Kampala, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — Researchers in Uganda have launched the largest-ever trial of the experimental Ebola vaccine that is expected to be deployed in neighboring Congo, where a deadly outbreak has killed over 1,800 people.
The trial of the Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine involves up to 800 people in the western district of Mbarara and is supported by Doctors without Borders and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Pontiano Kaleebu, a Ugandan researcher who leads the trial, said Friday that he regrets that the Janssen vaccine has not yet been deployed in Congo. The health minister there who stepped down last month had argued against its deployment, saying a second vaccine could create confusion on the ground.
Already more than 180,000 people in Congo's yearlong outbreak have received an experimental but effective Merck vaccine, but health experts worry about the availability of doses as the virus now spreads in a major city, Goma, along the Rwanda border. The wife and 1-year-old daughter of the man who died this week of Ebola in Goma now have the disease.
Both the wife and child were doing well in treatment, Congo's new Ebola response coordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, told reporters on Friday.
But he warned that about half of the cases in this outbreak are going undetected and at that rate "this epidemic could last two or three years." The current goal is to strengthen surveillance and bring the detection rate to 80%, he said.
Health experts have watched with dismay as the promise of the Merck vaccine in this outbreak has been largely overshadowed by severe challenges to virus containment efforts including rebel attacks and community resistance in a part of Congo that had never experienced Ebola before.
The Janssen vaccine has already been tested in about 6,000 people, most of them Africans, Kaleebu said. "We are excited about this (trial) ... because this is one of the promising vaccines," he said. "It's one of those vaccines that have shown a lot of promise in animal studies but also in other trials that have been conducted."
Ugandan researchers said the new trial is expected to last two years and will test how long any protection from Ebola would last. Juliet Mwanga, a co-investigator on the trial, said there is the need "to study many vaccines" in light of Congo's epidemic.
Uganda has had multiple Ebola outbreaks in the past. While it is currently free of the virus, three people died in June after crossing into the country's Kasese district on an unguarded footpath. Their family members were taken back to Congo for treatment.
The Ebola virus can spread quickly and be fatal in up to 90% of cases. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus is most often spread by close contact with bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms and with contaminated objects such as sheets. Health care workers are often at risk.
San Francisco, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — San Francisco International Airport is banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.
The unprecedented move at one of the major airports in the country will take effect Aug. 20, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday.
The new rule will apply to airport restaurants, cafes and vending machines. Travelers who need plain water will have to buy refillable aluminum or glass bottles if they don't bring their own.
As a department of San Francisco's municipal government, the airport is following an ordinance approved in 2014 banning the sale of plastic water bottles on city-owned property.
The shift away from plastics is also part of a broader plan to slash net carbon emissions and energy use to zero and eliminate most landfill waste by 2021, said airport spokesman Doug Yakel.
But, considering the approximately 4 million plastic water bottles sold per year at the airport, it may be more difficult for vendors to adhere to the water bottle ban.
Whether vendors out of compliance will be penalized is unclear, but Yakel said the airport hopes that "won't be necessary."
SFO vendors already are required to provide only compostable single-use foodware, including to-go containers, condiment packets, straws and utensils.
Shops at the airports have adjusted easily to these requirements because of the increased availability of suppliers producing such products, said Michael Levine, CEO of the company that oversees Napa Farms Market, a store selling grab-and-go fare in Terminal 2 and International Terminal G.
"But the water bottle impact is a little trickier," he said.
New York, Aug 1(AP/UNB) — Woodstock 50 is officially canceled.
Organizers announced Wednesday that the troubled festival that hit a series of setbacks in the last four months won't take place next month.
The three-day festival was originally scheduled for Aug. 16-18, but holdups included permit denials and the loss of a financial partner and a production company.
Last week Jay-Z, Dead & Company and John Fogerty announced that they wouldn't perform at the event after organizers said it was moving to Maryland from New York.
