These are the COVID-19 vaccines Canada is betting on
Canada has announced that it has signed deals with four U.S. companies to reserve millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines under development. While they have shown promising results in small-scale, early-stage clinical trials, even those most advanced candidates have only recently begun Phase 3 clinical trials to determine their effectiveness in preventing COVID-19, and there is no guarantee any of them will make it to market. That’s the crucial large-scale human trial that must demonstrate that the vaccine prevents the disease, and it’s the final stage before approval by the government, writes CBC’s Emily Chung. Here’s a closer look at the four candidates:
Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson): This vaccine candidate is a new type of vaccine called a non-replicating viral vector. Unlike traditional vaccines made from viruses or parts of viruses, this candidate uses only a piece of coronavirus DNA. The DNA contains instructions for making a coronavirus protein so that the human body can produce it and learn to recognize it. Viral vector vaccines haven’t been approved for widespread use in humans, but 12 are in use for diseases in livestock. The company started a human Phase 1/2a trial in July in Belgium and the U.S, and it announced this week it is starting a Phase 2 trial in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. It says it will conduct Phase 3 trials in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.
Moderna: This vaccine candidate is made from messenger RNA, a type of genetic material. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, is used by cells to translate instructions found in DNA to make proteins. In this case, the instructions tell a human cell how to make a stabilized version of the spike protein for SARS-CoV2. That introduces the protein into the body so immune cells can learn to recognize it and produce antibodies against it. The mRNA itself also generates an immune response. Moderna launched the first Phase 3 clinical trial in the U.S. in July, and hopes to enrol 30,000 volunteers. The company reported in May that the vaccine produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, and the study showed the vaccine was safe. However, three people in an early-stage trial reportedly had severe or “systemic” adverse reactions, such as high fevers, to a high dose of the vaccine.
Novavax: This vaccine candidate is the most traditional of the ones reserved by the federal government. It’s made from nanoparticles of a key protein from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. When the protein particles are injected into the body with an adjuvant — a compound that enhances the body’s immune response — the body learns to recognize and fight off the virus. It’s similar to vaccines already on the market, such as the hepatitis B vaccine. Novavax reported in a study preprint (not yet peer-reviewed) that in Phase 1 clinical trials, its protein and adjuvant stimulate high levels of neutralizing antibodies — higher than those in people who have had a natural infection — with few side-effects. It’s currently in a combined Phase 1 and 2 trial.
Pfizer and BioNTech: This mRNA vaccine candidate is quite similar to Moderna’s. It’s an mRNA sequence for a stabilized spike protein. Just like Moderna’s candidate, the mRNA is encapsulated in a lipid nanoparticle (LNP) for injection into the body. Pfizer and BioNTech tested two different mRNA sequences for Phase 1. They reported in a study posted online that has not yet been peer-reviewed that both vaccines generated higher levels of neutralizing antibodies than found in the blood of someone who had had a natural COVID-19 infection. However, the spike protein sequence generated fewer side-effects, especially in older adults, so that’s the focus of a combined Phase 2 and 3 trial.
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In-depth contact tracing casts doubt on N.B. doctor as source of spring COVID-19 outbreak
Within an hour of finding out he had tested positive for coronavirus in May, Dr. Jean Robert Ngola was being blamed as the source of a COVID-19 outbreak in Campbellton, N.B., after his confidential health information was leaked on social media. But an investigation by CBC’s The Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada reveals new contact tracing information that casts doubt on the certainty with which Ngola was identified as “patient zero” in the outbreak that resulted in more than 40 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths and points to dozens of other people in the northern New Brunswick community who could have brought the virus into the area.
Ngola’s legal team also showed CBC documents that indicate some of the people with whom Ngola came in contact during a trip to Quebec did not have the virus. Ngola had travelled to the neighbouring province in early May to pick up his four-year-old daughter without informing the hospital where he worked and did not self-isolate upon his return. “We’ll fight it on the facts. Because on the facts, Jean Robert was not wrong,” said Joel Etienne, Ngola’s lawyer. Ngola has since left Campbellton after enduring weeks of threats that he says drove him from the town he called home for seven years, which lies across the Restigouche River from Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que. He had more than 2,000 patients at his family clinic and also worked shifts at the Campbellton Regional Hospital emergency room.
Ngola blames a rush to judgment by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgins, who didn’t name Ngola but referred to an “irresponsible medical professional,” and the Vitalité Health Network for tarnishing his reputation and putting him at risk. “It’s more than racism — they put my life in danger,” he said. His employer, however, said the physician violated the hospital’s COVID-19 protocols. Vitalité provided CBC with a copy of a self-assessment checklist emailed to all employees on April 6 that specified that anyone who travelled outside of New Brunswick — except those who commute from Quebec or Maine — had to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return. Ngola said he received the email but that “there was a lot of confusion” and other doctors he worked with had not self-isolated after travelling out of province. “I took precautions,” he said of his trip.
Alberta allows schools to decide how to spend $250M in federal COVID-19 funding
Alberta’s provincial government will allow schools to decide how best to spend most of $262 million in federal funding to help with COVID-19-related costs. The province will distribute the majority of the funding, $250 million, to school authorities based on a per-student model, and it must be used to support additional COVID-19-related costs, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said at a news conference Wednesday. The funding can be used for staffing, adapting learning spaces, personal protective equipment, cleaning, supports for special needs students and online learning and teacher training.
