COVID-19 Tracker: Cases Rise in Tokyo as Olympics Begin; U.S. in “Pivotal Moment” as Delta Variant Drives Surge in Cases; Finding the Pfizer “Sweet Spot”

COVID-19 Tracker

What you need to know about COVID-19 in Canada as the global pandemic continues. Photo: Photo: Luis Alvarez / GettyImages

July 23, 2021

COVID-19 Cases Escalate in Tokyo as Olympics Begin

The Tokyo Olympics opened today even as COVID-19 cases in the country are quickly escalating. Tokyo health officials reported 1,979 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest one-day total in six months. The number of cases linked to the Tokyo Olympics has risen to 91, compared to 55 at the beginning of the week. Only one in 4 people in Japan have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

 

US in ‘Another Pivotal Moment’ as Delta Variant Drives Surge in COVID Cases

The US is “at another pivotal moment in this pandemic” as rising COVID-19 cases are driven by the Delta variant and some hospitals are filling up — especially in areas with low vaccination rates — government officials warned on Thursday.

However, the U.S. government did not change its guidance on mask wearing, despite debates going on in the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about whether those who have been vaccinated should once again be officially advised to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said that the Delta variant of coronavirus “is now spreading with incredible efficiency” in the US and that, compared with the original coronavirus strain that broke out in the US in early 2020, this variant is “more aggressive.”

 

Eight-Week Gap Between Pfizer Doses Seen as “Sweet Spot”

A longer gap between doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine leads to higher overall antibody levels than a shorter gap, a British study found on Friday, but there is a sharp drop in antibody levels after the first dose, reports Reuters.

“For the longer dosing interval … neutralizing antibody levels against the Delta variant were poorly induced after a single dose, and not maintained during the interval before the second dose,” the authors of the study, which is being led by the University of Oxford, said.

“Following two vaccine doses, neutralizing antibody levels were twice as high after the longer dosing interval compared with the shorter dosing interval.”

Neutralizing antibodies are thought play an important role in immunity against the coronavirus, but not the whole picture, with T-cells also playing a part.

The study found overall T cell levels were 1.6 times lower with a long gap compared with the short dosing schedule of 3-4 weeks, but that a higher proportion were “helper” T-cells with the long gap, which support long-term immune memory.

The authors emphasized that either dosing schedule produced a strong antibody and T-cell response in the study of 503 healthcare workers.

The findings, issued as a pre-print, support the view that while a second dose is needed to provide full protection against Delta, delaying that dose might provide more durable immunity, even if that’s at the cost of protection in the short-term.

“I think the 8-week is about the sweet spot,” Susanna Dunachie, joint chief investigator on the study, told reporters.

 

Cases Surge in Indonesia and Mexico

Indonesia is reporting 1,566 new coronavirus deaths, the biggest one-day increase on record, and 49,071 new cases. This compares with the 45,343 new cases in the U.S. reported yesterday. And yet, the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. was much lower at 252, proof that vaccines can prevent death; 49 per cent of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated while only 6.9 per cent of the population in Indonesia is fully vaccinated. In Canada , 52.9 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Mexico reports 16,244 new coronavirus cases, the biggest one-day increase since January, and 419 new deaths.

 

Quarantine Required Again for Travellers from Australia to New Zealand

New Zealand is shutting down  the quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia for two months, following several serious outbreaks of COVID-19.

New Zealand had already paused travel with the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The new pause applies to all of Australia for the next eight weeks.

At a press briefing today, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said because of the Delta variant there was “greater risk now … than when we opened the travel bubble”.

“COVID has changed and so must we.”

The New Zealand government held an urgent cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss the decision.

 

“Pingdemic” in Britain Disrupting Everyday Life and Economy

Britain has been experiencing a “pingdemic” as more than 600,000 people have been “pinged” on their phones with a government app warning them that they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and must isolate for 10 days. The so-called pingdemic has caused staff shortages and delivery problems, leading to a dwindling food supply and emptying supermarket shelves.

 

British Study: Testing as Effective as Isolation for Secondary School Students

A study by the University of Oxford has found that daily testing of secondary school students who were in contact with someone with COVID-19 was just as effective in controlling school transmission as the current 10-day contact isolation policy.

The study ran between April and June 2021. The results were published today in pre-print.

Over 200,000 students and 20,000 staff participated. Half of the schools continued a standard policy of routine mass testing, and isolation for close contacts of positive cases for 10 days. The second group of schools invited close contacts of positive cases to come to school and take lateral flow tests in a supervised school testing site over 7 days. Those who chose to do so were released from isolation to attend school or college if they tested negative for COVID-19. Around half of all eligible students and staff chose to do daily testing. Close contacts, from either group of the study, were invited to provide a research PCR test for COVID-19 on day 2 and 7 following contact, in order to determine how many close contacts became infected.

There was no evidence that the rate of students and staff developing COVID-19 with symptoms was different in the group doing daily testing compared to the contact group.

The findings of this study are good news for students, parents and teachers, said David Eyre, Oxford associate professor and investigator on the study. “The study supports earlier findings from Test and Trace data showing that most children who are in contact with COVID-19 in schools don’t go on to get infected. Daily testing was able to identify most of the small number that do, which allowed them to safely isolate at home, while allowing the large majority of other students and staff to remain in school. Reassuringly too, rates of infection in school staff were lower than those in students.”

Judy Gerstel

 

July 22, 2021

Make Vaccines Mandatory for Health-Care Workers?

Italy, France and Greece have made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for people who work in health care. Will Canada be next? “It is coming time for us to really put protocols into place to ensure health workers are vaccinated. It’s unfair to patients who are receiving care in a variety of settings, that they are potentially being cared for by unvaccinated health workers,” Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and lecturer at the University of Toronto, told the Toronto Star.

Both the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario have called for vaccines to be mandatory for health-care workers in the province. But, as the CBC reports, Premier Doug Ford said last week that those workers have a “constitutional right” to opt out of vaccination (the province already has mandated immunization policies for long-term care staff). However, compulsory vaccination would likely not be considered a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it would be in the best interest of everyone, Tracey Tremayne-Lloyd, a health law specialist and founder of TTL Health Law told the Star. “What they’re trying to do is protect the citizens of the country from this deadly virus. And you are in a job where you can get it and transmit it,” she said.

As the Star report points out, only Quebec has mandated vaccination for staff in certain hospitals, saying frequent COVID testing or unpaid leave could be a consequence of not getting immunized. And in B.C., where more than 80 per cent of eligible residents have already had at least one dose, the province said this month that it is still considering making vaccination mandatory for long-term care workers.

Biden Frustrated by Vaccination Slow Down as Cases Nearly Tripple

New cases of COVID-19 have nearly tripled over the past two weeks in the U.S., and Wednesday President Joe Biden expressed frustration over people who are refusing to get vaccinated. “There’s legitimate questions people can ask if they worry about getting vaccinated, but the question should be asked, answered and people should get vaccinated,” said Biden yesterday in Ohio at a town hall hosted by CNN.

The country’s vaccination rates have seemed to stall, with only 57 per cent of eligible Americans fully vaccinated despite an abundance of domestically produced vaccines. And last week, with cases up 70 per cent over the previous week, and deaths up 26 per cent, most of the increases were in counties with below average vaccination rates, said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky. “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said, adding that 97 per cent of new COVID-19 hospitalizations were unvaccinated people.

The U.S. has experienced the highest toll from the coronavirus, with more than 625,000 recorded deaths and more than 35 million cases — reporting 56,525 new infections yesterday. Top health and White House officials are reported to be considering mask-wearing recommendations for fully vaccinated Americans, after the CDC said earlier this year that is was unnecessary, to help control the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

—Tara Losinski

 

July 21, 2021

U.S. Land Border Remains Shut 

Days after Canada announced a reopening of the border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, the U.S. said Wednesday that tourist crossing will remain one-way for at least another month. A notice from the U.S. Federal Register stated that, while vaccination rates have improved, opening the land border to non-essential travel still poses too high a risk. “Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID-19 between the United States and Canada poses an ongoing specific threat to human life or national interests,” read the government notice. The ban on non-essential travel, set to expire at midnight, has been extended until Aug. 21.

Canada surpassed the U.S. this week on vaccination rates, with 51 per cent of the population now having received two shots, as compared to 48 per cent of Americans who are considered fully vaccinated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC does not recognize those with mixed doses as fully vaccinated. But even when comparing proportion of the population with at least one dose, Canada still outpaces the U.S., with nearly 70 per cent of Canadians having one shot as compared to 56 per cent of Americans having one received one dose.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, blames politics for the U.S. lag. “Canada is doing better not because we are trying any less than they are trying. It’s because in Canada you don’t have that divisiveness of people not wanting to get vaccinated, in many respects, on the basis of ideology and political persuasion,” he said in the interview with CNN Monday.

“I mean, political differences are totally understandable and a natural part of the process in any country. But when it comes to a public health issue, in which you’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic and the common enemy is the virus, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Case Count Not Most Important Thing at Olympics, Says WHO

As the number of Games-related COVID-19 cases in Japan hit 79 Wednesday, the head of the World Health Organization is focused on how infections are managed rather than on how many there are. “The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a speech to an International Olympic Committee meeting. “The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases.”

But Tokyo, location of the athlete’s village where most of the 11,000 international competitors will stay, is at the same time responding to a six-month high surge of COVID-19, reporting 1,832 new cases today. The city is under its fourth state of emergency since the pandemic, and vaccination rates across the country are still low — only about 23 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. “What we have worried about is now actually happening,” Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said at a weekly news conference. “The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Olympics.”

As the world watches and holds its breath over the next two weeks, hoping that the rescheduled 2020 Summer Games doesn’t become a super spreader event, in his speech Wednesday Tedros said there is no “zero risk in life,” and that Japan is “giving courage to the whole world.”

—Tara Losinski

 

July 20, 2021

Half of Canadians Still Wary of Border Reopening

With the government announcing yesterday that Canada will open its border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, and to fully vaccinated international travellers on Sept. 7, a new Leger poll suggests that half of Canadians aren’t ready for at least the first stage of reopening. When asked if they support a full reopening at the end of August, 52 per cent of respondents in a survey of 1,529 people, taken July 16 to 18, said they opposed the move. And as for what condition they needed met to feel comfortable with people entering the country, 14 per cent of those surveyed said entry should be limited to essential work, humanitarian and other emergencies only, another 16 per cent said a negative test before entry was enough, five per cent said that visitors should have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 66 per cent said people crossing the border needed to be fully vaccinated.

And on the subject of vaccination, 71 per cent of the poll’s respondents said that flying should require a vaccine passport (66 said train travel should), and when asked about what they would be comfortable doing knowing that unvaccinated persons could be present, attending an outdoor gathering won out, with 73 per cent, while only 37 per cent of Canadians said it would be getting on a plane. Looks like some of us will be road tripping for a while yet, and within Canada since the U.S. has yet to lift its restriction on Canadian tourists crossing at land borders and is expected to extend the ban again this month.

Big Cruise Lines Won’t Recognize Mixed Doses as Fully Vaxxed

Now for those who are comfortable with flying to the U.S., cruising out of the country may pose a problem. As the Toronto Star reports, Royal Caribbean updated its requirements Friday to state that guests who have used mixed immunization protocols will not be considered fully vaccinated, and thus not be permitted to board. Same goes for Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line, with both changing their policies to reflect the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of being fully vaccinated: “COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable; the safety and effectiveness of receiving two different COVID-19 vaccines has not been studied.”

In a statement earlier this month, the WHO warned that such restrictions on travellers would “effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide,” with the agency urged “all regional, national and local government authorities to recognise as fully vaccinated all people who have received COVID-19 vaccines that have been deemed safe and effective by the World Health Organization.” Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government is working on an internationally recognized proof of vaccination for Canadians, with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc saying Thursday that details would be made available “over the coming weeks and months,” including for those Canadians who were fully vaccinated with mixed doses.

—Tara Losinski

 

July 19, 2021

Canada Overtakes U.S. Vaccination Rates

According to figures from COVID-19 Tracker Canada, nearly 57 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated as of Monday morning. After a slow start, the country has overtaken the U.S., with CDC data showing that 48.6 of Americans have gotten two shots. Canada also has a higher proportion of the population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 79.8 per cent as of this morning, compared to 56 per cent in the U.S.

Calgary Stampede a Success, Say Organizers

With the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” closing out its 10-day run Sunday, officials are claiming success, “no matter how you measure it.” With no international visitors and attendance cut by half, the Calgary Stampede still saw about 50,000 guests a day this year — although 88 per cent were Albertans with 12 per cent of attendees coming from out-of-province. “We have done what we said we would do. Show the world that we can open our doors to a new and more positive tomorrow,” said the president and chairman of the Stampede board, Steve McDonough.

While masks are no longer mandatory in the province, event workers were required to wear them while on shift.  The midway rides were operated to allow for physical distancing, and entry into the Nashville North music tent and beer garden required a proof of vaccination or a negative rapid test, with organizers reporting that 73 per cent of the 60, 000 Nashville North guests choosing the former, while the rest chose the latter — with 18 people being sent home after testing positive for COVID-19. Premier Jason Kenney took to Twitter Sunday with some more back-patting, saying, “What a great Stampede! Such a joy to connect with Albertans during Canada’s first major event after the pandemic.”

American Athlete Latest to Test Positive in Tokyo

With four days to go before the rescheduled 2020 Summer Games are set to start, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced Monday that an alternate of the women’s gymnastics team has tested positive for COVID-19, without confirming the athlete’s name. “In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine. Out of respect for the individual’s privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time,” read a USOPC statement.

Tokyo Olympic officials had already confirmed earlier Monday that a third athlete — a beach volleyball player from the Czech Republic — had tested positive. And on Sunday, the British Olympic Association confirmed that six of their athletes and two staff members were isolating after coming into close contact with someone on their flight to Japan who had since tested positive for COVID-19. All eight tested negative at the airport and are now under the supervision of the British delegation’s medical team.

Also on Sunday, two South African men’s soccer players were confirmed as having tested positive. along with a video analyst for the team. South Africa’s first game is set for Thursday against the home team of Japan. Support for the games are low in the host country, with reports that two-thirds of Japanese citizens doubting that a safe Games can be held during the pandemic.

—Tara Losinski

 

July 16, 2021

Border Restrictions to Ease by Mid-August

If COVID-19 infection rates remain at their current level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that Canada could begin welcoming travellers from the U.S. by mid-August, and from around the world by mid-September. A readout of meeting Trudeau had yesterday with the provincial first ministers notes that if “our current positive path of vaccination rate and public health conditions continue,” Canada will start “allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel.” According to the readout, the premiers applauded the plans to cautiously reopen land border crossings between the two nations, which have been closed to all but essential travel for 16 months. Although vaccine passports weren’t mentioned, the premiers discussed the need to work “collaboratively on a proof of vaccination credential, and prioritizing work to implement a system that would enable Canadians to travel internationally with confidence.” The easing of border restrictions is good news for families with relatives in the U.S., many of whom have been separated since the borders were closed. And it’s a dose of good news for tourist-related businesses that have been hit hard during the border closures.

Ontario Reopens

Today, Ontario moves into Step 3 of its opening plan, meaning that many previously banned indoor venues – such as museums, gyms, casinos, cinemas, and theatres – will finally be able to open their doors to patrons. Ontarians will also be able to dine and drink indoors at restaurants and bars. And the number of people who can attend outdoor gatherings have also been extended.There will be limits on capacity as businesses must insure that customers are socially distanced. Step 3 comes several days earlier than expected thanks to the province reaching the milestone of 75 per cent of its residents having received at least one vaccine dose.  (A full list of the relaxed restrictions are available on the government website.) Premier Doug Ford posted a congratulatory note to Ontarians on Twitter, noting that he’s “thankful for each and every one of you. You have gone above and beyond. This has been a long journey for everyone and despite the challenges you faced, you remained strong and resilient.” And Health Minister Christine Elliot tweeted her gratitude to front-line workers who helped us through the worst of the pandemic: “Thanks to our #HealthCareHeroes and every Ontarian who has gotten their shot, we can get back to the things we’ve missed like going to a concert or eating indoors at your favourite restaurant.”

Peter Muggeridge

July 15, 2021

Elderly Quebecers May Get Third Dose

To prepare for a possible new wave of COVID-19, the Quebec government is developing contingency plans to provide elderly and vulnerable adults with a third vaccine, this one to combat the Delta variant of the virus. The Montreal Gazette is reporting that health officials are discussing the possibility of a “booster” shot against the variant. The government of Israel recently announced it will provide a third dose to people with weak or compromised immune systems. The Gazette quoted a senior government official saying, “I don’t think they’re going to make any decisions for another few weeks. It’s still very early days in those conversations.” Health Minister Christian Dubé’s office would not comment on the report, other than saying, “all our efforts are currently focused on offering and promoting the second dose of the vaccine to Quebecers.” While case counts are low in Quebec and around the rest of the country, provincial health officials note that the majority of new infections are caused by the Delta variant.

Trudeau Signals Caution on Border Reopening

After months of declining infection rates, health officials on both sides of the border are carefully monitoring an uptick in new cases in the U.S., most of them caused by the Delta variant. The rise in infections may delay the July 21 deadline to reopen and borders between the two nations, which have been closed to all but essential travel for the past 16 months. In a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that his government would take a “cautious approach” to the scheduled border reopening plans. “As eager as people are to open up, I know nobody wants to have to go backwards,” said Trudeau, adding that, “we know how unbelievably costly and heartbreaking it would be to fall into a fourth wave of this pandemic.” Right now, borders are open only to essential services, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents. But there is growing pressure from tourist associations from both countries to fully reopen all land crossings, arguing that they’re missing out on billions of dollars in revenue. “Without travellers, there is no tourism industry. Reopen the border immediately to allow travellers to safely cross! ” reads a statement on the Tourism Industry Association of Canada‘s website, part of its #opentheborder social media campaign.

