CANADA’S KEY ROLE IN CREATING A ONCE AWAITED VACCINE  

IAN AUSTEN | NEW YORK TIMES 

Canadians don’t have to go back to 1918 and the start of the Spanish flu pandemic to find an analogy to today. For decades, waves of polio outbreaks gripped the country with fear, death and uncertainty, as recently as the 1950s.

At times, the outbreaks caused Canada to limit travel from the United States. Special hospitals were set up in some provinces to help children paralyzed by polio when physiotherapy was established. The iron lung began appearing in hospitals to assist patients’ breathing. School openings were delayed in many communities in a bid to reduce polio’s spread.

Ultimately, about 50,000 Canadian children were infected with polio during four major epidemics, and 4,000 of them died.         

During the 1940s and ’50s, an era before full publicly funded health care, the federal government and many provinces began pouring money and resources into efforts to eliminate polio through a vaccine.

  1. JONAS SALK, AN AMERICAN, BECAME A GLOBAL CELEBRITY FOR DEVELOPING THAT VACCINE.But much less well known is the critical role the Connaught Laboratories in Toronto and Dr. Leone N. Farrell, one of its researchers, played in making testing and then mass production of that vaccine a reality.

“We’re kind of at a similar stage with the COVID vaccines as the one where she became involved with polio,” Christopher Rutty, a medical historian who is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told me this week. “A vaccine may work at a small scale, but upscaling is a major, different challenge.”

Dr. Salk’s breakthrough was taking the live polio vaccine and killing it with formaldehyde. When injected into people, the killed virus still produced an antibody reaction that provided immunity.

The polio virus was grown in cultures of monkey kidney cells. But Dr. Salk was initially only able to create a few grams of virus at a time in test tubes. Dr. Rutty said that back then, the substance of choice for growing viruses or bacteria was meat, a method that could lead to allergic reactions in patients who received the vaccines.

Connaught Laboratories in Toronto, however, had come up with a synthetic, liquid growth mixture, known as Medium 199, for cancer cell research that produced more virus, more quickly and without contamination. IT WAS PROVIDED TO DR. SALK FOR HIS POLIO EFFORTS.

It was Dr. Farrell, one of a very small number of women then working as research chemists in Canada, who figured out how to safely produce vast quantities of virus in Medium 199. Adapting earlier work, she developed what came to be known as the TORONTO METHOD. Racks of specially designed machines gently rocked bottles of Method 199 and the virus.

Dr. Farrell’s next task was to get enough machines built and to hire enough qualified staff to make not only enough virus for the tests in the United States, Canada and Finland, but also to create enough vaccine to inoculate all of Canada’s children. In a bid to accelerate vaccination, the Canadian government gambled and placed an order with Connaught before knowing if the Salk vaccine would prove safe and effective in tests.

It did, with the result made public on April 12, 1955, the day before Dr. Farrell’s birthday. “I could not help feeling that I had received a pretty fine present,” she said in a speech that fall. 

Variations of the Toronto Method were used until the 1970s to make polio vaccines, Dr. Rutty told me. APPARENTLY, AT DR. FARRELL’S REQUEST, CONNAUGHT DECIDED NOT TO PATENT THE PROCESS.

Dr. Rutty, who is the expert when it comes to Canada’s role in polio research and who serves as the historian for Connaught’s successor company, Sanofi Pasteur Canada, said that frustratingly little is known about Dr. Farrell’s personal life. She never married, as was the case with many other women in early Canadian medical research, nor had children.

In 1941, when Dr. Farrell was inquiring about a post in naval intelligence, she seemed to try to head off any potential sexism by portraying herself as someone who could become one of the guys. “My intention has always been ‘to be a lady chemist — and not look like it,’” she wrote in the letter.

She added: “So conscious am I of my environment and keenly aware of people in all their phases as persons that I have been charged with being a chameleon.”

Before retiring in 1969, Dr. Farrell took on several other major projects including one that greatly increased penicillin production.

But Dr. Farrell received relatively little public recognition in her lifetime and was buried in an unmarked grave after her death in 1986. 

In 2009, Dr. Farrell’s name and a tribute to her work were added to a family tombstone.

Dr. Rutty said that he hopes to do more research about her life.

“Farrell is a unique person,” he said. “Without her, there really wouldn’t have been a vaccine, at least not then.”

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On August 2, 2020 at 5:49 am

    Simple Simon says

    CorV = KARMA

    wat goes arround comes arround.

    Kamtan

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 3, 2020 at 12:59 am

    A Vaccine Reality Check

    So much hope is riding on a breakthrough, but a vaccine is only the beginning of the end.

