COVID-19 Tracker: CDC Endorses Pfizer Booster for Vulnerable, Workers at Increased Risk; Unvaxxed Albertans 40 Times More Likely to End Up in ICU, Says Top Doc

Covid Update

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

Sept. 24, 2021

CDC Approves COVID Booster

COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech can officially begin being administered in the United States after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today approved recommendations made by its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Thursday.

The agency has recommended boosters for people considered vulnerable to severe outcomes, including people aged 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, certain people with underlying medical conditions. But another group — voted against being added by the ACIP yesterday — was also included in the CDC’s guidance: people aged 18 to 64 who are at increased risk of COVID-19 because of their workplaces or institutional settings.

But adding that last group does align with recommendations made on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration — another agency that weighed in on the decision.

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact. At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good,” Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement this morning.

So far the ACIP has reviewed a request for approval of a booster only from Pfizer, Walensky noted, but she said: the CDC “will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J&J vaccines as soon as those data are available.”

Earlier this week, Johnson & Johnson announced results from a study that showed a two-dose version of its Janssen COVID-19 vaccine provides 94 per cent protection against symptomatic infection — comparable to two doses of Moderna or Pfizer.

Sober Stats for Unvaxxed From Alberta’s Top Doc

“One hundred per cent of new ICU admissions were in Albertans who did not have any vaccine protection,” the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. said in Thursday’s COVID-19 update.

All of Alberta’s recent COVID-19 ICU admissions, and the majority of deaths reported in the province this week, had no vaccine protection she noted. As of Thursday, 1,058 people were in hospital, with 226 being treated for COVID-19 in ICUs — admissions for which are now the highest the province has seen during the pandemic.

And Hinshaw noted more sober stats for unvaccinated residents.

“Albertans who have not been vaccinated are about 15 times more likely than those with vaccine protection to end up in the hospital from COVID-19,” she said.

“They are about 40 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU. About 77 per cent of Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated and 92 per cent of those in the ICU right now have not had both shots.”

And addressing questions about whether people who have been infected still need to get get immunized, Hinshaw said, “The bottom line is that my advice for those who have had COVID-19 remains the same: it is still best for everyone to be fully vaccinated with two doses to obtain the greatest possible protection against infection.”

Case Linked to Kingston, Ont. Polling Station

At lest one new case of COVID-19 in Ontario has been linked to a polling station in Kingston during Monday’s federal election.

On Thursday, health officials were asking anyone who attended the St. Luke’s Anglican Church polling station between 9 p.m. and midnight on Monday to monitor for signs of illness after a positive case was linked to the site.

The health unit also says it will do contact tracing to alert close contacts of the person infected.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 23, 2021

COVID-19 Now Deadliest Pandemic in U.S. History

On Monday, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 officially passed the number of those who died during the Spanish flu outbreaks in 1918-19, making it the deadliest pandemic in American history.

The Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that the number of fatalities due to COVID-19 is now 677,000, surpassing the 675,000 who perished in the three waves of Spanish flu that decimated the country following the First World War.

“The reality is we have no historical precedent for the moment we’re in now,” Dr. Howard Markel, a physician and medical historian at the University of Michigan, told CNBC. “This is the pandemic I will be studying and teaching to the next generation of doctors and public-health students,”

While the U.S. death toll will continue to rise, right now they’re averaging 1,900 fatalities a day, the global picture looks somewhat rosier. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.7 million people have succumbed to the virus worldwide, while the CDC estimates that the 1918 epidemic  killed as many as 50 million. “We know that all pandemics come to an end,” Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care research at the National Institutes of Health, told Time. “They can do terrible things while they’re raging.”

Study: Moderna Vax Tops Pfizer’s for Long-Term Protection

A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine may provide better long-term protection against virus-related hospitalizations than Pfizer’s.

Released last Friday, the CDC study concludes that Moderna’s vaccine was 93 per cent effective in preventing hospitalization up to four months after receiving it. Even after four months, Moderna’s protection against the worst effects of the virus remained strong — it was still 92 per cent effective in helping recipients avoid a hospital visit.

The results also showed that Moderna’s vaccine scored higher marks for long-term efficiency than any of the doses approved in the U.S., including Pfizer’s. While the study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine worked well in the first 120 days, its effectiveness began to wane over time. In the first four months after receiving it, the Pfizer vaccine was  91 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations. But after four months, its effectiveness “declined significantly” to 77 per cent.