—Peter Muggeridge

 

July 14, 2021

Tokyo Reports Highest New Case Count in Six Months

A day after the Canadian Olympic Committee confirmed that it will be sending the country’s largest Olympic continent, 371 athletes, since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games to Tokyo, on Wednesday the city reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases, 1,149, in nearly six months. The country also surpassed a grim milestone of more than 15,000 deaths from the coronavirus. With the postponed 2020 Summer Games opening in just nine days, a state of emergency for Tokyo and the surrounding area was extended last week, and Olympic organizers announced that no fans would be allowed at events in those areas. But in a statement yesterday, Canada’s Chef de Mission Marnie McBean was optimistically focused, praising athletes. “Despite the pandemic, through their creativity and perseverance, they have become the largest Canadian Olympic Team in three decades,” McBean said.  “In far less than ideal conditions, they have found a way to be faster and stronger than ever and I have no doubt that they are ready to reveal something special at Tokyo 2020.”

The French Want In

The Canadian border remains closed to foreigners, whether they’re vaxxed or not, and it’s not just the U.S. putting on the pressure for it to reopen. “The borders will have to be reopened relatively quickly now for us to put Canada back on our travel plans,” France’s Ambassador to Canada Kareen Rispal said Tuesday, warning of an eroding of relations. “The consequence of the border closure is that there are no more visits,” said Rispal. “There are no more ministers. There are no more parliamentarians. There are no more manufacturing visits. There are no more visits by artists … relationships need to be worked on every day, to nourish them.”

France has reopened to fully vaccinated Canadians, and the ambassador says as a fellow “green country” — one where COVID-19 is under control — French visitors should be given quid pro quo. “We would be very happy if the French could return to Canada without constraints other than being doubly vaccinated, taking tests, etc.,” said Rispal. “We aren’t asking to return to Canada in a haphazard way.”

But, as the Toronto Star reports, it’s expected that the border closure will be renewed for at least another month on July 21, with minor restriction changes — if any.

Feds Won’t Meddle in Domestic Vaccine Passports, Still Working on One for International Travel

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that although the federal government will work with provinces and territories for an “internationally accepted proof of vaccination” for travel, Ottawa won’t be stepping on their toes when it comes to domestic vaccine passports. “Different provinces will be doing different things, where the federal government has a role to play and where we are looking is in terms of vaccine certification for international travel,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

But there’s been no details about what an international travel passport will look like, although we know that Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners are concerned, jointly warning in May that while vaccine passports “may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration.” In additional to privacy concerns, Canada also finds itself in the sticky situation of potentially having countries not recognize Canadians as fully vaccinated if they’ve mixed doses. The prime minister would only say yesterday that, “We’re going to work with the international community to make sure that people who are fully vaccinated in ways that Canadians recognize as safe and effective are also recognized around the world.” But even travelling domestically will require   proof of vaccination in the short term, with several provinces (including Manitoba, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador) only allowing fully vaccinated visitors, for now.

Venice to Keep Cruisers Out 

And speaking of travel, if cruising past St. Mark’s Square into Venice’s city centre was on your bucket list, you’re going to have to cross it out, rather than off. In what will be part of its new normal, Italy announced Tuesday that the “Floating City” will no longer be accepting cruises — instead the big ships will dock on the mainland. The Italian government is calling the ban, which takes effect Aug. 1, “an important step for the safeguarding of the Venetian lagoon.” The ban applies to ships more than 25,000 tons, with lengths of more than 180 metres, and the cost to construct new docking facilities at the industrial port of Marghera will be a whopping €157 million ($232 million). But the new law will protect the “environmental, artistic and cultural heritage of Venice,” said a government statement. The move comes little over a month after Venice was proposed to be added to the World Heritage in Danger list by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — the presence of cruise ships given as part of the reason.

—Tara Losinski

 

July 13, 2021

Mixed Messaging on Mixing and Matching

The contradictory messaging around COVID-19 vaccine protocol continued yesterday, with the World Health Organization’s chief scientist cautioning that mixing vaccines is “a dangerous trend” for second doses and booster shots. “There is limited data on mix and match,” said Soumya Swaminathan during a virtual news conference Monday. “Maybe it will be a very good approach but at the moment we only have data on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine followed by Pfizer,” she added.

But not only have Canadians who got a first shot of AstraZeneca been advised to take the Pfizer vaccine as their second dose, they’ve also been advised to take whatever mRNA shot — Pfizer or Moderna — is available to them. And then there are those who took one of the two mRNA shots as their first dose, only to get a different one as their second — again, at the recommendation of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization. And, if the Public Health Agency of Canada authorizes a booster, Pfizer is expected to request authorization of theirs, it could mean people getting yet a different vaccine as a third shot.

In Ontario, where for several weeks mRNA vaccines have been given interchangeably, and where residents who received AstraZeneca as a first shot can choose to take either Pfizer or Moderna as their second dose, officials responded to the WHO warning Monday, saying they’d continue with mixing doses. “Ontario continues to follow the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which recommends that it is safe to mix vaccines based on studies from the U.K., Spain and Germany that have found that mixing vaccines is safe and produces a strong immune response,” read a statement to CTV News from Carly Luis, the director of communications for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Swaminathan, perhaps muddying the water further, clarified later on Monday via Twitter, saying, “Individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can, based on available data.” But it was evidence, early data suggesting that mixing doses is safe and effective, on which NACI based its COVID-19 vaccine dose “interchangeability authorization” back at the beginning of June. And two weeks later, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), which advises the WHO, gave permissive recommendation to use Pfizer as a second dose if AstraZeneca was not available due to supply constraints or other concerns.

For the record, a U.K. study of attitudes about vaccination to protect against the coronavirus found that “communication of changing and conflicting messages from governments, health experts and the media have driven an increase in vaccine hesitancy among the general public.”

CDC Updates Johnson & Johnson Shot’s Potential Side Effect

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the labelling for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday to warn of the small possible risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome — a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. “Today, the FDA is announcing revisions to the vaccine recipient and vaccination provider fact sheets for the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine to include information pertaining to an observed increased risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) following vaccination,” the regulator said in a statement sent to CNN, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement it has received reports of 100 people who got J&J’s Janssen shot developing Guillain-Barré, which can cause muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis. The risk is classified as small, with nearly 13 million Americans having received the one-dose vaccine, and most cases were reported in men — many aged 50 and old — and usually about two weeks after vaccination.

Guillain-Barré can be triggered by a number of infections — flu, cytomegalovirus and Zika — but there have been rare cases of people developing it after receiving certain vaccines. Although the J&J COVID shot is approved for use in Canada, the vaccine has yet to be used.

Canada Wasn’t Ready for What Hit

The final report from an independent review of Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) was released Monday, finding the group unprepared for the pandemic. The monitoring system, which scours the internet for reports of infectious diseases, was understaffed in the four years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, an independent panel has found. The failure in its surveillance was partly due to a missing chief health surveillance officer — the position had been vacant since 2017 — the report stated. The panel also found that a strategic surveillance plan created by the Public Health Agency of Canada had “never received formal approval.” A statement from Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said only that “it is critical that the lessons learned from our response to the pandemic help improve the tools in place to protect Canadians.” However, the opposition wants specifics on how the Liberal government will fix the GPHIN. “This scathing report shows once again the Liberal government was unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative health critic. “These failures lead to lost lives and the countless consequences of the pandemic.”

—Tara Losinski

 

July 12, 2021

Canada Catching up to U.S. Fully Vaxxed Rate

The federal government says it’s on track to reach 68 million shots by the end of July, and officials expect to have received more that 55 million doses in total by the week’s end. Ottawa expects another 1.4 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech to arrive in the next seven days, while it distributes to the provinces and territories 1.5 million doses delivered from Moderna on Friday. All this vaccine availability continues to shorten the wait between first and second COVID-19 shots and, as of Monday morning, 49.1 per cent of eligible Canadians (12 and over) have been fully vaccinated. In terms of total population, 42.7 per cent of Canadians are now fully inoculated — hot on the tail of the U.S.’s total, which the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts at 48 per cent. And according to the New York Times vaccine tracker, Canada is fifth in the world — behind the United Arab Emirates, Malta, Iceland and Chile — for proportion of the population with at least one dose, which is 78.9, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada data.

COVID Surging in U.S. Hot Spots, Including Lowly Vaxxed States

The U.S. is averaging about 19,455 new cases a day, over the last seven days, a 47 per cent increase from the week prior. And as CNN reports, a third of those come from five hot spots: Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Nevada. And although close to half of all Americans are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows that rates dip to 35 per cent in at least two of those states — Arkansas and Louisiana — as well as in Alabama, Wyoming and Mississippi. As to whether vaccination should be mandated to help control spread, America’s top doc says yes — at the local level. “We’re talking about life and death situation. We’ve lost 600,000 Americans already, and we’re still losing more people. There’ve been 4 million deaths worldwide,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN. “This is serious business.”

A Third of Canadians Not Yet Ready for U.S. Visitors

And speaking of Americans, a recent Nanos poll for the Globe and Mail suggests that a third of Canadians are still wary of letting our southern neighbours over the border. Polled between June 30 and July 5, 34 per cent of respondents said they would prefer the border would not be reopened until the fall. And the majority — 79 per cent — said public health is more important than the economy and jobs when it comes to making a decision on when to reopen. “If you’re a major business advocate for opening the border you have to realize that for average Canadians, they still think of the pandemic. They’re not thinking of jobs and the economy or vacationing in Florida,” said pollster Nik Nanos. As the Globe reports, Statistics Canada figures show that in 2019 — the year leading up to the pandemic — Canada saw a record 22.1 million foreign tourists, 15 million of whom were from the U.S.

—Tara Losinski

 

July 9, 2021

COVID-Free? Vaccinated? Prove It!

Vaccine “passports” — proof that you’re fully vaccinated — are starting to become a thing in some parts of Canada.

Some Quebecers have already started to receive their proof of vaccination in the form of a QR code in their emails, though they have no purpose yet, reports CTV. The Legault government plans to use proof of vaccination to limit people’s access to non-essential services, if the COVID-19 situation worsens in the fall. By fall, businesses are expected to have access to a smartphone app that will be able to scan a person’s QR code, health minister Christian Dubé said Thursday. He emphasized that the rollout of the vaccine passport will not happen until all eligible Quebecers have had a chance to receive two doses of the vaccine, which is estimated to happen around Sept. 1. It will not be used, however, for access to public or essential services but could be used to limit access to places like bars, gyms, contact sports and other activities deemed “high” or “moderate” risk.

Also, Manitoba is now offering an immunization card for people who are fully immunized. When requested, a digital card that can be carried on a mobile device will be created automatically. If a physical card is requested, it should arrive in the mail within two weeks. These cards will include first and last names and a QR code. When scanned with the Manitoba Immunization Card app, the QR code will show that a person is fully vaccinated.

In both Ontario and British Columbia, digital copies of confirmation of vaccination are available online. In Ontario, a digital copy is accessible at covid19.ontariohealth.ca.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Calgary Stampede will be the first major Canadian event to ask attendees for proof of COVID vaccination or for a rapid test, according to the Globe and Mail. The Stampede’s Nashville North will become the first major venue in Canada to require proof of vaccination, or a COVID-19 rapid test, before revellers are allowed to enter the site known for its live country music and large crowds.

Trudeau Non-Committal on Border Opening

Remember when the “ugly American” wasn’t appreciated in Canada or anywhere else? Now the unvaccinated American — or tourist from any other country — is not welcome in Canada, says Prime Minister Trudeau. And they won’t be welcome in Canada “for quite awhile,” he said at a press conference Thursday. “The next step will be looking at what measures we can allow for international travellers who are fully vaccinated. That will be our first focus, and we will have more to say in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said, promising continued aid for the tourism businesses.

Earlier on Thursday, Ottawa business owners and the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable held a press conference imploring the federal government to put forward a plan that will allow the tourism sector to plan for what their summer travel season will look like. 

Soon We’ll Have to Scramble for a Third Shot 

Pfizer said Thursday it is seeing waning immunity from its coronavirus vaccine and says it is picking up its efforts to develop a booster dose that will protect people from variants. However, some scientists and regulatory agencies have questioned the need for a booster shot. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint statement that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster COVID-19 shot at this time, Reuters reports. And the European Medicines Agency said it was too early to determine whether more than the two shots that are currently required would be called for, saying it was confident for now that the established regimen was sufficient.

But Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, said the reported dip in the vaccine’s effectiveness in Israel was mostly due to infections in people who had been vaccinated in January or February. Israel’s health ministry said vaccine effectiveness in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease fell to 64 per cent in June. “The Pfizer vaccine is highly active against the Delta variant,” Dolsten said in an interview with Reuters. But after six months, he said, “there likely is the risk of reinfection as antibodies, as predicted, wane. He stressed that data from Israel and Britain suggests that even with waning antibody levels, the vaccine remains around 95 per cent effective against severe disease.

Dolsten said he believes booster shots are particularly important in older age groups.

In Britain, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is already issuing guidance on potentially starting a booster shot campaign in about two months. “The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third COVID-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS [National Health Service] ahead of winter,” said Prof. Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chair for JCVI. The British committee recommends that those who are immunosuppressed, living in long-term care or retirement homes, people aged 70 years and older, and front-line health workers should be the first to get a third dose of a COVID vaccine, or booster shot. The U.K.’s targeted approach to booster shots is “spot on,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Allison McGeer, told the CBC. “People who live in long-term care facilities, people who are immunocompromised, do generate lower antibody levels and they decline faster over time,” McGeer said. “There are likely to be some of those people who will not be well-protected come October or November and who might be better protected if they get an extra dose of vaccine.”

—Judy Gerstel

 

July 8, 2021

Fans Banned at Tokyo Olympic Events

All spectators will be banned from the Tokyo venues at the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan’s Olympics Committee announced today. Japan also declared that a pandemic state of emergency for Tokyo will run throughout the event. The games are set to begin on July 23. Japan is holding the Olympics despite warnings from many public health professionals that they should be postponed again, or called off. Banning spectators comes after the International Olympic Committee already enacted strict protocols that limit the number of athletes and coaches who can travel to Tokyo.

Kim Gaucher, a Canadian basketball player, had to fight to bring her breastfeeding 3-month-old to the games after Japanese authorities imposed a no-friends-or-family rule. “Right now, I’m being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete” Gaucher had said in June. “I can’t have them both.” But Gaucher won her battle and the Tokyo organizers are now allowing nursing mothers to bring their children to the Games.

Despite the restrictions, two national teams — Uganda and Serbia — arrived with members testing positive for COVID-19.

More Than 50% of Ontario Adults Fully Vaccinated

The province’s latest figures show that about 78.6 per cent of adults have had at least one dose of vaccine, while more than 51 per cent have had both shots, reports the CBC. Or to put it another way: one in five Ontario adults have not had even a first dose of the vaccine. The rates of at least first vaccination for people over 40 range from 75.8 per cent, for people in their 40s, to 96.1 per cent for people age 80 and over. The lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the youngest eligible age groups. About 67 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 have had at least one dose, along with 59 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17.

The uptake of first shots has slowed considerably in Ontario in recent weeks, prompting calls for the province to better integrate family doctors into its immunization campaign. During a press briefing this morning, Ontario health minister Christine Elliott said the focus of the rollout would shift from mass clinics to primary care settings in coming weeks as they to reach adults who have not yet had a first shot but could be open to receiving one. That group represents roughly 10 to 15 per cent of adults in the province, officials said.

 

Limits on Shoppers in Stores in Quebec to be Lifted

Beginning Monday, stores in Quebec will no longer be required to limit the number of people inside. Face masks will still be mandatory in indoor public places. And stores will still be required to manage traffic on their premises so that customers are one metre apart. The province announced the new measures yesterday. Physical distancing of one metre is now the requirement for all activities, except for “singing activities and for high intensity exercise in gyms,” the ministry of health said in a news release. As well, in venues with fixed seating for an audience, whether indoors or outdoors, there has to be one empty seat between people from different residences.

The loosening of restrictions is a result of a decreasing number of COVID-19 cases in the province and an increase in vaccinations. As of yesterday, more than 80 per cent of the eligible population has received one dose of a vaccine, while 39 per cent of people have been fully vaccinated.

Canadian Children and Youth More likely to Have Had COVID Than Adults

Canadians 19 and younger, not older people, had the highest rates of COVID-19 infection, although they were often not aware of it, Statistics Canada reports about research completed in the spring. In about one-third of cases, those infections were asymptomatic. The research, reported yesterday, collected blood samples from more than 11,000 Canadians age one and over; residents of long-term care and retirement homes were not included. The research was completed before the third wave of the pandemic and before vaccines were readily available. Overall, 3.6 per cent, or fewer than 1 in 25 Canadians, had COVID-19 antibodies in their blood from a previous infection or vaccination.

