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University of Alberta virologist awarded Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Folio – University of Alberta

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Michael Houghton was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine today in recognition of his discovery of the hepatitis C (HCV) virus.

His discovery with colleagues Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo in 1989 opened a new field of viral hepatitis research that led to improved blood safety, and hepatitis C treatment to the point where the viral infection can now be cured in virtually all patients.

New screening tests were developed for blood donations as a result of their discovery. By 1992, the virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply. This, in turn, led to a reduction in annual reported transmission by more than 80 per cent by 1996.

Houghton was recruited to the University of Alberta in 2010 as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology in the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. Two years later, he and his team created hope with the development of a vaccine for the virus that is known to cause cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer. About 20 to 30 per cent of people who suffer from hepatitis C develop severe liver disease. The vaccine is now in the late pre-clinical stage of testing.

Based on the discovery of the virus, antiviral therapies have been developed that will cure 95 per cent of hepatitis C carriers. This is the first chronic viral illness that can be cured.

Houghton recently began leading an effort to produce a vaccine for COVID-19. He had also created a successful vaccine for the SARS-CoV-1 virus in 2004, but it was never needed because SARS disappeared.

“Michael Houghton’s achievement cannot be overstated,” said University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan. “Dr. Houghton has made this world a better place. As president of the University of Alberta, the institution where he has dedicated his time, I am thrilled that his work has been recognized in this way.”

“Today is a wonderful day for Dr. Houghton and the faculty,” said Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry dean Brenda Hemmelgarn. “Dr. Houghton has been an amazing colleague and powerful force since the first day he joined us, and we are immensely proud of him and his accomplishments.”

In addition to his role as director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute, Houghton is the Li Ka Shing Professor of Virology, and a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology was created through a gift of $25 million from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation, as well as a $52.5-million commitment from the Government of Alberta.

“This is a great day for Canada, the University of Alberta and the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology,” said Lorne Tyrrell, director of the institute. “Canada’s only Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was won in 1923 by Frederick Banting and John Macleod. The second prize has come 97 years later—a long-awaited Nobel in medicine for a scientist at a Canadian university. I am extremely proud of Michael and his two colleagues, Harvey Alter and Charlie Rice.”

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What you need to know about COVID-19 in Ottawa on Saturday, Oct. 24 – CBC.ca

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Recent developments:

What’s the latest?

The majority of COVID-19-related claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) from workers in Ottawa involve employees in long-term care facilities and retirement homes, but a union that represents many of those workers believes the number should be much higher.

The Ontario Medical Association says some doctors who accept expired health cards aren’t getting reimbursed, despite a decision by the provincial government to show leniency during the pandemic.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reported 88 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and five more people with COVID-19 in Ottawa have died.

How many cases are there?

As of Thursday’s update from Ottawa Public Health (OPH), 6,384 Ottawa residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

There are 676 known active cases, 5,394 resolved cases and 314 deaths.

Public health officials have reported more than 9,700 COVID-19 cases across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, with more than 8,200 of them resolved.

Seventy-two people with COVID-19 have died elsewhere in eastern Ontario, along with 36 in western Quebec.

What can I do?

Both Ontario and Quebec are telling people to limit close contact only to those they live with or one other home if people live alone to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In Ottawa — which has been rolled back to a modified Stage 2 — and Gatineau, Que., health officials are asking residents not to leave home unless it’s essential. 

A masked pedestrian walks by a Bank Street mural in Ottawa in September. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Indoor dining at restaurants has been prohibited, while gyms, cinemas and performing arts venues are all closed.

Dr. Vera Etches, the capital’s medical officer of health, said earlier this month the national capital’s health-care system is on the verge of collapse.

OPH and some eastern Ontario health units are urging people not to have a Halloween party with other households or go trick-or-treating.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said to listen to local officials but a rule of thumb if trick-or-treating is allowed, people should stick to their neighbourhood and do it outside with their household only.

The Kingston area’s health unit is one that says it can be done safely this year if done differently.

Gatineau and parts of the Outaouais are now on red alert, which means restaurants and bars can’t serve people indoors, organized sports are suspended and theatres must close.

Quebecers are also urged not to travel to Ontario or between regions at different levels on its scale except for essential reasons.

Even though most of the region has been declared a red zone, Premier François Legault said kids can trick-or-treat as long as they don’t go with friends and precautions are taken when giving out candy.