The study’s authors wrote that differences between the two vaccines “might be due to higher mRNA content in the Moderna vaccine, differences in timing between doses (three weeks for Pfizer-BioNTech versus four weeks for Moderna), or possible differences between groups that received each vaccine that were not accounted for in the analysis.”

Despite the findings, the authors said that while there may be “some variation in levels of protection by vaccine,” each of the vaccines approved for use in the U.S. “provide substantial protection against COVID-19 hospitalization.”

The study was conducted among 3,689 adults over the age of 18 who were hospitalized at 21 U.S. hospitals between March and August, 2021.

Pandemic to End Next Year?

With the grim news out of the U.S. and hospitalizations from the latest wave of the virus soaring to record levels in Alberta, The CEO of Moderna is sounding a hopeful note.

Yesterday,  Stéphane Bancel said that he believes the pandemic will be over in a year’s time. In an interview with Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung,  Bancel said that in the upcoming year, vaccine makers will be able to produce “enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated.” He also suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine will eventually become part of our lives, comparing it to the annual flu shot.

“We will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu,” he said. “You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter. Or you don’t do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital.”

Bancel also predicted that governments would begin offering a booster shot to patients who were vaccinated in the early part of the year.

Peter Muggeridge


Sept. 22, 2021

Ontario Passport Program Goes Into Effect

Starting today, residents in Ontario must show their paper proof-of-vaccination record to enter indoor businesses considered high-risk for COVID transmission, including bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres, banquet halls and sports venues.

Premier Doug Ford, who had dug in his heels on implementing a vaccine passport until relenting in August, said Tuesday that although he appreciates that some people are concerned about the program, it is needed to avoid another lockdown.

“I understand your concerns about protecting your civil liberties and right to privacy.,” Ford said in a statement. “While many fully vaccinated people share these concerns, the greater concern is having to shut down again or experience a sudden surge in cases like in Alberta or Saskatchewan.”

As a Ministry of Health guidance document states that a “business or organization shall not retain any information provided by a patron,” however, two fitness chains have told the Toronto Star that although they will employ the proof of vaccination requirement, they plan to flout the rules, keeping a record of the initial check with members so they don’t need to show proof each time they arrive.

Meanwhile, other Ontario businesses have warned that the initial, paper-based phase of the program will be cumbersome for them to employ. “When you are seating a lot of people and you’ve got a busy place, the last thing you want is to keep people waiting in line like they’re at the bank,” Erik Joyal, president of Toronto’s Ascari Hospitality Group and a founder of Save Hospitality, told the Globe and Mail.

The province is still working on developing and testing a system that will create vaccine certificates with scannable QR codes, along with a smartphone app for businesses to verify the code, supposed to launch Oct. 22. Residents, however, can continue to use their paper receipts if they choose after a digital system is launched.

Vaccinated Feel Better Than Unvaccinated, But Not by Much

The eight, and latest, poll from Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) since the beginning of the pandemic shows that unvaccinated people reported more symptoms of mental distress, as well as higher levels of anxiety and depression, compared to vaccinated people.

Unvaccinated respondents reported high levels of anxiety — 31 per cent as compared to 22 per cent of vaccinated people, and high levels of depression — 24 per cent as compared to 14 per cent of the vaccinated.

Also, 49 per cent of unvaccinated respondents reported severe mental distress symptoms, as compared to 36 per cent of vaccinated people.

And, with vaccine passport programs going into effect across the country, it’s perhaps not surprising that 28 per cent of unvaccinated people indicated that pandemic-related restrictions will impact their mental health in coming months, as compared to 12 per cent of vaccinated people.

However, as the poll’s summary points out, even with the vast majority of Canadians now double vaccinated, levels of self-rated anxiety and depression have not decreased. And vaccinated Canadians still have more worry about the ongoing threat of the coronavirus — 75 per cent as compared to 38 per cent of the unvaccinated.

And, it would appear Ontario has passed the pandemic worry torch to Alberta, now with the highest proportion of people in Canada feeling high levels of anxiety, 31 per cent, which is close to levels seen in Ontario this past April, 33 per cent, whereas now 26 per cent of Ontarians report high anxiety.

Michael Cooper, vice-president of development at MHRC, suggests Albertans are responding to the abrupt easing of restrictions this past summer, and the current surge in case counts.

“There’s this cognitive dissonance going on where you know that case counts are going up, you know there’s an increasing threat, but no one has stepped forward to say, ‘This is how we’re going to deal with it,’” Cooper told the Toronto Star, adding that the vacuum in leadership has led some Albertans to feel more anxious.

