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Why Canada is at the mercy of vaccine nationalism during the COVID pandemic – National Post

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The EU has the power to shut down Canada’s vaccine deliveries completely. Canada’s only link in the vaccine chain is as a customer for now

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OTTAWA – For the better part of a month, Canada’s vaccine effort has plummeted down international rankings, as little vaccine has arrived on our shores.

Americans, Britons and Israelis, along with those living in tiny nations like the Seychelles and Malta, are much more likely to have received a shot than people living in Canada, where as of this week only 2.4 per cent of people have received even one shot of a COVID vaccine.

As Canada scrambles with the rest of the world to secure vaccines, one major issue has been this country’s lack of domestic production. It is an issue that will leave Canada at the mercy of vaccine nationalism until at least the end of 2021.

Israel’s success as the world leader of the vaccine race appears to have been because it paid more for doses and agreed to share health data. Other countries leaving Canada behind are using vaccines from China or Russia that have not even been considered for use here. And some have approved candidates that Canada has purchased, but not yet approved.

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The U.K. is using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been approved in Canada, and both Britain and the U.S. have another advantage in their plan; they manufacture vaccines on their home soil.

Canada’s Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are manufactured in Europe and both have supply chains that see different components of the vaccine created in different parts of the continent before coming together in so called fill and finish facilities.

Nothing we would have done would have been able to get us vaccines now or by the end of September

When the European Union mused about imposing export restrictions they had the power to shut down Canada’s vaccine deliveries completely. Canada’s only link in the vaccine chain is as a customer for now, giving it no leverage with major companies.

Meanwhile, Pfizer reduced shipments for the last month as it upgraded its Belgium manufacturing facility, but the reductions were deeper in Canada with less than half of our expected shipments arriving.

Robert Van Exan, who has decades of experience in Canada’s pharmaceutical industry and is president of his own consultancy, Immunization Policy and Knowledge Translation, said for far too long the country was a hostile space for manufacturers.

“A lot of companies closed down pharmaceutical manufacturing in this country, because the environment was totally toxic to them,” he said.

The strikes against Canada, Van Exan said, included weaker patent protections and price controls that cut into company profit. Prior to the pandemic, the Liberal government moved to reduce pharmaceutical prices further with changes to the pricing system for patented medicines, drawing criticism from industry. The government exempted COVID vaccines from that new process, but it remains in place for other medicines.

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Van Exan said manufacturing vaccines in Canada is a challenge because most are sold directly to the federal government and with only one buyer companies have to compete on price.

“Our procurement process does nothing to encourage companies to stay in Canada, to do research in Canada, or to manufacture in Canada.”

All of Canada’s policies have pushed drug prices down compared to international comparisons and fostered a large generic industry, but Van Exan points out the generic industry is not developing the next vaccine.

Van Exan said the government has made reasonable investments over the last year to boost production, but that forces them to pick winners and losers. He said the better approach is to ensure companies want to set up shop here with or without government incentives.

“If you create an environment that encourages companies to manufacture and do research in Canada, rather than put it somewhere else, then companies make those decisions within their realm and if you’re successful at doing it, you get companies manufacturing here.”

He said Canada has the research talent across universities, but needs the support to take ideas from the lab bench to market.

Currently, Canada has two major manufacturing facilities for vaccines, a Sanofi Pasteur facility in Toronto and a GlaxoSmithKline facility in Ste. Foy, Quebec. But both facilities have existing contracts with little spare capacity and aren’t equipped to make the leading COVID-19 candidates.

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Mark Lievonen, a former president of Sanofi Pasteur, who now sits on the government’s vaccine task force and its bio-manufacturing committee, said when they looked at the options early in the pandemic they found they had to go overseas if they wanted vaccines before the rest of the world.

“We quickly concluded that would mean going with international candidates. That the fastest vaccines that we would be able to secure for Canadians would come from international candidates,” he said.

The U.K. made major investments in its manufacturing industry to get more facilities ready, but it wasn’t starting from scratch. The British government’s vaccine strategy was about expanding and accelerating facilities that were under construction.

Government officials, speaking on background, said they looked at a host of domestic proposals and were willing to offer some funding to many candidates, but they triaged companies based on their past success and how far along their proposal was.

Companies already in clinical trials with COVID vaccines, with manufacturing capabilities, or past success, got big investments — firms like Medicago in Quebec City, or the VIDO-intervac facility in Saskatoon. Medicago got $173 million for research and to expand manufacturing capacity in Quebec City and on top of that got an order for 76 million doses of its vaccine, which is just now entering the final phase of trials. The company’s vaccine could be ready by summer, if all goes well, but the first doses will be made in a facility the company already owns in the U.S.

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Early in the pandemic, VIDO-intervac received $46 million to build a manufacturing facility that will be capable of producing tens of millions of doses a year, but won’t be ready until early 2022.

Workers at a facility in Marburg, Germany, produce the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in January. An industry insider says many pharmaceutical manufacturers left Canada because “the environment was totally toxic to them.” Photo by Handout/BionTech via Reuters

Other firms received smaller sums to do early stage clinical trials with a clear understanding they could come back for more funding if their science panned out. That commitment extends beyond the pandemic, as the government is looking to restart the Canadian industry and be ready for future outbreaks.