Researchers also found that visible minorities, young and old, were more than twice as likely to have had past infections leading up to the third wave as compared to other Canadians.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hankins, who co-chairs the federal COVID Immunity Task Force that funded the antibody research, told the Ottawa Citizen that she was surprised people over 60 who participated had the lowest rates of antibodies due to infection. Just 1.4 per cent of participants aged 60 and over had antibodies indicating they had prior infections, compared to 3.3 per cent of children and youth 19 and younger. Among adults aged 20 to 59, the rate was 2.9 per cent. Hankins said the research shows that Canadians were vulnerable when the third wave, fuelled by the highly transmissible Alpha variant, hit in the spring. “We were not well prepared for the third wave,” she said.

The Canadians who participated in the study received a test kit in the mail so they could give blood samples from home by pricking their fingers. Albertans had the highest rates of antibodies due to previous infections — 4 per cent — followed by Quebec, at 3.2 per cent, Saskatchewan at 2.9 per cent and Ontario at 2.5 per cent. The Atlantic provinces had only 0.5 per cent seroprevalence due to past infection, and the numbers were too low to produce a statistical estimate in the territories. The data was collected between November 2020 and April 2021.

Severe Warnings About Lifting Restrictions in Britain

Lifting the remaining pandemic restrictions on July 19 in Britain is “dangerous and premature,” according to international scientists and doctors, who have called on the U.K. government to pause reopening until more people are vaccinated.

Writing in the Lancet, more than 100 global experts warn that removing restrictions this month will cause millions of infections and risk creating a generation with chronic health problems and disability from COVID, the impact of which may be felt for decades. Government scientists expect cases of COVID-19 to soar in the summer months — even without the further easing of restrictions. On Wednesday, the U.K. reported more than 30,000 new cases for the first time since January, and an increase of more than 40 per cent in hospital admissions and deaths.

However, the Guardian reports that government sources have said further delay or U-turn is not on the cards, but they expect to come under increasing pressure in the coming days to change course. “I think we’d only be looking at further delay if there was an emergence of a particularly nasty new variant,” one said. Another source said it was unlikely that the plan could be knocked off course, whatever the numbers.

—Judy Gerstel

 

July 7, 2021

A Call to Bare Arms in Ontario

Today, Ontario reported zero deaths for the first time since Oct. 14. Vaccinations do make a difference! Yesterday, Ontario’s chief medical officer told reporters that 83 per cent of Ontarians infected with COVID-19 recently had not been vaccinated. Dr. Kieran Moore warned that with more businesses expected to reopen this month — including gyms and indoor restaurant dining — and schools returning in September, “time is of the essence” because it takes a couple of weeks after the second vaccination to develop full immunity and improve safety levels. Aside from the 83.2 per cent who were not vaccinated and caught the virus, 15.6 per cent had been partially vaccinated and 1.2 per cent were fully vaccinated, Moore said. He also said that the more highly contagious Delta variant, first detected in India, “remains a difficult adversary” and is increasing in Israel and England despite their high vaccination levels.

 

Delta Is Now the Dominant Coronavirus Variant in the U.S. and Is Spreading in Canada

Last night, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the Delta variant now is estimated to account for more than 51 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

In some midwestern states, including Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, the Delta variant accounts for more than 80 per cent of new infections. In some western states, including Utah and Colorado, it is causing 74.3 per cent of infections while in the south — Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma — Delta is responsible for 58.8 per cent of infections. In Canada, the Delta variant has spread to all regions of Manitoba, with 40 per cent of Delta cases in Winnipeg. It is believed to responsible for recent outbreaks elsewhere, including in the Yukon and in a Burlington retirement home. Because of the highly infectious variant, “people who are not vaccinated are going to be at a hugely increased risk in the coming months,” warned epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, a Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Evolution, Infection and Public Health at Simon Fraser University. “We’re testing new waters in a way; this virus hasn’t seen a reopened population.”

 

Vaccines Do Work Against Delta. Mostly.

The Pfizer vaccine appears to be less effective against infections caused by the Delta variant compared to other strains of COVID-19, the Israeli government says. As of June 6, the vaccine provided 64 per cent protection against infection in Israel, CNN reports. In May — when the Alpha variant dominated in Israel and the Delta strain had not yet spread widely — the government found that the shot was 95.3 per cent effective against all infections. The government added that the vaccine was now 93 per cent effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalizations, compared to 97 per cent reported in The Lancet in May. However, a Hebrew University team said in a separate statement that it was too soon to tell how much the Delta variant was affecting vaccine efficacy.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, was also cautious about drawing conclusions. “Best data still suggest mRNA vaccines offer high degree of protection against infection and superb protection against severe illness. Let’s await more data but as of now … If you’re vaccinated, I wouldn’t worry,” he tweeted.

In another statement Tuesday, Israel’s Ministry of Health emphasized the vaccine’s continuing benefit in preventing severe cases. More than 60 per cent of Israel’s population is fully inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine.

Also, reports CNN, a study by Public Health England found this month that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were each highly effective — at 96 per cent and 92 per cent respectively — against hospitalizations from the Delta variant after two doses.

—Judy Gerstel

July 6, 2021

Masks, Masks and More About Masks and Unmasking

Forget for a moment about the battle between the Canadiens vs. the Lightning. Consider, instead, the battle between Masked vs. Unmasked. In many jurisdictions, the time has come to choose your team.

With mask laws repealed or about to be repealed or loosened in many jurisdictions — British Columbia, Alberta and Britain — voluntarily wearing a mask or going unmasked becomes a statement, advertising to the world much about how you feel about risk and even about how you want to be perceived. Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Delta variant is gearing up on the sidelines, eager to pounce on the unvaccinated and the partially vaccinated.

In B.C. and Alberta, most provincial mask rules were dropped on July 1. Instead, masks are “recommended,” especially for those not fully vaccinated or at higher risk. On Monday, Calgary city councillors voted to repeal the bylaw that had mandated mask use at all city facilities, malls, retail businesses, places of worship and public transit. However, provincial rules stipulate that masks will still be required while riding on transit as well as in taxis and ride-sharing vehicles. Council also voted in favour of requiring mask use in city buildings and city-owned vehicles. Individual stores can still require masks.

In Britain, mandatory mask wearing will end on July 19 as the country fully re-opens, a decision stirring considerable controversy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’ll join Team Masked when he’s in crowded places and told people to take “personal responsibility” for whether to cover their faces from July 19. The move will lift the threat of £200 ($343) fines for people who fail to keep their face covered on buses, trains, trams, taxis, aircraft and in transport hubs. Also, as of August 16, fully vaccinated people and their children who have been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus will not have to self-isolate,  British Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced today. He also warned that COVID cases could soon rise above 100,000 a day. He said that England will be entering “uncharted territory” in its scrapping of restrictions, reports The Guardian.

One Dose Doesn’t Do It

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is in a “serious but stable” condition in hospital with the COVID-19, his government said Monday. Bettel, 48, tested positive for the virus just over a week ago, shortly after attending a summit of EU leaders in Brussels and was admitted to hospital Sunday. Bettel received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early May.

Even Two Doses May Not Be Enough

 Israel is considering giving people over 50 a third booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine beginning next month. Israel’s Health Ministry released data on Monday showing that the vaccine appears to largely prevent hospitalization and serious cases, but is significantly less effective against preventing the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

According to the ministry, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 has dropped by some 30 per cent to 64 per cent, given the spread of the Delta variant. The data shows that during May, when the strain was less prevalent, the vaccine was 94.3 per cent effective.

The Delta variant, which is believed to be twice as contagious as the original strain of the coronavirus, is thought to be responsible for 90 per cent of new cases in Israel over the past two weeks. The data, however, also shows that the vaccine is still highly effective against preventing serious symptoms and hospitalization. During May, that figure stood at 98.2 per cent and during June, it was 93 per cent.

—Judy Gerstel

 

July 5, 2021

No More Quarantine for Fully Vaccinated Canadians Coming Home

Starting today, travel rules change for Canadians and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated at least 14 days earlier with a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada. They’ll no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days. And Canadians and permanent residents arriving by air will no longer have to spend their first three days in a government-approved hotel. However, they will have to provide details of their vaccination on the ArriveCAN app or web portal before their departure by air or before crossing the border, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no longer than 72 hours before arrival.

Border officials cautioned that this does not change the eligibility of people who are neither Canadian, nor permanent residents, to enter Canada. It also doesn’t affect the closure of the Canada-U.S. border, which remains closed until July 21 to non-essential travel in both directions. The closure, which began in March 2020, has been extended month by month and comments by Prime Minister Trudeau on Friday hinted that it will likely be extended again. Although an earlier target for opening was 20 per cent of Canadians fully vaccinated with two doses and 75 per cent partially vaccinated, Trudeau said on Friday, “I know people are impatient to suddenly get back to normal, but we’re not there yet,” adding that the country has to get over 75 per cent, maybe even 80 per cent, fully vaccinated “if we’re going to be safe.” As of Friday, “close to 80 per cent of eligible Canadians have received their first dose and more than 35 per cent have received a second dose, and we see these numbers increasing daily,” Trudeau said. Another strong hint of another postponement: Porter Airlines changed its date to begin flying again from Aug. 23 to Sept. 8.

 

Outbreak and One Death at Burlington LTC 

The Village of Tansley Wood, a long-term care facility in Burlington owned by Schlegel Villages, announced the death yesterday of a resident who had tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, the Village announced the outbreak involving 14 residents and two staff members, and said it was likely caused by the Delta variant. All but one of the affected residents had been vaccinated. There was no information about whether it was the unvaccinated resident who had died. But experts say a COVID-19 outbreak at the long-term care home is far less concerning now than it would have been a few months ago, before most residents were fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, only 52 per cent of staff at the facility are fully vaccinated while 14 percent of staff are completely unvaccinated, reports The Bay Observer.

 

Mask Controversy as Rules About to Ease in Britain

Brits “must learn to live with the virus,” Boris Johnson will be declaring today, reports BBC News. In a major announcement at noon, he’ll confirm July 19 as the date of the fourth and final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. That includes making face masks voluntary and ending the social distancing rule and QR code sign-ins at restaurants. However, there are concerns from some experts about dropping the mask requirement. On the other hand, doubts have been raised over whether mask-wearing will really be scrapped after July 19. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has refused to say whether he will keep the rules on the subway, while Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has demanded a rethink to protect the vulnerable. It is unclear whether train companies and businesses will be able to keep demanding face coverings are worn, even if the law is changed, according to the Daily Mail. The headline reads: “Prepare for the great mask divide: Warnings of face covering chaos as Boris defies BMA (British Medical Association) warnings and will DROP rules making them compulsory — but they could stay by stealth in pubs, on trains and in shops.”

 

Kate Middleton is Self-Isolating for 10 Days at Home

The Duchess of Cambridge is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, Kensington Palace has confirmed: “Last week The Duchess of Cambridge came into contact with someone who has subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.

“Her Royal Highness is not experiencing any symptoms but is following all relevant government guidelines and is self-isolating at home.”

The news comes after the duchess made a public appearance at Wimbledon on Friday. During the visit, she met with staff in the All England Club kitchens and toured the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. As a patron of the club and keen tennis fan, Kate attends the tournament every year, but will now miss the men’s and women’s final. She will also miss a service of thanksgiving and hosting a “Big Tea” with Prince William to mark the 73rd anniversary of the National Health Service. William and his father both contracted coronavirus last year. Both Kate and William received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in May.

—Judy Gerstel

 

July 2, 2021

Canada Added to EU Safe List

Canadians will be able to vacation in European Union countries soon. The EU governments agreed on Wednesday to add Canada and 10 other countries to their list of states from which they will allow non-essential travel, according to Reuters. Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 states approved the additions at a meeting on Wednesday, with the change to take effect in the coming days. Ex-EU member Britain, where the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus has caused a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, is not on the list. The added countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, Jordan, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The EU countries are recommended to gradually lift travel restrictions for the current 14 countries on the list — Albania, Australia, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. Individual EU countries can still opt to demand a negative COVID-19 test or a period of quarantine.

 

Euro 2020 Crowds Driving Rise in COVID-19 Infections, Says WHO

Crowds at Euro 2020 football stadiums and, in pubs and bars in host cities are driving the current rise in coronavirus infections in Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday. A 10-week decline in new coronavirus infections across the region has come to an end and a new wave of infections is inevitable if football fans and others drop their guard, according to the WHO. Last week, the number of new cases rose by 10 per cent, driven by mixing of crowds in Euro 2020 host cities, travel and easing of social restrictions, the WHO said.

“We need to look much beyond just the stadiums themselves,” the WHO’s senior emergency officer, Catherine Smallwood, told Reuters“We need to look at how people get there, are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?

“It is these small continuous events that are driving the spread of the virus,” Smallwood said.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer called a decision by European soccer’s governing body UEFA to allow big crowds at Euro 2020 “utterly irresponsible.” Meanwhile, almost 2,000 people living in Scotland attended at least one Euro 2020 event while infected with COVID-19, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has said. A total of 1,991 COVID-19 cases in Scotland have been linked to football fans attending Euro 2020 matches between June 11 and June 28 while in their transmission period, reports The Athletic.

The figures show nearly three-quarters of these cases are people aged 20-29, while nine in 10 are male. Nearly two-thirds of these cases — 1,294 people — travelled to London to watch Scotland’s play England on June 18. Informal gatherings to watch a match at a pub or party were also included, accounting for 34 per cent of all cases associated with the tournament.

 

Delta Variant Socks Asians and Aussies

The highly contagious Delta variant is surging through Asia this week, with record numbers of infections in Australia and South Korea, reports the Globe and Mail. 

The variant, first associated with India in December last year, has spread to about 100 countries and the WHOI warned recently that it could soon become the dominant form of the virus. It is also driving a spike in cases in Japan where the Olympic Games begin on July 23.

Today, Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales state, reported the biggest daily rise in new cases so far this year. Total cases in the state in the latest outbreak have topped 200, a majority caused by the Delta variant. Sydney, home to a fifth of the country’s 25 million population, is halfway through a two-week lockdown to contain the outbreak, which has alarmed authorities amid a sluggish nationwide vaccination drive. Australia, like several other countries in Asia, has struggled to inoculate people as initial successes in containing the pandemic led to vaccine hesitancy, and manufacturers were slow to ship doses.

Australia has fully vaccinated only six per cent of its population, while Japan has vaccinated 12 per cent. In Canada, 35 per cent of the population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated.

Japan reported on Wednesday that the Delta variant now accounts for nearly a third of all cases in the eastern part of the country, including Tokyo, and that could grow to 50 per cent by mid-July. Today, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike reiterated that a ban on spectators for the Olympic Games, which start on July 23, would be an option if the coronavirus situation worsened. In South Korea, officials said on Friday daily coronavirus cases topped 800, the highest in nearly six months, with vaccination below 10 per cent. The average number of new infections in the country has risen for 10 days straight, and authorities in Seoul have delayed relaxing social distancing measures. And Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, imposed emergency measures that begin tomorrow and ends on July 20 to contain a spike in cases.

—Judy Gerstel

 

June 30, 2021

The Good News: Rates Fall, Vaccinations Climb, More Reopening in Ontario. and B.C.

Today marks Ontario’s advance to Stage 2 of reopening, two days earlier than originally planned. And tomorrow will bring British Columbia into Step 3 of its reopening.

In Ontario, hair and nail salons where face coverings can be worn at all times will open at 25 per cent capacity. Outdoor dining will expand from four to six people to a table. And malls — non-essential retail without a storefront or street access entrance — will be able to open with 25 per cent capacity. Ontario met the requirement for Stage 2 opening with at least 70 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and at least 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses.

In British Columbia, where the state of emergency has been lifted after 15 months, masks are no longer mandatory and there is no limit on indoor or outdoor gatherings. The province has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. More than 78 per cent of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 32 per cent have been fully immunized with two doses. Tuesday, the province recorded only 29 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths from the disease. The seven-day rolling average case count has fallen to 58 — its lowest point since August.

 

The Bad News: Highly Infectious Delta Variant Taking Over Here, There, Everywhere

Even though vaccines are shown to be effective against the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, the variant’s high rate of transmission and overtaking of other variants is causing concern and caution worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing face masks and follow physical distancing measures as the highly infectious Delta variant spurs new COVID-19 outbreaks around the world. “Vaccines alone won’t stop community transmission,” said WHO assistant-director-general Mariangela Simao. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, practice hygiene, physical distance, avoid crowding.”

Yesterday, Los Angeles County Public Health “strongly” recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places. In the week ending on June 12, Delta variants accounted for nearly half of all variants sequenced in the county. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that Delta variants are now responsible for about one in every five new infections across the country, up from approximately one in every 10 the week before.

In Canada, there have been more than 4,100 cumulative cases of the Delta variant, with Ontario accounting for 42 per cent of the cases in the country and British Columbia accounting for 31 per cent. Because of Delta, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, warned yesterday that it will be at least another three weeks before it is safe to reopen indoor restaurant dining and gyms.

The more contagious Delta variant, he said at a press conference Tuesday, “is a difficult adversary. It is aggressive. It wants to spread rapidly. It’s virulent and it can have an increased risk of admission to hospital.”

—Judy Gerstel

 

June 29, 2021

Analysis: Twice as Many COVID-19 Deaths in Canada as Reported

Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19 are likely double the official number, according to a stunning report issued Tuesday morning by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). This is mostly due to the finding that thousands of deaths of people aged 45 or older living in communities across Canada “appear to have gone undetected, unreported or unattributed to COVID-19.”