Good News From the WHO

There is good news from the World Health Organization: the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall globally, with 3.6 million new cases reported last week, down from 4 million the previous week.

The WHO said the most decrease in new cases is happening in the Middle East, down 22 per cent, and in Southeast Asia, down 16 per cent.

The agency also reported a seven per cent decline in deaths in the past week. But while Southeast Asia reported a 30 per cent decrease in COVID-19 deaths, the Western Pacific region reported a seven per cent increase.

The most coronavirus cases are seen in the U.S., India, Britain, Turkey and the Philippines. Earlier this week, deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus surpassed those from the 1918 flu estimates — more than 675,000.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 21, 2021

U.S. Extends Non-Essential Travel Land Border Ban

As the U.S. announced Monday that it is loosening restrictions on foreign travellers, allowing in fully vaxxed visitors from any country starting in November, it extended, by another month, land border closures with Canada and Mexico.

That brings the ban on non-essential travel across border crossings to at least Oct. 21 — getting close to when Canadians snowbirds would normally start heading south for winter. In reporting the latest extension yesterday, the Canadian Snowbird Association said it has been “engaging” with U.S. officials to safely reopen the land border “as soon as possible,” pointing out that it “is an advocacy priority as over 70% of Canadian snowbirds travel to the United States with their Canadian vehicles and we recognize the importance and urgency of this issue.”

And it’s not just about logistics, money is at stake. To Florida alone, Canadian snowbirds are reported to contribute $6.5 billion to the economy each year.

Closer to home, representing Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York Congressman Brian Higgins has repeatedly called for the reopening of the border.

“It is welcome news that the White House is making progress on reciprocating international public health measures to protect air travellers,” wrote Higgins in a statement yesterday, going on the say.

“It is inexplicable that no announcement on easing travel restrictions at land ports of entry is being made today since the livelihoods of communities across the northern border depend on cross-border commerce.”

Proof of Vaccination Going Into Effect at Long-Term Care Homes in N.B.

Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will be required to enter a long-term care facility in New Brunswick as of midnight tonight. This comes a day after the province reported 75 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday — its highest single-day count of the pandemic.

According to tracking by the National Institute on Ageing, New Brunswick has seen outbreaks in 18 LTC facilities over the course of the pandemic, with 183 cases among residents and 25 deaths, while 125 staff infections have been recorded and 23 staff have died from the virus.

Proof of vaccination will also be required to enter recreational buildings as of midnight, and the province has re-introduced masking for public indoor spaces — including businesses, places of worship and restaurants — which also goes into effect tonight.

Pfizer Canada to Proceed With “Urgency” in Approval of Vaccine for Kids

A day after its parent company announced it had found “robust antibody response” in a trial of its COVID-19 vaccine in kids aged five to 11, Pfizer Canada says it plans to provide Health Canada with data in a bid to seek authorization “as early as possible.”

The company’s director of corporate affairs in Canada, Christina Antoniou, said they “share the urgency” to provide data that could lead to a shot for the remainder of school-age children.

Findings from this latest trial have yet to be peer reviewed or published, and neither Antoniou nor Health Canada would say when exactly the data will be submitted for approval review.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 20, 2021

Pfizer to Seek Authorization for Vaccine Use in 5 to 11-Year-Olds

Pfizer and BioNTech today announced that their COVID-19 vaccine showed a “favorable safety profile and robust neutralizing antibody response” in a Phase 2/3 trial in children aged five to 11.

“Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine. We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer, said in a statement.

The companies reported that efficacy among the trial’s 4,500 participants was 95 per cent, similar as was found in trial participants aged 16 to 25, and its original findings for overall efficacy in adults 18 and older.

But the dose, 10 µg, is a third of what was used in older cohorts, 30 µg, including participants aged 12 and older, with the companies saying that the dose “was carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity in children 5 to 11 years of age.”

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been linked to rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults, particularly young men, but Pfizer and BioNTech said they did not see any instances of the condition in this trial.

The companies say they plan to submit requests for authorization to regulatory agencies around the world “as soon as possible.”

They also stated that results from trials in children under five years of age are expected as soon as later this year.

Alberta’s “Restrictions Exemption” Program Goes Into Effect

Alberta’s version of a vaccine passport, called a “restrictions exemption program” went into effect Monday. It allows businesses and venues to operate without capacity limits and other public health measures if they require proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test result, from anyone entering.