"We are saddened that a series of unforeseen setbacks has made it impossible to put on the festival we imagined with the great lineup we had booked and the social engagement we were anticipating," festival co-founder Michael Lang said in a statement Wednesday. "We released all the talent so any involvement on their part would be voluntary. Due to conflicting radius issues in the DC area many acts were unable to participate and others passed for their own reasons."
Organizers said they were planning to make Woodstock 50 a free benefit concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, before announcing they had canceled the festival altogether. Lang announced the 50th anniversary event in March alongside Fogerty and rapper-actor Common, two acts that were slated to perform. Other artists who were booked for the festival included the Killers, Miley Cyrus, Imagine Dragons, Chance the Rapper, Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters, David Crosby, Janelle Monae, Brandi Carlile and Halsey.
Woodstock 50 was originally supposed to take place across three main stages at Watkins Glen International racetrack in Watkins Glen, New York, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northwest of the original site, but the venue pulled out. Tickets were supposed to go on sale on April 22, which was Earth Day, but that was postponed.
Woodstock will still celebrate its anniversary: Ringo Starr, Santana and Fogerty will perform at Woodstock's original site in Bethel, New York, in a smaller anniversary event at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts not connected to Woodstock 50.
The original Woodstock, a festival pushing the message of peace, love and music, was a seminal, groundbreaking event in 1969 that featured performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, the Who and other iconic acts.
Lang is asking Woodstock 50 artists who were already paid to donate 10% of their earnings to HeadCount, a nonprofit group that registers voters at music events, or to another organization.
"Woodstock remains committed to social change and will continue to be active in support of HeadCount's critical mission to get out the vote before the next election," Lang said in his statement. "We thank the artists, fans and partners who stood by us even in the face of adversity. My thoughts turn to Bethel and its celebration of our 50th Anniversary to reinforce the values of compassion, human dignity, and the beauty of our differences embraced by Woodstock."
Canberra, Aug 1(AP/UNB) — An Australian crocodile farmer who found an orthopedic plate inside a croc's stomach said on Thursday he had been told the surgical device was from a person's body and had been contacted by relatives of missing people anxious for clues.
Koorana Crocodile Farm owner John Lever found the plate inside a 4.7-meter (15-foot- 5) croc called M.J. during an autopsy in June at his business near Rockhampton in Queensland state.
He initially wasn't sure if the unusual find had been part of an animal or human. But he said since making photos of the plate public, he had been told it was a type used in human surgery.
Lever estimated that M.J. was 50 to 70 years old when he died. M.J. could have eaten the bone that the plate had been attached to by six screws 50 years ago, he said.
All remnants of human tissue attached to the plate had been long digested before M.J. died several months after losing a fight with another croc.
Lever is continuing to make inquiries in the hope of discovering what decade the type of plate was used and perhaps who it had belonged to.
"I wouldn't call it an investigation, we're making inquiries because we're fascinated by this whole thing," Lever said. "Obviously this crocodile has chomped on something and that plate has been left in its stomach complete with screws."
Lever bought M.J. from a farmer in Innisfail, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles), north of Rockhampton, six years ago. Sometime earlier, M.J. had been trapped in the wild. Crocodiles are protected in Australia and are only trapped if they are a threat to humans.
"We've had a couple of people get in touch with us about their relatives that have gone missing in the northern Queensland area and they're anxious to find out — there's been nothing heard of these people, they've just disappeared," Lever said. "We'll certainly keep these people informed of any new news that we can get."
The last fatal crocodile attack in Australia was in October when a woman was snatched while gathering mussels with her family in a waterhole in a remote part of the Northern Territory.
The last fatal attack in Queensland was a year earlier, when a 79-year-old dementia patient was killed after wandering from a nursing home at Port Douglas.
The crocodile population has exploded across the country's tropical north since the 1970s. Because saltwater crocodiles can live up to 70 years and grow throughout their lives — reaching up to 7 meters (23 feet) in length — the proportion of large crocodiles is also rising.
Washington, Aug 1 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration said Wednesday it will create a way for Americans to legally and safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada for the first time, reversing years of refusals by health authorities amid a public outcry over high prices for life-sustaining medications.