    Sarah Zhang | The Atlantic

    NEARLY FIVE MONTHS INTO THE PANDEMIC, ALL HOPES OF EXTINGUISHING COVID-19 ARE RIDING ON A STILL-HYPOTHETICAL VACCINE. And so, a refrain has caught on:

    We might have to stay home — until we have a vaccine. Close schools — until we have a vaccine. Wear masks — until we have a vaccine. During these months of misery, this mantra has offered a small glimmer of hope. Normal life is on the other side, and we just have to wait — until we have a vaccine.

    Feeding these hopes are the Trump administration’s exceedingly rosy projections of a vaccine as early as October, as well as the media’s blow-by-blow coverage of vaccine trials.

    Each week brings news of “early success”, “promising initial results”, and stocks rising because of “vaccine optimism”. But a COVID-19 vaccine is unlikely to meet all of these high expectations.

    THE VACCINE PROBABLY WON’T MAKE THE DISEASE DISAPPEAR. IT CERTAINLY WILL NOT IMMEDIATELY RETURN LIFE TO NORMAL.

    Biologically, a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus is unlikely to offer complete protection. Logistically, manufacturers will have to make hundreds of millions of doses while relying, perhaps, on technology never before used in vaccines and competing for basic supplies such as glass vials. Then the federal government will have to allocate doses, perhaps through a patchwork of state and local health departments with no existing infrastructure for vaccinating adults at scale.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has led vaccine distribution efforts in the past, has been strikingly absent in discussions so far — a worrying sign that the leadership failures that have characterized the American pandemic could also hamper this process.

    To complicate it all, 20 percent of Americans already say they will refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and with another 31 percent unsure, reaching herd immunity could be that much more difficult.

    THE GOOD NEWS, BECAUSE IT IS WORTH SAYING, IS THAT EXPERTS THINK THERE WILL BE A COVID-19 VACCINE.

    The virus that causes COVID-19 does NOT seem to be an outlier like HIV. Scientists have gone from discovery of the virus to more than 165 candidate vaccines in record time, with 27 vaccines already in human trials. Human trials consist of at least three phases:

    Phase 1 for safety, Phase 2 for efficacy and dosing, and Phase 3 for efficacy in a huge group of tens of thousands of people.

    AT LEAST SIX COVID-19 VACCINES ARE IN OR ABOUT TO ENTER PHASE 3 TRIALS, WHICH WILL TAKE SEVERAL MORE MONTHS.

    We are almost five months into the pandemic and probably another five from a safe and effective vaccine — assuming the clinical trials work out perfectly. “Even when a vaccine is introduced,” says Jesse Goodman, the former chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, “I think we will have several months of significant infection or at least risk of infection to look forward to.”

    All of this means that we may have to endure more months under the threat of the coronavirus than we have already survived. Without the measures that have beat back the virus in much of Europe and Asia, there will continue to be more outbreaks, more school closings, more loneliness, more deaths ahead.

    A vaccine, when it is available, will mark only the beginning of a long, slow ramp down. And how long that ramp down takes will depend on the efficacy of a vaccine, the success in delivering hundreds of millions of doses, and the willingness of people to get it at all. It is awful to contemplate the suffering still ahead. It is easier to think about the promise of a vaccine.

    “There’s a lot of hope riding on these vaccines,” says Kanta Subbarao, the director of the World Health Organization’s flu collaborating center in Melbourne, who has also worked on other coronavirus vaccines. “Nobody wants to hear it’s NOT just right around the corner.”

    VACCINES ARE, IN ESSENCE, A WAY TO ACTIVATE THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WITHOUT DISEASE. They can be made with weakened viruses, inactivated viruses, the proteins from a virus, a viral protein grafted onto an innocuous virus, or even just the mRNA that encodes a viral protein. Getting exposed to a vaccine is a bit like having survived the disease once, without the drawbacks.

    A lot remains unknown about the long-term immune response to COVID-19, but, as my colleague Derek Thompson has explained, there are good reasons to believe getting COVID-19 will protect against future infections in some way.

    Vaccine-induced immunity, though, tends to be weaker than immunity that arises after an infection. Vaccines are typically given as a shot straight into a muscle. Once your body recognizes the foreign invader, it mounts an immune response by, for example, producing long-lasting antibodies that circulate in the blood.

    BUT RESPIRATORY VIRUSES DON’T NORMALLY FLING THEMSELVES INTO MUSCLE. They infect respiratory systems, after all, and they usually sneak in through the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Although vaccine shots induce antibodies in the blood, they don’t induce many in the mucous membranes, meaning they’re unlikely to prevent the virus from entering the body.

    But they could still protect tissues deeper in the body such as the lungs, thus keeping an infection from getting worse. “The primary benefit of vaccination will be to prevent severe disease,” says Subbarao.

    A COVID-19 VACCINE IS UNLIKELY TO ACHIEVE WHAT SCIENTISTS CALL “STERILIZING IMMUNITY,” WHICH PREVENTS DISEASE ALTOGETHER.

