Friday, April 30, 2021

What Was Done 'Differently' After IGET Was Dismantled?


Former BC Liberal Government Minister of Gaming Rich Coleman testified at the Cullen inquiry on Wednesday.

From Sam Cooper's Global News report:

...The inquiry has previously heard testimony from a number of witnesses that said Coleman was alerted many times by his subordinates, police officers and even fellow B.C. Liberal MLAs, that money laundering was growing in B.C. Lottery Corporation casinos as organized crime took control of these venues.

But instead of seeking police investigations inside casinos, according to the testimony of former RCMP officer Fred Pinnock, Coleman disbanded the province’s anti-illegal gaming unit in 2009. The inquiry previously heard from Pinnock, the unit’s former commander, that former B.C. Liberal solicitor-general Kash Heed blamed Coleman for turning a blind eye and it was “all about the money.”...


...On Wednesday, Cullen Commission lawyer Brock Martland asked Coleman to respond to the allegations...

Coleman said “it’s just ridiculous” that he turned a blind eye to money laundering to boost provincial revenue...


Ridiculous, indeed.

But what did the good Mr. Coleman specifically tell the Cullen Inquiry this week, in April of 2021, about why he dismantled the 'Illegal Gambling Enforcement Team' (IGET) back in 2009?

For that we return to Sam Cooper's report:

...Coleman acknowledged that he was responsible for disbanding the B.C. anti-illegal gaming unit, but he said he believed the unit was ineffective, and he expected other anti-gang police units in B.C. to target organized crime....


But what about back in the day? What did Mr. Coleman say his plan was then?

Well, to understand that, now is the time for us to once again re-visit an interview that Sean Holman held with the good Mr. Coleman in 2010:

The key, with respect to Mr. Coleman's stated plan to replace IGET is, in my opinion, the following from the 2010 interview, above:

"I had a team (IGET) that wasn't working (i.e. in 2009) and it was costing the taxpayers money. I decided to do it differently and get better results."


Well, I guess now we finally know precisely what Mr. Coleman meant about doing something 'differently' to fill the void after he dismantled the unit whose actual job it was to keep tabs on things like money laundering in casinos.

Because, according to his testimony this week, Mr. Coleman did not do things differently by forming a new unit to replace IGET.

And, according to his testimony this week, Mr. Coleman did not do things differently by actively working to put together members of existing teams to focus on money laundering problems in casinos.

Instead, according to his testimony this week, Mr. Coleman decided to do things differently by expecting that existing anti-gang units would fill the void.

And did they?

Well, it would appear that the proof is in the bundles of 12 year-old pudding.

None of which has been delivered to us in hockey bags.

If you get my drift.

Note: I would have cited the transcript of Mr. Coleman's April 28th testimony in front of the inquiry directly...However, the transcript has not yet been uploaded to the Cullen Commission website.


Friday, April 23, 2021

They're Baaaack!


It would seem, based on events of the past week or so, that the Lords of GordCo, Inc. and the Keepers of Clarklandia may never leave us...

First, this, from Sam Cooper of Global News about our former premier's Sgt. Schultz defense b/w a light throwing of Darth Vader under the bus while responding to questions during the ongoing money laundering inquiry:

... (Cullen) Commission lawyer Patrick McGowan grilled (former B.C. Premier Christy) Clark on whether she was aware from 2011 of increasingly urgent reports coming from the enforcement branch and casino surveillance units, showing that bags of $20 bills were being commonly used by high rollers to buy casino chips and that the cash was dropped off inside or near casinos...


...Clark said it wasn’t until 2015, after her then-finance minister Mike de Jong took casinos over from Coleman, that she was directly informed of an “all-time high” spike in suspicious cash transactions. Within two weeks of de Jong’s report, Clark said, the pair worked together to implement the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team, a special casino-crime police task force...


