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How approval of Johnson & Johnson’s ‘one and done’ COVID-19 vaccine could change Canada’s vaccination game

A one-dose COVID-19 vaccine is now approved for use in Canada — and vaccine experts say the shot from Johnson & Johnson could give a major boost to countrywide vaccination efforts while offering a “real solution” to hasten the end of the pandemic.

Health Canada authorized its use and released details during a Friday morning announcement.

The vaccine, made by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is a non-replicating viral vector option and, unlike the three other vaccines previously approved for Canadian use, was tested during clinical trials as a single shot. 

So far, Canada is expecting 10 million doses, with options to purchase up to 28 million more if necessary, with most of those shots set to arrive by the end of September.

From a logistical standpoint, Toronto-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the benefits are clear.

“You can vaccinate more people in a shorter period of time,” he said. “You don’t have to clog up the vaccine centres with people getting their second dose — it’s one and done.”

The storage requirements are also less stringent than the early freezer requirements for the two mRNA-based vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, with Johnson & Johnson estimating its single-dose option should remain stable for two years at -20° C — and can be stored for at least three months in most standard refrigerators.

Wondering how each of the leading coronavirus vaccines compares? Click here for a closer look at the vaccines Canada is betting on to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“You can way more easily get a vaccine like this into primary care clinics and pharmacies, which means that you can distribute it so much more broadly,” said Bogoch, who is also a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force.

That’s good news in this country and beyond, said Dr. Zain Chagla, a Hamilton-based infectious disease specialist and professor at McMaster University.

“In remote areas of Canada, it’s a big vaccine in that sense that it’s easy to transport and get around, and it’s big for the rest of the world,” he said. 

“This is a vaccine that could go into mass vaccine clinics in low- and middle-income countries that could be stored on the back of a motorcycle to make it into a very, very remote setting. That is very, very different than anything we have in that sense.”

WATCH | J&J vaccine good for less accessible, marginalized communities, doctor says:

As a single dose COVID-19 vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson product will be especially helpful for people who sometimes have difficulty accessing health care, says Dr. Lisa Bryski, a retired ER doctor in Winnipeg. 1:23

85% effective at stopping severe disease

But where the vaccine excels at convenience, it may fall short on overall efficacy — though there are a lot of factors at play, and it’s crucial to note the shot is proving highly effective at reducing cases of serious illness.

According to February briefing documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Johnson & Johnson’s shot was both safe and effective in clinical trials, where it reduced the risk of COVID-19 and prevented PCR-test confirmed cases at least 14 days after vaccination.

A month earlier, the company had announced its vaccine was 66 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 against multiple variants in a global trial involving nearly 44,000 people.

That effectiveness varied from 72 per cent in the United States to 66 per cent in Latin America and 57 per cent in South Africa, where a new variant has spread.

In January, Johnson & Johnson announced its vaccine was 66 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 against multiple variants in a global trial involving nearly 44,000 people. (Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images)

That’s in contrast to the even more powerful protection witnessed in clinical trials for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which showed efficacy levels — in terms of preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection — of 94 per cent and 95 per cent respectively after two doses.

Those trials, however, took place before the rise of several concerning variants of this virus. Each company also tested for slightly different outcomes, meaning the efficacy levels aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons.

On Friday, Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco likened it to comparing the scores of golfers who teed off during a calm moment to those who teed off when “winds were howling.”

“While it’s hard to make precise adjustment,” he said in a tweet, “it’s clear that equally good play will result in different scores.”

WATCH | Doctor who helped create Johnson & Johnson vaccine talks about its efficacy:

Dr. Dan Barouch, director, Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says the Johnson & Johnson vaccine he helped to create is highly effective against COVID-19 and new variants of concern. 5:11

Crucially, Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose option did prove 85 per cent effective overall when it came to stopping severe cases of the disease specifically.

The company’s main study also showed that 28 days or more after vaccination, the shot 100 per cent prevented hospitalizations and deaths.

“I think people discount how much practicality means to this vaccine rollout,” Chagla said. “You do see severe illness going down with this vaccine. You see hospitalizations coming down with this vaccine.”

One-dose could offer ‘real solution’

Virologist and vaccinologist Alyson Kelvin, who is working on Canadian COVID-19 vaccine development at the University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac research institute, said for all vaccine developers, a safe and effective single-dose option has been the ultimate goal.

“Because people will be more interested in taking a vaccine if they don’t have to go back for their second shot, and which means that a vaccine will be more effective at getting to that community immunity that we need,” she said.

