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What does the Pfizer vaccine approval in the U.K. mean for Canada? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Following news that the United Kingdom has authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for use, questions are emerging about what the new approval could mean for other countries looking to secure a vaccine candidate in the race against the novel coronavirus.

Britain gave the green light to the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech on Wednesday and expects to start its first vaccinations in the country within days.

Canada’s Minister of Health Patty Hajdu took to Twitter on Wednesday to say that the U.K.’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine is “encouraging” and that Health Canada will complete its review of the candidate “soon.” She did not provide further details.

“Making sure a COVID-19 vaccine is safe before approving it is Health Canada’s priority, and when a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready,” Hajdu tweeted.

Chief medical advisor at Health Canada Dr. Supriya Sharma said at a public briefing on Nov. 26 that Canada plans to make a decision on the Pfizer vaccine around the same time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency do.

Those decisions are expected to be made sometime in December, with FDA having set a meeting on Dec. 10 during which they will make a final call on the vaccine.

However, Health Canada has its own approval processes, designed to ensure vaccines are safe and effective.

Sharma said Canada’s review of Pfizer’s vaccine, which began on Oct.3, is the most advanced out of the current candidates, but still ongoing.

“While significant time and resources are being devoted to expediting the scientific review of COVID-19 vaccines, the decision on whether they will be authorized will ultimately depend on assessment of the data, including the complete information from clinical trials, which is still coming in,” Sharma said.

Sharma said Canada “will only authorize a vaccine if its benefits clearly outweigh its risks.”

“While we are working hard to give Canadians access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, we will not compromise our safety, efficacy and quality standards. Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is our top priority,” Sharma said.

While Pfizer’s vaccine may be furthest ahead in Canada’s review process, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen’s vaccine candidates have also been submitted to Health Canada for approval.

Pfizer announced in November that results of clinical trials that showed its COVID-19 vaccine was 95 per cent effective and offered “significant protection” for older people. However, the candidate needs to be kept at -70 C during transportation and storage to remain effective, posing logistical problems.

VACCINE FAST-TRACKING

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday that news of Britain’s approving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is “exciting.” He expects other vaccine candidates to be approved in Western countries in the coming weeks.

Sharkawy said the approval adds to the “sense of optimism” around a successful coronavirus vaccine.

“If the data has been looked at very carefully by one regulatory body, like the MHRA in the U.K., then certainly the FDA and Health Canada should be able to do the same thing,” Sharkawy said

“I would be surprised if Health Canada did not follow suit with approval very, very soon,” he added.

However, in a statement to CTV News, Pfizer Canada said on Wednesday that “an approval in one jurisdiction does not equate to an approval in another.”

Despite being approved in the U.K., infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says Pfizer’s vaccine candidate won’t land on Canadian soil anytime sooner.

Bogoch told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that regulatory bodies are “working at different paces” and said the U.K.’s approval does not mean that Health Canada should rush its own decision.

“I really hope that they do their job in a very fair manner without any external pressure, and I really hope that it doesn’t push them to do their job faster,” Bogoch said. “If it’s a day, a week, a couple of weeks longer, [that’s] fine, as long as they do a thorough job and ensure that Canadians get access to safe vaccines that are effective.”

Bogoch explained that Health Canada not only has to look at the data from a vaccine’s clinical trials, but the agency also has to consider the manufacturing process of that vaccine.

Bogoch said it is likely that Health Canada will approve the Pfizer vaccine in the “coming weeks.” However, once the vaccine arrives in Canada, Bogoch said the country needs to have programs already in place to ensure the shots are immediately rolled out.

“It’s not quite clear when the vaccine will land on our doorstep but when it does, we better work really, really hard right now to sort out how we’re going to ship this,” Bogoch said, adding that Pfizer’s temperature requirements do pose a challenge.

“This is that one where it requires [-70 C] freezing, so the logistics of getting this around the country are hard. I hope that process is underway because we might get access to this sooner than we think,” he said.

VACCINE ROLLOUT

Canada has secured access to a total of 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from different sources including 76 million from Pfizer, but just four million of those are expected to land in the country by the end of March.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said on Nov. 26 that while there will be early prioritization of who gets vaccinated based on the limited initial supply, Canada will have enough doses to “provide access to every Canadian who wants one in 2021.”

However, Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, says he is concerned that vaccine access may be limited throughout the next year if a proper rollout plan is not in place.

Bowman told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that there is “a lot of confusion and ambiguity” as to when provincial health authorities will have a COVID-19 vaccine so inoculations can begin.

Bowman’s remarks come on the heels of weeks of moving targets and changes in messaging from federal and provincial officials about Canada’s vaccine standing and timelines.

“So many of the people in Canada and the provinces, if they’re going to be prepared for this they do need dates and they do need numbers. How do you prepare without that?” Bowman said.

While he acknowledges that administering a vaccine nationally “isn’t easy,” he said there needs to be more transparency from government officials about current rollout plans to ensure that Canadians aren’t hesitant to get vaccinated once they can.

“We really, really need to build trust with Canadians right now so that when the vaccine is available that people are trusting of that,” Bowman said.

Speaking virtually at the Canadian Immunization Conference, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s vaccine rollout requires a “complex response” since the country has invested in a range of vaccine candidates that all have their own needs.

Tam said on Wednesday that Canada has ordered 126 freezers with various temperature capabilities for the vaccine, many of which she says have already been delivered.

She acknowledged that it is “very important” to be transparent with Canadians about the status of vaccine candidates and their subsequential rollout.

“It is important for all of us to get knowledgeable about the process of development and that the regulatory process is rigorous and that we would only provide vaccines that have gone through safety evaluations and efficacy evaluations,” Tam said.

Tam said the federal government will be using “behavioural insights” and other strategies such as sharing testimonials and using social media influencers to help address misinformation and “boost vaccine confidence among the population.”

However, Tam maintained that Canada will only approve a COVID-19 vaccine after thorough reviews are completed.

“We still have to look at the clinical trial results in depth. These initial vaccine candidates have reported good efficacy and provide hope for a new way forward in not just this pandemic, but for future,” Tam said.

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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