs that you reported from your insurance provider throughout the year. Bear in mind that the higher the deductible, the lower the rate. Therefore, before receiving a Canadian health insurance quote, decide the premium amount your budget can pay for your annual health-related expenses.

 

  1. Check to see if you need extra coverage. Since the Canadian government’s standard health insurance coverage is minimal, you will want to include supplementary coverage in the health insurance package you consider, i.e., serious illness insurance, vision care, and other forms of coverage. Required disease insurance helps if you are unexpectedly afflicted with some serious or life-threatening conditions covered by the policy. Vision insurance provides a range of eye care programs. If you have decided which extra coverage is ideal for your situation, your Canadian health insurance quotes will better represent accurate prices.

 

  1. Determine whether getting coverage for a prescription drug is necessary. Coverage for prescription medications is provided under the Canadian basic insurance plans. However, you may be limited to a specified monthly amount. Hence, if you are required to take multiple prescription drugs whereby the government health plan does not sufficiently cover costs, you might want to consider getting additional prescription drug coverage.

 

  1. Consider how far and how safely you drive if you fly several times a year, whether, for business or personal reasons, you can take travel insurance into account while looking for Canadian health insurance quotes since simple policies do not usually protect individuals who travel more than a week at a time.

 

  1. Obtain multiple health insurance quotes every time. Without a doubt, getting health insurance quotes from a few insurance providers helps in your search for the cheapest yet most appropriate health insurance coverage out there. Fortunately, this task is made more accessible now that it can be readily done online. Fill out the online forms provided on the insurers’ websites you have selected, and you can get multiple quotes within minutes. Remember, if the information you provide is nearly precise, you will obtain relatively accurate quotes.

 

  1. Compare plans based on the coverage and not on the price. As thrift-minded consumers, we often tend to buy the first cheap health insurance plan we are offered. Now, this practice can initially save you money, but should a case of illness in the family occur, and you may be left with insubstantial coverage. So when you are checking out insurance plans, make sure you do not assess them merely on cost and the details of the coverage.

 

  1. Opt to enlist the assistance of a third-party. Examining Canadian health insurance quotes can be tedious and time-consuming, but there is a way to expedite the process. A third-party firm can review the various insurance health plans you have investigated so that the task of meticulously examining and comparing the insurance coverage is simplified. Not only will it save you time, but it will also enable you to make informed decisions.

 

Bear in mind that the insurance quotes you obtain online may not be exact. For that reason, you must consult with a health insurance agent to get precise calculations for the coverage you want and, at the same time, get answers to all your insurance questions.

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Next crop of COVID-19 vaccine developers take more traditional route – Reuters

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CHICAGO/BERLIN (Reuters) – The handful of drugmakers dominating the global coronavirus vaccine race are pushing the boundaries of vaccine technology. The next crop under development feature more conventional, proven designs.

FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labelled with “Vaccine” stickers stand near a medical syringe in front of displayed “Coronavirus COVID-19” words in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The world will need several different vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, given the sheer size of global need, variations in effects on different populations, and possible limits of effectiveness in the first crop.

Many leading candidates now in final-stage testing are based on new, largely unproven technology platforms designed to produce vaccines at speed.

They include messenger RNA (mRNA) technology used by Moderna Inc MRNA.O and Pfizer Inc PFE.N with partner BioNTech SE 22UAy.F, and inactivated cold virus platforms used by Oxford University/AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L, Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N and CanSino Biologics 6185.HK, whose vaccine has been approved for military use in China.

Merck & Co MRK.N in September started testing a COVID-19 vaccine based on a weakened measles virus that delivers genes from the new coronavirus into the body to stimulate an immune response to the coronavirus.

Of these, only the technology offered by J&J and CanSino that use cold viruses as vectors to deliver coronavirus genetic material have ever produced a licensed vaccine – for Ebola.

The next set of candidates – with late-stage trial results expected in the first half of 2021 – are heavily skewed toward approaches that have produced successful vaccines.

Conventional methods include using a killed or inactivated version of the pathogen that causes a disease to provoke an immune response, such as those used to make flu, polio and rabies vaccines.

Also more common are protein-based vaccines that use purified pieces of the virus to spur an immune response. Vaccines against whooping cough, or pertussis, and shingles employ this approach.