Like Chagla, she’s not alarmed by a slightly lower overall efficacy level.

“The goal of the vaccine is to protect people. Keeping them out of hospitals, keeping them from succumbing to disease,” she said.

And Chagla stressed that ultimately, this one-dose option could offer a “real solution” that helps countries like Canada tackle this year-long pandemic and alleviate the current burden on the health-care system from a virus that’s still widespread.

“It may not be the final strategy for vaccination,” he said. “But it’s a pretty good ‘right now’ strategy for vaccination.”

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CBC | Health News

Can Ovechkin catch Gretzky? ‘The Great One’ rooting for him in pursuit of goal scoring record

Wayne Gretzky sees a lot of himself in Alex Ovechkin, from the smile on his face each time he steps on the ice to his passion for scoring goals.

There are also differences, like Gretzky’s sole focus on the NHL growing up in Brantford, Ontario, versus Ovechkin’s upbringing in Moscow. “The Great One” believes the Washington Capitals captain has a good chance of breaking his all-time record of 894 goals that once seemed untouchable, depending on how long Ovechkin plays in the NHL. Gretzky speculated that Ovechkin could go home to Russia and finish his career in the Kontinental Hockey League.

“Maybe one day in his mind he’ll say, `Look, I want to go home and play in the KHL when I can still compete at a high level,”‘ Gretzky told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday. “We don’t know that. That’s his decision. But I think he loves being in Washington, I think he loves the NHL and I think he’ll do everything he can at any point to chase down the record.”

Ovechkin’s longevity and his pursuit of Gretzky’s record are among the topics they discussed in their first joint interview, which airs Monday on NBC Sports Network. It comes with them 3,000 miles away and hockey on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic but shines a spotlight on the potential of Ovechkin, who has 706 goals, spending the next few years chasing Gretzky.

Ovechkin has 48 goals this season, tied for the league lead with Boston’s David Pastrnak, and if the regular season were to resume, he could match Gretzky and Mike Bossy with nine 50-goal seasons. If not, the time away and focus on the chase could drive Ovechkin to play long enough to break the record.

“You really feel like this record is meaningful,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said in a video interview with The AP. “I’ve got the feeling that if he’s close, he’s not going to go away so fast.”

WATCH | Flames’ Tkachuk has plenty to keep him busy during quarantine:

It’s been over a month since the NHL put the season on pause, but Matthew Tkachuk has plenty to keep him busy. 4:45

When asked how long he’d play, Ovechkin has repeatedly referred to the one year remaining on his contract and said, “We’ll see.” He answers the same to NBC’s Kathryn Tappen during the hour-long special with Gretzky and adds: “I’m healthy, thanks God, and I still love this game. As soon as I’m not gonna love this game, I’m not gonna cheat on it because I respect it a lot.”

Gretzky knows that feeling and was even offered a job to play in Russia in 1999 after playing his final NHL game. He respectfully declined.

“All I remember was my mindset was there’s one league and if I’m not good enough for this league, I’m done,” Gretzky said. “I grew up, I’m an NHL guy and if I can’t play in the NHL, that’s it for me. He’s probably in a different scenario. He grew up in Russia and he’s proud of his country and maybe it’ll be great for him to go home.”

At 35, Ovechkin has already blown past the age where goal-scorers usually slow down and put up numbers not seen in decades. Even at his pace, Ovechkin would likely need to play at least four more seasons to threaten the record, which Gretzky believes would be great for the game.

WATCH | Gretzky rooting for Ovechkin to break record:

During a video conference between the Great One and the Great 8, Wayne Gretzky encourages Alex Ovechkin to break his goal scoring record. The Capitals captain discusses the key factors that made No. 99 one of the greatest to ever play. 2:47

Gretzky recalls his dad telling him his record will be broken one day and hoping he handles it with the same class and dignity Gordie Howe did when Gretzky surpassed him as the leading goal-scorer.

“I can’t help but cheer and root for him each and every day,” Gretzky said. “I hope I’m the first guy who’s able to shake his hand when he does break my record.”

That’s a hope for a few years down the line. With a pandemic raging, Ovechkin — whose wife is expecting the couple’s second child — said on a recent video call his focus is on the present, not the future.

“My mind right now is not about 50 goals or catch `The Great One’ or somebody else,” Ovechkin said. “My mind right now [is] to do the best what I can do, and what my family can do to be safe.”

