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I was caught up in Canada’s harsh and unscientific African travel ban

Ottawa’s travel ban against African countries made clear its underlying policy: What matters is not your test result, but where you’ve been. It’s yet another example of anti-Africa discrimation.

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A researcher at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, works on the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus in December 2021. African countries were penalized by Canada's travel ban even though they discovered the Omicron variant via complex sequencing work when western nations failed to. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Few people would consider airports to be arenas of power plays among nations.

But the reality is that airlines and border control agents are often a country’s first line of defence. Airports can be where foreign policy decisions are subjected to experiments and where, according to Kenyan political analyst Nanjala Nyabola, “the realities of privilege and race in travel are laid bare.”

I discovered this recently during my travel back to Canada from an Omicron-related red-listed country. In retrospect, the journey was a cross between a scene from Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal and a chapter from Nyabola’s book, Travelling While Black.

Both works draw on the intersections between race, gender and class in international travel.

Policy aimed only at African countries

My personal experience involves the Canadian government travel policy — designed to address the COVID-19 Omicron variant — that targeted several African countries. It went into effect on Nov. 26, 2021, and by Dec. 18, 2021, was deemed to have “served its purpose and no longer necessary” given Omicron was present in countries around the world.

Nonetheless, the policy is still worth analyzing because such measures don’t occur in a vacuum — they reflect historical precedents and shape future policies. There is a need to examine whether the policy ever truly served the interests of Canadian citizens.

I was in Nigeria on Nov. 26, 2021, when the government of Canada “enhanced” its border measures to “reduce the risk of the importation and transmission of COVID-19 and its variants.”

This was done by placing additional requirements on Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning from red-listed countries, defined as having a particularly high risk for new and emerging strains of COVID-19. The only countries on the list were African, even though other nations had higher COVID-19 numbers and the variant was present in those nations at the time.

A Black woman in a mask gets a COVID-19 vaccination from a nurse.
A Nigerian civil servant receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria, in December 2021. (AP Photo/Gbemiga Olamikan)

Dubious claim

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, justified the ban on African countries on the basis of low vaccine coverage rates and uncertainty of “their ability to detect and respond [to the variant].” This claim and other African travel bans have been criticized as not being based on scientific evidence.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has repeatedly failed to provide data to support the policy.

An editorial published in the medical journal The Lancet, established that the Omicron variant was identified as a result of complex sequencing work done in South Africa when some of the most technologically advanced western countries were unable to conduct the same genome sequencing tests required. Furthermore, it highlighted that unless borders are sealed to travellers from all nations, selective travel bans don’t work.

On Nov. 30, 2021, Canada added Nigeria to the red list. Additional measures required of travellers included enhanced testing, screening and being placed in a designated quarantine facility upon arrival in Canada — regardless of vaccination status or previous test results.

Canada also added an unusual requirement for a valid negative test from a third country within 72 hours of departure to Canada. This measure has received the most criticism from many Canadians, scientists and experts. It meant additional expense and inconveniences for Canadian travellers, including having to travel through insecure and conflict-ridden environments.

A woman in a red jacket gets a PCR test from a nurse in wearing protective personal equipment. A sign reading testing is over their heads.
A traveller arriving at Pearson International Airport gets a COVID-19 test. The author recounts her chaotic experience travelling to Toronto from Nigeria during Ottawa’s dubious African travel ban. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Tug of war between airlines, authorities

Despite having been tested in Nigeria, I decided to have my third-country testing done in the United Kingdom.

I assumed PHAC would not have problems with a non-African lab’s test. However, the COVID-19 testing centres at Heathrow Airport are not inside the airport itself, but required entry into the U.K.

This became a problem, as the country no longer allowed entry for non-residents travelling from red-listed countries. My attempts to get a COVID-19 test became a tug-of-war between British Airways and the UK Border Agency. There was much confusion about what the rules were and how to humanely enforce them. I was initially refused entry, which was devastating after more than six hours flying with a toddler.

Ironically, neither my fully vaccinated status nor multiple negative tests mattered to PHAC upon arrival at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. I was tested at the airport and we were taken to a designated quarantine facility.

The sub-standard conditions in these facilities — especially the lengthy wait times for test results and for authorization to leave from PHAC — have received a lot of media coverage.

A person is seen in silhouette closing the curtains of a hotel room window.
People quarantine in a hotel near the Vancouver airport. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

More testing centres needed most of all

How exactly did any of these measures serve their supposed purpose? Canadian COVID-19 testing centres were backlogged because the focus was on requiring hundreds of travellers to get re-tested and quarantined, instead of taking more proactive domestic measures to ensure Canadians had easy access to testing centres.