The move is a step toward fulfilling a 2016 campaign promise by President Donald Trump. It weakens an import ban that has stood as a symbol of the political clout of the pharmaceutical industry.
But it's unclear how soon consumers will see benefits, as the plan has to go through time-consuming regulatory approval and later could face court challenges from drugmakers. And there's no telling how Canada will react to becoming the drugstore for its much bigger neighbor, with potential consequences for policymakers and consumers there.
The U.S. drug industry is facing a crescendo of consumer complaints over prices, as well as legislation from both parties in Congress to rein in costs, not to mention proposals from the Democratic presidential contenders. Ahead of the 2020 election, Trump is feeling pressure to deliver on years of harsh rhetoric about pharmaceutical industry prices.
Making the announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration recognizes that prescription drug manufacturing and distribution is now international.
"The landscape and the opportunities for safe linkage between drug supply chains has changed," Azar said. "That is part of why, for the first time in HHS's history, we are open to importation. We want to see proposals from states, distributors, and pharmacies that can help accomplish our shared goal of safe prescription drugs at lower prices."
Stephen Ubl, president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called the plan "far too dangerous" for American patients. "There is no way to guarantee the safety of drugs that come into the country from outside the United States' gold-standard supply chain," Ubl said in a statement. "Drugs coming through Canada could have originated from anywhere in the world."
Most patients take affordable generic drugs to manage conditions such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. But polls show concern about the prices of breakthrough medications for intractable illnesses like cancer or hepatitis C infection, whose annual costs can run to $100,000 or much more. And long-available drugs like insulin have seen serial price increases that forced some people with diabetes to ration their own doses.
Azar, a former drug company executive, said U.S. patients will be able to import medications safely and effectively, with oversight from the Food and Drug Administration. Azar used to be a skeptic of importation, and was once quoted dismissing it as a gimmick.
One prong of the administration's proposal would allow states, wholesalers and pharmacists to get FDA approval to import certain medications that are also available here. Trump had recently endorsed a new Florida law to allow importation.
Another part of the plan would allow drugmakers to seek approval for re-importation of their own drugs. This second provision would cover cutting-edge biologic drugs as well mainstays like insulin, and it could apply to drugs from other countries besides Canada.
Azar said complex regulations setting up the system could take "weeks and months." He called on Congress to pass legislation that would lend its muscle to the effort, making it harder to overturn the policy in court.
"The FDA has the resources to do this," said acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless. "The agency is interested in considering any reasonable proposal that maintains the bedrock of safety and efficacy for the American consumer."
Importation has backers across the political spectrum.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the panel that oversees Medicare, is a longtime supporter. He and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have a bill to facilitate importation. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the health committee, welcomed the plan but said the key is whether importation can be done safely.
During Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate , multiple candidates talked about the need to lower drug costs. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent, noted the disparity in U.S. and Canadian prices. "I took 15 people with diabetes from Detroit a few miles into Canada and we bought insulin for one-tenth the price being charged by the crooks who run the pharmaceutical industry in America today," he said.
The leading drug industry trade group, known as PhRMA, is a powerhouse that generally gets its way with lawmakers. It spent $128 million on lobbying in 2017, according to its most recent tax filings. But pressure on the industry is rising across many fronts.
In the Senate, Trump is supporting Grassley's bipartisan bill to cap medication costs for Medicare recipients and require drugmakers to pay rebates to the program if price hikes exceed inflation. Democrats in the House are pressing for a vote on a bill allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices on behalf of millions of seniors. Separately, the Trump administration is pursuing a regulation that would tie what Medicare pays for drugs administered in doctors' offices to lower international prices.
Drug costs are lower in other economically advanced countries because governments take a leading role in setting prices. But in the U.S., Medicare is not permitted to negotiate.
Some experts have been skeptical of allowing imports from Canada, partly from concerns about whether Canadian suppliers have the capacity to meet the demands of the much larger U.S. market.
Backers argue that the prospect of competition will pressure U.S. drugmakers to reduce prices.