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CBC | Sports News

‘One World’ Special: How Late-Night Hosts Came Together for Coronavirus Relief Event

‘One World’ Special: How Late-Night Hosts Came Together for Coronavirus Relief Event | Entertainment Tonight

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‘One World: Together at Home’ Special: All the Best Moments from Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey and More

‘One World: Together at Home’ Special: All the Best Moments from Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey and More | Entertainment Tonight

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China says it won’t tolerate challenges to Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ status

China won’t tolerate challenges to the bottom line of the “one country, two systems” formula that governs Hong Kong, separatism or threats to national security there, a senior Chinese official said on Friday after a meeting of the top leadership.

The past five months of anti-government protests in the former British colony represents the biggest popular challenge to President Xi Jinping’s government since he took over the leadership in late 2012.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, cleaned up its famed party zone Lan Kwai Fong after a night of clashes marred Halloween festivities when police fired tear gas at protesters and were heckled by fancy dress revelers. The Asian financial hub faces another mass demonstration on Saturday.

On Thursday, the party vowed to ensure Hong Kong’s stability, following a closed-door, four-day meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s senior leaders in Beijing, signalling its importance to the stability-obsessed party.

What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has grown into a pro-democracy movement against what is seen as Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, which protesters say undermines a “one country, two systems” formula promised when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, guaranteeing freedoms not found in mainland China.

Speaking to reporters on the outcomes of that plenum, parliament official Shen Chunyao said Hong Kong was “of course” an important topic at the meeting, which gathers together some 370 officials, from Xi on down.

The plenum stressed that “one country” is the foundation for “two systems,” and the party will support the governments of the Special Administrative Regions — which also include Macau — to strengthen their law enforcement efforts, said Shen, head of the Basic Law Committee of the parliament’s standing committee.

The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution which governs its relations with Beijing.

Hong Kong and Macau society, especially civil servants and young people, must improve their “patriotic spirit” and knowledge of China’s history and culture, Shen added.

“In short, we will further improve the central government’s system of exercising full administrative power over the Special Administrative Regions in accordance with the constitution and the Basic Law,” he said.

The party will “firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, safeguard the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macau, and will not tolerate any challenges to the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems’,” Shen said.

The party “will not tolerate any act of splitting the country or endangering national security, and resolutely prevent and contain external forces from interfering in Hong Kong and Macau affairs and carrying out separatist, subversive, infiltration or destructive activities.”

He gave no details of any specific policy steps Beijing might take.

China denies meddling in Hong Kong and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and the U.K., of stirring up trouble.

China has also quietly more than doubled its deployment of mainland security forces in Hong Kong, according to foreign envoys and security analysts, in a dramatic move by Beijing to prepare for a potential worsening of the unrest.

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CBC | World News

Blake Lively Boasts She ‘Picked a Good One’ on Husband Ryan Reynolds’ Birthday

Blake Lively Boasts She ‘Picked a Good One’ on Husband Ryan Reynolds’ Birthday | Entertainment Tonight

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‘Meghan and Harry Plus One’: Meghan Markle’s Friends Say She Will Be a ‘Strict’ Mother — But In a Good Way

‘Meghan and Harry Plus One’: Meghan Markle’s Friends Say She Will Be a ‘Strict’ Mother — But In a Good Way | Entertainment Tonight

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How Darren Aronofsky Makes Earth Seem Unreal in ‘One Strange Rock’

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The Earth is the most alien planet you’ve never seen. Watching One Strange Rock, the Nat Geo series produced by Darren Aronofsky that premieres tonight with the episode “Gasp,” you won’t recognize the only home you’ve ever known.

In one scene, a scientist in a Hazmat suit unsteadily traverses a seemingly endless neon terrain that bubbles with toxic gas. In the next, Ethiopian salt farmers take axes to the cracked and crystallized ground that surrounds them for miles to harvest salt. The diversity and weirdness of Earth is a shocking thing to be faced with in this way, particularly because the series has all the hallmarks of Aronofsky’s film work. Fruit bats fill up an African sky and then suddenly there is a disquieting close-up of their digestive systems. A little beetle scampers across the Moroccan desert — and as soon as you identify with its perspective, it’s hurtled aside by a dust cloud from a dirt bike. There is barely time to reorient yourself to grasp there are such things as Bedouin meteorite dealers.