The program applies to restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and fitness facilities, but is not mandatory. This weekend, retail stores and libraries were taken off the list of venues who will have the option of asking for proof of vaccination to exempt themselves from public health restrictions.

Residents were able to apply for proof of vaccination cards as of yesterday, but as Global News reported, health ministry spokeswoman Amanda Krumins acknowledged in an email Sunday that “a motivated individual” can edit the PDF that is currently provided, but that “work continues on a more secure QR code that will be available in the coming weeks.”

Premier Jason Kenney, who has been a strong opponent of vaccine passports, said last week that the measure was now necessary to protect the province’s hospital system. Alberta declared a health emergency last week, on Thursday postponing all non-emergency surgeries to free up space, and staff, for makeshift ICUs to treat patients with COVID-19.

Alberta Health Services’s chief executive officer, Dr. Verna Yiu, said on Thursday that the province was seeing its sharpest rise in ICU admissions of the pandemic, with 18 to 20 new patients every day. “There are more rough days ahead,” Yiu said.

B.C. Mandates Vaccine for LTC Workers, After 4th-Wave Outbreaks Claim More Residents’ Lives

Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is warning British Columbia residents of a tough fall and winter. “I think we are going to get through this but end up in a place where we’re living with the virus in a much-less invasive way so it doesn’t impact the health care system,” Henry told the Globe and Mail this weekend. “But it’s still going to cause serious illness in some people for the next couple of years.”

She says that herd immunity won’t be achieved until well over 90 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. And that would seem to require inoculation mandates that officials had been trying to avoid.

As the Globe and Mail reports, there have been several outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the province since August, and government tracking shows that 37 people have died from COVID in facilities where outbreaks remain active.

But it wasn’t until last week that the province moved from a vaccinate-or-educate to a must-be-vaccinated policy for workers in LTC.

Henry said an education campaign was used to help persuade hesitant employees, but admitted it failed.

“I had hoped early on that given the level of protection the vaccines gave residents, it might be enough to ward off [breakthrough infections] but it was not sufficient,” she said.

A mandate requiring all LTC workers to have at least one shot went into effect Sept. 13, with two shots required as of next month.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 17, 2021

860 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario hospital outbreaks

At least 860 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario hospital outbreaks, according to a new public health report that reveals a much greater death toll than had been previously known, reports the Toronto Star.

The total means Ontario hospitals have been the province’s second-deadliest setting for COVID-19 outbreaks in the pandemic, behind long-term-care homes and ahead of retirement homes.

“There’s no other way to depict this other than a completely unmitigated tragedy,” Toronto infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told the Star.

In recent months, Ontario’s public health officials have defended the province’s hospital safety protocols against criticism that they have not been changed to reflect growing evidence of COVID’s airborne risk.

 British Columbia not able to help Alberta, Ontario is willing

 Alberta is considering transferring ICU patients to other provinces as the fourth wave puts its health-care system under “extreme pressure,” reports CTV News.

Ontario has accepted to take on Alberta patients if needed, and Alberta Health Services is also in conversations with British Columbia and Manitoba, president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu told reporters on Thursday. However, in a statement to CTV News, B.C. told Alberta it will not be able to help them “given the current demands” on its healthcare system right now.

Dr. Yiu stressed that Alberta hopes it does not get to that point but added: “We do not have the ability to simply open more and more ICU spaces and hospital beds and we do not have an endless number of staff who can provide critical care.”

Alberta currently has 310 ICU beds. Dr. Yiu said. Eighty-six per cent of beds are occupied — largely by COVID-19 patients.

A Vaccine by Any Other Name is … Still the Same Vaccine

Health Canada announced in a tweet Thursday that, along with full approval for the vaccines,  it has authorized brand name changes for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will now be named Comirnaty, the Moderna vaccine will be named Spikevax and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria. These are only name changes, Health Canada emphasized. There are no changes to the vaccines themselves.

Comments on Twitter ranged from “confusing,” “unnecessary,” and “they’ll still be called Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.”

FDA Meets to Discuss Whether Booster Shots Are Necessary

 Vaccine advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration are meeting today to discuss whether Americans need to start getting booster doses of coronavirus vaccine, reports CNN.

The meeting, which will be streamed online, is expected to last until 4:45 p.m. EDT or later, with a period for discussion and vote scheduled to start at 2:25 p.m.