An in-depth analysis by the RSC of all deaths reported across Canada between Feb. 1 and Nov. 28, 2020 revealed that at least two-thirds of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in communities outside of the long-term care sector may have been missed. “This suggests that if Canada has continued to miss these fatalities at the same rate since last November, the pandemic mortality burden may be two times higher than reported.”

As well, the RSC finding casts doubt on the estimate that 80 per cent of Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19 occurred among older adult residents of long-term care homes, a proportion double the 40 per cent average of peer countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “The number of possible missed deaths in the country’s communities suggests that COVID-19 fatalities in long-term care actually account for 45 per cent of Canada’s total COVID-19 death toll, a figure more in line with the OECD average.”

The RSC study presents “a very different picture as to how the pandemic has unfolded in Canada. It strongly suggests that while the novel coronavirus was devastating the long-term care sector in two successive waves in 2020, it was also devastating communities outside long- term care.”

About 25 per cent of the likely missed community deaths occurred in people between the ages of 45 and 64, likely front-line and essential workers, recent immigrants and people living in multigenerational households. “The failure to recognize the heightened COVID-19 risk faced by community-dwelling elders and economically precarious, racialized workers likely delayed the implementation of public health interventions that may well have saved lives. “

The RSC report concludes with four recommendations:

  • Mandate weekly preliminary reporting of numbers of deaths due to all causes, in all provinces and territories, to Statistics Canada, similar to other countries
  • Perform COVID-19 testing on all people who die in any setting, including hospitals, congregate living, shelters and private homes, and report by setting, neighbourhood of residence, race, and occupation
  • Immediately adopt U.S. CDC excess mortality methods for estimating Canadian excess mortality during the COVID-19 epidemic
  • Establish a national COVID-19 mortality ask force

Should You Stay (Home) or Should You Go?

The National Institute on Aging has issued a new online tool called ‘My COVID-19 Visit Risk,’ in partnership with Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), to help assess the risk of exposure in this phase of the pandemic.“Within the first 72 hours we had over 32,000 users from across the country,” Toronto geriatician Dr. Samir Sinha, a member of the National Institute on Aging, told CTV News. “I think with vaccination, we now have newfound freedoms ahead of us, but I think people are really nervous about how to actually negotiate that,” said Sinha, who helped develop the interactive tool.

The online Risk Calculator offers guidance on how to plan gatherings. Sinha suggested that it could be added to party invitations so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to COVID-19 precautions.

“Saying that if you’re getting together outdoors with a small group of friends and having a gathering and you’re all fully vaccinated, probably no need to wear masks and to physically distance, and I think these are the signals that Canadians are looking for.”

Sinha says comments about the tool have ranged from thank you to people who complain they no longer have an excuse to skirt visits. “We had a comment from someone who said, ‘Oh my gosh, I was hoping this is going to be a high-risk event because I don’t really want to go visit, you know, my friends, but you know your tool told me that this is a low, low-risk event so I guess I have to go.’”

Study: Switching Vaccines for Second Dose Works Well

A mix-and-match approach to COVID-19 vaccines — using different brands for first and second doses — appears to give good protection against the pandemic virus, an Oxford University study has found. That’s good news for many Canadians who may have received Pfizer as a second dose after a first dose of AstraZeneca.The Com-Cov trial looked at the efficacy of either two doses of Pfizer, two of AstraZeneca, or one of them followed by the other.

All combinations worked well, priming the immune system. The trial results also hint that people who have already received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine could have a stronger immune response if they were given a different vaccine as a booster, if recommended in the autumn.

The U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Jonathan Van-Tam, told the BBC. “Mixing doses could provide us with even greater flexibility for a booster programme, while also supporting countries who have further to go with their vaccine rollouts, and who may be experiencing supply difficulties.”

—Judy Gerstel

 

June 28, 2021

Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines Likely Produce Lasting Immunity

The vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna set off a persistent immune reaction in the body that may protect against the coronavirus for years, scientists reported on Monday.

The findings published in the journal Nature add to growing evidence that most people immunized with the mRNA vaccines may not need boosters, so long as the virus and its variants do not evolve much beyond their current forms — which is not guaranteed. People who recovered from COVID-19 before being vaccinated may not need boosters even if the virus does make a significant transformation.

“It’s a good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine,” study author Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told the New York Times.

AstraZeneca Third Dose Booster Produces Strong Immunity

An Oxford University study found that a third dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine increases antibody and T-cell immune responses, while the second dose can be delayed up to 45 weeks and also lead to an enhanced immune response.

The British government has said it is looking at plans for an autumn vaccine booster campaign, with three-fifths of adults already having received both doses of a COVID vaccine.

In Canada, 1,619,474 people have received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine as of June 19.

But Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told Reuters that evidence that the vaccine protects against current variants for a sustained period of time meant that such a booster may not be needed.

“We do have to be in a position where we could boost if it turned out that was necessary … (but) we don’t have any evidence that that is required,” he told reporters.

“At this point with a high level of protection in the UK population and no evidence of that being lost, to give third doses now in the UK whilst other countries have zero doses is not acceptable.”

Studies had previously shown that the shot, invented at Oxford University and licensed to AstraZeneca has higher efficacy when the second dose is delayed to 12 weeks instead of four weeks.

Monday’s research was released in a preprint, and looked at 30 participants who received a late second dose and 90 who received a third dose, all of whom were under 55.

It helps assuage concerns that viral vector COVID vaccines, such as those made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, may lose their potency if annual inoculations are needed due to the risk that the body produces an immune response against the vectors that deliver the vaccine’s genetic information.

“There had been some concerns that we would not be able to use this vaccine in a booster vaccination regime, and that’s certainly not what the data is suggesting,” study author Teresa Lambe told Reuters.

Public Health Agency of Canada: What You Can do if You’re Vaccinated

Just in time for the Canada Day holiday, PHAC on Friday published a chart with information about what fully vaccinated people and others can do in different settings.

For example, if you are fully vaccinated — 14 days past your second shot — no mask or distancing is necessary outdoors or indoors with a small group of fully vaccinated individuals.

Nor is a mask or distancing necessary for fully vaccinated people when outdoors with others from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or their vaccination status is unknown. Examples are playing a close contact sport, gathering with a group of friends, child’s outdoor birthday party, outdoor wedding.

However, PHAC recommends that even if you are fully vaccinated but are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes, you should consider wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance in small indoor gatherings, such as private celebrations of ceremonies, indoor birthday parties and places of worship with people from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or their vaccination status is unknown. Also recommended in these situations is keeping windows and doors open when possible. Those measures are also recommended for people at risk indoors or outdoors in a large crowd where people are closely gathering, such as a large house party.

Survey: One in Three Canadians Broke Pandemic Restrictions

Almost 30 per cent of respondents in a newly released Canada-wide survey admitted to breaking COVID-19 rules — and felt justified doing so, reports CTV.

The survey by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan was done between June 1 and June 14. It asked 1,000 people about how closely they stuck to public health orders.

Some 29 per cent said they broke at least one COVID-19 restriction. The most common transgressions were around gathering limits and wearing masks.

Of the people who broke rules, 62 per cent said they felt it was justified. Their reasons included wanting to see friends and family (27 per cent) and a belief that they were violating restrictions in a safe way (17 per cent). Some said they ignored rules they didn’t think made any sense (21 per cent) and seven per cent said they didn’t believe the pandemic exists or is a problem.

The survey says some people did not think regulations “made sense for them” because they were fully vaccinated and they felt what they were doing was safe given their status.

Toronto Sets a World Record (We Think)

With 26,771 doses administered on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena’s massive vaccine clinic, Toronto likely set a new world record.

“The total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered are believed to be a new world record for most one-day COVID-19 vaccinations given at a single clinic,” City of Toronto officials said in a news release late Sunday.

The “Our Winning Shot” clinic got underway at 7 a.m., Sunday and was fully booked.

By 2:21 p.m., the event surpassed the previous Canadian record of 10,470 people vaccinated at a clinic in a single day, officials said.

Second doses accounted for 25,793 shots and 978 people got their first shots.

For sure, Toronto went bigger than Texas, breaking the North American record which was previously held by a clinic at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, at 17,003 doses delivered.

The all-out effort was a partnership of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Scotiabank, Michael Garron Hospital, and the University Health Network for the event in the home of the Raptors and Maple Leafs.

—Judy Gerstel

 

June 25, 2021

Delta Variant Slows Reopening in Israel

According to tracking by the New York Times, Israel is second only to Malta for proportion of its population who are fully vaccinated, 57 per cent, and reports put that at 85 per cent when talking about adults inoculated against the coronavirus. But despite being a world leader in COVID-19 vaccination, the country is once again requiring people to wear masks at indoor public spaces and has delayed reopening to vaccinated tourists until the beginning of August. Health officials say that around half of infections from a recent outbreak occurred in people who are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer shot, and about 90 per cent of the infections were attributed to the Delta variant. “The entrance of the Delta variant has changed the transition dynamics,” said Ran Balicer, head of Israel’s advisory panel on COVID-19, about his country’s reopening plans. Health officials, however, are optimistic that vaccination will prevent severe illness and a spike in hospitalizations, as shown in other highly vaccinated countries like the U.K. The current outbreak is linked to a cluster identified last week in schoolchildren, prompting the government earlier this week to recommended that all 12- to 15-year-olds be vaccinated to protect against the Delta variant.

Most COVID Cases in Canada Now in Under 19-Year-Olds

As a report by the Globe and Mail points out, Canadians 19 and younger now account for most of the country’s cases, demographically speaking, at 19.2 per cent (269,508 of total confirmed cases). Those age 20 to 29 aren’t far behind — only a tenth of a per cent, in fact — with 19.1 per cent. Incidentally, the least amount of cases are attributed to people aged 70 to 79, with 4.2 per cent of the more than 1.4 million infections reported. But unlike older people, severe outcomes remain rare in children — they account for only 1.8 per cent of hospitalizations, the report notes, and 0.01 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 in Canada. And now that adults who can get sicker are eligible for vaccination — 75 per cent of eligible Canadians had gotten at least one shot by the end of last week — COVID-19 “kind of becomes like influenza,” Joan Robinson, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Alberta told the Globe. “We would never consider shutting all of society down during influenza season to prevent that morbidity and mortality because it’s simply not worth the trade-off. And I think in future years, that will be what COVID-19 will look like.” However, vaccinating children — even those under 12 — does help reduce influenza spread, as is Britain’s approach each year, and is suggested to help reach herd immunity against COVID-19.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 24, 2021

Benefit Outweighs Risk, CDC on mRNA Vaccines; U.S. Life Expectancy Declines

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) said yesterday that mRNA vaccines “may be a new trigger” for myocarditis — a rare condition involving inflammation of the heart muscle. “We do not know potential mechanisms yet,” said Dr. Matthew Oster, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, during a presentation of the group’s findings. The ACIP noted that early data shows a rate of just 4.4 reported cases per million first doses given of any mRNA vaccine in the 21 days following — the rate increased to 12.6 reported cases per million after second doses. Rates were highest among 12- to 39-year-olds and more prevalent in men than women. Their data also showed that many patients have been hospitalized, “usually for short duration,” and that they generally recover from symptoms, which can include chest pain. The group concluded that, “the benefits still clearly outweigh the risks for COVID-19 vaccination in adolescents and young adults.”

More than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and yesterday also saw the release of a study showing that, during the pandemic, life expectancy in the country dropped by roughly 1.9 years — the largest decline seen since the Second World War. In comparison, estimates from the study put decline in 16 peer countries (including the U.K., New Zealand and France) at 0.22 of a year (less than three months). Canada’s figures were not included in the study, but a report from Statistics Canada on June 1 estimates that COVID-19 decreased life expectancy by 0.41 years, or a little less than five months.

Outbreak in Canada’s Most Vaccinated Jurisdiction

With the highest fully vaccinated rate in Canada, 62 per cent, Yukon is facing a surge of COVID-19 that has seen total cases, now at 224, more than double in the past two weeks. Of the 144 cases in the latest outbreak, the territory’s top doctor said that 122 were among unvaccinated people ranging in age from one to 90. “For many months, almost as on a pedestal, with our zero active cases and high vaccination rates, all eyes in Canada were on us,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, after reporting four new cases and one death at a news conference Wednesday. “And now the same eyes are on us for a much different reason. A highly vaccinated territory is undergoing the most significant outbreak since COVID-19 began.” More than 72 per cent of residents have at least one dose, but Hanley said 80 per cent should receive their shots to prevent spread of the virus. The Gamma variant first identified in Brazil has been identified in the outbreak, which has been linked to graduation events at a high school, two classes at an elementary school, several parties as well as gatherings at bars.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 23, 2021

Protests Over Travel Rules Block N.S. and N.B. Border

In a move that has prompted protest, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin announced Tuesday that people coming from New Brunswick will have isolation requirements despite the so-called Atlantic Bubble resuming Wednesday. The provision is meant to allow Atlantic Canadians to travel between the four provinces without quarantining. Those coming to N.S. from P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador will not have to, but Rankin said that because of New Brunswick’s decision to open up to any Canadian visitors who have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, modified self-isolation will remain in place for people coming from N.B. People upset about the move began protesting at the border between the two provinces last night and continued to block it today. Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a Progressive Conservative MLA from N.S.’s Cumberland North area said many people in her border community haven’t seen friends and family on the other side in N.B. for months, and she wants Premier Rankin  to listen to the concerns of those protesting. “He changed his decision on the restrictions to enter Nova Scotia at the eleventh hour yesterday, angering and disappointing so many people,” Smith-McCrossin told Global News. “I’m here on their behalf and I’m hoping he’ll meet with me today because we have a big problem in that part of Nova Scotia.”

Delta Variant Causing Worry in U.S., Sydney Locks Down Over Cluster

U.S. modellers say the Delta variant first identified in India could cause a “resurgence” of COVID-19 later this year in that country. Speaking at a White House briefing Tuesday, infectious disease physician Dr. Anthony Fauci said the variant now accounts for roughly a fifth of America’s active cases. “As of a couple of days ago, 20.6 per cent of the isolates are Delta,” he said, adding that the number has roughly doubled every two weeks. Faced with the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus expected to soon become the dominant strain, “it looks like we do see a resurgence late in the summer, or in the early fall,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Meanwhile, residents in Australia’s biggest city are being told not to travel outside Sydney unless it’s essential as restrictions have been tightened under a growing cluster of the Delta variant. Masks are mandatory outside the home, patrons must be seated while drinking in bars and household visits are limited to five people. “Please abandon non-essential activities, please don’t attend social gatherings unless you absolutely must,” said New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “I’m not going to rule out further action.” The cluster has been traced back to an unvaccinated airport limousine driver who is suspected of being infected while transporting a foreign aircrew. There have been 31 identified cases since he tested positive last week. “I just urge the New South Wales government to get this under control because it’s a threat and a risk to the rest of the country. If that means a lockdown, well, then that’s what should happen,” said Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia, which has banned travellers from anywhere in New South Wales.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 22, 2021

Majority of Canadians Say “No” to Lifting All Restrictions

As Alberta and Saskatchewan get ready to ditch their remaining pandemic restrictions in July, a new survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggests that two-thirds of Canadians are not yet ready. When 1,542 people were asked between June 18 and 20: Do you think governments should lift all restrictions related to COVID-19 right now? Nearly 70 per cent said no, six per cent said they didn’t know and 24 per cent said yes. Among the strongest dissenters, 75 per cent were aged 55+ (66 per cent were 18 to 54). “I believe they’re waiting until the end of the vaccination campaign, or at least until governments say that they’ve reached all of their targets, potentially to sort of relax a little bit,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque of Canadians continued reticence. “We’ll see this number change … once governments have said that they’ve reached their vaccination targets. So, a few more weeks at least.” However, premiers Kenney and Moe would seem to have taken the accurate temperature of at least a third of their electorate; of Canadians who said they were ready for their governments to ease all restrictions, the loudest support came from the two provinces, as well as Manitoba, with 33 per cent of residents saying yes.

Manitoba Not Feeling Pressure to Open Sooner

After neighbouring Saskatchewan announced Sunday that it plans to fully reopen in early July, officials in Manitoba say they’ll watch other provinces and territories but that they aren’t feeling pressure to reopen sooner than they’re ready. “We’re going to have to do things based on what we’re seeing here and then move forward cautiously, but we’ll definitely be watching what other jurisdictions do and the successes that they have,” Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday, noting that the province was late to the third wave. On Monday the province reached its second target towards beginning its reopening on July 1, with 25 per cent of Manitobans 12 and older fully vaccinated, after meeting its first goal Wednesday past with 70 per cent of eligible residents having gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s expected that most businesses, services and facilities in the province will be open at 25 per cent capacity or greater by Canada Day. But, unlike in Sask., and Alberta, Manitoba has tied its plan for further easing of restrictions to greater vaccination rates. If 50 per cent of residents have a second dose by the Terry Fox Day long weekend in August, capacity limits will increase to 50 per cent. And, if by Labour Day 75 per cent of residents have had a second dose, all businesses and services will reopen, with “limited restrictions in some cases.”

—Tara Losinski

 

June 21, 2021

Hotel Quarantine to be Lifted for Fully Vaxxed

In a briefing Monday, the federal government cemented its intention to exempt fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents from quarantine upon entering the country — including hotel quarantine. As of July 5. Canadians and permanent residents will need to show proof they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada — two doses in the case of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca’s shots — at least 14 days prior to entering the country through the ArriveCAN online tool to skip quarantine. As reported, children who are not vaccinated will be able to go home with their parents, but must quarantine for two weeks. The easing of restrictions does not apply to foreign nationals, and the Canada-U.S. border remains closed until at least July 21. In Friday’s announcement of the closure extension with the U.S., Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said: “At this time, the Government of Canada continues to strongly advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.