    One way to boost the effectiveness of a respiratory-virus vaccine is to mimic a natural infection, by spraying live but weakened virus into the nose. FluMist, for example, contains weakened flu viruses, and a handful of research groups are looking into the strategy for COVID-19. But live virus vaccines are riskier because, well, the virus is live. “We don’t want to be spraying coronavirus up people’s noses until [we] are absolutely sure that it’s actually a virus that can’t spread from person to person and that it can’t make somebody sick,” says Kathleen Neuzil, the director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health. “It will just take time.”

    WITH THIS FIRST GENERATION OF VACCINES, THOUGH, SPEED IS OF THE ESSENCE. An initial vaccine might limit COVID-19’s severity without entirely stopping its spread. THINK FLU SHOT, RATHER THAN POLIO VACCINE.

    The FDA’s guidelines for a COVID-19 vaccine recognize it may be far from 100 percent effective; to win approval, the agency says, a vaccine should prevent or reduce severe disease in at least 50 percent of people who get it. “That’s obviously not ideal,” says Walter Orenstein, a vaccine researcher at Emory University who previously worked as the director of the National Immunization Program. “But it’s better than zero percent.”

    In recent weeks, multiple vaccine groups have released promising data that show their candidates can induce antibodies that neutralize the coronavirus in lab tests. Their next challenges are about scale:

    Testing the vaccine in a Phase 3 trial with tens of thousands of people to prove it prevents infection in the real world, and then, if it works, manufacturing hundreds of millions, even billions, of doses. This is why even a vaccine that has already been tested in small numbers of people is still many months away.

    PHASE 3 TRIALS ARE THE LARGEST AND LONGEST OF THE THREE PHASES — normally, they would take years, but they’re being compressed into months because of the pandemic. Still, vaccine makers need to enroll tens of thousands of people to confirm efficacy and to look for rare and long-term side effects.

    IT WILL TAKE TIME TO RECRUIT PARTICIPANTS, TIME TO WAIT FOR THEM TO BE NATURALLY EXPOSED TO COVID-19, TIME FOR ANY LONG-TERM SIDE EFFECTS TO SHOW UP, AND TIME TO SIMPLY ANALYZE ALL OF THE DATA.

    FOR ALL THE UNCERTAINTIES THAT REMAIN AHEAD FOR A COVID-19 VACCINE, SEVERAL EXPERTS WERE WILLING TO MAKE ONE PREDICTION.

    “I think the question that is easy to answer is, ‘Is this virus going to go away?’ And the answer to that is, ‘NO,’” says Karron, the vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins.

    The virus is already too widespread. A vaccine could still mitigate severe cases; it could make COVID-19 easier to live with. The virus is likely here to stay, but eventually, the pandemic will end.

    • kamtanblog  On August 3, 2020 at 2:52 am

      AIDS discovered in 1981 and it’s still with us.
      Will corV19 be with us in 2021 and beyond ?

      You decide !

      Kamtan

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 4, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

    THE PROLIFERATION OF COVID-19 HAS PUT OTHER EQUALLY INSIDIOUS DISEASES ON THE BACK BURNER.

    The symptoms and spread of tuberculosis (TB) are very similar to those of COVID-19, yet it is TB that is the biggest infectious-disease killer worldwide, claiming 1.5 million lives every year.

    THE PANDEMIC IS NOW THREATENING TO ERODE DECADES OF PAINSTAKING PROGRESS MADE AGAINST TB AND ITS DEADLY ALLIES, HIV AND MALARIA.

    It is not just that the COVID-19 pandemic has diverted scientific attention away from those diseases. LOCKDOWNS, PARTICULARLY ACROSS PARTS OF AFRICA, ASIA AND LATIN AMERICA, HAVE RAISED INSURMOUNTABLE BARRIERS TO PATIENTS WHO MUST TRAVEL TO DISTANT CLINICS TO OBTAIN DIAGNOSES OR THEIR MEDICATION.

    Even a short delay in a malaria diagnosis can quickly turn fatal, sometimes within 36 hours of a spiking fever.

    Malaria season has begun in West Africa, which currently hosts 90 percent of malaria deaths in the world. BUT THE NORMAL STRATEGIES FOR PREVENTION — distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and spraying with pesticides — HAVE BEEN CURTAILED BECAUSE OF LOCKDOWNS.

    TRADITIONAL ANTIVIRAL DRUGS ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY, AS THE PANDEMIC HAS INTERRUPTED SUPPLY CHAINS AND REDIRECTED MANUFACTURING CAPACITY.