The data being presented by Pfizer involves a booster given to its volunteers about six months after they finished their first two doses.

Pfizer — and other researchers — say their studies show people develop strong immunity after two doses of vaccine, but that levels of antibodies start to drop after a few months. The FDA notes that Pfizer’s vaccine — as well as vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson still provide strong protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death, even if antibodies do wane over time.

The question will be whether it’s time to start approving boosters now and if so, who should get them and when.

The White House has said it’s planning to be ready to start giving booster doses of vaccines Sept. 20, pending sign off from the FDA and CDC.

The CDC has scheduled a meeting of its vaccine advisers for Sept. 22 and 23.

As is the case in Canada, third doses are already approved for certain immunocompromised people, but not for the general public.

 Idaho Allows Rationing of Medical Care

 Idaho activated “crisis standards of care” Thursday as hospitals swamped by the state’s latest surge of COVID-19 no longer have enough resources to adequately treat patients, reports the Washington Post.

The state is second only to West Virginia for the largest per capita increase in current inpatients in the past week.

“The situation is dire,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement. “We don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident.”

While not all hospitals may need to take these “last resort” measures, crisis standards of care allow them to prioritize — or potentially even deny care — when faced with a shortage of resources such as ventilators, drugs and staff, based on who they think will benefit the most.

“In other words, someone who is otherwise healthy and would recover more rapidly may get treated or have access to a ventilator before someone who is not likely to recover,” the Department of Health and Welfare said.

Unvaccinated Nurses Bring Heart Procedures to Standstill in Australian Hospital

A dozen top cardiologists in Sydney were forced into isolation and multiple urgent heart procedures cancelled after two unvaccinated nurses worked while infectious with COVID-19 at a major hospital, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today.

Critical procedures, including angiograms, pacemakers, stent and valve replacements, were called off at St. Vincent’s Hospital last week after the nurses worked shifts across at least four cardiac wards.

One senior interventional cardiologist, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue, said cardiac procedures were brought to a standstill and wait times for operations such as pacemaker surgery had “blown out” with dozens of patients facing weeks-long delays.

The hospital’s cardiac “cath labs” were closed for at least four days for deep cleaning, with about 30 doctors and nurses identified as close contacts, some plunged into two-week isolation, the doctor said.

One doctor at the hospital said there was concern about “a small group of nurses (at the hospital) who have not wanted to be vaccinated”.

A vaccine mandate for healthcare workers comes into effect on Sept. 30.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 16, 2021

Alberta’s Premier Apologizes as State of Emergency Declared 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday introduced rigorous new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, reports CBC News. They include the requirement to show proof of vaccination or negative test results in order to enter participating businesses and events.

Most dramatically, he admitted that the province’s decision in spring to deal with COVID-19 as endemic — and not as serious as a pandemic — was a mistake.

“It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize,” Kenney said.

Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency and is taking immediate action to stave off the ongoing crisis in the health-care system, the premier said. “To prevent an ongoing crisis, we must do three things urgently.”

“First, we must maximize our health-care capacity. Secondly, reduce transmission of the virus by reducing interaction with other people. And thirdly, we have to get as many people as possible vaccinated.”

Without interventions, Kenney said, Alberta hospitals may run out of staff and intensive care beds within the next 10 days.

The new measures to be introduced include restrictions on restaurants, indoor gatherings, weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment venues, and indoor sport and fitness. Some of the new measures begin today, including a mandate for working from home unless an employer determines a physical presence is required.

Alberta reported 1,609 new cases of COVID-19 and 24 new deaths Wednesday, the highest number of deaths reported in one day in the province’s fourth wave.

Earliest Moderna Vaccine Recipients Twice as Likely to Get Breakthrough Infection 

Moderna says people who received its COVID-19  vaccine last year are nearly twice as likely to get a breakthrough infection compared to those recently vaccinated, reports the Daily Mail.

Breakthrough cases occur when people contract the disease 14 days or more after receiving their final dose of the shot.

New data published on Wednesday shows there is a 36 per cent reduced protection for those who received their first dose 13 months ago, compared to those given their initial shot eight months ago.

There were 88 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among out of 11,431 Americans vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021.

Comparatively, there were 162 cases — 1.8 times as many — out of 14,746 trial participants vaccinated between July 2020 and December 2020.

Moderna also reported 13 severe cases among the early vaccination group, compared to six in the later group. Also, there were three COVID hospitalizations and two deaths in the group vaccinated last year, compared to no hospitalizations or deaths in the group vaccinated in winter 2020 and spring 2021.