And then Bob Mackin determined that former Clarklandian apparatchik Jean Paul Fraser has been 'assisting' Northern Vancouver Island mayors to help them put the fish farming industry's best foot forward:

Email obtained by under the freedom of information law shows how closely mayors of four Northern Vancouver Island municipalities worked behind-the-scenes with salmon farming lobbyist John Paul Fraser...


...Fraser was the BC Liberal government’s deputy minister of communications under ex-Premier Christy Clark. He is also the son of Paul Fraser, the late the conflict of interest commissioner who never found an MLA broke the law during his more than a decade in office...


And, apropos of absolutely nothing at all, the good Mr. Fraser once worked with Ms. Clark's former life partner, a fine fellow named Mark Marissen who himself both made and reported his own 'news' recently:


And then along came a very different finest of the fine fellow named John from days of yore pretending that the province of British Columbia is actually Europe.

Or some such thing:

...A 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games that encompasses more of B.C. than the Lower Mainland and a ski resort town will be part of John Furlong's pitch to the Vancouver Board of Trade on Friday...


..."B.C. is not small. This is Germany, France and England combined. It's a very big area," Furlong said...


Finally, one of the Ghosts of GordCo, Inc. Land Deals Past is being forced to raise its still entirely opaque head above the public awareness parapet:

The B.C. Supreme Court has set aside two days to hear arguments on whether the public can see the contract that privatized the Little Mountain lands in Vancouver more than a decade ago.

The case could be heard as early as Thursday, although one of the lawyers involved says it's on an overflow list awaiting a judge.

The years-long effort to reveal the details of the purchase agreement between B.C. Housing and developer Holborn Properties has been the subject of a protracted freedom of information battle between the developer, the Crown corporation, the CBC and co-applicant David Chudnovsky...


The Little Mountain lands lie between Queen Elizabeth Park and Main Street in East Vancouver, just south of Nat Bailey Stadium. The six-hectare site was home to 224 units of social housing that existed from the 1950s until the land was sold in 2008 by the B.C. Liberal government to developer the Holborn Group.

In 2009, all but four units of social housing were demolished.

While displaced residents were promised that they would be able to return to newly-built social housing, only 53 units were ever constructed...


Will we never be rid of them?


Friday, April 16, 2021

Your Evening Audio...Peek-A-Boo


Just in case you all didn't know by now, I'm a sucker for covers.

Especially acoustical covers. 

So, because of this obsession the algorithm now follows me around with them and this week it through up a most excellent version of Daniel Johnston's 'Peek-A-Boo' by Phoebe Bridgers.

I think it's fair to surmise that both Ms. Bridgers and Mr. Johnston, who passed away recently, have been/were saddled with the descriptor 'genius kid' at various times in their lives.

Anyway, this song, I think, is about what happens when a genius kid decides that the only way forward for them is an an artist.

Here's my shot at it...

As anyone who has spent anytime around here at all knows, I'm no artist, but I'm surrounded by them...And it's a wonderful thing indeed.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Rare And Serious Adverse Blood Clotting Events Temporally Linked To The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine.

On the weekend (see post-script), we noted that blood clotting events have been noted in a small number of people after they received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

This has led to a call for a pause of the vaccine's use in the United States while the American Center for Disease Control's 'Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' reviews the data (they are scheduled to meet tomorrow/Wednesday).

As Helen Branswell, who is an excellent science journalist, reports in STAT News, the events identified so far are very rare. However, they are also very serious and appear to be similar those that have occurred rarely after administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine:

Federal authorities on Tuesday recommended that states stop using Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine while an investigation is conducted into six serious cases of clotting problems — one of which was fatal — that were reported among women who received the vaccine.

The blood clots are similar to those reported by several European countries after use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine. And they are similar to an event that occurred during Johnson & Johnson’s U.S.-based clinical trial, an event that led to a temporary pause in that trial last fall. That case involved a man in his 20s, STAT reported at the time.

The clotting problem appears to be quite rare. As of Monday, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been administered in this country...