One Strange Rock executive producer Darren Aronofsky.
(Credit: Niko Tavernise)

In an interview, Aronofsky said the original name of One Strange Rock was indeed Alien Planet. The staggering shots are so far beyond our comprehension Aronofsky turned to the only people who could interpret them for us: astronauts who have witnessed them from outside our orbit on the International Space Station. Each episode features Chris Hadfield, Jeff Hoffman, Jerry Linenger, Leland Melvin, Mike Massimino, Nicole Stott, and Peggy Whitson explaining what they have seen and how it has changed them. Will Smith offers intermittent narration, acting as a surrogate for the viewer themselves, but mostly just expressing wonder and bafflement.

Even those watching from home will be overcome with feeling. That was the idea, Aronofsky said. “The best part of the show is you’re thinking a lot, you’re learning a lot and then suddenly this weird emotion creeps up on you,” he said.

Nicole Stott, an engineer who has worked on designing space shuttles and is also a NASA astronaut who spent time on the ISS, said in an interview, “I think it’s taking the experience and hoping you can share it in a way that everyone walks away feeling like you did when you looked out the window, when you experienced Earth that way.” Stott said she wants viewers to have the sense of separating from themselves and connecting to the planet and those they share it with in a lasting way that influences how they live their lives and the choices they make.

VFX-enhanced Earth view from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

“During one of my spacewalks, we went through the southern lights and they were pouring around the ship,” Hadfield said in an interview. “I felt like I was surfing on the Earth’s aurora and it’s magical and gorgeous and surreal and yet this is real, this is our planet, this is our electromagnetic field, our electromagnetic energy, poetry and beauty all at once.” That’s why he has dedicated himself to transferring that feeling to others. “A big part of the astronaut responsibilities are not to keep it to yourself,” he said, One Strange Rock being an ideal vehicle.

There’s a lot to be in awe of. The 10 episodes in the series chronicle the astounding events that led to the formation of Earth and what sustains it. Aronofsky said they contain the culmination of 100 weeks of shooting that was edited at the same time as his film Mother, an Earth creation story of an entirely different type. “Both projects have the same protagonist, Mother Earth,” Aronofsky said. “They were kind of two different ways to think of a similar thing: One is a cautionary tale and One Strange Rock is a celebration of the planet.”

Limestone towers, known as karst formations, rise out of the mist in Enshi Grand Canyon National Park, China. (Credit: National Geographic)

The narrative of One Strange Rock is as strong as anything fictional and you would think you know the entire plot. But there manage to be Aronofskyish twists, like Earth having had an evil twin named Theia. “We’re storytellers,” Aronofsky said of himself and his production company Protozoa Pictures. “Even in documentary, you’re telling a story.”

“It’s strange that they’ve blended together,” he said of his film work and One Strange Rock. The parallels go beyond Mother. “There are episodes that are just The Fountain,” he said of his time- and space-stretching movie. “‘Survival’ is basically the science that comes out of that is exactly the same thing.” Though he conceded, “well, maybe we pushed it a little bit that way.” There’s not much that has to be changed for dramatic effect though, when you’re dealing with how we got air or water.”

“It’s a tale of destructive good fortune,” Will Smith says in summing up one particularly important millenia-old storm, but it’s a story that applies to the entire history of the planet.

One Strange Rock, a 10-part series, premieres tonight at 10/9 Central on the National Geographic channel.

Data from six orbits of the Suomi-NPP spacecraft are assembled into this perspective composite of southern Africa and the surrounding oceans. Tropical Cyclone Joalane can be seen over the Indian Ocean on April 9, 2015. (Credit: Ocean Biology Processing Group, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

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Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez Hang Out With Bruce Springsteen: ‘One of the All-Time Greats’

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J-Rod and The Boss! Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez spent Tuesday night with legendary singer Bruce Springsteen. The couple each shared photos with the “Born in the U.S.A.” singer after they appeared to take in his widely popular “Springsteen on Broadway.”  “Wow! What an incredible journey conveyed through music and storytelling tonight from Bruce @Springsteen,” Rodriguez captioned a shot with Springsteen. “He is one of the all-time greats and he and Patti (@officialrumbledoll) are American…

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Linkin Park Announce Tribute Concert for Late Chester Bennington, Release Moving ‘One More Light’ Music Video

The event will mark the first time the group is performing together since Bennington’s July death, which was ruled a suicide. Linkin Park will be joined by other musical acts as they pay tribute to Bennington and raise money for Music For Relief’s One More Light Fund.

On Monday, Linkin Park released a touching music video for their song “One More Light,” which features Bennington performing live and singing the song to his fans.

The lyrics are oddly chilling in light of Bennington’s untimely death. 

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