Moderna says the data provide evidence for giving booster doses to fully vaccinated people.

New Brunswick Records One-Day High of New Cases, Requires Proof of Vaccination

New Brunswick reported a one-day high of 63 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, at the same time announcing that it will require proof of vaccination starting next week to encourage more people to get vaccinated, according to CTV News.

“If life is a little more difficult for those that choose not to be vaccinated at a time when other lives are threatened because of it, just maybe the decision will be made: ‘OK it’s time,”‘ said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs.

The previous daily high was 51 on Sept 11. Before that, it was 36 on Jan. 17. The province also announced that 52 of the 63 new cases were people who were not fully vaccinated with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m., people will be required to show proof of vaccination to go to indoor festivals, sports events, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, gyms and indoor group exercise facilities.

Italy to Make COVID-19 Health Pass Mandatory for Workers

Italy will become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for all workers to have a COVID-19 “Green Pass,” with the cabinet members due to approve the measure at a meeting today, reports Reuters.

The pass is a digital or paper certificate showing someone has received at least one vaccine dose, tested negative or recently recovered from the disease. It was originally conceived to ease travel among European Union states

While some European countries have ordered their health workers to get vaccines, none have made the Green Pass mandatory for all employees, making Italy a test case for the continent.

Alaska Records Highest Number of New Cases

Alaska reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases Wednesday, after the state’s largest hospital started rationing care because of so many COVID-19 patients, reports the Toronto Star.

Officials reported 1,068 new infections, which is 13 per cent higher than last week. State officials say 201 Alaskans are hospitalized for COVID-19, and 34 of them are on ventilators.

The state’s chief medical officer says hospitals continue to be stressed and there isn’t capacity for patients who have COVID-19 as well as those with other needs.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 15, 2021

Study: Third Dose Produces 10 Times More Antibodies Than Second Dose

A serological study conducted at an Israeli hospital found that antibody levels after a third COVID-19 vaccine dose were 10 times higher than those detected after the second dose.

The preliminary results, seen among vaccinated staff at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, stoked optimism as to the amount of time the booster shot retains its protection, the Times of Israel reported today.

The study compared the antibody levels a week after the third COVID-19 vaccine dose was administered to its staff to their levels a week after the second dose was administered.

The hospital told the network it was treating the results with caution and would continue to observe the antibody levels over the coming months.

Ontario’s Vaccine Certificate Program Details Announced

The Ontario government outlined details of its vaccine certificate program yesterday. It comes into effect on Sept. 22, reports CP24 News.

Residents will have to show proof that they have received both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering non-essential businesses, including gyms, cinemas, restaurants, casinos, strip clubs and nightclubs.

However, they don’t have to prove they’re fully immunized when they enter establishments to access an outdoor area, to place or pick up an order, to use the washroom or to place a bet at a horse racing track.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says businesses will be required to authenticate patrons’ identification and vaccine certificates and that police officers can assist with enforcement if either businesses or patrons don’t comply.

“If there are any businesses that are concerned, that when they refuse entry to a restaurant or gym or whatever it happens to be that if any point they feel threatened we want them to call 911 as soon as possible to make sure that our police officers can be there to assist,” she said Tuesday afternoon.

Individuals and businesses could face a fine of about $750 and $1,000, respectively, for non-compliance.

Residents who are attending a wedding or funeral service and are not attending the associated social gathering are also exempted from showing proof of vaccination.

Exemptions are also given to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and for children under 12 years old who are not currently eligible for a vaccine in the province.

Winnipeg Mandates Vaccines for Front-Line Workers

The City of Winnipeg announced Tuesday that it will require all front-line employees working with vulnerable residents or in high-risk settings, in direct contact with the public, to be fully vaccinated, the Winnipeg Free Press reports.

Staff must have both COVID-19 shots, plus two weeks to let the second dose become effective, by Nov. 15. Employees must have their first dose by Sept. 30 and their follow up by Oct. 28.

People working in public safety and protection, recreational services, public transportation and customer service roles are affected.

Yellowknife Schools Closed

The chief public health officer in the Northwest Territories, Dr. Kami Kandola, has closed all schools in Yellowknife and surrounding areas until at least Sept. 24 after a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to CTV News.

Schools closed yesterday, two weeks after students returned to classrooms. Students will shift to online learning, said a statement from Kandola.

