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Some experts are concerned about a coming influenza and COVID-19 collision – CTV News Montreal

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MONTREAL —
Quebec’s public health authorities are preparing now to avoid a potential catastrophe later when flu season hits particularly if there is no COVID-19 vaccine available.

Quebec’s Health Ministry has ordered 400 thousand more influenza vaccines for this fall’s public vaccination program than it did last year to try and increase vaccination rates among people at risk of complications and hospitalizations, according to a ministry spokesperson.

A total of two million doses will be available for those who meet the Quebec Immunization Committee’s criteria (see below for complete list).

That’s still a far cry from the universal coverage some had hoped for- especially during a pandemic.

Montreal infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton says offering a free vaccine to all Quebecers who want one would could help prevent the worst in Quebec if influenza season collides with COVID-19 outbreaks.

“If we can do anything that we can to reduce influenza disease that helps put us in a better position to deal with a subsequent second wave of COVID-19 that may come around the same time and we don’t want to get swamped by two waves.”

All provinces and territories offer a universal influenza vaccine with the exception of British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec.

Healthy people who catch influenza are not at increased risk of serious illness requiring hospitalization. However, the chief of infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital points out that every time we have a major outbreak of influenza in Quebec, the emergency rooms become overcrowded.

“So, imagine if we have the regular influenza season and on top of it we have a wave of Covid-19. It’s going to be a nightmare,” says Dr. Karl Weiss.

“The flu vaccine is not a great vaccine and won’t protect you one hundred percent,” Weiss adds, “but if you have everybody with the flu vaccine then you will lower the impact of the flu and you probably have a better handle on Covid-19.

An added benefit of offering the flu vaccine to everyone according to Dr. Oughton, who also works at the Jewish General, is that it would “maximize the accessibility of that very important and cost effective means of preventing vaccine preventable diseases…rather than having to work your way through the list of all indications and exceptions.”

For the last few years flu vaccines are also available and administered at many pharmacies across the province, at a cost of between $20 and $40 per visit, depending on the store.

Last year interested Quebec pharmacies purchased 200,000 doses of flu vaccine to sell to customers ineligible for the public plan from the Quebec Association of Pharmacy Distributors, according to its spokesperson, Hughes Mousseau,

Mousseau doesn’t know yet if pharmacies ordered more vaccines for the upcoming flu season than last year because the orders were still coming in, but he says if any want to up their stock afterwards he may not be able to fulfill the order, with such a limited supply.

The distributors, just like the provinces, have to order the vaccine from the manufacturers a year in advance because producing the vaccine takes months.

“We did factor in an increase because we saw there was a 10 per cent to 40 per cent increased demand for the vaccine in Australia and New Zealand,” Mousseau explained.

The flu season in Australia is underway right now and is being closely monitored to get a sense of what’s to come in North America. 

On a positive note, Dr. Gaston De Serre from Quebec’s National Public Health Institute told CTV, the “current surveillance data show influenza and influenza-like illness indicators are all lower than usual. The speculation is that COVID-19 related distancing measures and mask wearing may be helping prevent influenza as well as the coronavirus.

De Serre said that’s a good incentive for Quebecers to stick with public health practices here, throughout fall and winter.

The following are covered for a flu vaccine in Quebec in 2020-2021:

  • children aged 6 months – 17 months with certain chronic illnesses
  • adults with certain chronic illnesses (including pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy)
  • pregnant women in their 2nd and 3rd trimester
  • seniors aged 75 years and older
  • those who live with a baby under 6 months of age, or with a person who has an increased risk of hospitalization or death, or who are caregivers
  • health care workers

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EU regulator backs month-long storage of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in fridges

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Europe’s drug regulator on Monday recommended extending the storage time for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at normal fridge temperatures to 31 days from five days, easing logistical challenges during rollouts in the region.

The change is applicable to unopened vials, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said, adding that the advice by its human medicines committee came after assessing additional stability study data submitted by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“EMA is in continuous dialogue with the marketing authorisation holders of COVID-19 vaccines as they seek to make manufacturing improvements to enhance vaccine distribution in the EU,” the watchdog said.

The EU has allowed for ramped-up production of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the region and is eyeing a new deal to secure more doses of the shot after the bloc was hit by cuts in the supply of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Vaccine deliveries were also slower initially under the EU’s centralised procurement strategy.

U.S. authorities in February had approved storage and transport of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at standard freezer temperatures of -15 to -25 degrees Celsius for up to two weeks instead of the ultra-cold temperatures between -80 to -60 degrees Celsius it usually requires.

The EU storage change also comes as the U.S. and German drugmakers are seeking approval of the vaccine for inoculating adolescents aged 12 to 15 years. The United States and Canada have started vaccinating this group with the shot, which uses the brand name Comirnaty.

The two-dose vaccine, similar to the one developed by Moderna, uses new mRNA technology to deliver instructions to the human body to build immunity against COVID-19.

With 200 million vaccine doses delivered overall, the EU is on track to achieve its goal of inoculating 70% of its adult population by summer, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on May 9.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. and Alex Richardson)

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Sanofi-GSK report positive interim results for their COVID-19 shot

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An experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline showed a robust immune response in early-stage clinical trial results, enabling them to move to a late-stage study, the French drugmaker said on Monday.

