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Wanted: Volunteers to catch COVID in the name of science

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The world’s first medical trial authorised to deliberately expose participants to the coronavirus is seeking more volunteers as it steps up efforts to help develop better vaccines.

The Oxford University trial was launched last April, three months after Britain became the first country to approve what are known as challenge trials for humans involving COVID-19.

Its first phase, still ongoing, has focused on finding out how much of the virus is needed to trigger an infection while the second will aim to determine the immune response needed to ward one off, the university said in a statement on Tuesday.

Researchers are close to establishing the weakest possible virus infection that assures about half of people exposed to it get asymptomatic or mild COVID-19.

They then plan to expose volunteers – all previously naturally infected or vaccinated – to that dose of the virus’s original variant to determine what levels of antibodies or immune T-cells are required to prevent an infection.

“This is the immune response we then need to induce with a new vaccine,” said Helen McShane, Oxford University Professor of Vaccinology and the study’s chief investigator.

The trial’s findings will help make future vaccine development much quicker and more efficient, the statement said.

Global immunologists have been seeking to pinpoint the immune reaction that a vaccine must produce to shield against the illness, known as a correlate of protection. Once discovered, the need for mass vaccine trials is greatly reduced.

Scientists have used human challenge trials for decades to develop treatments against many infectious diseases, but this is the first known such research into COVID-19.

A drawback is the risk of harm to volunteers contracting the disease but the university is taking precautions.

Participants will need to be healthy and aged 18-30. They will be quarantined for at least 17 days and any who develop symptoms will be given Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment Ronapreve.

 

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by John Stonestreet)

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U.S. CDC publishes guidelines on monkeypox vaccine – Financial Post

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday published recommendations by its group of independent experts on a smallpox vaccine that limit its use to only people who work closely with viruses such as monkeypox.

The Jynneos vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, will be available for certain healthcare workers and laboratory personnel at a time when monkeypox infections has spread in Europe, United States and beyond.

The vaccine was approved in the United States in 2019 to prevent smallpox and monkeypox in high risk adults aged 18 and older.

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CDC officials earlier this week said they were in the process of releasing some doses of the Jynneos vaccine for people in contact with known monkeypox patients.

Officials said there were over 100 million doses of an older smallpox vaccine called ACAM2000, made by Emergent BioSolutions , which has significant side effects.

Monkeypox is a mild viral infection that is endemic in certain parts of Africa, but the recent outbreak in countries where the virus doesn’t usually spread has raised concerns.

So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating. The World Health Organization has called for quick action from countries to contain the Monkeypox spread.

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The CDC said its experts’ recommendations are meant for clinical laboratory personnel performing diagnostic tests for orthopoxviruses such as smallpox and monkeypox, laboratory people doing research on the viruses and healthcare workers who administer the ACAM2000 vaccine or care for patients infected with orthopoxviruses.

The publication of the vote by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which took place in November last year, formalizes the recommendations.

Both ACAM2000 and Jynneos are available for prevention of orthopoxvirus infections among at-risk people, the CDC said on Friday. (Reporting by Manas Mishra and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Shailesh Kuber)

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LGBTQ advocates fear monkeypox stigma could 'spread like a virus' – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Advocates warn that stigma could pose a public health threat as a cluster of monkeypox cases stokes concern in the queer community.

Health authorities are investigating more than two dozen confirmed monkeypox cases in Canada as part of an unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease that seldom spreads outside Africa.

Twenty-five infections have been confirmed in Quebec and one in Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday, predicting the tally will rise in coming days.

While everyone is susceptible to the virus, clusters of cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, officials say.

For some LGBTQ advocates, this raises the spectre of sexual stigmatization that saw gay and bisexual men scapegoated for the spread of HIV-AIDS in the 1980s. Others say the early detection of the monkeypox cases by sexual health clinics shows how the queer community has mobilized to dismantle shame and promote safe practices.