“Although the future is looking brighter than it has for a long time, with COVID-19 cases on a downward trend and vaccination efforts going well across the country, we can’t let our guard down.”

Fully Vaccinated Ont., LTC Resident Dies

Officials in Ontario announced Sunday that a fully vaccinated woman in her nineties died after contracting COVID-19. The woman was a resident of The Village of Winston Park long-term care home in Kitchener. As per an online notice by Schlegel Villages, owner and operator of the home, the resident “had only shown mild symptoms but, as we have seen through the course of the pandemic, the virus can change quickly and our deepest condolences are with loved ones and team members facing this loss today.” The 95-resident facility is currently under an outbreak of the coronavirus, with three confirmed cases among residents, and three among staff. The company, which operates 19 nursing homes across the province said they could not confirm if a variant of concern was involved, but that “testing is underway.” Health officials in the Waterloo Region, which includes the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, confirmed last week that the Delta variant first identified in India is now the dominant strain in the region. In a news release Sunday, the region’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Rabia Bana, said that although death “is very rare” among fully vaccinated people, “I encourage everyone in Waterloo Region to remain vigilant.”

Saskatchewan, Alberta Set for Full Reopen in July

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said via a tweet Sunday that “because so many Saskatchewan residents have done their part by getting vaccinated,” his government will be moving the province into its third and final stage of reopening in July. The plan requires 70 per cent of residents 12 and older to be vaccinated with a first dose for all pandemic restrictions to be lifted — as of Sunday, 69 per cent of that population had gotten at least one shot. “Because we are now so close to that final target, three weeks from today, on Sunday, July 11, all the remaining public health orders are going to be lifted” said Moe, adding that continuing to wear a mask “will be up to you.” Moe’s announcement was upstaged two days before by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney who said that, having surpassed a 70 per cent vaccinated threshold, his province would be the first to almost fully ease COVID-19 restrictions — with the exception of measures like isolation requirements for confirmed COVID-19 cases and preventative measures in care settings. “So mark it on the calendar, folks, on July 1, Alberta isn’t just open for summer, but I believe it’ll be open for good,” Kenney said Friday.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 18, 2021

More Confusion Over AstraZeneca Vaccine

The guidelines surrounding the administering of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have changed, once again. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) issued a statement yesterday suggesting that Canadians who received their first dose of the controversial vaccine should seek one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) for their second. “An mRNA vaccine is now preferred as the second dose for individuals who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine, based on emerging evidence of a potentially better immune response from this mixed vaccine schedule and to mitigate the potential risk of VITT (blot clots) associated with viral vector vaccines,” read a NACI statement issued yesterday. This means that Canadians who have received AstraZeneca for their first dose will now mix vaccines for their second. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s public health officer, said there was emerging evidence that mixing doses produce “better immune responses” to the virus, including the Delta variant, which wreaked havoc in India and is now becoming a concerning issue in Canada. She said NACI made the policy switch based on emerging studies out of Germany and “will continue to monitor this in a real life basis as vaccines are rolling out.” And she acknowledged the mounting confusing and frustration surrounding the ever-changing guidelines regarding the AstraZeneca does. “I totally recognize that this is difficult for many, but what I would say is that those who have received two doses of AstraZenca, COVISHIELD vaccine, you’ve been provided with good protection against infection,” said Tam.

Springsteen Concert Not Open to AstraZeneca Recipients

In related news, promoters of Bruce Springsteen new concert series – “Springsteen on Broadway” – posted on their website that ticket sales will be limited to those who can proved they received an “FDA-approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson).” This means that Canadian fans of the Boss who received AstraZeneca, which hasn’t been approved by the FDA, will not be allowed in the concert. Guests will have to show proof that they’ve received full vaccination before they are allowed into the concert, which will not have socially distanced seating. Springsteen’s concert, which is the first Broadway show to open its doors since last March, will be held on June 26 at St. James Theatre in New York.

–Peter Muggeridge

 

June 17, 2021

Ontario Opens Borders with Quebec and Manitoba

As the number of new COVID-19 infections continues to drop, the Ontario government announced that it will open its borders and allow travellers driving in and out of Quebec and Manitoba. The borders have been officially closed to non-essential travel since mid-April when health officials deemed the drastic move necessary to stop the spread of the virus between the provinces. The loosening on travel restrictions will allow families to see each other or take a trip without fear of being arrested or fined. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson applauded the move, saying the Capital Region, which includes Ontario and Quebec, will greatly benefit from the decision. “After months of wasted police resources to control travel around the NCR, our two highly integrated economic regions will greatly benefit from this decision.” Watson tweeted.

Toronto Hospital Reports No New COVID-19 Patients

For the first time since the early days of the pandemic last spring, Toronto General Hospital announced yesterday that it had no new COVID-19 patients. “We have no new COVID patients. No infected COVID patients. We still have some recovering COVID patients but they’re no longer infectious, which is a milestone.” said Clare Fielding, a nurse manager at the downtown hospital. The University Health Network posted this video on its social media sites thanking the nurses and staff for their hard work during the worst days of the crisis. “Today we are COVID-free,” says a nurse in the video as her fellow nurses cheer the good news.

—Peter Muggeridge

 

June 16, 2021

Travel Restrictions Worked for N.L., Modelling Suggests

As the four Atlantic provinces move to resume their so-called travel bubble for June 23, modelling released today suggests that closing the border to non-essential travel early in the pandemic reduced cases by 92 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador. In a study by Memorial University, authors say that rather than 17 cases that were reported, the province could have seen 79 cases of COVID-19 over the nine weeks after travel restrictions were put in place on May 4, 2020. The authors conclude that although travel restrictions “alone may be insufficient to limit COVID-19 spread,” noting that physical distancing is a strong factor in outbreaks, they did observe that the 92 per cent reduction in case count modelled was “nearly exactly equal” to the reduction in travel that resulted from restricting non-essential visitors. With the exception of travel provisions allowing Atlantic Canadians to visit without quarantine last summer, N.L. has been permitting non-residents only in special compassionate cases since last May. But officials said last week that, as of July 1, the province will be welcoming back any Canadians who are fully vaccinated as part of its ‘Together Again’ reopening plan.

According to figures from the the Public Health Agency of Canada, N.L. currently has 45 active cases of COVID-19, and has reported a total of 1,381 cases and seven deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Ontario Community Under Complete Lockdown Amid Outbreak

As new daily cases continue to fall in Ontario, a community of about 2,000 people in the province’s north has gone into a complete lockdown with cases climbing to more than 230, more than 130 of which are reported to be among children and teenagers in the Kashechewan First Nation on James Bay. Six residents over the age of 18 were airlifted to Kingston for treatment Tuesday. Kashechewan has a small nursing station, but no doctors. And the nation’s chief Leo Friday says there isn’t enough housing for infected residents to isolate. “Our water and sewage systems desperately need upgrades so that they are reliable and so we can build more homes,” Friday told Global News. Additional support is expected this week, by way of 15 rangers from the Canadian Armed Forces and 14 Canadian Red Cross personnel, and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has said it will provide the community with more isolation spaces, including dome structures and possibly tents.“It’s a warning signal for all of Canada, frankly, when we look at our own young ones,” said ISC Minister Marc Miller. “This is particularly vulnerable in communities of … people living in crowded conditions and high youth rates.”

As Global reports, more than 74 per cent of Kashechewan’s residents are vaccinated, including some aged 12 to 17, who were eligible for an immunization clinic in June.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 15, 2021

Travel Restrictions Loosening

As British Columbia moves to Step 2 of its reopening today, recreational travel within the province is back on the table. “We continue to make great strides in B.C. and I continue to be optimistic about great days ahead … this will be our summer of hope and healing from this pandemic,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday. But the loosening of travel restrictions is limited to within the province, people who don’t live in B.C. are still asked to avoid travel there, unless it’s essential. Meanwhile, as residents in most of Ontario enjoy a loosening of restrictions in Phase 1 of the province’s reopening, officials announced yesterday that the borders with Quebec and Manitoba will also reopen, on Wednesday. Land crossing at both borders has been closed to all but essential travel since April 19. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Monday in a statement that those travellers entering Ontario “must continue to follow the public health measures in place in the province.”

Will Which Vaccine You Get Matter?

The federal government signalled last week that current international travel restrictions, including a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine, will be eased later this summer for returning, fully vaccinated Canadians. However, as the CBC reports, what vaccine you’ve gotten will matter. Ottawa says the exception will apply only to those Canadians with a vaccine approved by Health Canada: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen, for now. That means ex-pats or snowbirds who have gotten other shots abroad — even with World Health Organization-endorsed vaccines, will be ineligible for the eased restrictions. “From a global standpoint, if the WHO certifies a vaccine you have to respect that,” Dr. Zain Chagla, associate professor at McMaster University and an infectious disease physician, told the CBC. “You can’t just say, ‘You have to get the vaccine we want,’ when it’s not available and when that country has no contract to get it and then expect people to have it when they travel in.” The move also begs the question about how Canada will determine who is considered fully vaccinated once the country reopens to international travellers.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 14, 2021

Novavax mRNA Vaccine 90% Effective, Trudeau Pre-Shares 7 Million Doses

Maryland-based Novavax released results from a Phase 3 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine Monday and it’s good news. The vaccine, which uses mRNA technology like Pfizer and Moderna’s shots, was just over 90 per cent effective in a trial of 30,000 participants aged 18 and older. A statement from the drug maker also noted that the vaccine showed 91 per cent protection against moderate and severe disease among “high-risk” populations — defined as over age 65, under age 65 with certain comorbidities or having life circumstances with frequent COVID-19 exposure — and showed 93 per cent protection against variants of concern, although the Delta variant first identified in India was not one of them. Novavax hopes to have approvals for use and to be producing 100 million doses by September. The company says the vaccine, which has the benefit of being easy to store and move, will help fulfill “the critical and persistent global public health need for additional Covid-19 vaccines.” Speaking to The Associated Press, the pharma’s Chief Executive Stanley Erck said: “Many of our first doses will go to low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with.”

According to figures from Our World in Data, while 12.7 per cent of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (64 per cent in Canada), the percentage drops to 0.8 in low-income countries.

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be approved by Health Canada, but it is one that the federal government has an agreement to purchase, if approved. And Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office confirmed that 7.3 million doses will be part of 100 million doses Canada committed to sharing during this past weekend’s G7 summit. The vaccines to be shared will come from the country’s surplus, including 4.3 million doses of AstraZeneca and 1.3 million of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot. “I want to be clear,” said Trudeau. “This global commitment on vaccines is in addition to and in parallel with our vaccine rollout at home. We have millions of doses being delivered into the country each week, and every day more and more people get their first and second shots.”

—Tara Losinski

 

June 11, 2021

Alta. Delta Variant Outbreak Includes Fully Vaxxed

A COVID-19 outbreak of more than 20 people at a Calgary-area hospital is being attributed to the Delta variant first identified in India — which is estimated by one expert to be 60 per cent more infectious. Most of the cases are reported to be mild but the Foothills Medical Centre has confirmed that two people needed intensive care. It’s also been confirmed that 10 of the cases are people who were fully vaccinated. “What we’re monitoring now is whether they [the fully vaccinated peopled] had, as we would expect, a milder course of illness,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said Thursday. “There still is a portion of people who can go on to be infected. … We know from the data in the U.K. that, after a second dose, the effectiveness of mNRA vaccines boosts to the high 80s.” A recent U.K. study found that two weeks after a second shot, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine gave 88 per cent protection against the Delta variant (and 93 per cent against the Alpha variant first identified in the U.K.). That was more than AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which was found to be 60 per cent effective against the Delta variant and 66 per cent against the Alpha variant. But both vaccines performed the same three weeks after a first dose, offering 33 per cent efficacy against both variants.

Ontario Employs “Delta Strategy” to Vaccine Rollout

Alberta this week opened up eligibility for second shots to anyone who’d gotten their first in April — a week ahead of scheduled. And in Ontario, as part of a so-called “delta strategy,” the province is making a push to get second shots for residents living in seven regions where the variant is spreading. Residents in hot spots, including Toronto and Peel region (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon) will be able to book appointments starting Monday morning. Daily case counts continue to fall as the province begins its reopening Friday. And new modelling figures released yesterday suggest that if the trend continues, COVID-19 patients in ICUs could drop below 200 by mid-July, which would allow normal hospital operations to start to resume. But the co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table tempered optimism of having a better summer with a warning. “To be clear, we’re not out of the woods just yet,” said Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, noting that the Delta variant will likely become the dominant strain through the summer. “It is critical to control the spread of this variant. But we believe we can control it with the right actions.”

—Tara Losinski

 

June 10, 2021

Border Closures Drag On

As reopening continues across Canada and in the U.S., our border remains closed — and our neighbours to the south seem to have had enough. On Wednesday, Chris Jacobs, a member of Congress from New York, introduced a bill that, if passed, would require a report within 30 days from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control outlining the details of negotiations with Canada over the ban on non-essential travel. It would also require the U.S. government to reveal if, or what the plan is to reopen the border in the event Canada refuses to do so. “For months, families and homeowners have been left in the dark by this administration, even after the President signed an executive order on his second day calling for a plan. It’s time for answers and action,” Jacobs said in a statement. “The administration can no longer stall and refuse to provide information, Americans deserve to know what is being done to get the border open, and when it is going to happen.”

In an interview earlier this week with CTV News, Niagara Falls, N.Y. mayor Jim Diodati said he’d met with other border city mayors and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on May 28 about the possibility of easing border restrictions near the end of June, when Canada was expected to have 75 per cent of the population vaccinated with one dose (62 per cent do, as of today) and 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses (currently less than 10 per cent). The non-essential travel ban with the U.S. has been extended month by month since March, 2020, with the next expiration set for June 21. About easing restrictions at that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would only say the government is in consultation with medical professionals and epidemiologists on both sides of the border, and that a formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks. “It’s very clear that even though one dose has allowed us to significantly protect Canadians, to remove many of the pressures from our public health systems, it is still an incomplete protection,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need people to get the full two doses of their vaccines and that’s why easing of restrictions will be focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been vocal about keeping borders closed, both with the U.S. and internationally. And domestically, he closed land borders with neighbouring Manitoba and Quebec in April, at the height of the third wave, with some now calling for reopening. “Given the fact that we’re going to be opening up our patios and capacity at retail stores and other freedoms, it just doesn’t make any sense to have that artificial boundary locked at both sides,” Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said yesterday about the ban on non-essential travel with Quebec. “My hope is the premier of Ontario will recognize that we’re one economic union.” Asked for details on a reopening, Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters yesterday that discussions with the Ontario government were confidential. “You can ask Doug other questions,” he said. The order is set to expire June 16, although the press secretary for Ontario’s Solicitor General said Monday that the restriction at Quebec and Manitoba borders “may continue to be extended in 14-day increments by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. We will communicate with the public prior to its termination.”

—Tara Losinski

 

June 9, 2021

No Quarantine for Fully Vaxxed Travellers

European Union lawmakers Wednesday gave the green light to a certificate that will allow people to travel between member countries without quarantine or undergoing extra coronavirus tests. The pass, which is described as having advanced security features via a scannable QR code, will certify that a person has been fully vaccinated and has recently tested negative for, or recovered from COVID-19. They will be issued by a tourist’s home country in paper or digital form, and will go into use July 1.

Meanwhile, Manitoba will be issuing immunization cards to residents who get fully vaccinated against COIVD-19, allowing them to skip mandatory quarantine upon return from travel within Canada. “Getting vaccinated and following public health orders to protect each other and our health-care system is the fastest way to save our summer and get back to doing some of the things we love and see the people we miss,” said Premier Brian Pallister in a release Tuesday. Available through the province’s website or by calling Manitoba Health, in both a physical and digital format, the card will include the person’s first and last name as well as a scannable QR code to confirm vaccination but no personal health information, Pallister said. The card will also allow users expanded visits at hospitals and nursing homes.

And the federal government is expected to announce Wednesday that, as of early July, fully vaccinated Canadians will no longer need to abide a mandatory 14-days quarantine upon arriving home from international travel. As the Toronto Star reports, Canadian citizens and permanent residents with their two shots will still have take a COVID-19 test upon return, and isolate until the test comes back negative, but will no longer be required to do that at a government-authorized hotel.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 8, 2021

High Levels of Vaccination Needed, Says WHO

At a press conference in Geneva Monday, World Health Organization Emergencies Chief Dr. Michael Ryan said that “high levels of vaccination coverage are the way out of this pandemic.” Although Ryan conceded that it’s so far unclear as to how high, he said: “But … it’s certainly north of 80 per cent coverage to be in a position where you could be significantly affecting the risk of an imported case potentially generating secondary cases or causing a cluster or an outbreak.” (According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, as of Tuesday morning a little more than eight per cent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated.) WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, called on G7 countries — which includes Canada — for more help with global vaccine distribution efforts. According to tracking by the New York Times, North America has the highest rate of vaccination globally, 64 doses administered per 100 people (71 per 100 in Canada), while the continent of Africa has the lowest rate, 2.8 doses per 100 people, with some countries, including South Sudan and Congo, having yet to administer one shot.