What about schools?

There have been more than 180 schools in the wider Ottawa-Gatineau region with a confirmed case of COVID-19:

Few have had outbreaks, which are declared by a health unit in Ontario when there’s a reasonable chance someone who has tested positive caught COVID-19 during a school activity.

As of mid-October, a small fraction of Ottawa students and staff had tested positive.

Distancing and isolating

The novel coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes or speaks onto someone or something.

People can be contagious without symptoms.

This means people should take precautions such as staying home when sick, keeping hands and frequently touched surfaces clean, socializing outdoors as much as possible and maintaining distance from anyone they don’t live with — even with a mask on.

Masks are mandatory in indoor public settings in Ontario and Quebec and are recommended outdoors when people can’t distance from others.

Anyone with symptoms or who’s ordered to do so by their local public health unit should self-isolate. The duration is subject to a range stipulated by health officials in both Ontario and Quebec.

Health Canada recommends older adults and people with underlying medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems stay home as much as possible. 

Anyone who has travelled recently outside Canada must go straight home and stay there for 14 days.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a cough, vomiting and the loss of taste or smell. 

Less common symptoms include chills, headaches and pink eye. Children can develop a rash.

If you have severe symptoms, call 911.

Mental health can also be affected by the pandemic and resources are available to help.

Where to get tested

In eastern Ontario:

Ontario recommends only getting tested if you have symptoms, or if you’ve been told to by your health unit or the province.

Anyone seeking a test should now book an appointment. Different sites in the area have different ways to book, including over the phone or going in person to get a time slot.

Testing numbers have been lower than the groups running it would like and they want people to know there are often same-day appointments available.

People without symptoms, but who are part of the province’s targeted testing strategy, can make an appointment at select pharmacies.

Ottawa has five permanent test sites, with additional mobile sites deployed wherever demand is particularly high.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has sites in Alexandria, Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Limoges, Rockland and Winchester.

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark health unit has permanent sites in Almonte, Brockville, Kemptville and Smiths Falls.

Kingston’s test site is at the Beechgrove Complex. The area’s other test site is in Napanee. Both are open seven days a week.

People can arrange a test in Bancroft and Picton by calling the centre or Belleville and Trenton online.

Renfrew County residents should call their family doctor or 1-844-727-6404 for a test or with questions, COVID-19-related or not. Test clinic locations are posted weekly.

In western Quebec:

Tests are strongly recommended for people with symptoms or who have been in contact with someone with symptoms.

Outaouais residents can make an appointment in Gatineau seven days a week at 135 blvd. Saint-Raymond or 617 avenue Buckingham.

They can now check the approximate wait time for the Saint-Raymond site.

There are recurring clinics by appointment in communities such as Gracefield, Val-des-Monts and Fort-Coulonge.

Call 1-877-644-4545 with questions, including if walk-in testing is available nearby.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis:

Akwesasne has a COVID-19 test site available by appointment only. It expects to bring back its mobile site in the spring.

Anyone returning to the community on the Canadian side of the international border who’s been farther than 160 kilometres away — or visited Montreal — for non-essential reasons is asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 for service, including testing, in Inuktitut or English on weekdays.

People in Pikwakanagan can book a COVID-19 test by calling 613-625-2259. 

Anyone in Tyendinaga who’s interested in a test can call 613-967-3603.

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Why lockdowns alone won't save us from the pandemic – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


The prospect of locking society down again the way we did in the first wave of COVID-19 — and the collateral damage that comes with it — is daunting.

The financial devastation on businesses forced to close and lay off employees, the increase in mental health issues, the halting of elective medical procedures and the continuing risks to essential workers on the front lines all factor in.

Keeping society functioning and supporting devastated sectors of the economy while limiting the spread of the coronavirus is key to navigating the pandemic until a safe and effective vaccine is here.

But experts acknowledge there is growing resistance to some of the restrictions that highlights a need to manage the public mood as the pandemic rages on.

You arguably could not find a more politically charged term right now than “lockdown,” since everyone has a different, personal idea of what it is.

“This term has become equated with so many bad things that no one really understands what it means,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s everyone’s worst fear about what somebody else is doing to them regarding the pandemic.”

Osterholm, a veteran of SARS and MERS who warned the world for 15 years that a pandemic was coming, thinks the term lockdown should be abolished altogether.