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer said he’s mindful of the potential for stigma and discrimination, reiterating that the virus’s spread isn’t limited to any specific group or sexual orientation.

The disease can be contracted through close contact with a sick person, including but not limited to sexual activity, Dr. Howard Njoo told a news conference Thursday. Scientists are still working to determine what’s driving cross-border transmission of the virus.

But as early signs suggest the virus is currently circulating in certain communities, authorities are working with partners on the ground to raise awareness among those at elevated risk of exposure, Njoo said.

Quebec officials said both transparency and sensitivity are needed to contain the outbreak and provide care to those infected.

“Stigmatization is really a big challenge in controlling this disease, so we’re trying to fight it,” Montreal public health official Dr. Genevieve Bergeron told reporters Thursday. “It’s important to understand that our enemy is the virus, it’s not the people who are affected.”

Aaron Purdie, executive director of the Health Initiative for Men in B.C., said he worries that the spread of stigma could present a greater threat than the disease itself, citing the lasting legacy of the panic and prejudice around HIV-AIDS in the early years of the epidemic.

“Stigma spreads like a virus,” Purdie said. “Yes, it’s treatable. Yes, it’s containable. But it spreads nonetheless.”

Beyond its corrosive societal harms, stigma can deter people from accessing testing and treatment, as they fear how a diagnosis could jeopardize their social standing, employment and safety, Purdie said.

These concerns are particularly potent among LGBTQ people given their long history of discrimination by the health-care system, said Purdie. That’s why it’s vital that public health agencies assist queer activists, educators and clinicians in leading the monkeypox response.

“We all hold trauma from our histories, and the reality is when something like monkeypox comes in, it scares people,” he said.

“We need to decrease the stigma. Because if we don’t, people aren’t able to fully express their identities, and … (that has the) downstream effect of making the community sicker.”

Dane Griffiths, director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance of Ontario, said stigma thrives in silence, so one of the most effective strategies to combat it is to provide timely and accurate information without “shame or blame.”

The alliance is working to do just that by sharing the latest developments about the virus, encouraging people to pay attention to the risks and take steps to protect themselves.

Griffiths said obscuring the risk the virus poses to the queer community could prompt people to drop their guard.

“I wouldn’t want that to be an opportunity for the community to tune this out,” said Griffiths.

Instead, the queer community should be commended for helping authorities track the virus’s spread by getting tested at sexual health clinics in such high numbers, which could be a factor in why so many cases have been identified in men who have sex with men, Griffiths said.

“There are gay and bisexual men who have been showing up around the world at clinics and doctor’s offices and are being seen and therefore counted,” said Griffiths. “That’s a good thing, and it’s actually to be encouraged within our community.”

More than two years into the pandemic, University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman said he hopes people have realized infectious disease doesn’t discriminate on the basis of identity, so we don’t see a resurgence of the stigma and bigotry that pervaded our initial responses to both COVID-19 and HIV-AIDS.

“This is kind of a litmus test to see if we’ve moved on as a society, if we’re capable of looking at illness without … the cruelty of laying stigma on people,” said Bowman.

– with files from Jacob Serebrin in Montreal

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

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Canada raids emergency stockpile to send medical equipment to Ukraine

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OTTAWA — Canada has tapped into its own strategic stockpile of emergency medical supplies — stored for a national emergency — to help Ukraine.

It has donated over 375,000 items of medical equipment and medicines from Canada’s strategic stockpile since the invasion by Russia began.

This includes first aid and trauma kits, medicines and surgical instruments, as well as gloves, masks and gowns.

Canada’s health minister also helped push through an international resolution on rebuilding Ukraine’s besieged health-care system in Geneva this week.

Jean-Yves Duclos held bilateral talks to help get the votes required for the resolution, which Canada co-sponsored with Ukraine at the World Health Assembly meeting.

The Ukrainian motion, voted for by 88 countries to 12, with 43 abstentions, follows attacks on Ukraine’s health-care facilities and equipment, including ambulances, by Russian forces.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

 

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