Half of Canadians Still Wary of U.S. Border Reopening

A survey by Toronto-based Nanos Research for Bloomberg shows that 53 per cent of Canadians are not yet comfortable or still somewhat uncomfortable with reopening the Canada-U.S. border to tourism. “If you can’t get your haircut and can’t see your parents, how could you feel comfortable about opening up the border to foreign travel,” Nik Nanos, chief data scientist at Nanos Research Group, told Bloomberg Monday. However, the survey also showed that opposition to the move is down, from 80 per cent earlier in the pandemic. It also notes that younger Canadians, aged 18-34, were most likely to support reopening — 58 per cent saying they were comfortable or somewhat so of it — whereas respondents aged 55-plus were least agreeable, with only 33 pre cent on board or somewhat so. The survey comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed yesterday that the government is working on a measured reopening plan. “We are not going to get ahead of ourselves,” said Trudeau, at a virtual St. John’s Board of Trade event. “We are looking at how we’re going to start welcoming up tourists in a phased way as the numbers come down in Canada, as the numbers start to come down in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” It’s reported that the plan will require travellers to be fully vaccinated in order to avoid mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 7, 2021 

Health Canada Considering Moderna for 12 and Up

Health Canada is now considering a second COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents aged 12 and older, with Moderna submitting a request for approval Monday. “We are pleased to announce that we have submitted for authorization of our COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents with Health Canada,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna. “We are encouraged that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents.” In a study of its vaccine’s efficacy on nearly 2,500 adolescents, the Massachusetts-based drug maker said that 100 per cent of the time it prevented symptomatic COVID-19, and 93 per cent of the of time milder COVID-19 was prevented. The Moderna shot is currently available to Canadians 18 and older but if approved for those as young as 12, it would be the second Health Canada has given the green light for use in kids, with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine — also an mRNA formula — getting the go-ahead for children 12 and up on May 5.

According to figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of the end of May a little less than eight per cent of Canadians under 18 had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Air Canada Heeding Canadians’ Ire

Over what it called “public disappointment,” Air Canada said Sunday that executives would be giving back their 2020 bonuses. CEO Michael Rousseau said the company’s current executive vice-presidents “have chosen to voluntarily return their 2020 bonuses and share appreciation units.” The company also said that former CEO Calin Rovinescu, who retired in February, will be donating the value of his 2020 bonus and share appreciation units to the Air Canada Foundation. In Sunday’s statement, Air Canada said its 2020 compensation decisions were “consistent with compensation outcomes at companies that also suffered significantly during the pandemic.” The airline, which received a bailout in April, had come under criticism by Ottawa for the bonus payouts — including $423,000 to Rousseau and $723,000 to Rovinescu — with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying Thursday that the move was “completely unacceptable” and that the company owed Canadians an explanation. The $5.9-billion federal rescue plan deal did include limits on future executive compensation, but not on past pay.

—Tara Losinski

 

June 4, 2021

Time to Share Vaccine Wealth, Advocates Say

Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians have gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than six per cent are fully vaccinated, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada. With more than 400 million vaccines secured, advocates say now it’s time to start sharing the wealth. “Among rich countries, Canada has bought more vaccines than anyone else in the world — enough to vaccinate Canadians five times,” ONE Canada director Stuart Hickox told Global News Thursday. As the U.S. committed yesterday, with President Joe Biden announcing that the country will share 80 million surplus doses with nations around the world (and possibly Canada) by the end of June, Hickox says Ottawa should follow suit. “Frankly, the international community is waiting for that kind of signal from Canada,” he said. “The world is watching us, you know. Our reputation is at stake.” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week noted that 75 per cent of all vaccines had been administered in just 10 countries, saying “scandalous inequity” in distribution was perpetuating the pandemic. “A small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world,” Tedros said.

Have Vaccine, Will Travel

Earlier this week, Newfoundland and Labrador announced plans to reopen the province to travel within Canada by July 1, waiving testing and 14-day quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers. After a year and a half ban on non-essential travel — with the exception of last summer’s Atlantic bubble provision — it will mean long-awaited reunions for family members, noted Premier Andrew Furey. “Grandparents can now come home and meet the newest additions to their families,” he said. “Loved ones can finally get together and grieve anyone they have lost since the pandemic.” The plan is also contingent on getting 75 per cent of residents at least one shot by that time.

Abroad, France announced Friday that it is reopening its borders to vaccinated travellers. Based on a colour-coded system, travellers from “orange” countries, including the U.S. and Canada, where COVID-19 is not seen as out of control, will no longer need to quarantine upon arriving or justify the reasons for travelling to France. They will, however, need to continue presenting a negative COVID test upon arrival.

—Tara Losinski

June 3, 2021

Skipping Hotel Quarantine Fine Increasing

Rather than end mandatory hotel quarantine for international travellers, as the federal government’s own advisory panel suggested last week, as of Friday the fine for people who skip it is increasing — from $3,000 to $5,000. As CTV News reports, some people are choosing to pay the fine so they may skip a three-day hotel stay to start and finish a mandatory 14-day isolation at home. That, and reports of travellers — including snowbirds — also skirting the hotel stay by flying into airports near land borders, crossing at which does not require a 72-hour isolation before heading home — are two reasons the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel last week recommended the hotel quarantine program be scrapped. Some provincial leaders, however, have called for increased measures to curb international travel as they say it will help keep coronavirus variants out. But the panel noted that is unlikely to work. “The global nature of travel and human mobility means that country-specific travel restrictions are likely to be of limited value. This is partially because travellers are able to circumvent such restrictions,” the report reads. “As well, by the time such restrictions are implemented, the relevant variant will likely have already spread to other countries.

Mental Health Declined Most Among Older Women

A survey by the Environics Institute for Ryerson University found that, over the course of the pandemic, the proportion of Canadians reporting fair/poor mental health increased from 21 to 31 per cent and, whereas there was no change in perceived mental health among 18 to 29 year-olds, seniors reported the greatest decline. And while 56 per cent of men aged 65 and older rated their mental health as good/excellent as compared to 74 per cent before the pandemic, the decline was sharper among senior women, with only 40 per cent reporting good/excellent mental health by December 2020 as compared to 73 per cent in April 2019. And although the survey found that perceptions of mental health dropped over the period of the study for all respondents, regardless of whether they identified as white, Black, Indigenous, Chinese or South Asian, Chinese Canadians reported the greatest decline compared to other groups, from 43 to 23 per cent reporting their mental health as good/excellent. “The survey can’t say if that’s because of experiences of discrimination … during the pandemic,” said Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute. “But I think the question kind of lingers.”

—Tara Losinski

 

June 2, 2021

More Fans in Stands But Is Manitoba Ready?

Following the lead of Toronto’s Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets will allow 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers to attend Games 1 and 2 against the Montreal Canadiens, beginning with the series opener tonight. The announcement came Tuesday as Manitoba saw ICU admissions reach a record number for the third consecutive day, 109 of 305 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are now under critical care. And although the province is under its strictest public health measures of the pandemic — including a ban on gathering of any kind — at a press briefing Tuesday Premier Brian Pallister said he was confident that these fans would be “safe” and “careful.” Responding to a question about whether the move was an appropriate one, the premier said yes, adding that people should take the move as a sign “that we can start to get our lives back here in Manitoba.” But Winnipeg physician Dr. Glen Drobot used the expression “tone deaf” to describe the decision. “It just doesn’t seem like the right time, because we’re not at the end,” Drobot told the CBC. “We’re not in a period of celebration yet.”

Hotel Quarantine on Trial

Canada’s Federal Court Tuesday began hearing four challenges of the mandatory hotel quarantine rule for international travellers that the government put in place back in February. Flying into Canada currently requires a three-day hotel stay as people await a negative COVID test and the 14 applicants, of four separate challenges, argue that violates their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “This is not what we do in Canada, we do not detain law-abiding citizens en masse,” Sayeh Hassan, a lawyer for several people challenging the rule — including snowbirds who left the country before the measure was put in place — told the court yesterday. She also said that worry over COVID-19 variants doesn’t justify the measure. “We don’t know when this is going to end, we don’t know when the new variants may stop appearing. The government cannot continue to rely on that to continue to put in place oppressive measures indefinitely,” said Hassan. The federal government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommended Thursday that Canada’s border regulations should be loosened, including shorter quarantine for partially vaccinated travellers; no quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers; and ending the mandatory three-day hotel quarantine program.

—Tara Losinski

June 1, 2021

Mixing Doses Okay, NACI Guidance Expected

For Canadians on the fence about getting a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which can have a one in 55,000 risk of potentially fatal blood clot — news that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is expected to update its guidance today on mixing or matching COVID-19 vaccines may help. As reported by the CBC, the group will recommend that people who have gotten a first dose of AstraZeneca can follow it up with a mRNA vaccine: Moderna or Pfizer’s. The change in guidance comes as research from Spain and the U.K. shows that mixing AZ and Pfizer is safe and effectively protects against the coronavirus. B.C., Manitoba and Quebec have already made the move to offer mRNA vaccines to residents who’ve gotten a first shot of AstraZeneca. Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon says there should be screening for blood clot risk related to vaccination. “Until we can do that, then we need to at least provide information on what your risk is in general, and discuss using other vaccines as your second dose,” she told the CBC. “Having a profile to identify who might be at risk for severe blood clots after the AstraZeneca vaccine would be important moving forward.”

NACI is also said to be updating its recommendation for mRNA second doses; if you got either Moderna or Pfizer as your first shot that you can take one or the other as your second dose.

Get Vaxed or Go to Class

Staff of long-term-care homes in Ontario will have to either prove they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine, or attend a session about the risks of not getting one — unless they have a medical reason for not getting vaccinated. With 97 pre cent of nursing home residents having received a second shot, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, said in a press release Monday that the province wants to “build on the success” of vaccination in the sector. “Widespread vaccination within long-term-care homes is the best way to protect residents, staff and their families,” she said. But only 66 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated. “This is kind of the step before actually mandating vaccination,” Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai, told the Toronto Star. “It might actually create more resistance in some people as opposed to figuring out what is the barrier.” He says the province should be making vaccination more convenient, thereby making it easier for staff “to do the right thing.” By July 1, an immunization policy will be mandatory for all LTC facilities in Ontario, with records of who has been vaccinated — staff and residents, alike.

—Tara Losinski

 

May 31, 2021

Fans in Stands for Game 7

After some normalcy Saturday night, with 2,500 hockey fans on hand at the Bell Centre (paying $1,000 a ticket) to watch the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 in overtime, the Ontario government announced Monday that 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers have been invited to Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena — a stadium that holds 19,800. “With precautionary measures in place like screening, masking, distancing, enhanced cleaning and crowd control, public health officials are confident we can put these special fans in the stands safely and with minimal risk,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement issued Monday morning. Workers will include hospital and long-term care staff, Ford’s statement said, with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment comping the game and giving everyone a free jersey. The idea was first floated by Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown with the online Hockey4Heroes petition. Responding via Twitter this morning, Brown, former leader of the province’s Conservative party, thanked @fordnation, saying the move would both boost the Leafs and acknowledge Ontario’s health-care heroes.

Canada’s Economic Outlook Looking Brighter

It’s fortune telling, yes, but good news none the less. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has upgraded its outlook for Canada’s growth this year, moving the needle to 6.1 per cent from the 4.7 per cent it predicted in March. The OECD attributed the sunnier forecast to reduced COVID-19 restrictions in the second half of the year and external demand. However, the Paris-based organization did lower its forecast for the country’s economic growth in 2022, from four to 3.8 per cent. Globally, things are also looking up in the near future, with output now expected to rise by 5.8 per cent, compared to projections in December of 4.8 per cent. But the OECD says this is “no ordinary recovery,” and that it will depend on effective vaccine rollouts and public health policy. And, although countries like Korea and the U.S. are reaching pre-pandemic income levels, others including much of Europe, Mexico and South Africa could take as long as five years to recover.

—Tara Losinski

 

May 28, 2021

Moderna Slows Vax Shipments

Federal officials confirmed yesterday that the pharmaceutical company that manufacturers the Moderna vaccine will not be able to meet its promise of shipping 50 million doses to Canada by the end of June. Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who replaced Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin as head of the federal government’s vaccine task force after the latter was forced to resign amid an investigation into past sexual abuse allegations, admitted that Moderna informed her it will not be able to deliver as agreed upon in its contract with the government. In the past, the company has blamed slowdowns on “quality assurance” issues at its European plants. Brodie was cautiously optimistic that that the doses would begin arriving in July instead of June, ensuring that, “across the vaccine rollout enterprise at all levels, and in all departments and jurisdictions, people are working relentlessly to ensure that Canadians can be vaccinated safely, and as soon as possible.” The missing shipments mean that many regions will likely have to put their reopening plans on hold until the supply issues are resolved. Provinces had been counting on these doses in order to vaccinate enough people so that businesses and services could reopen safely. With the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold and the Moderna shipments on hold, Canadians are hoping that Pfizer will keep up its regular shipment of two million doses a week.

Quebec Eases Rules, Allows Fans into Arena fpr Habs-Leafs playoff Series

With new COVID-19 cases dropping to below 500 per day, the Quebec government announced yesterday that it will soon be lifting several of its COVID-19 public health restrictions. Notably, it will end enforcing its controversial curfew that has been in place since early January. Among the most disliked of all the government pandemic policies, the curfew forbade Quebecers from being outside after 9:30 p.m. Beginning May 31, the government issued a directive saying that bars and restaurants will be allowed to offer patio service, up to eight people will be able to gather outdoors as well as travelling within different regions of the province. But perhaps the best news in this hockey-mad province is that some lucky fans will be allowed into the arena on Saturday to watch their beloved Montreal Canadiens battle the Toronto Maple Leafs. This will mark the first time since early 2020 that spectators will be permitted to attend a sporting event in person. Up to 2,500 socially distanced fans will be allowed into the Bell Centre to watch Game 6.

—Peter Muggeridge

May 27, 2021

Hajdu Urges Provinces to Use AZ supply

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu has sent a letter to provinces urging them to use their remaining doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before they expire or send them to other parts of the country that need them. “I want to offer support to ensure that these doses are used before they expire in order to allow us to continue to offer second doses to Canadians and avoid wastage of vaccines,” says Hajdu. She asks provinces that can’t use the doses “to communicate with other provinces that may be well positioned to administer these doses within their system.” There has been great confusion around the AstraZeneca vaccine after several provinces paused its use after several patients developed a blood clotting condition. When provinces hit the pause button on the vaccine, they were left with thousands of doses on their hands. Ontario has as many as 45,000 surplus doses while Manitoba has 7,000, which are sitting unused approaching their best-before date. Ontario announced last week that it would offer its excess supply to those who already had their first jab, but many people are experiencing trouble finding pharmacies that offer the controversial vaccine.

President Biden Orders Investigation Into Virus Origin

U.S. President Joe Biden has notified his intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to determine the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. It has drawn a stern rebuke from China, where the disease first surfaced. The president issued a statement yesterday saying that that his government would work “with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.” Biden has ordered his investigators to focus on two scenarios – 1) that the virus originated after human contact between humans and infected animals in a Wuhan market; 2) that the virus was developed in a Chinese laboratory. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reacted angrily to Biden’s announcement, calling the investigation a politically motivated “smear campaign” and adding that the U.S. “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing.” Zhao also said that he “would like to ask the U.S. side to do the same as China and immediately cooperate with the World Health Organization on origin tracing research in a scientific manner.”

—Peter Muggeridge

 

 

May 26, 2021

New Case Counts Dropping Across Country

The third wave of COVID-19 appears to be waning as new cases continue to drop across the country. Most provinces (Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are the exceptions) are reporting that case counts have dropped by up to 40 per cent since the third wave began in mid-April. Yesterday, the seven-day average of new cases across the country dipped below 4,000, nearly 50 per cent lower than the 8,000 average that was common in the early part of the third wave. Hospitalizations and intensive care admissions were also down across most of the country, lending hope that the worst of the wave is over. This good news has allowed provinces like B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec to announce plans to gradually reduce restrictions and reopen businesses and services that have been shut down during the recent wave. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says the dropping case counts are due to health restrictions and vaccination efforts. “Our fastest moving trend is — happily — our vaccination coverage,” she said at a press conference yesterday. But she added her usual caution to individuals to remain vigilant, saying: “Regardless of your vaccinations status, following the advice of your local public health authority, choosing lower risk activities and settings, and keeping up with essential precautions will help protect the progress we’ve made and set us up for a better summer, while we get our house in order for a safer fall.”

Shorter Interval Between Doses?

Good news for those who are worried about the lengthy interval between receiving first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. With word yesterday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that a healthy supply of vaccines are set to pour into this country over the next month, the Globe and Mail reported that some provinces announced they will be shortening the wait times between receiving first and second doses. “Everybody will be moved up, those appointments will be coming available, we’ll be getting second doses into people quickly,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief medical health officer. The Quebec government announced yesterday that if the province obtains enough vaccines, it is considering moving up the schedule to administer second doses in June. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is part of panel of experts advising the Ontario government on its vaccine efforts, said: “We’re going to start second doses soon. It would make sense to provide second doses faster for vulnerable populations, which includes older adults.”

—Peter Muggeridge

 

May 25,  2021

Trudeau Promises a Much Better Summer

In a press conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded provincial vaccination efforts, saying, “more than half of Canadians have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.” The prime minister suggested that this number will “keep going up fast” as the country is expected to secure millions of more doses. “We now rank No. 3 in the G-20 on doses administered per capita,” said Trudeau, adding that “It’s clear that working together as one big Team Canada is paying off.”