Instead, Osterholm said we need to look at it as targeted public health measures necessary to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and getting back to normal as quickly as possible, while at the same time supporting those who have suffered financially. 

The key to successfully riding out the pandemic lies in finding balance between working with the population to help keep the number of cases low without substantially changing life as we know it.

“The challenge is, the end isn’t coming soon,” he said. “But it’s coming, and what we need to do is try to have as few cases as possible between now and the time a vaccine arrives.”

‘Pandemic fatigue’ can turn to ‘pandemic anger’

Managing the public’s frustration presents a challenge for public health officials in the second wave.

During a journalism conference at Carleton University in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that public health messaging can seem inconsistent because of the evolving science in the pandemic. 

“We are living in a more challenging period right now,” she said, in which authorities have “to convince people who are fatigued to stick to sustainable habits or public health practices.” 

Ontario and Quebec have already moved to close bars, restaurants and gyms in their hardest-hit regions amid rising cases, while Alberta and British Columbia weigh the need to tighten restrictions amid record-high rises in cases. 

Osterholm said resistance to public health restrictions not only stems from the concept of “pandemic fatigue,” but also from something he calls “pandemic anger.” 

“It’s people who don’t believe that the pandemic is real,” he said. “They think it’s a hoax.”

Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the resistance also stems from “raw selfishness.” 

Protesters clash with police officers during an anti-lockdown protest in London, England, on Sept. 26. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

“There’s an inability to think about community responsibility,” he said, explaining that people think they won’t personally be seriously affected by the virus because it has a comparatively higher survivability rate in younger age groups.

“But if you scale this up to a population, then that’s tens of thousands of deaths – and they don’t care.”

Perception of risk has a cost

The latest World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund found that while lockdowns controlled the spread of the coronavirus, they also contributed to a global economic recession that disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. 

But the IMF report also found the damage to the economy was largely driven by people “voluntarily refraining” from social interactions out of a fear of contracting the virus.

Osterholm said the perception of risk — and not strict public health restrictions — is what holds people back from doing things like travelling by plane or entering a retail store.

“Nobody is telling you you can’t go to the grocery store rather than ordering online — it’s just people don’t feel safe and secure,” he said.

“Well, how do you make that happen? You make it happen by making cases occur at a much, much lower rate than they’re occurring now. It’s not going to be just by telling the virus we’re done.”

Lockdowns should be last resort

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Md., isn’t in favour of lockdowns as a first line of defence in the pandemic. 

“If you’re going to take public health interventions, they have to be very targeted towards specific activities that are actually leading to spread,” he said. “You only use a lockdown when you have fouled up your response so bad that that’s all you have left to do.” 

WATCH | Push to pursue COVID-19 herd immunity is ‘dangerous’:

A group of international experts push back against the Great Barrington Declaration and its pursuit of COVID-19 herd immunity, calling it “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” 2:05

But ignoring lockdowns isn’t an effective strategy, either.

The Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial proposal from a group of scientists (backed by a U.S. think-tank) to lift restrictions, made headlines last week for its calls to protect “the vulnerable” from COVID-19 with strict measures while allowing those “at minimal risk of death” to return to normal life and build up herd immunity to the virus.

But it failed to present a logical counterargument for controlling the virus or concrete ways to protect the vulnerable (including the elderly and the poor), not to mention those who care for them.

Referring to the declaration, Deonandan said, “If there wasn’t a vaccine coming, if nothing changes and this has to be how we live in perpetuity, then OK, maybe we have to discuss some other options. But none of that is true.”

Canada has had more than 200,000 cases and is approaching 10,000 deaths, but modelling predicts the situation would be much worse if public health guidelines like physical distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene weren’t followed. 

Osterholm said those pushing the the Barrington Declaration completely misunderstood the concept behind public health restrictions and the reasons behind enacting them in the first place. 

“If you’re going to keep thinking about this as a lockdown, then we’re going to find a lot of resistance to this,” he said. “But on the other hand, if you don’t suppress transmission, we’re also going to see a lot of deaths.” 

A question of public tolerance

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease outbreak, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them.

China imposed some of the most severe public health restrictions in modern history upon the discovery of the coronavirus at the beginning of this year, something democratic nations would be unlikely to imitate.

But China is already seeing the rewards of its draconian efforts to control the spread. It’s the only major economy expected to grow this year, with retail spending surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time and factory output rising on the backs of demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies to countries like Canada.