...The blood clots reported in the six cases are known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST); in all cases, the clots were seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets, a condition known as thrombocytopenia. All occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, the statement from the CDC and FDA said, and symptoms occurred between six and 13 days after vaccination...

Clearly, this is an abundance of caution issueand the pause appears completely reasonable at this time. While the incidence rate is lower for the J&J vaccine than with the AZ vaccine at the moment, that could change with increase surveillance.

If the post-J&J vaccine events truly are the same as those post-AZ innoculation they will hopefully become increasingly diagnosable and treatable, as has been suggested by recently published findings in the New England Journal of Medicine (see Update IV at top of the post).


So, what might be causing the problem here?

Originally, some folks speculated that the AZ vaccine issue might be occurring because the spike protein produced by that vaccine was not in the 'locked' conformation which could lead to bits of the protein being released and an initiating a rare adverse immunological response. However, the J&J vaccine produces the 'locked' form of the spike protein, as do the mRNA vaccines for which these types of clotting events have not been reported. Thus, the unlocked spike protein hypothesis has fallen from favour.

Another hypothesis is that the problem might, at least in part, be caused by the adenoviral vehicle that is used to deliver both the J&J and AZ vaccines, but not the mRNA vaccines, to our cells. If that turns out to be the case this could also be problematic for the Russian Sputnik and the CanSino vaccines as well as they, too, are in the adenoviral vaccine 'class'. Helen Branswell reports on that as well:

...The concern over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is raising questions about whether there is what’s known as a “class effect” — a problem one would expect to see with all vaccines made in the way the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines are made. The Sputnik V vaccine, made by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute and the vaccine made by CanSino, a Chinese manufacturer, are made in the same way as the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The four vaccines use modified adenoviruses — viruses that cause colds — to deliver instructions to human cells to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the exterior proteins that allow SARS-2 viruses to attach to and invade cells. Those vaccine-induced spike proteins teach the immune system to look out for and defend against SARS-2 viruses.

Theories about the cause of the rare clotting issues hinge on the possibility that, in small numbers of people, the adenoviruses trigger an aberrant immune response. That, in turn, results in a rare combination of widespread clotting and low platelet counts...


...“It’s a reasonable but unproven assumption that the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccine safety concerns are linked by being related to an immune response against an adenovirus component,” he (John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell University) said. “So, FDA and scientists need time to better understand what is going on, which means a pause is the right course of action.”...

Having noted that, it is important to realize that at this point this is only an hypothesis at this time. Thus, there are no hard data yet to either support or refute it.


Here in British Columbia there has been a delay in delivering Johnson & Johnson vaccine but we are  currently offering the AstraZeneca vaccine for folks between 55-65 where the risk/reward ratio tips more heavily towards the latter than it does in younger people. 

Again, the science on what causes these rare adverse clotting events is not clear, but protocols for diagnosing and treating them are being developed and apparently the first case identified in Canada has been successfully treated.

Finally, to reiterate, these events have not been found in people that have received the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

Update, Wed April 14th: Drug development guy Derek Lowe has an excellent overview of all this, including from a regulatory point of view....Here.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

You Have Not Heard This One Before...


And heckfire...

We even got the same lot on the same day!

(different pharmacies though - mine was at LD at 41st & Victoria)

Just a note that I've updated the eariler post about the rare and serious blood clotting events post-AZ vaccine inoculation to include the now published papers on one likely cause, and potential treatments, for the condition.
A group at Cambridge in the UK has put together a solid risk-reward analysis of getting the AZ vaccine... It tilts heavily towards the reward side with increasing age which, of course, is even more of a reason for semi-old folks like Mr. Wilkinson and myself to get this particular jab.
The European Medicines Agency is now investigating a still small number of reported blood clotting events that have been time-associated with Johnson & Johnson vaccine inoculation (scroll down)...Like the AstraZeneca vaccine this, too, is adenovirus-based (the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are not)...So...This is a subject you are likely to hear/read more about in the coming days, particularly given that the Sputnik and CanSino vaccines are also adenovirus-based...To be clear, however, at this point it is by no means certain that the adenoviral-delivery method is the, or even a, causal link to the rare, serious clotting events.