“It was a matter of investing in each company appropriately, based on where they were in the stage, their stage of developing a vaccine and where they were in terms of their scale,” said Lievonen.

“Nothing we would have done would have been able to get us vaccines now or by the end of September.”

The government did fund construction of a new facility for the National Research Council in Montreal and recently announced Novavax would make their COVID vaccine there, but the first vaccines from that plant won’t come off the line until December at the earliest.

Van Exan said one of the flaws in Canada’s pandemic plan was that it only prepared for the concept of a pandemic influenza. The GlaxoSmithKline facility manufactures most of Canada’s flu vaccines and has a contract in place to scale up for a pandemic flu.

He said all the signs were there that the next pandemic could be a coronavirus like COVID-19.

“There was never any plan for any other kind of pandemic. And this is bizarre, because we had SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012 and we had, in 2001, a panic around the world about the potential for a smallpox pandemic.”

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Andrew Casey, president of BIOTECanada, said many people have looked at Canada’s existing facilities and asked why they couldn’t be repurposed.

There was never any plan for any other kind of pandemic (than influenza). And this is bizarre

He said that’s like asking why soft drink makers can’t switch to making champagne.

“Both are clear, bubbly liquids that you bottle and you serve in glasses. But that’s where the similarity ends and the manufacturing process of both are vastly different,” he said. “You would never ask Moet to make 7Up and you can’t ask 7Up to make Champagne.”

Pfizer and Moderna are the only approved candidates in Canada so far and they both use the same mRNA technology. The technology is new and before the pandemic was unproven. Casey said even if the government knew a year ago that an mRNA candidate would work they could not have opened an mRNA facility in Canada.

“Let’s say you knew on March 31 that it was going to be an mRNA candidate, that was going to deliver the most promising safe and efficacious vaccine, and you put a shovel in the ground on April 1, to build the facility, that facility would not be producing anything for probably another eight to 12 months.”

Casey points to philanthropist Bill Gates’ promise to build multiple vaccine manufacturing facilities, which he announced at the start of the pandemic and are all still months from producing a vaccine. He said he knows Canadians will draw little comfort if we continue to fall down international rankings, but he said the challenge is enormous and global in scale.

“We’re trying to get eight billion vaccines into the arms of the world. And for the most part, vaccines that didn’t exist six months ago.”

• Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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Could you lie and jump the line for a COVID-19 vaccine? Critics worry Ontario's system is open to abuse – Brampton Guardian

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Ontario reports 1,631 new COVID cases Monday – SooToday

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Public Health Ontario has reported 1,631 new cases of COVID-19 today (March 8).

Today’s report includes 994 recoveries and 10 new deaths, none were long-term care residents.

The deaths reported today include five people between 60 and 79 years old, and five people aged 80 or older.

The province has reported 51 new hospitalizations since yesterday, and seven new admissions of COVID-19 patients to intensive care units.

The March 8 update provided by the province’s public health agency also reported the following data:

  • 11,016 active cases, which is up from 10,389 yesterday
  • 626 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario, up from 606 reported yesterday. 
  • There are 282 COVID patients in intensive care units (up from 273) and 184 COVID patients on ventilators (up from 179 reported yesterday)
  • 38,063 tests were processed yesterday resulting in a 3.4 per cent positivity rate.
  • Another 13,891 tests are still under investigation and/or being processed. To date, 11.4 million tests have been completed.
  • Of the 1,631 new cases reported today, 568 are from Toronto, 322 cases are from Peel, 119 are from York Region, and 48 are from Simcoe-Muskoka
  • There are 79 active outbreaks at long-term care homes, 59 at retirement homes, and 20 at hospitals. 
  • The new cases reported today include 321 individuals aged 19 and under, 596 people between 20 and 39 years old, 447 people between 40 and 59 years old, 224 people between 60 and 79 years old, and 47 people aged 80 and over.

Variants of concern reported by Public Health Ontario

  • 879  lab-confirmed cases of the UK variant strain of COVID-19 (B.1.1.7). 
  • 39 cases of B.1.351 (also known as the South African variant).
  • 17 cases of P.1, which is the variant strain that originated in Brazil. 
  • According to Public Health Ontario, there are delays between specimen collection and the testing required to confirm a variant of concern. As such, the reports can change and can differ from past case counts publicly reported.

Vaccines

  • There were 21,882 doses of vaccines against COVID-19 administered on March 7, which is down from 30,192 administered on Mar. 6. 
  • As of 8 p.m. on March 7, the province reported 912,486 doses of vaccine against COVID-19 have been administered.
  • In total, 273,676 people have been fully vaccinated.

Public Health Ontario has confirmed 309,927 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and reported 290,840 recoveries and 7,077 deaths, of which 3,876 were individuals living in long-term care homes.

The cumulative average incidence rate in the province is 2,085 cases per 100,000 people in Ontario.

The weekly incidence rate in Ontario is 50.7 cases per 100,000 people, which is a decrease of 1.6 per cent from last week (Feb. 20-26). 

