Canadian Company Begins Human Testing of COVID-19 Candidate Vaccine as Quebec Makes Masks Mandatory in Indoor Places

Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company in Quebec City, began clinical trials for a plant-derived COVID-19 vaccine on Monday of this week. 

The biopharmaceutical company is the first Canadian company to administer two doses of a potential vaccine to 180 volunteers of men and women aged 18 to 55.

Results from the clinical trials, including the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, are expected to come in October. 

“(The) timeline is very aggressive and in fact, we’re trying to do in 18 months what normally requires five to six years,” explained Nathalie Landry, the Executive Vice-President of Scientific and Medical Affairs at Medicago.

 “It’s a race. It is a race to find treatments to be able to vaccinate the population so we can get this COVID-19 under control.”

Compared to traditional vaccine development, Medicago is unique as it says it does not use animal products or live viruses to create its products. 

Rather, the company has stated that it uses “virus-like particles (VLPs) that mimic the shape and dimension of a virus which allows the body to recognize them and create an immune response in a non-infectious way”. 

While the world is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic day-by-day, researchers are pressed for time as they try to find a vaccine to better help control the spread of the virus.

Medicago was quick to announce that it had produced a VLP vaccine as early as March 12, 20 days after the company had obtained the SARS-CoV-2 gene that is responsible for COVID-19. 

In a news release at the time, it was announced that Medicago was collaborating with Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre, headed by Dr. Gary Kobinger who helped develop a vaccine and treatment for Ebola. 

The Quebec City biopharmaceutical company said its clinical trial data in developing an influenza vaccine along with its research into an H1N1 vaccine showed that VLPs “have a multi-modal mechanism of action that is different from that of inactivated vaccines, activating both arms of the immune system – antibody and cell-mediated responses.”

Landry says its COVID-19 vaccine candidate stimulated a “very high neutralizing antibody response” in mice, along with activating the body’s T-cells, a major component of the immune system. 

According to Health Canada, Medicago got the approval to move forward with Phase 1 clinical trials on July 9 and is one of only two potential vaccines to have done so in Canada so far. 

The other potential vaccine to have been authorized for clinical trials is the Ad5-nCoV that was developed by CanSino Biologics and Chinese government scientists.

However, the clinical trial tests for Ad5-nCoV have been held up as the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University in Halifax reported that the Chinese government has not approved sending the vaccine candidate to Canada. 

Quebec Makes Masks Mandatory in Indoor Public Spaces

While individual townships and municipalities in Ontario have made it mandatory to wear masks or face coverings in indoor public spaces, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced on Monday that masks or face coverings will be mandatory across Quebec starting July 18. 

“It’s better to wear a mask than to be confined at home,” said Premier François Legault in making the announcement Monday afternoon. “It’s not fun wearing a mask, but it’s essential.”

The newly announced regulation will apply to everyone age 12 and up, although some exceptions are made for children younger than 2 years old or people with medical conditions. 

When asked why the Quebec Premier took his time in announcing the mandatory mask health measure, Premier Legault said that people needed time to get used to the two-metre distancing rule, which he said is the most important. 

“I am asking all Quebecers to collaborate. We need to respect the two-metre [rule],” Legault said.

The indoor mask regulation will apply to retail stores, malls and recreational centres and any other enclosed public space, including restaurants, whenever someone is not seated at a table.

As part of the new regulation, business owners in Quebec are responsible for applying the new regulations.

Should they fail to do so, they could face fines between $400 and $6,000 said the Quebec Premier. 

It was mentioned that only businesses would be fined for the time being with individuals who refuse to do so could be denied entry to indoor establishments. 

Dr. Karl Weiss, a microbiologist and the head of Infectious Diseases at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, explained that wearing a mask is only a temporary measure that should become a habit such as stopping at a red light. 

Dr. Weiss said that several studies have proven the effectiveness of using a mask to help limit the spread of COVID-19 microdroplets and emphasized the importance of wearing masks. 

“It’s not a debate. It’s something that everyone has to use,” said Dr. Weiss. “It has to be apolitical”.

“The day we have an effective vaccine, the mask will disappear.”

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