Other regions like New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong acted swiftly by closing borders, imposing strict public health measures and opting for shorter, more strategic lockdowns, which have allowed them to carefully reopen society. 

South Korea, meanwhile, didn’t lock down at all and instead focused on testing, tracing and isolating cases to control the spread of the virus successfully. 

“The lesson here is you choose one path and you stick with it,” Deonandan said. “What is not acceptable is vacillating between different strategies.”

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia imposed targeted lockdown measures in the face of outbreaks, which University of Western Australia epidemiologist Dr. Zoë Hyde said has been “enormously successful” in eliminating the virus in much of the country. 

“While lockdowns absolutely have harms associated with them, the harms are much less than those of an unmitigated epidemic,” she said. “Governments can also minimize the harms of lockdowns by making them short and sharp, and by financially supporting workers and businesses.” 

Lockdowns ‘a sign of failure’

Hyde said the eastern Australian state of Victoria was a precautionary tale for the debate over lockdowns, because of mistakes made in a hotel quarantine system that allowed the virus to spread again. 

“If governments have not tried hard enough to suppress the virus, then a lockdown is inevitable, whether people want one or not,” Hyde said.

“Lockdowns are a sign of failure. They’re a sign that governments have not been doing enough.” 

Victoria was recording around 700 new cases per day in July, but a second lockdown coupled with a mask mandate have brought case numbers down to only a handful a day at most.

“Measures to combat the virus have to be tailored. They can’t be more than the economy can bear,” Hyde said, “but equally we must remember that the best way to protect the economy is to suppress the virus.” 

“Ultimately it’s the virus doing the damage to the economy, not the measures designed to suppress it. No matter what we wish, the economy won’t go back to normal if a dangerous virus is circulating.” 


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COVID-19: No plans to ease hot zone restrictions, Ford says; Canada has record one-day total of cases – Paris Star

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What you need to know, at a glance

  • Premier Doug Ford says there are no plans to ease ‘hot zone’ restrictions, despite economic disruptions
  • ‘We won’t even have an economy if this continues to spread’
  • Ontario reported 826 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 88 in Ottawa
  • The new numbers push Ontario’s total number of infections to 68,353
  • There were nine new deaths, bringing the total to 3,080
  • There are 276 people in hospital with 78 of those in ICU care and 47 on ventilators
  • Ottawa Public Health reported 88 new cases and five new deaths over the previous 24 hours
  • One new outbreak was declared among health care and congregate living facilities, while two more outbreaks were declared in child care and schools
  • Five new cases have been confirmed in sports related outbreaks, for a total of 30
  • A resident of the city-run Centre d’accueil Champlain long-term care home has died in hospital of COVID-19
  • A second staff member at the Garry J. Armstrong long-term care home has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Eastern Ontario’s medical officer of health expected to announce more restrictions on gyms, bars and restaurants
  • Quebec reported 905 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since to 98,226 since the pandemic began.
  • Twelve new deaths were reported – four over the past 24 hours, six between Oct. 16 and 21, and another two on unknown dates
  • The Outaouais region reported 25 new cases and one new death since the last report.
  • Canada recorded a record 2,788 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the largest increase in infections since the pandemic began
  • “We have to get these numbers down,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said
  • The federal government spending $214 million towards the development of COVID-19 vaccines
  • But PM warns that he doesn’t anticipate a vaccine will be ready this year or in early 2021
  • Nationally, the number of COVID-19 infections topped 209,000 with more than 23,000 active cases
  • The virus has killed 9,862 Canadians.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott say they have no plans to ease restrictions in the province’s four COVID-19 hot zones of Ottawa, Toronto, Peel and York even as some business owners push back against the economic disruption the measures have caused.

“We won’t even have an economy if this continues to spread and gets up over 1,000 cases (a day),” Ford said Friday at a media briefing in Prince Edward County.

Ford added that he will meet with the province’s medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, and his health team over the weekend to decide if Halton region, west of Toronto, will also be added to the hot zone list.

“I’ll have that answer on Monday,” the premier said. “It’s concerning right now. We’re seeing the numbers go up again.”

Ontario reported 826 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 292 in Toronto, 186 in Peel, and 72 in York.

“We’ve been advised by Dr. Williams and his team that these are measures we have to take to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Elliott said.

“The evidence says that if we take these steps now it prevents us from going into a longer period of lockdown with more economic shutdown. While we recognize that this is very difficult for many business owners, this is the advice we’ve received from the public health professionals.”