Trudeau made a point of thanking health-care workers, hospitals, pharmacies and vaccination centres “for being part of this historic effort.” He urged them to “keep it up — we’re all so deeply grateful.” And he promised that if all Canadians get their dose and follow public health guidelines, “we will have a much better summer and get through this crisis once and for all.”

Second Dose Worries

As Canada’s first-dose vaccine efforts ramp up, many are now shifting their sites on when they will receive their second dose. According to CBC’s vaccine tracker, 21.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far, with Yukon and the Northwest Territories leading the way, each reporting that over 50 per cent of its residents have received both doses. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, tweeted  over the weekend that “an incredible 2,548,563 Canadians received a dose of #COVIDVaccines from May 9-15.” While politicians and health officials are lauding the quickened pace, only 4.4 per cent of all Canadians have received both doses. By comparison, recent data shows that 38.7 per cent of Americans have received both doses. Trudeau has repeatedly said that all Canadians who want a vaccine will be able to get both doses by September.

Manitoba Docs Call for Stricter Measures

While Ontario and Saskatchewan are releasing plans to reopen businesses and services, and Quebec is reporting its lowest daily increase of new cases in seven months,  a group of doctors in Manitoba issued a Victoria Day statement calling for stricter health measures in order to help the beleaguered province get on top of the COVID-19 outbreak. With 461 new cases reported on Sunday, Manitoba now has the highest per capita infection rate in the country. The spike in cases has seen 88 patients being cared for in intensive care, a record high since the pandemic started last year. “It’s clear that the rules are simply not good enough to get us out of this crisis,” the doctors’ statement reads. “Anyone who has a serious chronic condition, who may have an early cancer that needs to be diagnosed, or is in need of urgent surgery is now at great risk of not getting the care they need,” it continues.

—Peter Muggeridge

 

May 21, 2021

Ontario Incentivizes Vaccination With Reopening

If Ontarians want to get back to normal, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. In what Premier Doug Ford is calling a ‘Roadmap to Reopen,’ 60 per cent of residents will need to have gotten a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order for the province to move into the first phase — expected to begin mid-June, which will permit things like outdoor dining and day camps for the kids. If they want a haircut, 70 per cent of residents will need to have gotten a first jab and 20 per cent will need to have gotten a second. And for indoor events to resume, the province will need to see 25 per cent of residents fully vaccinated — 473, 759 were reported to have gotten two shots as of Thursday, about 3.2 per cent of the population. What will resume Saturday — before the province’s stay-at-home order is officially lifted, with 48 pre cent of people having gotten a first dose — is golf and outdoor amenities such as skate parks, along with the permitting people to meet outdoors in groups no more than five. “This is being done slowly and with extreme caution,” said Ford, after outlining the plan at a press conference Thursday. “This is the only way it will work.”

AZ 2nd Doses Will Be Offered in Ont.; Vaccines Coming Slower Than Expected

Ontario announced Friday that it will use up the roughly 55,000 doses of AstraZeneca it has — some of which are set to expire May 31 — to give second shots to residents who had a first dose, roughly 850,000 people, starting with those who got their jab March 10-19. But the province stopped short of unpausing AZ as a first dose, unless a person has allergies that prevent them from getting Pfizer or Moderna. When asked by a reporter to reassure people that getting a second shot is safe, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said: “The risk of getting COVID still far exceeds any risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.” Meanwhile, officials confirmed Thursday that Canada could receive as many as 10 million fewer vaccine doses than expected by the end of June — with shortages from AstraZeneca and Moderna. Asked at a press conference Thursday if Canada is still counting on getting the 48 million doses it had projected to receive by the end of June, Joelle Paquette, a director-general with Public Services and Procurement Canada, answered: “From the beginning our goal has been to have enough doses to vaccinate eligible Canadians by the end of September and I can say that we are on track to meet that goal.”

—Tara Losinski

 

May 20, 2021

Ontario Prepares to Reopen

Ontario expects to permit outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and allow non-essential retail to operate at 15% capacity starting the week of June 14, contingent on certain vaccination rates being met, the premier announced on Thursday.

Canada’s most populous province has been under lockdown since early April when a third wave of the coronavirus threatened to overwhelm hospital capacity.

The reopening will be confirmed closer to the date, Premier Doug Ford said at a briefing in Toronto. The province will reopen outdoor amenities — including playgrounds, basketball courts and golf courses — as of Saturday.

COVID-19 cases have been falling steadily in Ontario, and new modeling from the government released earlier on Thursday showed that if restrictions were maintained until mid-June, cases would likely remain under control.

“We’re now in a position to look at a slow and measured reopening of the province,” Ford said. “This is being done slowly and with extreme caution.”

Step one of a three-step reopening will also include outdoor dining with up to four people per table, a government release said.

Entering step one will require 60 per cent of eligible Ontario adults to have received at least one vaccine dose. Each step will last for at least 21 days, the release said.

The plan is largely in step with what public health officials recommended when explaining the new case modeling.

Ford’s government took heavy criticism from all sides for reopening too soon in March, which resulted in the punishing third wave and overwhelmed the province’s healthcare systems.

“The direction of the pandemic has turned and if we’re careful and cautious, we can maintain this momentum,” Dr. Steini Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said at a briefing before Ford’s announcement.

—Reuters

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

 

Ontario Will Give Second Shots of AstraZeneca

One can hardly keep up with the flip-flopping over the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Canada’s recommendation for who should get the shot has changed four times since its approval near the end of February — not to mention provincial starts and stops. In yet another change, according to a Toronto Star report Ontario is expected to announce within days that it will proceed with second shots after pausing the vaccine’s use just last week over growing concern of blood clot risk. There are reported to be tens of thousands of doses set to expire on May 31, but the province’s Health Minister Christine Elliott Wednesday said:”Nothing will be wasted.” Ontario’s New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath says it would be “devastating” if any vaccine doses expired. “With the clock ticking, there needs to be a decision made,” she said.

People who have gotten their first AZ shot have been in limbo across the country, with most provinces also suspending use of the vaccine last week. A Spanish study released earlier this week points to a safe and effective outcome when participants took the Pfizer vaccine as their second dose, and Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam said Tuesday that Canadians who’ve had their first shot of AstraZeneca should be able to choose what they take as a second shot. But Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization has yet to weigh in on mixing vaccines, and so provinces and people are left waiting.

 

A Tale of Two Third Waves

As Ontario Premier Doug Ford outlined his province’s reopening strategy on Thursday, neighbouring Manitoba this week transferred three patients to a hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont., for lack of ICU capacity. Manitobans will come under tighter restrictions as a third wave of COVID-19 continues to surge in the province. “Case counts spiked after Thanksgiving. Case counts spiked after Easter and spring break. We can’t have the same thing happen after the May long weekend,” said Premier Brian Pallister at a press conference Thursday. He also implored residents to get vaccinated, with second dose booking beginning Friday and details of a vaccine incentive program coming next week. “Do it so you can see family and friends. Do it so you can go to dinner and a movie. Do it so you can go to church. Do it to help your child get back to school,” he said, choking up a little before adding. “Do it so you can never give someone else COVID-19.”

—Tara Losinski

 

May 19, 2021

Fans in the Stands for a Playoff Game?

If the round one series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens plays out long enough, fans may be able to watch a game live at Montreal’s Bell Centre. As part of Quebec’s reopening plan, Premier François Legault Tuesday outlined the easing of restrictions, which will begin May 28, that include eating on patios and decks outside of restaurants; outdoor gatherings of up to eight people on private property; travel between regions of Quebec; and up to 2,500 people in a large theatre or arena. In a release following the announcement, the Canadiens applauded the move and confirmed that, yes, they are game for it. “Regarding the Montreal Canadiens and the playoffs, under the new rules, the Bell Centre will initially accommodate 2,500 people — or about 12% of capacity — for a hockey game beyond May 28. We really missed our fans and spectators and we can’t wait to host them again. And we will be ready,” read a statement from France Margaret Bélanger, the team’s executive vice-president and chief commercial officer.

Of course, in a flip-flopping manner seen throughout the pandemic, there was a contradicting message just earlier in the day — before Quebec’s press conference — from Canada’s Public Health Agency. “I would say if you look at that timing and what’s the schedule for the NHL playoffs, which is taking place right now and into the summer months, it’s not really something that’s under serious consideration in terms of fans in the stands, just based on where we are with our vaccination campaign at this point,” said Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo at a press conference in Ottawa. Meanwhile, Alberta and Manitoba, both with teams in the playoffs, have said that fans in the stands is not in the cards. In hearing Quebec’s plans Tuesday evening, Alberta Premier Jason said: “If they can do that, bully to them, but they paid a very high price in getting those numbers down with by far the most draconian restrictions in Canada.”

Cross-Border Vaxing

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Tuesday that the Canada-U.S. border would remain closed to non-essential travel until more than 75 pre cent of Canadians are vaccinated, it hasn’t;t stopped Alberta residents from taking a quick trip into Montana — to get vaccinated. As the Toronto Star reports, Albertans were invited by the Blackfoot Tribe in neighbouring Montana, starting last month, to share in its abundant supply of vaccines. Canadians who attend the drive-through clinic are given exemption from the 14-day quarantine required for residents crossing back into the country. They drive through a loop that takes them just across the border, receive their shots through the car window, are monitored for 15 minutes and then return home. Tuesday marked the beginning of second shots at the vaccination clinic and, as the Star reported, the lineup at the border crossing between Cardston County, Alta., and Glacier County, Mo., was more than a kilometre long by 9 a.m. Cathy and Dave Goodbrand were two of the many who came, driving 260 kilometres from Calgary. “We’re happy to get down here. It’s a relief. Four months is too long to wait in between vaccines,” said Cathy. “It’s absolutely beautiful. The Blackfoot Indians are just coming through [for us].”

—Tara Losinski

 

May 18, 2021

“Promising Results” From Homegrown Vaccine 

Quebec-based Medicago today released what it’s calling “promising results” from a Phase 2 trial of its plant-derived COVID-19 vaccine candidate — the only homegrown vaccine the federal government is reported to have a deal to purchase, if approved. “After two doses, the adjuvanted vaccine candidate induced robust neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in all subjects, irrespectively of age,” Nathalie Landry, Executive Vice President, Scientific and Medical Affairs at Medicago, said in a statement, adding that the shot has potential as a booster. “We hope to add another tool in the global fight against COVID-19, particularly as cross-protection emerges as an important consideration in vaccination efforts worldwide.” Trial participants, which included healthy adults 18-64 years of age, elderly subjects aged 65 and over and adults with comorbidities, were found to have neutralizing antibody responses ten times higher than in people recovering from COVID-19. No serious adverse reactions were observed, the company also reported.

In partnership with Britain pharma GlaxoSmithKline, Medicago developed the refrigerator-stable shot using a virus-like particle — grown from a cousin of the tobacco plant — employed to trick the immune system into mounting a defence to what it thinks is an infection of coronavirus. Phase 3 trials will include 30,000 volunteers, from Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Brazil, with the vaccine already in regulatory review by Health Canada.

Vaccine Rollout Gets New Boss

With less than half of Canadians having had a first COVID-19 vaccine shot, the government has had to scramble to replace the head of its rollout, with the sudden departure of Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin Friday, after an allegation of sexual misconduct was raised. The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Tuesday that Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie,  a 30-year Armed Forces veteran and army logistics officer, will take the reins. “Brigadier-General Brodie has played a pivotal role in the vaccine rollout as part of the initial deployment to the agency in November.” said PHAC president Iain Stewart. “Following a brief return to the Canadian Armed Forces in February as the commander of military personnel generation group, Brigadier-General Brodie’s appointment allows for a seamless transition as she resumes her leadership role with PHAC.” The prime minister is expected to take questions about the situation at a press conference Tuesday. The only comments to come from Ottawa so far were by Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who said Monday that she has “every confidence that Canadians will not feel any impact in terms of vaccine rollout,” as Canadian Forces members “are experts in logistics and operations” and there are built-in “redundancies” for “when someone steps aside,” including others who are trained to “keep the mission going.”

—Tara Losinski

May 17, 2021

Sanofi-GSK Vaccine up to 100% Effective

Another viral vector COVID-19 vaccine candidate is showing promise. Phase 2 trial results from the shot developed by French drug maker Sanofi and Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline showed a 95 to 100 per cent efficacy following a second injection in all age groups (18 to 95 years old), with no safety concerns.
The drug makers could be seen as late to the game, in part for having to stop and retool the vaccine in December when trial results showed low immune response in older adults, but they are looking to a silver lining. “Interestingly, we also observed that our vaccine generated a higher antibody response in those with previous COVID-19 infection, we are analyzing this further as it may suggest our vaccine could serve as a potential booster, regardless of what vaccine someone may have received (beforehand),” Su-Peing Ng, Sanofi’s global head of medical for vaccines, told reporters Monday. The vaccine will move into a global Phase 3 trial, involving more than 35,000 volunteers, in the coming weeks, with approved hoped to come by the fourth quarter.

Sanofi does have a purchase agreement with Canada, should their COVID-19 vaccine be approved. And in March, the federal government announced that it was investing $415 million to help develop the company’s new vaccine production facility in Toronto.

Working ‘Pandemic Hours’ Not Worth It, WHO

If it feels like the hours you’ve been pulling are ‘killing you,’ you might not be wrong. It turns out, working more than 55 hours a week increases the risk of death from heart disease and stroke, according to a United Nations study released Monday. The research, by the UN’s World Health Organization and International Labour Organization agencies, is the first global review of risk to life and health associated with long work hours. Findings showed that, compared to working between 35 and 40 hours, working 55 hours or more a week was associated with an estimated 35 per cent increase in the risk of suffering a stroke, and a 17 per cent rise in the risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. What’s more, between 2000 and 2016, heart disease-related deaths linked to long hours increased by 42 per cent, as did stroke, by 19 per cent. The head of the WHO sounded a warning today, particularly about the ‘pandemic pace’ at which we’re running. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

—Tara Losinski

 

May 14, 2021

Ford: “Just Hang in There”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced yesterday that the province-wide stay-at-home order will remain in effect for at least another two weeks. The premier said despite falling case counts of COVID-19, the order would remain in place until June 2. “As much as we’re seeing a decline, which is good, everyone is moving forward, we’re getting the vaccines in to people’s arms, but we just can’t risk it. Just hang in there, we aren’t asking a lot, just a couple more weeks,” said Ford in a press conference yesterday. He claimed that the continuation of the stay-at-home order would help bring about the possibility of the “most normal July and August possible.” At the same event, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical health officer, suggested that daily case counts would have to drop below 1,000 before restrictions could be loosened. Yesterday, the province reported 2,759 new cases. On the vaccine front, the premier announced that more than six million residents have received at least one dose, and that more than 400,000 have received both doses.

Saskatchewan’s Vax Rollout Chugging Along

From Saskatchewan comes encouraging news about the effectiveness of the vaccine. Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said that early results show the vaccine is 99 per cent effective in reducing the infection rate of COVID-19. “I think this is quite remarkable actually, that with just one dose the vaccine is protecting us so well. That reinforces the fact that all of us need to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Shahab in a press conference. One of the leading provinces in vaccination distribution, Saskatchewan has administered the first dose to at least half of its residents, and shots are now being offered to people as young as 26. With its immunization campaign rolling out smoothly, Saskatchewan also became the first province to release a Re-Opening Roadmap, which will allow businesses and services to gradually resume operations three weeks after 70 per cent of people aged 40 and over have received their first vaccine dose.

—Peter Muggeridge

 

May 13, 2021

Early Results from Vax-Mixing Study

Many Canadians who will be forced to mix and match their first and second vaccine doses, especially those living in Ontario and Alberta where the AstraZeneca rollout has been paused, are waiting anxiously for the scientific community to provide advice on the matter. Yesterday, The Lancet released early data from one study that suggests that beyond increased minor side effects, mixing and matching vaccine doses poses no major safety concerns.

The researchers studied the outcome of 463 patients (all over the age of 50) who received a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on top of their first dose of AstraZeneca. While the study reported no major health complications from those who received a different second shot, researchers did discover that 34 per cent reported feeling feverish after receiving the Pfizer second dose, as opposed to only 10 per cent who felt feverish after receiving the AstraZeneca for both doses. Many of the patients in the study who mixed vaccines also reported experiencing minor symptoms such as chills, headaches, fatigue and pain, which usually disappeared within two days. Importantly, there were no cases of Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT), which caused the AstraZeneca pause in the first place.

Unfortunately, the study did not reveal whether mixing two vaccines affects the body’s immune response in fighting the virus. The answer to this hugely important concern will have to wait a few weeks. “The full picture will be clearer when we see the antibody picture and see whether this [adverse reaction] has led to an improved immune response,” says Dr. Matthew Snape, professor at the Oxford Vaccine Group who led the study.

 

Alberta Reaches Vax Milestone but Cases Still Soaring

Despite Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney’s assurances that the province is in the “homestretch” of the COVID-19 battle, yesterday’s total of nearly 1,800 new cases suggests they’re not quite there yet. As the province is set to pass the milestone of two million vaccine doses administered, the latest wave  sweeping through Alberta is causing enormous strain on hospital system, with over 700 patients being treated in hospital and 169 in intensive care. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s medical health officer, said yesterday that the active case count in Alberta was the second-highest since the outbreak of the virus last year, with Calgary being the hardest-hit region. In the face of such dire numbers, Hinshaw, however, sounded an optimistic note saying, “there are positive signs that transmission may be starting to slow.”