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Europe Updates Its Findings On Rare, Serious Blood Clotting Events Associated With AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccination.


Update Saturday April 10th: The paper, mentioned as a pre-print in a previous post, from the German group that originally described the issue has now been peer-reviewed and published in the New England Journal of Medicine...Here....A companion paper that comes, essentially, to the same conclusions from a Norwegian group is...Here.


Pre-post note: If you would like to cut right to the chase and go to an excellent description of this rare, but serious, side effect to the AZ vaccine, as well as specific diagnosis and treatment protocols, please go directly to the Ontario Science Table's  outstanding 'Science Brief'.


As we noted previously, the European Medicines Agency's safety committee (PRAC) has been assessing reports of rare serious clotting issues in people who have received the adenovirus-based AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine.

The report is now out. It is very worth reading in its entirety.

Here are some highlights:

EMA’s safety committee (PRAC) has concluded today that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of Vaxzevria (formerly COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca)...


...So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within 2 weeks of vaccination. Based on the currently available evidence, specific risk factors have not been confirmed...


...The Committee carried out an in-depth review of 62 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and 24 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis reported in the EU drug safety database (EudraVigilance) as of 22 March 2021, 18 of which were fatal.1 The cases came mainly from spontaneous reporting systems of the EEA and the UK, where around 25 million people had received the vaccine...


...One plausible explanation for the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is an immune response, leading to a condition similar to one seen sometimes in patients treated with heparin (heparin induced thrombocytopenia, HIT). The PRAC has requested new studies and amendments to ongoing ones to provide more information and will take any further actions necessary.

The PRAC stresses the importance of prompt specialist medical treatment. By recognising the signs of bloods clots and low blood platelets and treating them early, healthcare professionals can help those affected in their recovery and avoid complications.

Patients should seek medical assistance immediately if they have the following symptoms

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • swelling in your leg
  • persistent abdominal (belly) pain
  • neurological symptoms, including severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision
  • tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of injection


So, the findings are similar to those we discussed last week, based on initial findings in Germany and other European jurisdictions. One important new thing  is that there are now data from the UK to support this finding.

To reiterate, this is a  rare condition. Specifically, there have been 86 events reported out of  ~25 million vaccinated so far. Importantly, the condition is more common in women under the age of 60. A British medical oversight group has attempted to estimate the incidence rate in that specific group. They still find that it is a very rare event but emphasize that more data are required to be certain of the rate of adverse events.

As the EMA notes, it appears that the post-AZ vaccine events may be similar to a rare immunological response to heparin that causes inappropriate clotting inside the blood vessels. 

Unfortunately, at this time it is not possible to tell who will respond to the AZ vaccine in this way  (i.e. 'specific risk factors have not been confirmed'), other than it occurs most often in women under 60. However, a number of post-vaccination physical symptoms of concern have been identified that indicate the need for immediate medical intervention. The latter are outlined in the box above.

As we noted last week, a group in Germany with expertise in the field, including a rare heparin-induced clotting syndrome, has proposed a way to diagnose and treat the AZ vaccine-associated condition. At this time the European Medicine Agency's safety committee (the 'PRAC' quoted above) has asked for more study on this matter. However, the British Hematological Society has posted a 'Guidance on Management' protocol as has a similar German Society For The Study Of Thrombosis and Hemostasis as well as the Ontario Science Table. 

In the case of the Ontario Science Table, they have outlined concrete diagnosis and treatment protocols.  As noted at the top of the post, they also explain things well - it is very worth reading.

Here's hoping that we receive an update on this matter from our National Advisory Committee On Immunization so that Canadians can be confident that we are moving forward with all the best and most appropriate information and procedures possible.