Kandola also ordered that private gatherings in Yellowknife and the surrounding area to be limited to 10 people. No more than five can be from another household.

The territory is dealing with its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic. There have been 523 cases since early August after a hand-games tournament became a superspreader event.

Good News: World Records Drop in COVID-19 Cases

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that every region in the world had recorded a drop in COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week, reports Deutsche Welle.

In its weekly update, the UN health agency said there had been 3,931,221 cases. In recent weeks there have been about 4.4 million cases each week.

“This represents the first substantial decline in weekly cases in more than two months,” the WHO report said.

The highest numbers of new cases were reported from the U.S., U.K., India, Iran and Turkey. Meanwhile, the highly contagious Delta variant has been reported in 180 countries — with six more countries reporting it in the past week.

While the global number of deaths decreased to about 62,000 — with the sharpest decline in Southeast Asia — Africa recorded a seven per cent increase.

Israel’s Current Wave of COVID-19 Surpasses Past Outbreaks

The director of Israel’s health ministry, Nachman Ash, said Tuesday that the current wave of coronavirus infections is surpassing anything seen in previous outbreaks and that he is disappointed that a recent downward trend appeared to be reversing, reports the Times of Israel.

Ash’s remarks came as health ministry figures showed that more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases were diagnosed the day before, and that the positive test rate was climbing.

Pointing out that there is an average of 8,000 new infections each day, with occasional peaks over 10,000, Ash said, “That is a record that did not exist in the previous waves,” including the massive third wave at the end of last year.

After bringing daily infections down to little more than a dozen a day in June, Israel has been battling to control a resurgence of COVID-19. The country’s coronavirus chief, Salman Zarka, said that 50 per cent of confirmed cases on Monday were children.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 14, 2021

British Columbia’s Vaccine “Passport” Now in Effect

B.C.’s vaccine card program requiring proof to enter many non-essential businesses is now in effect.

As of Monday, anyone visiting discretionary businesses like sit-down restaurants, movie theatres and fitness centres must show proof that they’ve had at least one COVID-19 shot. By Oct. 24, they’ll need to show proof they’re fully vaccinated.

Employees working at those establishments don’t need to show proof they’ve been vaccinated, unless their employer requires them to.

COVID-19 Goes to School in Ontario, New Brunswick

Five days into the school year for most of Ontario, schools are reporting 189 active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, dozens of classes are self-isolating at home and one school is completely closed, reports CP24 News.

Schools in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area were reporting 74 of those cases Monday, with hundreds of students already ordered home to self-isolate due to exposures.

Viscount Alexander Public School in Cornwall, Ont. became the first of the province’s 4,800 public schools to close due to COVID-19 this school year, after officials announced an outbreak there on Sunday and ordered all students and staff to go to remote learning for at least one week.

So far, the province is not publicly disclosing COVID-19 cases confirmed among the roughly 2 million students and 300,000 education workers.

Meanwhile, CBC News reports that New Brunswick has recorded a big bump in positive COVID-19 cases, with multiple schools and daycares closed on Monday. The province announced 122 new cases on Monday, accumulated over the weekend, with new cases in every one of the seven health zones. Positive cases have been detected in 11 schools and three childcare facilities in the Moncton, Fredericton and Campbellton regions.

Also, in-person classes at West Royalty Elementary School in Charlottetown will be cancelled for at least a week, and others in the family of schools belonging to Charlottetown Rural High School and Colonel Gray High School will be cancelled for at least three days following an outbreak of COVID-19.

Is a Third Shot Necessary? Experts Are Divided

A group of international experts — including two outgoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration vaccine regulators — argue in a new paper published Monday in the Lancet against offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters to the general population, reports

The paper is based on data about the durability of vaccine protection. It was co-authored by Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, two veteran FDA officials who have been leading the agency’s review of COVID-19 vaccine application. Their stance amounts to a rebuff to the Biden administration as it lays plans for booster shots beginning later this month, suggests Statnews reporter Andrew Joseph. Gruber and Krause announced last month they would be leaving the agency this fall.

Other authors include experts from the World Health Organization, which has called for countries to delay broad booster plans as many countries are still suffering from a lack of vaccine supply

“Current evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population, in which efficacy against severe disease remains high,” the authors wrote.

Nevertheless, experts do agree that people with compromised immune systems should be receiving third shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. And some experts argue that seniors, who generally mount less robust immune responses to vaccines, should also be eligible for boosters.

But for the general population, experts are divided over whether boosters are necessary.