—Peter Muggeridge

 

May 12, 2021

Ontario became the second province to “pause” the use of the controversial Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in its immunization campaign against COVID-19.

In a press conference yesterday, Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said that the province would follow Alberta’s lead and “pause the rollout and administration of first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Williams said that the move to halt the use of the controversial vaccine, which has been administered largely through pharmacies, was made “out of an abundance of caution.” He admitted that the increased incidence of patients developing a blood clotting syndrome known as Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) after receiving their doses, “shouldn’t be underestimated.”

It was originally thought that VITT occurred in only one in 100,000 cases. However, the most recent data suggests that it’s more like one in 55,000 cases — still rare but far too high to brush off as inconsequential. Canada has reported 12 cases of VITT out of 2.3 million doses administered, with eight of these occurring in Ontario. Williams also noted that his decision to halt AstraZeneca was made easier by the fact that more of the mRNA-based vaccines (from Pfizer and Moderna) are arriving in Canada, lessening our dependence on AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca officials have so far not responded to the latest developments. In a March 18 press release, the pharmaceutical company that makes the vaccine responded to VITT concerns, calling it “very rare” and noting that “this has been reported in fewer than one in a million people vaccinated so far in the U.K., and can also occur naturally — a causal association with the vaccine has not been established.” In a March 14 release, AstraZeneca claimed that “the company is keeping this issue under close review but available evidence does not confirm that the vaccine is the cause.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout has been a public relations disaster since it was approved for use here in late February. At first, public health officials indicated that it should not be given to those over 65. In mid-March, these guidelines changed, and health officials suggested that it was safe for all age groups. In late March, however, public health officials again changed their message, advising that it should only be made available to those younger than 55. In mid-April, many provincial health officials switched course yet again and began offering the dose to anyone over 18. And now, in mid-May, Ontario and Alberta have both paused its use.

According to the Toronto Star, 900,000 doses of AstraZeneca were administered in Ontario before the pause, creating an aura of anxiety among recipients about mixing vaccines in order to get their second shot. Last week, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam spoke about the advisability of mixing vaccines, saying researchers are currently studying the question and that “there will be further advice forthcoming.”

The chaos surrounding the AstraZeneca pause hasn’t been helped by the mixed messages Canadians are getting from politicians. Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will continue to import AstraZeneca vaccines. And last week Trudeau urged Canadians to take the first dose offered to them, claiming that “every vaccine administered in Canada is safe and effective, as evaluated by Health Canada.”

—Peter Muggeridge

 

May 11, 2021

Poll Suggests Most Canadians Remain Happy, But Less so With All Levels of Government Over Handling of Pandemic 

Leger today released its latest poll on how Canadians are feeling about COVID-19, with nearly half (41 per cent) of respondents believing we are in the worst period of the crisis, and only just over half (55 per cent) saying they felt optimistic about the coming year. Despite this, when the firm (who surveyed 1,529 people online between May 7 and May 9) asked Canadians about their mental state through the pandemic, 43 per cent reported it was good while another 32 per cent said it was very good/excellent.

The poll suggests that Canadians have confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, despite continually changing recommendations for their use and safety concerns over blood clot risk from the viral vector shots — it was reported today that Alberta will stop giving first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and will use remaining supply for second doses only. More than eight in 10 people surveyed said they are either already vaccinated or plan to be when it’s their turn. That’s up from six in 10 people last October, and seven in 10 in January. “Pretty much every government in the Western Hemisphere would be happy if 82 per cent of adults did get vaccinated,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque. And it seems those with confidence may help move the needle further, with 44 per cent of respondents saying that they’ve attempted to change the mind of a friend or family member refusing to get vaccinated.

The poll also suggests that the majority of Canadians are open to the idea of vaccine passports; 61 per cent agreed that the government should implement proof of vaccination for public events/gatherings. Consensus grew to 82 per cent when people were asked if non-Canadians entering the country should have to provide a vaccine passport, and almost as many respondents, 79 per cent, believe that should extend to Canadians who wish to travel by plane within or outside the country. However, only just over half of those surveyed believe the government should have the right to limit employees in health-care settings — including long-term care homes — to people with proof of vaccination.

And although only 54 per cent of people said they were somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19, nearly eight in 10 people said “no,” when asked if governments should lift all restrictions. But are Canadians happy with restrictions put in place to help fight the coronavirus? Only about half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with measures by federal (50 per cent), provincial (52 per cent) or municipal (58 per cent) governments. Provincially, satisfaction was lowest in Alberta, 29 per cent, where restrictions have recently ratcheted back up under a third-wave surge — and in Ontario, 37 per cent, where hot spots have been under North America’s longest lockdown, which is expected to continue into June.

And if Canadians had to vote in federal elections today would Prime Minister Justin Trudeau get back in? (He said Tuesday that “restrictions need to stay in place until at least 75 per cent of the population has at least their first shot,” adding that expected supply will allow Canadians who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — 82 per cent, according to the Leger poll — to get a second dose by September.) The poll suggests that, yes, the Liberals (with 27 per cent) would narrowly edge out the Conservatives (25 per cent) while the NDP would get 16 per cent of the vote followed by the Bloc and Green Party, with six per cent each.

—Tara Losinski

May 10, 2021

Domestic Overtakes International Flights Linked to COVID

A report by the Globe and Mail suggests that domestic flights now account for the most transport of COVID-19 through Canadian airports. Between Jan. 1 and May 5, a total of 1,873 flights arrived or departed from airports across the country with at least one passenger later testing positive, according to tracking by Transport Canada. The agency updates its data regularly to advise the public of potential exposure on all flights as well as on ships, trains and buses. Whereas international flights accounted for more 60 per cent of cases linked to air travel between January and February, domestic flights now account for more than 60 per cent of those cases.

While there have been repeated calls from provincial leaders to further restrict international travel, we must now turn our attention inward says UBC associate professor Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease expert who is co-leading the Canadian arm of the World Health Organization’s global Solidarity Trial testing coronavirus vaccines. “All of our attention on our national border doesn’t really address us solving the problem internally,” he told the Globe.

In B.C., which saw just over 100 domestic flights, between Mar. 19 and April 9, later linked to infections, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth says “this is not the time to visit” his province. His government wants Ottawa to implement negative COVID tests for travellers flying within Canada, as is required for international travel. Meanwhile, Halifax’s airport authority president, Joyce Carter, says that she’s waiting for a go ahead from the province to extend COVID testing at the airport. Currently used for arriving temporary foreign workers, she said Saturday that testing of any and all arriving passengers “could be up and running on a day’s notice” and to help combat the province’s third wave, she’d like it implemented “sooner rather than later.”

Quebecers Testing Digital Vaccine Passport

Starting Thursday, Quebec will begin issuing digital proof, in the form of a QR code — a barcode that can be scanned using a cellphone app — as well as a paper copy to people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. In an interview with Radio-Canada, the province’s economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, said the QR code, or some sort of vaccine passport, would be important for businesses to get back to normal. “I think businesses will use it because they have a need to keep their employees safe; they have a need to keep their clients safe,” Fitzgibbon said in a pre-recorded interview that was broadcast Sunday. He used the example of restaurants using the code as proof of vaccination, saying that such businesses could “benefit from this technological tool.” Quebec’s Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said his department has yet to make a recommendation on the issue of such vaccine passports. “We want to do a good analysis given the ethical issues, among others,” Arruda said last week. “I think it could have a certain utility, ok. We’re not saying No; we’re saying we have to look at it.”

IOC President Cancels Visit to Japan

With just over 10 weeks to go until the Olympics are set to open in Tokyo, in a statement Monday it was confirmed that International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has cancelled a trip to Japan because of surging cases of COVID-19. Bach was supposed to arrive next Monday to meet the torch relay in Hiroshima and then travel on to Tokyo, where a state of emergency has been extended to May 31. Although polls show that between 60 and 80 per cent of Japan’s population say the Olympics should be once again postponed, or cancelled, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it’s up to the IOC as to whether the games go ahead. “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population,” Suga said. “Let me address that clearly. In terms of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is important that we must first prevent the spread of the virus. The IOC has already made a decision to hold the Games and notified countries as such.”

—Tara Losinski

May 7, 2021

First Pfizer Dose More Effective Than Qatar Study Reported: Ontario Expert

Medical experts have raised questions about the real-world data from Qatar showing one shot of the vaccine against B.1.1.7 the so-called British variant accounting for more than 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario — provided protection of only 30 percent, as reported yesterday. Medical experts, and even the study’s own author, said it was inaccurate to draw any conclusions from the data about the effectiveness of the first dose. The study did not specify how long after those first doses infections occurred, and the participants received a second dose at just three weeks, so the effectiveness of the first dose was measured from the time the dose was given — before its protection kicked in — and was not measured beyond the 21 days, when the second dose was given. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s chief coroner, outbreak co-ordinator and a member of its vaccine task force, said the province’s own data shows that one dose of Pfizer has 70-per-cent effectiveness in stopping infections after 42 to 48 days. A second dose pushes that number to more than 90 per cent.

Record Number of Vaccines Administered in a Single Day in Ontario, Quebec

Ontario reported a new milestone in its COVID-19 vaccination effort Thursday, with 141,038 doses administered on Wednesday. It’s the first time more than 140,000 doses have been given. Ontario is scheduled to receive close to 800,000 Pfizer doses per week through to the end of May and that figure is set to rise to around 940,000 doses in each week of June. Those aged 50 and up are now eligible to book a vaccination appointment across the province, while all eligible people 18 and over in hot spots can now book. Quebec also reached a milestone, administering a record 102,700 vaccine doses. People aged 35 and over can now get vaccinated in Quebec. The province is reportedly working on a reopening plan linked to hitting vaccination numbers. 

Nova Scotia Hits New High in Daily Cases

Nova Scotia reported 182 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a single-day record, as the number of active cases in the province surpassed 1,300. As of Thursday, there were 45 people in hospital, including nine in ICU. Since May 1, the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise steadily in Nova Scotia, even as the numbers in Ontario and Quebec have dropped.

Canada Joining Talks on Waiving Vaccine Patents

Canada agreed Thursday to join World Trade Organization talks on waiving the rules that protect COVID-19 vaccine patents — a measure drug companies and a number of world leaders say would only slow down production. International Trade Minister Mary Ng broke the news during question period in the House of Commons. The U.S. made a similar commitment on Wednesday.

Leading U.S. Politician Calls for Border Opening

U.S. senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Canadian and U.S. officials to release their plans to “safely reopen the border to non-essential travel after more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns.” In the interim, Schumer, the senior senator from New York, is calling on both governments to broaden the definition of essential travellers to include vaccinated people who have property, educational, medical or business reasons for crossing the border.  In a letter released Wednesday, Schumer called for a “transparent, bilateral, and public plan” based on public health data and guidance, with specific standards, protocols, and metrics for reopening the border, to be released as soon as possible. “Due to the rising rates of vaccinated Americans and the subsequent decline in cases in New York and elsewhere, it has become abundantly clear that an agreement can and should be reached to safely accommodate the border communities without compromising the fight against COVID-19,” reads the letter, addressed to the U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary. In late April, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said international and U.S. border restrictions will be in place for another month, at least, as the country grapples with a third wave of the coronavirus. The U.S. remains far ahead of Canada in the number of residents who are fully vaccinated, 32.1 per cent of the population compared to 3.1 per cent of Canadians. However, Canada is catching up in the rate of those who have received their first dose, with 44.4 per cent of Americans getting one jab, compared to 35.5 per cent of Canadians, according to the CTVNews.ca vaccine tracker.

—Judy Gerstel

 

May 6, 2021

Single Pfizer Dose Is 55 per cent Effective at Preventing Hospitalization or Death From B.1.1.7

A new study involving 40,000 people tested for COVID-19 in Qatar found a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNech vaccine was only 29.5 per cent effective at preventing infection by the B.1.1.7 — the so-called U.K. variant now pervasive in Ontario. The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday found one shot of the Pfizer vaccine was only 54.5 per cent effective in preventing “severe, critical or fatal” outcomes due to infection by the B.1.1.7 variant. Public Health Ontario said in recent weeks that more than 90 per cent of positive samples it screens appear to have the characteristics of the B.1.1.7 variant. Among those who received both doses of Pfizer, the vaccine’s efficacy against infection by B.1.1.7, with or without symptoms, was 87 per cent, increasing to 90 per cent 14 days after the second dose. It was 100 per cent effective against severe symptoms requiring hospitalization or death.

New Survey Shows Majority of Canadians Support Proof of Vaccination for Travel and Large Events

A strong majority of Canadians are in favour of travellers being required to show proof of vaccination prior to domestic travel or to attend a large group gathering. The results of the new Nanos survey, announced yesterday by CTV News, showed that 74 per cent of respondents say they either “support” or “somewhat support” it being “mandatory to produce a proof of vaccination for anyone travelling between regions in Canada or attending a large gathering like a concert or sporting event.” Twenty-four per cent either “oppose” or “somewhat oppose” it, and two per cent remain “unsure.”

Earlier this week, Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada is working with international partners to develop a standardized vaccine certification for travel and will position itself as a safe destination once the country has reached COVID-19 herd immunity. That’s unlikely to happen for a few reasons, Simon Fraser University mathematics professor Paul Tupper told the Canadian Press. The virus is being transmitted worldwide, which means it is reintroduced in different places across borders and immunity doesn’t last permanently. The vaccines don’t seem to be completely effective against some of the new variants, he said. “So, I think what is more likely to happen is that we end up in a situation like we have with seasonal flu. We have to live with the flu, and I think something similar is going to happen with COVID.”

Earlier in the pandemic, the threshold for herd immunity was estimated at about 70 per cent. But more recent estimates range as high as 80 or even close to 90 per cent. One of the biggest reasons for the increase is that new variants are estimated to be 50 to 60 per cent more transmissible.

Albertans Age 12 to 15 Can Make Vaccine Appointments Starting Monday

The day after Health Canada’s approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the first to announce that starting on Monday, his province would make vaccines available to everyone aged 12 and up. Those born in 1991 and earlier can start booking their vaccines on Friday, while those born between 1992 and 2009 can make an appointment starting Monday. Meanwhile, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force, said Ontario likely won’t begin vaccinating kids until later this summer.

A Third “Jab” for Brits Over 50 in the Works

In Britain, they’re already talking about a third, or booster “jab” in the fall for people age 50 and over. The goal is to eradicate the threat from COVID-19 entirely by Christmas, reports The London Times.

Trials of two options are under way. The first involves vaccines specifically modified to tackle new variants. The second is for a third shot of one of the three versions already in use: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca or Moderna. The Times has been told that early findings from the trials have raised hopes that the two approaches will be able to block any threat from new and existing variants. It is also thought that it will only be necessary to give a third jab to the people over 50 and those with underlying health conditions. One way of delivering the booster would be at the same time as the annual flu jab, but in the other arm.

 

Canada Not Yet Joining U.S. in Waiving Vaccine Patents

 In a major policy shift, the Biden administration announced yesterday that the United States will now support a proposal from developing countries to allow a temporary waiver on COVID-19 vaccine patents. The move allows new suppliers to begin manufacturing the vaccines, reducing the desperate global shortage.

The Canadian government, however, is still weighing its options, said Foreign Affairs minister Marc Garneau. Discussion on whether to lift patents, as was done in the AIDS crisis, was “very active,” he said in an interview on CTV.

“Canada’s position is that we need to obtain more vaccines, we need to all put more money into the COVAX program, and by the way, Canada is the fourth largest contributor to the COVAX program, and we need to discuss with manufacturers whether they’re prepared to make licensing arrangements to allow greater production of the vaccine,” he said.

The WTO operates on consensus and cannot approve a new policy if key countries are opposing it. The U.S. had previously refused to support a patent waiver, which the pharmaceutical industry has vocally opposed. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

—Judy Gerstel

May 5, 2021

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and older. Previously, it was restricted to those 16 and older. The authorization for this age group, the first in the world, was based on a trial of more than 2,200 youth in that age group in the United States, which recorded no cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated kids. The trial used the same size doses, and the same two-dose requirement, as the vaccine for adults. The U.S. is expected to approve the mRNA vaccine for the 12 to 16 age group next week. Results of a trial for younger children should be available soon, and there are ongoing studies with children as young as six months. At the press event this morning, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Chief Medical Advisor for Health Canada, said about one-fifth of all cases of COVID-19 in Canada have occurred in children and teenagers, and having a vaccine for them is a critical part of Canada’s plan. “While younger people are less likely to experience serious cases of COVID-19, having access to a safe and effective vaccine will help to control the disease’s spread to their families and friends — some of whom may be at a higher risk of complications,” Sharma said. 

Alberta is near the top of the news today for two reasons. First, the province confirmed that a woman in her 50s died from a rare blood clot after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. She is the second person in Canada to die from this disorder linked to the vaccine. At this morning’s press event, Health Canada’s Dr. Sharma said the risk of the blood clot following the AstraZeneca shot is about one in 100,000. “You have to look at the risks and benefits, and you have to look at the context and you have to look at the risks of not getting vaccinated and potentially getting COVID-19,” she said. “[All the vaccines] are very, very effective in combatting COVID-19 serious infections, hospitalization and death.”

With Alberta’s COVID-10 case rate notching higher than any other jurisdiction in Canada or the U.S., Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions last night, including online schooling. Unusually, the premier went on live television in the evening to advise Albertans that K-12 schooling would go online until May 25 and gatherings must be limited to five people. Patio dining is no longer allowed, with restaurants restricted to takeout.

—Judy Gerstel

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