Although not all African countries were placed on the red list, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief medical officer of health, admitted to factors other than science influencing cabinet decisions.

He said:

“We work … to put together the best advice we can based on the science. Decision-makers take that into account but we recognize there are other considerations at play as well, beyond just strictly sort of technical public health advice that we may be giving to ministers.”

The African travel bans highlight underlying issues in global justice, from vaccine diplomacy and intellectual property barriers to the systemic refusal to recognize African competencies and agency.

It all clearly boils down to what the PHAC agent at Pearson told me: “What matters is not your test result, but where you’ve been.”

Badriyya Yusuf receives funding from SSHRC.

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Type-I interferon stops immune system ‘going rogue’ during viral infections

Hamilton, ON (May 17, 2022) – McMaster University researchers have found not only how some viral infections cause severe tissue damage, but also how…

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Hamilton, ON (May 17, 2022) – McMaster University researchers have found not only how some viral infections cause severe tissue damage, but also how to reduce that damage.

Credit: Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University

Hamilton, ON (May 17, 2022) – McMaster University researchers have found not only how some viral infections cause severe tissue damage, but also how to reduce that damage.

 

They have discovered how Type I interferon (IFN) stops the immune system ‘going rogue’ and attacking the body’s own tissues when fighting viral infections, including COVID-19.

 

Their paper was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens today.

  

Senior author Ali Ashkar said IFN is a well-known anti-viral signalling molecule released by the body’s cells that can trigger a powerful immune response against harmful viruses.

 

“What we have found is that it is also critical to stop white blood cells from releasing protease enzymes, which can damage organ tissue. It has this unique dual function to kick start an immune response against a viral infection on the one hand, as well as restrain that same response to prevent significant bystander tissue damage on the other,” he said.

 

The research team investigated IFN’s ability to regulate a potentially dangerous immune response by testing it on both flu and the HSV-2 virus, a highly prevalent sexually transmitted pathogen, using mice. Data from COVID-19 patients in Germany, including post-mortem lung samples, was also used in the study.

 

“For many viral infections, it is not actually the virus that causes most of the tissue damage, it is our heightened immune activation towards the virus,” said Ashkar, a professor of medicine at McMaster.

  

First co-author of the study and PhD student Emily Feng said: “Our body’s immune response is trying to fight off the virus infection, but there’s a risk of damaging innocent healthy tissue in the process. IFNs regulates the immune response to only target tissues that are infected.

 

“By discovering the mechanisms the immune system uses that can inadvertently cause tissue damage, we can intervene during infection to prevent this damage and not necessarily have to wait until vaccines are developed to develop life-saving treatments,” she added.

 

“This applies not just to COVID-19, but also other highly infectious viruses such as flu and Ebola, which can cause tremendous and often life-threatening damage to the body’s organs,” said first study co-author Amanda Lee, a family medicine resident. 

 

Ashkar said the release of harmful proteases is the result of a ‘cytokine storm’, which is life-threatening inflammation sometimes triggered by viral infections. It has been a common cause of death in patients with COVID-19, but treatment has been developed to prevent and suppress the cytokine storm.

 

Ashkar said that steroids like dexamethasone are already used to rein in an extreme immune response to viral infections. The authors used doxycycline in their study, an antibiotic used for bacterial infections and as an anti-inflammatory agent, inhibits the function of proteases causing the bystander tissue damage.

 

Lee added: “This has the potential in the future to be used to alleviate virus-induced life-threatening inflammation and warrants further research.” 

 

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

 

-30-

 

Editors:

Pictures of Ali Ashkar and Emily Feng may be found at https://bit.ly/3wmSw0D

  

 

 


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mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna fare better against COVID-19 variants of concern

A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — perform better against the World…

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A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — perform better against the World Health Organization’s variants of concern (VOCs) than viral vector vaccines — AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen. Although they all effectively prevent severe disease by VOCs, the research, publishing May 17th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine, suggests that people receiving a viral vector vaccine are more vulnerable to infection by new variants.

Credit: Carlos Reusser Monsalvez, Flickr (CC0, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — perform better against the World Health Organization’s variants of concern (VOCs) than viral vector vaccines — AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen. Although they all effectively prevent severe disease by VOCs, the research, publishing May 17th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine, suggests that people receiving a viral vector vaccine are more vulnerable to infection by new variants.

By March 2022, COVID-19 had caused over 450 million confirmed infections and six million reported deaths. The first vaccines approved in the US and Europe that protect against serious infection are Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which deliver genetic code, known as mRNA, to the bodies’ cells, whereas Oxford/AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen are viral vector vaccines that use a modified version of a different virus — a vector — to deliver instructions to our cells. Three vaccines are delivered as two separate injections a few weeks apart, and J&J/Janssen as a single dose.