    Severe restrictions on international transport have hindered the availability not just of chemical ingredients and raw materials necessary for critical HIV, TB and malaria drugs, but even packaging supplies. About 80 percent of these infectious disease programs worldwide have reported service disruptions in the face of COVID-19.

    Piling onto the problem has been the hype over the crucial malaria medicine chloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Hoarding of the drug in some countries like Myanmar has depleted global stocks, keeping the drug from those who need it for legitimate treatments.

    President Trump has frequently recommended people take the drug, and hospitals in Brazil are giving chloroquine to patients with COVID-19, even though studies show against the COVID-19 it is either ineffectual, or possibly even harmful.

    IN COUNTRY AFTER COUNTRY, THE PANDEMIC HAS RESULTED IN SHARP DROPS IN DIAGNOSES OF TB. The director of an advocacy group in Mexico said: “Nobody is testing for TB at any facility. The mind of clinicians … is stuck with COVID-19.”

    PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERTS WARN THAT IF CURRENT TRENDS CONTINUE, COVID-19 COULD ERASE DECADES OF PROGRESS AGAINST TB, HIV AND MALARIA.

    Yet considering the current collective focus on COVID-19, the director of the McGill International TB Centre in Canada isn’t optimistic:

    “I CAN’T IMAGINE DISEASES OF POVERTY GETTING ANY ATTENTION IN THIS SPACE.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 5, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    THE 2 STEPS TO DEFEAT COVID-19

    Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor | National Geographic

    There wasn’t much to do as a kid on the now-defunct Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Base housing was pretty sparse, and the most fun to be had involved the few trees worth climbing.

    ONE ACTIVITY WAS SPLASHING BAREFOOT THROUGH PUDDLES IN THE STRETCH OF CONCRETE BETWEEN US AND THE DELAWARE RIVER. My mom nearly scared me half to death pulling me away, her shaky voice warning me of the dangers of contracting polio from the dirty water.

    MY PARENTS WERE BORN BEFORE THE INVENTION OF THE FIRST POLIO VACCINE IN THE 1950s, AND I WAS FROLICKING AROUND BEFORE THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION FORMALLY LAUNCHED ITS POLIO ERADICATION CAMPAIGN IN THE LATE 1980s.

    Today, two time-tested vaccines have brought polio in check, with just 33 new cases reported as of 2018, according to the WHO. ALL TOLD, VACCINES MADE MY CHILDHOOD SAFE FROM MEASLES, MUMPS, TETANUS, DIPHTHERIA, AND A HOST OF OTHER AILMENTS. So, you can bet that when a proven vaccine finally comes ready for COVID-19, I will be there, sleeve rolled up in anticipation.

    AS OF THIS WRITING, MORE THAN 150 CANDIDATE VACCINES ARE IN THE PIPELINE, WITH SEVEN ALREADY IN THE LATE STAGES OF CLINICAL TRIALS. The drugs run the gamut from tried and true technologies that use a weakened virus to stimulate an immune response, to cutting-edge versions that use snippets of viral genes to do the job.

    However, as Amy McKeever reports, VACCINES TAKE TIME TO PROPERLY TEST AND SCALE UP. The fastest approved vaccine – for the mumps – took a whopping four years to go from inception to commercialization.

    While today’s established vaccines are safe and effective, rushing out a new one is not without risks, points out Roxanne Khamsi. IN THE 1970s, A HASTILY DEVELOPED FLU VACCINE CAUSED 25 DEATHS, and medical experts today worry that pushing out a COVID-19 vaccine too soon could mean we settle for one with limited effectiveness at the cost of a better option down the road.

    That is not even getting into ethical questions about how much a vaccine will cost, which influences who can access it, and whether any vaccine for this virus will work for the elderly — the age group most at risk of dying from the disease.

    The rush to get a vaccine to market has even exacerbated problems with vaccine hesitancy, prompting many smart, well-educated people to say they would distrust a roll-out and avoid getting the shot. IF THE FIRST VACCINE WE GET DOES END UP HAVING PROBLEMS, THAT WILL ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE.

    I’M AS EAGER AS ANYONE ELSE TO PUT COVID-19 IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR and start the hard work of building our post-pandemic future. But I have found that when driving and editing, speed causes accidents, so I hope scientists will take the time to get this one right, for all our sake.

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 6, 2020 at 1:56 am

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 6, 2020 at 7:57 pm

    • kamtanblog  On August 6, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      Just another stupid decision by our political jackasses. PR protocol.
      Daggers drawn to remove this stupid woman.
      Et tu brutae !
      Won’t surprise me to see some of ministers
      resigning !
      NZ population of 5m with more sheep than
      people is a very wealthy racist country the size
      of UK. Maybe they should change their immigration strategy and start accepting
      some economic migrants to increase their diminishing population.
      This political jackass has lost the plot.
      Bit naieve politician.

      Kamtan

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