The BCCDC statement on the AZ Vaccine,
which is now being offered to folks 55-65 years of age, handout on AZ vaccine aftercare


Monday, April 05, 2021

The SARS-CoV-2 Variants Of Concern.

The graphic above is from Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. He is a clinician researcher whose group published important work on asymptomatic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and he has been following COVID-19 developments closely, including the latest on vaccines and variants of concern, including the three shown in the table. All of this is just by way of explaining Topol's bonafides to you. 

Below are some take aways/explanations, focusing on the receptor binding domain or 'RBD' of the 'spike' protein. Much of what I'm going to type can be gleaned from a very recently peer-reviewed and published paper from a group at Oxford in the top-ranked journal 'Cell' titled 'Antibody evasion by the P.1 strain of SARS-CoV-2':

How the variants arise: SARS-CoV-2, like all viruses that have RNA as their genetic material, has an error prone RNA polymerase. The latter is the enzyme that is required to make new genetic material/RNA. The errors lead to mutations in viral genes, including the gene for the spike (S) protein. This produces a viral variant and those mutations can change the 'code' for amino acids in numbered positions in the viral proteins. The mutation in the spike protein that is common to all three 'variants of concern' shown above, all of which are currently present in British Columbia, is the N501Y mutation. This means that 'asparagine' amino acid (code name 'N')  at position 501 in the spike protein has been changed to a 'tyrosine' (code name 'Y') which slightly changes the shape and electrostatic characteristics of the bit of the spike that binds to our cells (that 'receptor binding domain'/RBD again).

How the variants emerge/spread: The spike protein is critical for binding to our cells and getting the virus inside them via the RBD. Thus, when we make our own antibodies against the virus after we've been infected with it, or because we've seen the spike protein before due to vaccination, the ones we make against the RBD portion of the spike protein are the ones that can 'neutralize' the virus and prevent it from infecting our cells. Any mutation/amino acid change in the RBD that increases its ability bind our cells (i.e. could increase transmissibility) or decreases the ability of our antibodies to bind to the RBD (i.e. could cause immune evasion) will give the variant a selective advantage and so lead to its emergence and spread in a given locality/human population where community spread is occurring. When the variants 'take over' due to this advantage it can be a significant problem for public health-based control and vaccine efficacy as noted below.

The spike protein that all the (current) vaccines code for: They all code for the 'classic' spike protein coded for by the original Wuhan viral strain. Most of the vaccine-coded spike proteins have two changes (via 2 proline amino acid mutations/substitutions) that were engineered into them to 'lock' the protein into the configuration/shape that is normally found on the surface of the virus before it binds to cells. The two vaccines that do not have this 'lock' are the Oxford and Sputnik ones, and some researchers are now starting to think that this is why these vaccines aren't as good at producing neutralizing antibodies against some variant spike proteins.  Another thing worth knowing is that the mRNA vaccine makers are already at work making vaccine boosters based on the new varian forms of the spike proteins. Being able to do this quickly and efficiently is one of the advantages of the mRNA vaccine technology.

The B.117/UK variant: This one was first identified in the United Kingdom and, due to it's increased transmissibility, it very quickly spread and became the dominant form of the virus in the fall and early winter of 2020. It has a bunch of spike protein mutations but, as noted above, it also has that N501Y mutation that is common to the other two variants of concern and it is thought that this mutation increases transmissibility. This variant is also appears to be more lethal despite what it says in Topol's table above (about 1.6X). Luckily, it looks like all the current vaccines work reasonably well against this variant. This includes the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been the one that has been rolled out widely to good effect in the UK (for a comment on the rare, serious clotting disorder associated with taking this vaccine, According to the numbers we have so far, this is currently the most prevalent variant in British Columbia (scroll down). 