Sanofi and Britain’s GSK said a global Phase III trial would start in the coming weeks and involve more than 35,000 adults, with the hope of seeing the vaccine approved by the fourth quarter after having initially targeted the first half of this year before a setback.

Sanofi and GSK last December were forced to restart their trial when the vaccine showed a low immune response in older adults as a result of a weak antigen formulation.

Sanofi and GSK shares were little changed in early trading.

“The Phase II interim results showed 95% to 100% seroconversion following a second injection in all age groups and across all doses, with acceptable tolerability and no safety concerns,” Sanofi said.

Seroconversion refers to the vaccine’s ability to prompt the body to produce antibodies against the coronavirus, as measured by blood readings. Later mass trials will be based on real infections.

“Interestingly, we also observed that our vaccine generated a higher antibody response in those with previous COVID-19 infection, we are analysing this further as it may suggest our vaccine could serve as a potential booster, regardless of what vaccine someone may have received (beforehand),” Su-Peing Ng, Sanofi’s global head of medical for vaccines, told reporters.

Ng said the vaccine had not been tested against so-called variants in the Phase II trial but that the Phase III study would be assessing it against various strains including a virus lineage known as B.1.351 first detected in South Africa.

But Sanofi, Ng said, has conducted parallel studies evaluating its vaccines against variants, with results expected to be published soon.

GSK and Sanofi’s vaccine candidate uses the same technology as one of Sanofi’s seasonal influenza vaccines. It will be coupled with an adjuvant, a substance that acts as a booster to the shot, made by GSK.

‘QUITE A POTENTIAL’

Some 162.75 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019, while economies have taken a hit and restrictions have turned daily life upside down.

The United States and Europe have embarked on mass vaccinations programmes in the past months, raising hopes of a gradual reopening, although the virus is still in circulation in many regions, with variants causing concern.

Last month, the European Union executive’s President Ursula von der Leyen said protein-based COVID-19 vaccines such as the one developed by Sanofi and GSK offered “quite a potential”, a positive signal as the bloc develops its purchasing strategy for the next two years.

Sanofi’s shot, however, even if approved, will come long after ones from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which have produced efficacy results of more than 90%.

So far, Sanofi has purchasing agreements with the United States, the EU, Britain and Canada, as well as with the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility.

The company has pledged to help other drugmakers this year, striking “fill and finish” deals for vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

In addition to its vaccine project in collaboration with GSK, Sanofi is working on a mRNA candidate with U.S. company Translate Bio for which it has started clinical trials.

 

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)

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Worldwide coronavirus cases cross 161.42 million, death toll at 3,488,751

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More than 161.42 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 3,488,751​ have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.

Eikon users can click  for a case tracker.

The following table lists the top 50 countries by the number of reported cases. A complete list is available with the above links.

COUNTRIES AND TOTAL DEATHS CONFIRMED DEATHS PER

TERRITORIES CASES 10,000

INHABITANTS

United States 584,768 32,926,288 17.9

India 262,317 24,046,809 1.94

Brazil 430,417 15,433,989 20.55

France 107,423 5,848,154 16.04

Turkey 44,301 5,095,390 5.38

Russia 254,590 4,922,901 17.62

United Kingdom 127,668 4,446,824 19.21

Italy 123,927 4,146,722 20.51

Spain 79,339 3,604,799 16.95

Germany 85,903 3,579,871 10.36

Argentina 69,254 3,242,103 15.56

Colombia 79,760 3,067,879 16.06

Poland 71,311 2,849,014 18.78

Iran 76,433 2,732,152 9.34

Mexico 219,901 2,375,115 17.43

Ukraine 47,620 2,143,448 10.67

Peru 65,316 1,873,316 20.02

Indonesia 47,823 1,734,285 1.79

Czech Republic 29,857 1,651,178 28.09

South Africa 55,012 1,605,252 9.52

Netherlands 17,423 1,589,282 10.11

Canada 24,825 1,312,408 6.7

Chile 27,520 1,266,601 14.69

Iraq 15,910 1,134,859 4.14

Philippines 18,958 1,131,467 1.78

Romania 29,413 1,070,605 15.11

Sweden 14,275 1,037,126 14.03

Belgium 24,645 1,026,473 21.56

Pakistan 19,384 873,220 0.91

Portugal 16,999 841,379 16.53

Israel 6,379 839,076 7.18

Hungary 29,041 796,390 29.71

Bangladesh 12,102 779,535 0.75

Jordan 9,203 722,754 9.24

Serbia 6,646 705,185 9.52

Switzerland 10,179 679,510 11.96

Japan 11,396 673,821 0.9

Austria 10,455 635,780 11.83

United Arab Emirates 1,626 543,610 1.69

Lebanon 7,569 534,968 11.05

Morocco 9,091 514,670 2.52

Malaysia 1,822 462,190 0.58

Nepal 4,669 439,658 1.66

Saudi Arabia 7,134 431,432 2.12

Bulgaria 17,194 413,320 24.48

Ecuador 19,442 405,783 11.38

Slovakia 12,168 387,162 22.34

Greece 11,322 373,881 10.55

Belarus 2,681 373,351 2.83

Panama 6,288 369,455 15.05

Source: Reuters tally based on statements from health ministries and government officials

Generated at 10:00 GMT.

 

(Editing by David Clarke)

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