French drugmaker Sanofi SASY.PA is developing a protein-based COVID-19 vaccine employing the same approach it uses for its Flublok seasonal flu vaccine. Sanofi expects to start the final phase of testing in early December, with approval targeted in the first half of 2021.

While Novavax Inc NVAX.O has not yet produced a licensed vaccine, it is using similar purified protein technology and expects to start a late-stage U.S. trial involving 30,000 volunteers in late November.

“Those are more traditional approaches, so we can feel more comfortable that we have a lot of experience with them,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Offit also sees promise in some of the inactivated virus vaccines being developed by Chinese researchers, including Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group (CNBG), one of the few first-crop developers using a traditional technique.

Other second-wave developers are making vaccines based on virus-like particles (VLPs), which mimic the structure of the coronavirus but contain no genetic material from it.

VLP vaccines can be produced in a variety of different types of cells, including mammal, bacterial, insect, yeast and plant cells. This approach has been used to develop vaccines for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus.

Quebec’s Medicago is testing a VLP COVID-19 vaccine grown in tobacco plants with the backing of tobacco company Philip Morris PM.N.

Medicago has yet to produce an approved vaccine, but has completed large-scale testing for a seasonal flu vaccine using this approach. It plans to begin mid-stage trials of its COVID-19 vaccine next month and aims to make up to 1 billion doses a year by 2023.

Others are looking at alternative delivery methods, such as the nasal spray vaccine being developed by a team at Xiamen University, Hong Kong University and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which is based on a modified flu virus.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

The second crop, however, could face problems completing large studies if the current leaders bring their vaccines over the finish line in the coming months.

“If we get a super vaccine in December, from company x, which is on the market, it will be difficult to recruit participants into other studies,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, Germany.

“Then everyone will say, if the vaccine exists, I will get vaccinated now with this vaccine. This will definitely prove a problem for recruitment,” added Kremsner, who is testing CureVac’s CVAC.O mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in early clinical trials with backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

On the flip side, it is easier and faster to prove efficacy when community spread of the virus is rampant as is happening again in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, a potential advantage for companies starting large-scale vaccine trials in the near future.

Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London, Ludwig Burger, Caroline Copley in Berlin, Sangmi Cha in Seoul and Allison Martell in Toronto; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot

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Alberta reducing COVID-19 symptom list for those under 18 – 660 News

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EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — Runny nose and sore throat are being removed from Alberta’s symptom checklist that required people under 18 to isolate.

These are being removed because there is little evidence to suggest these illnesses are indicators of COVID-19.

In the past week, more than 3,400 children and youth were tested for COVID and reported having a sore throat. Of those, just a little over 700 had a sore throat as their only symptoms, and less than one per cent were positive.

More than 3,300 children were tested with a runny nose with only 601 of them having a runny nose and nothing else. Less than 0.5 per cent of those tested positive for COVID-19.

“This shows us that these symptoms by themselves are very poor indicators of whether a child has the virus,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, said during Thursday’s COVID-19 update.

“Based on our data so far, the risk that a child with just one of these symptoms has COVID is even lower if that child is not known to be a close contact of someone with COVID-19.”

This change is only for those who have not had a known exposure.

If a child has had close contact with a positive case in the last 14 days, then a runny nose or sore throat is still enough to recommend testing and the child would need to remain at home in isolation.

The province is also moving to a more targeted symptom checklist that will consider the total number of symptoms a child may have.

Any child who has one of the core isolation symptoms, which are cough, fever, shortness of breath, or the new core isolations symptoms of loss of taste or smell, must still isolate for 10 days or have a negative test result and resolved symptoms before resuming any sort of activities.

“If a child has only one of any of the other symptoms on the list, they should stay home and monitor for 24 hours,” Hinshaw said.

“If their symptom is improving after 24 hours, testing is not necessary, and they can return to normal activities when they feel well enough. However, if the child has two or more symptoms on the list then testing is recommended and they should stay home until the symptoms go away or they test negative for COVID-19.”

The changes being made align with similar ones made in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec.

After those provinces updated their list, they did not see a corresponding increase in COVID-19 transmission in schools, Hinshaw said.

The changes are only for those under 18 and come into effect in the province starting on Monday.

This is not being expanded to adults because health officials are seeing different symptom trends. Additional work is being conducted to understand what kind of changes would be appropriate for adults.

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