The P.1/Brazilian variant: In addition to the N501Y mutation seen in the UK variant, the P.1/Brazilian variant also has E484K (which is sometimes referred to as the 'eeek' mutant) and K417T mutations in the RBD that affect binding to cells and may also contribute to immune evasion. This is the variant that has been spreading rapidly in British Columbia recently, including at Whistler. P.1/Brazilian is also the variant where we have the least hard data. Topol's table states that the effect on transmissibility is not clear, but there is one non-peer reviewed report of an increase of greater than two fold which I assume is the one that local folks are basing their comments on in media reports. The lethality is also not clear, but there have been anecdotal reports that it is problematic in younger patients. 
    So, do the vaccines work against this variant? In a true clinical setting that is not clear as the data are not yet available, but in terms of making neutralizing antibodies it looks like there is reduced activity, but it is still there - the caveat here is that the mRNA vaccines look to be better than the AstraZeneca one (see Figure 7C/D). 

The B.1351/South African variant: It has very similar changes to the RBD as does the P.1 variant. The transmissibility and lethality changes are not clear. However, both the mRNA and Astra Zeneca vaccines least proficient at generating neutralizing antibodies against it (see the same Figure 7C/D). There are clinical data for this variant though. The mRNA vaccines work, but not as well against the 'classic' virus and a small scale, phase II clinical trial concluded that the AstraZeneca vaccine doesn't have much, if any, efficacy. This has caused a lot of concern but it is important to realize that they were only looking at mild-to-moderate disease as an endpoint (as opposed to severe disease, or worse) and the sample size was so small that the 95% confidence intervals were very wide (i.e. the statistical power was low). 
    Here in British Columbia, where we are now rolling out the AZ vaccine to folks 55-65 in a lot of locations (my appointment is on Thursday), one ray of hope on this front is that this variant is still at quite low numbers and it appears, assuming we are on top of things, to be increasing slowly compared to the other two variants.

My usual disclaimer here is that, while I am a life scientist and a cell biologist, I am not a virus or vaccine expert...Thus, please understand, that I'm only trying to explain things that have been raised in media reports more fully based on what I can glean from the available scientific literature and the comments of true experts like Eric Topol mentioned above.
We here in B.C. have been lagging a bit with variant tracking but, as Andrea Woo reported in the Globe on the weekend, a group at St. Paul's led by Marc Romney has figured out how to speed that up - their actual paper is here....Here's hoping our PHO and the BCCDC adopt their methods so that we can get closer to real time variant tracking - it looks like it could really help keep us ahead of things, both from public health and vaccine implementation points of view.
Thanks again to all the readers who have sent helpful links to material to have a look at and consider.


Saturday, April 03, 2021

Will Saturday Nights Be Alright Without Randy?


The grant applications went in on Thursday and, after a couple of sleeps, my brain is starting to recover.

Neither grant had anything whatsoever to do with viruses or vaccines which is not the least bit surprising given that, as noted previously, neither of those subjects is my specialty.

However, given recent developments, especially here in Lotusland (i.e. British Columbia's Lower Mainland), I am doing my best to get up to speed with the latest on the SARS-Cov-2 viral variants of concern and vaccine responses to them. Hopefully, if I can make reasonable sense of the rapidly evolving literature, I'll be able to write a coherent post soon.

In the meantime, now that we know for sure that Randy's Vinyl Tap has been officially cancelled, I thought now might be the time to point interested readers (here's looking at you E.G.) to a complete archive of a similarly themed but, dare I suggest superior, radio show called 'Theme Time Radio Hour' that the almost octagenerian Bob Dylan put together a few years ago.

Weirdly, it's hard to find Dylan's complete series on podcasting apps (at least the ones I use). Surprisingly, however, all 100+ episodes have been archived somehow by fans and enthusiasts (as opposed to a megamediacorporatocracitic entity)...Here.

Talk to you all soon

Subheader?...It used to be a weekly thing 'round here.
Thanks to everyone who has sent me variant info...It's been helpful...I'm really doing my best to stay away from the finger pointing/hockey team stuff and stick to reading the most pertinent scientific publications, including an important recent one by a local group at St Paul's.