Friday marks two weeks since the Ontario imposed the modified Stage 2 restrictions in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel and the halfway point in the order’s initial 28-day duration.

The latest numbers represent a slight decline for the province, which reported 841 new cases on Thursday.

Ontario has now had 68,353 confirmed cases since the pandemic was declared. Some 3,080 people have died in the province from COVID-19.

There are 276 people in hospital with 78 of those in intensive care and 47 on ventilators.

The province completed more than 40,000 tests on Thursday, Elliott said. Another 733 cases have now been resolved.

Seventy-seven long-term care homes are battling novel coronavirus outbreaks in Ontario, down three from the day before.

Local

Ottawa Public Health reported 88 new cases and five new death over the previous 24 hours.

It was the highest daily death count since May.

There have been 6,384 total cases, with 676 active. The death toll is at 314.

One new outbreak was declared among health care and congregate living facilities, for a total of 50 outbreaks. Two new outbreaks were reported in child care and schools for a total of 19.

Five new cases have been reported in sports-related outbreaks, for a total of 30.

The city announced Thursday that a resident of the city-run Centre d’accueil Champlain long-term care home has died in hospital of COVID-19. The resident was admitted to hospital on Oct. 13, Donna Gray, general manager of Community and Social Services announced in a memo to members of council.

Gray also informed councillors that a second staff member at the Garry J. Armstrong long-term care home has tested positive for COVID-19.

A group of restaurateurs and other Ottawa business people are planning to protest the provincial ‘hot zone’ restrictions on Saturday with a march from Ottawa city hall to Parliament hill. Unlike most protests, organizers are trying to limit their numbers by capping the number of people who can attend from each business.

“We are not anti-maskers or those looking to counter public health measures, but the contrary,” they say.

Meanwhile, Eastern Ontario’s medical officer of health was expected to announce Friday more restrictions under a local Class Section 22 order. The restrictions, which are milder than the modified Stage 2 restrictions in place in neighbouring Ottawa, won’t come into effect until next week, said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.

The restrictions limit restaurants to a maximum capacity of 100 with no more than six people per table. Gyms can have no more than 50 people inside at a time and fitness classes are limited to 10 people. Banquet halls and other meeting or event facilities would be capped at 50 people.

The EOHU measures are similar to those enacted by Ottawa Public Health on Sept. 22, two weeks before the province imposed the stricter, more easily enforced restrictions of the modified Stage 2 order. EOHU covers Cornwall, Prescott Russell and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry.

Roumeliotis was to hold a briefing of his own late Friday afternoon.

Quebec

The number of new cases dipped below 1,000 today, with hospitalizations and ICU admissions dropping.

Quebec reported 905 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since to 98,226 since the pandemic began.

Twelve new deaths were reported – four over the past 24 hours, six between Oct. 16 and 21, and another two on unknown dates.

Among those in hospital, 99 are in intensive care, a drop of two.

The Outaouais region reported 25 new cases and one new death since the last report.

National

Canada recorded a record 2,788 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the largest increase in infections since the pandemic began.

“We have to get these numbers down. This is serious and everyone must do their part,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “Your loved ones with pre-existing conditions, your parents your grandparents, they’re counting on you.

“People’s lives are at stake. We can’t afford to be careless or expect that this virus will just go away on its own.”

Nationally, the number of COVID-19 infections topped 209,000 with more than 23,000 active cases, according to figures released Thursday night. Quebec and Ontario account for two-thirds of all active cases. The virus has killed 9,862 Canadians.

The prime minister said that the government is spending $214 million towards the development of COVID-19 vaccines, signing deals with Quebec firm Medicago and British Columbia’s Precision NanoSystems.

Trudeau says the Medicago contract includes the rights to buy 76 million doses of its vaccine, should it meet health and safety standards, as well as funding for a production facility in Quebec City.

Two more American vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, have asked Health Canada to review their products as they undergo clinical trials.

However, Trudeau warns that he doesn’t anticipate a vaccine will be ready to inoculate Canadians against the COVID-19 virus this year or in early 2021.

The prime minister says Canada has also acquired “hundreds of thousands” of rapid test kits from medical company Abbott to be distributed across the provinces and territories.

Two more vaccine makers have asked Health Canada to study their product before it has completed clinical trials.

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-With files from Postmedia and The Canadian Press

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