Marit J. van Gils at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues, took blood samples from 165 healthcare workers, three and four weeks after first and second vaccination respectively, and for J&J/Janssen at four to five and eight weeks after vaccination. Samples were collected before, and four weeks after a Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

Four weeks after the initial two doses, antibody responses to the original SARS-CoV-2 viral strain were highest in recipients of Moderna, followed closely by Pfizer-BioNTech, and were substantially lower in those who received viral vector vaccines. Tested against the VOCs – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron – neutralizing antibodies were higher in the mRNA vaccine recipients compared to those who had viral vector vaccines. The ability to neutralize VOCs was reduced in all vaccine groups, with the greatest reduction against Omicron. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster increased antibody responses in all groups with substantial improvement against VOCs, including Omicron.

The researchers caution that their AstraZeneca group was significantly older, because of safety concerns for the vaccine in younger age groups. As immune responses tend to weaken with age, this could affect the results. This group was also smaller because the Dutch government halted use for a period.

van Gils concludes, “Four COVID-19 vaccines induce substantially different antibody responses.”

#####

In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper in PLOS Medicine:

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003991

Citation: van Gils MJ, Lavell A, van der Straten K, Appelman B, Bontjer I, Poniman M, et al. (2022) Antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants induced by four different SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in health care workers in the Netherlands: A prospective cohort study. PLoS Med 19(5): e1003991. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003991

 

Author Countries: The Netherlands, United States

 

Funding: This work was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) ZonMw (Vici grant no. 91818627 to R.W.S., S3 study, grant agreement no. 10430022010023 to M.K.B.; RECoVERED, grant agreement no. 10150062010002 to M.D.d.J.), by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (grant no. INV002022 and INV008818 to R.W.S. and INV-024617 to M.J.v.G.), by Amsterdam UMC through the AMC Fellowship (to M.J.v.G.) and the Corona Research Fund (to M.K.B.), and by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program (RECoVER, grant no. 101003589 to M.D.d.J). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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Pfizer Jab In Young People Only 20% Effective After 60 Days, 0% After 5 Months

Pfizer Jab In Young People Only 20% Effective After 60 Days, 0% After 5 Months

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times,

The Pfizer…

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Pfizer Jab In Young People Only 20% Effective After 60 Days, 0% After 5 Months

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times,

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine turned negatively effective after five months, according to a new study.

A health care worker fills a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in a file image. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed test results from sites across the United States and determined that the vaccine was 60 percent effective two to four weeks after 12- to 15-year-olds got the second of the two-dose primary regimen.

But the effectiveness, measured against symptomatic illness, quickly plummeted, hitting 20 percent around month two and zero around month five.

After that, recipients in the age group were more likely to be infected by COVID-19.

Vaccine effectiveness “was no longer significantly different from 0 during month 3 after the second dose,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Pfizer, its partner BioNTech, and the CDC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The analyzed tests were performed between Dec. 26, 2021, and Feb. 21, 2022. Some 47,700 tests among 12- to 15-year-olds were included, with about half being unvaccinated. The testing data was on the Increasing Community Access to Testing, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that contracts with pharmacy chains to perform drive-through testing. The testing data was supplemented by information in questionnaires filled out by adults with the adolescents.

Limitations of the study included vaccination being self-reported.

The study was funded by the U.S. government.

The study also found that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection plunged quickly for those 5 to 11 years old, starting at 60 percent but hitting 23 percent just one month later.

One way to combat the negative effectiveness, researchers said, was to get a booster dose.

Of the 906 12- to 15-year-olds who got a third, or booster, dose, the effectiveness was measured at 71 percent two to six weeks after receipt.

Other studies, though, show that the protection from a booster, like that from the primary regimen, quickly wanes.

“Given the well-established pattern of waning mRNA VE after 2 doses and early evidence of waning of booster dose protection in adults, monitoring the duration of protection from booster doses in adolescents will be important,” researchers said.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are built on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. VE refers to vaccine effectiveness.

In another study published by the same journal on May 13, New York researchers reported the gap of infection and hospitalization risk between unvaccinated and vaccinated youth narrowing over time, with vaccinated 5- to 11-year-olds being infected at a rate of 62 per 100,000 and unvaccinated being infected at a rate of 70 per 100,000.

That was an incidence rate ratio of 1.1; the rate ratio for 12- to 17-year-olds was 2.

The protection also waned considerably against hospitalization over time, researchers found.

They said that the findings support “efforts to increase vaccination coverage in children and adolescents.

Tyler Durden Tue, 05/17/2022 - 13:36

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