Meanwhile, the Times of London reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce today that most adults will be offered a COVID-19 booster jab in the coming months as a way to protect Britain against a “prolonged and unpredictable” winter. Johnson will confirm today that 32 million adults over 50 will be offered a third Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot to ensure that their protection continues. Under the booster program, which begins next week, people will be offered the vaccine six months after their second dose, following the same priority list as the initial program, with care home workers and residents, the over-80s and health-care workers first in line.

Putin Self-Isolating, Cancels Summit Meeting 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is self-isolating because of possible exposure to the coronavirus, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, as reported by the New York Times. He cancelled a planned trip to Tajikistan this week for a summit with leaders from Central Asia and former Soviet countries.

“Vladimir Putin said that in connection with identified cases of the coronavirus in his environment, he must observe self-isolation for a certain period of time,” the statement said.

Putin said earlier this year that he had been vaccinated with the two-dose regimen of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. But he has continued to be extraordinarily careful in his public appearances, often requiring people he meets to quarantine beforehand.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 13, 2021

Anti-vax, Anti-Passport, Anti-Mandate Protestors Plan Demonstrations Today

Hospitals across the country are preparing for a day of protest on Monday as demonstrations may hamper access to health-care facilities, reports CityNews.

The group Canadian Frontline Nurses is planning what it calls a silent protest against mandates in all 10 provinces. Prospective locations include the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, Toronto General Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

A post on social media asks demonstrators to keep any signs away from the vaccine narrative, focusing instead on pro-choice and against mandates. Toronto ICU physician Dr. Michael Warner says in a tweet that while people are entitled to make their voices heard, his hope is that the authorities will not tolerate any form of harassment.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the protests “selfish, cowardly and reckless.” However, he stopped short of announcing any measures to try and stop them.

Quebec Sees 711 Rolling Average of New Cases, Highest Since Mid-May

The seven-day rolling average for new infections now stands at 711, reports the Montreal Gazette. Until this weekend, the province’s rolling average had not exceeded 700 since mid-May, when the third wave was in decline.
The province’s death toll remains 11,304 with no new fatalities attributed to the virus.

Over the last four weeks, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé noted on Twitter, 113 of the 135 people admitted to intensive care for COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 600 new cases of COVID-19 today with 475 cases in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status, while 125 are in fully vaccinated individuals.

New Poll: Canadians More Worried About Fourth Wave

new poll released today suggests Canadians are growing increasingly worried about the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential lockdowns to limit its spread — but experts say the country has the ability to prevent such stringent measures.

The Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found 71 per cent of those surveyed are worried about the fourth wave, up two points from July. Even more Canadians are worried about new variants of the virus threatening a return to normal, growing by seven points over two months to 88 per cent.

Those rising fears have also coincided with dwindling acceptance of lockdowns to stem the fourth wave. While 63 per cent of those surveyed said they would support a lockdown, that’s six points down from 69 per cent in July.
The poll also suggests that a growing number of Canadians think we should simply learn to live with active COVID-19 cases as a fact of life — particularly as vaccinations lower the risk of severe infection. Seventy per cent of those surveyed said they felt this way, up three points from July.

Just over half of respondents went a step further, saying the spread of less serious cases would be a welcome trade-off for returning to a semblance of normal.

England’s Vaccine Passport Plans Ditched

Plans to introduce vaccine passports for access to nightclubs and large events in England will not go ahead, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC on Sunday.

He said the government had looked at the evidence, adding: “I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead.”

It was thought the plan, which came under criticism from venues and some MPs, would be introduced at the end of this month.

Instead, it will be kept “in reserve,” should it be needed over autumn or winter.
Under the scheme, people would have been required to show proof — whether of double vaccination, a negative COVID test or finishing self-isolating after a positive PCR test — in order to gain entry to clubs and other crowded events.
“We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it or because others are doing, and we should look at every possible intervention properly,” Javid said.
“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.

Javid said vaccine passports were not needed because of other things in the “wall of defence” including high vaccine uptake, testing, surveillance and new treatments. In the interview, he also said he wanted to “get rid” of PCR tests for travel.

Meanwhile, Scotland is taking a different approach to England. They will bring in a vaccine passport for entry to nightclubs and many large events from Oct. 1.

—Judy Gerstel


COVID-19 Tracker: Canadian Nurse Group Plans Silent Protest Against Vaccine Mandates; Worry About Fourth Wave Increasing Among Canadians, Poll Suggests