While the return to classrooms in Alberta has been contentious as infection rates continue to climb, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, praised efforts by schools to get ready to welcome students. Alberta’s plan is generally consistent with other provinces across Canada and many countries around the world, Hinshaw said. “The school environment cannot completely eliminate the possibility of COVID exposure, which is why families must make the choice that is right for them, and there is no wrong decision,” she said. Hinshaw added that the province is committed to reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in schools when they occur.
As thousands of students return, the novel coronavirus has already kept some schools unexpectedly shuttered. Meadows Ridge School in Okotoks, south of Calgary, did not open as planned Tuesday after a staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19. Canyon Meadows School in Calgary was to open as planned Tuesday, but the principal, assistant principal and administrative secretary were forced into a 14-day quarantine after someone at the school tested positive for the novel coronavirus. On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said COVID-19 infections in schools are inevitable and that’s no reason to keep classrooms shuttered. He said suggestions that the federal funding should go toward cutting class sizes to allow for more physical distancing are unrealistic.
Trudeau conducts virtual regional outreach as pandemic shuts down travel
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t letting the COVID-19 pandemic stop his usual practice of travelling to various regions of the country during the summer — he’s just doing it virtually this year. Trudeau is spending much of today in meetings with British Columbia political, business, environmental and academic leaders, all from the comfort of his office in Ottawa, and will do another similar virtual tour of the Atlantic provinces on Thursday.
The summer is usually an opportunity for the prime minister and other federal political leaders to travel widely and engage in outreach with community leaders and voters outside the Ottawa bubble. Among other things, Trudeau usually convenes a cabinet retreat and attends a Liberal caucus retreat outside the country’s capital each year before Parliament resumes in the fall. But the need to curb the spread of COVID-19 has curtailed much of that in-person travel this year. Apart from the occasional trip to Toronto, Montreal and communities near Ottawa, Trudeau has been forced to stay home — and find other ways to conduct regional outreach.
What political leaders have learned about pandemic-era campaigning and outreach could be useful should Trudeau’s minority government be defeated on the speech from the throne he intends to unveil on Sept. 23, detailing what he has promised will be a bold plan for economic recovery. Trudeau’s virtual tours of B.C. and the Atlantic provinces are at least in part devoted to consultations on that recovery plan. Meanwhile, newly minted Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole downplayed any talk of the Tories triggering a fall election, saying he’s more focused on holding the Liberal government to account on its efforts to rebuild an economy ravaged by the pandemic. O’Toole did say his party is ready for an election and it has enough money on hand to run a full campaign if one were to be called after the throne speech.
Steroids cut death rates among critically ill COVID-19 patients, studies suggest
Treating critically ill COVID-19 patients with corticosteroid drugs reduces the risk of death by 20 per cent, an analysis of seven international trials found on Wednesday, prompting the World Health Organization to update its advice on treatment. The analysis — which pooled data from separate trials of low dose hydrocortisone, dexamethasone and methylprednisolone — found that steroids improve survival rates of COVID-19 patients sick enough to be in intensive care in hospital.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reinforce results that were hailed as a major breakthrough and announced in June, when dexamethasone became the first drug shown to be able to reduce death rates among severely sick COVID-19 patients. Dexamethasone has been in widespread use in intensive care wards treating COVID-19 patients in some countries since then.
“These results are clear, and instantly usable in clinical practice,” said Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford who worked on the dexamethasone trial that was a key part of the pooled analysis. Researchers said the benefit was shown regardless of whether patients were on ventilation at the time they started treatment. They said the WHO would update its guidelines immediately to reflect the fresh results.
Anthony Gordon, an Imperial College London professor who also worked on the analysis, said its results were good news for patients who become critically ill with COVID-19, but would not be enough to end outbreaks or ease infection control measures. “Impressive as these results are, this is not a cure. We now have something that will help, but it is not a cure, so it’s vital that we keep up all the prevention strategies,” he said.
This 99-year-old veteran walked 100 km, raising tens of thousands of dollars to fight COVID-19
George Markow took off his red-and-white baseball cap and placed it over his heart, to the cheers of onlookers, as he finished walking his 100th kilometre to help raise funds to fight COVID-19. The 99-year-old Second World War veteran had done 1,500 laps with his walker around his seniors’ residence in Newmarket, Ont., raising nearly $47,000 to fight the coronavirus over four months.
Markow finally reached the milestone this morning, saying he took on the challenge as a way of thanking the country that welcomed him decades ago. “Canadian people have been so good to me,” said Markow, who was born in 1921 to Finnish parents in Russia and moved to Canada after the Second World War. “I wanted to give something back and help eradicate COVID-19 and get back to normalcy.”
Markow began doing circuits around the Roxborough Retirement Residence’s garden paths to stay active during the early stages of Ontario’s COVID-19 outbreak. All the money he has raised will be donated to the Sunnybrook Research Institute and Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation’s COVID-19 Action Fund. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman surprised Markow with a jersey after the veteran crossed the finish line, and the longtime Leafs fan was left nearly speechless by the gift. Markow said he plans to keep walking because he enjoys the activity and to keep raising funds.
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