In Northern Ontario, the breakdown of Public Health Ontario data is:

  • Algoma Public Health: 200 cases, rate of 174.8 per 100,000 people. There are five known active cases. The region is in the yellow – protect zone.
  • North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit: 266 cases, rate of 205 per 100,000 people. The health unit has reported 269 cases. There are six known active cases. There are two confirmed cases of the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7) variant, and 16 confirmed cases of the South African (B.1.351) variant of concern. The region is in the red – control zone.
  • Porcupine Health Unit: 342 cases, rate of 409.9 per 100,000 people. There are seven known active cases. The region is in the orange – restrict zone.
  • Public Health Sudbury and Districts: 791 cases, rate of 397.4per 100,000 people. The health unit has reported 784 cases. There are 181 known active cases. There are three confirmed variants of concern (VOC) cases, both are the UK (B.1.1.7) strain. The region is in the red zone.
  • Timiskaming Health Unit: 104 cases, rate of 318.1 per 100,000 people. The health unit has reported 106 cases. There are 12 known active cases. There is one confirmed case of the South African (B.1.351) variant of concern. The region is in the orange – restrict zone.
  • Northwestern Health Unit: 514 cases, rate of 586.3 per 100,000 people. The health unit has reported 500 confirmed cases. There are 44 known active cases. There is one confirmed case of the UK (B.1.1.7) variant. The region is in the yellow – protect zone.
  • Thunder Bay District Health Unit: 2,002 cases, rate of 1,335 per 100,000 people.  The health unit has reported 1,994 cases, There are 470 known active cases. The region is in the grey – lockdown level.

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72 new COVID-19 cases reported on Vancouver Island – CHEK

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British Columbia health officials have reported 1,462 new cases – including  72 in Island Health – and 11 deaths from COVID-19.

From Friday to Saturday there were 545 cases, from Saturday to Sunday there were 532 new cases, and in the past 24 hours, there were 385 cases identified.

The number of confirmed cases in B.C. climbs to 84,569 while the province’s death toll now stands at 1,391.

Of the new cases, 407 were recorded in Vancouver Coastal Health, 802 were in Fraser Health,  72 in Island Health,  79 in Interior Health, and 102 in Northern Health.

There are 4,854 currently active cases in the province, 240 people in hospital — 66 of whom are in intensive care — and 8,723 people under active public health monitoring due to possible exposure to an identified case.

A total of  78,237 people in B.C. have recovered from COVID-19 while 333,327 doses of vaccine have been administered province-wide.

During Monday’s update, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s provincial health officer, said there were 144 new cases that are variants of concern identified in the province since the last update on Friday.

“The majority of these cases are in the Fraser Health region, where we are continuing to see the majority of transmission,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry.

A total of 363 cases are associated with the U.K. variant while 31 cases are the B151 variant or South African variant.

B.C. has recorded a total of 394 cases with a variant of concern, with six of those cases being identified in the Island Health region.

“A quarter of these cases, we do not know exactly how they were transmitted, which tells us that the variants are some of the viruses that are being transmitted in our communities,” said Henry on Monday.

Island Health

There are currently 267 active cases on Vancouver Island, according to the latest information posted on the BCCDC‘s dashboard.

Fourteen people are in hospital, one of whom is in critical care.

A total of 625 tests for COVID-19 were performed in the past 24 hours in the region.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there have been 2,587 cases, 143 people hospitalized, 2,281 recoveries and 28 deaths on Vancouver Island.

Meanwhile, Island Health reported 231 active cases on Vancouver Island in its latest dashboard update. Of those active cases, 48 are in the South Island, 130 are in Central Island, and 53 are in the North Island.

Island Health’s data often lags behind the BCCDC’s data due to a “difference in timing of reporting across laboratory and public health data sources.”

‘Modified return’ of certain activities on the horizon

During Monday’s update, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s provincial health officer, offered an optimistic outlook for the weeks ahead, saying that British Columbians can look ahead to a “modified return” of certain activities that are currently prohibited.

“We are not going to rush to get things open, but we will take a thoughtful, careful and phased approach over the next few weeks,” said Henry. “I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again, rather than flipping the switch,” said Henry, stressing that British Columbia is not in a place where it can simply return to pre-pandemic life.

Such activities that could resume include in-person faith-based gatherings, small outdoor social gatherings, and children’s camps and sports in certain settings.

“What we are looking at as we head into March break or spring break at the end of this week and into next week, is seeing the return of things like gatherings outside, where it safer, activities outside that we can do in groups with precautions in place,” she said.

Health officials are also looking at allowing more inter-provincial travel in time for spring break.

“We will be looking at how we can travel and explore during March break as a family or a small group together with our household, exploring our own region and making sure that if we are going to different parts overnight within our region or within the province that we do make sure that we are not going to place that are not yet ready to receive visitors,” said Henry.

It is likely the virus that causes COVID-19 will remain for a while longer, but there is hope on the horizon, according to Henry.

“There is much we can look forward to in the coming months ahead,” she said.

More to come

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