COVID-19 Tracker: MPs Will Need to be Fully Vaxxed; Vaccinated Unlikely to Die Unless Very Old, Very Sick; FDA Expected to Approve Mixed-Dose Booster

Covid Update

What you need to know about COVID-19 in Canada as the global pandemic continues. Photo: Sturti / Getty Images

Oct. 20, 2021

Vaccine Mandate for Members of Parliament

When Parliament resumes next month, MPs will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to show up in person at any of the buildings on Parliament Hill, referred to as the House of Commons precinct.

The Board of Internal Economy, a group of Members of Parliament from all parties who set the rules and guidelines for the operation of the House of Commons, came to the decision Tuesday.

In a statement yesterday evening, House Speaker Anthony Rota said the mandatory vaccination policy will take effect Nov. 22 — the date Parliament is set to resume — and will also apply to House of Commons administration, members of the parliamentary press gallery, contractors and anyone else who is on official business on the Hill, which will remain closed to the public at least until next year.

Only those with a medical exemption from being vaccinated will be given the option to provide regular negative COVID tests.

“We have long been in support of a responsible approach to vaccination in the parliamentary precinct,” said a spokesperson for Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez.

As the Toronto Star reports, along with the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and NDP support mandatory vaccinations and the parties have said all their MPs are fully vaccinated, while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has refused to say whether all his 118 MPs have been inoculated against COVID-19, and has opposed making vaccination mandatory.

Very Old, Very Sick Still at Risk if Vaccinated

In Italy, where the government has taken the bold move of requiring proof of vaccination — or recent recovery from COVID, or a negative test — of all workers in the country, a study released Wednesday showed that vaccinated people are highly unlikely to die of COVID-19 unless they are very old and already very ill before getting it.

Of the 38,096 COVID deaths in Italy between Feb. 1 and Oct. 5 of this year, 33,620 — 88 per cent — were unvaccinated people, 2,130 had received only a single-dose or were infected shortly after inoculation and 1,440 were fully vaccinated.

The study, which included records from the deaths of 671 vaccinated and 171 unvaccinated people, shows the average age of those who died despite being vaccinated was 85 — and on average they had five underlying illnesses — while the average age of death among unvaccinated was 78, with four pre-existing conditions.

Heart problems, dementia and cancer were all found to be higher in the sample of deaths among those vaccinated.

FDA to Allow Mixed-Dose Booster

After confirming Friday it would allow travellers with mixed-dose COVID-19 vaccines to cross its borders come Nov. 8 — a relief to Canadians — it seems the U.S. is warming up to the idea of a mixed-dose strategy itself.

According to a report by CNN, the US Food and Drug Administration is planning on allowing Americans to receive a different COVID-19 vaccine for their booster shots. While there are no details yet, the FDA is expected to make a broad authorization on “mixing and matching” as soon as this week.

While it could apply to all FDA-authorized vaccines, the priority is expected to be given for those who received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to receive an mRNA dose — Pfizer is the one to be approved as a booster so far, but authorization of Moderna’s booster is expected sooner than later — as their follow-up shot.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 19, 2021

Docs Barred from Issuing Medical Exemptions

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario announced yesterday that it is banning two doctors from issuing medical exemptions to people who don’t want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Mark Trozzi, who practices near Windsor, and Dr. Rochagne Kilian, of Owen Sound. Under the temporary order, the College has barred barred the two from providing medical exemptions to patients seeking to opt out of receiving their COVID-19 vaccines, mandatory mask requirements or testing for COVID-19. According to a CTV report, two doctors have been outspoken critics of pandemic health restrictions and have spoken openly about their “skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.” Currently, Ontario’s Ministry of Health website lists only two reasons to justify anyone receiving a medical exemption – if you have had a documented allergic reaction to a component of the vaccine or you have a history of myocarditis. Premier Doug Ford said he will leave it up to the province’s medical governing body to decide on the issue, noting: “The two docs, I guess they got their hands slapped over this.”

Poll: Canadians Distrust Vaccine Exemptions

Amid the controversy around the two doctors, a new poll shows the growing distrust that vaccinated Canadians have toward their unvaccinated counterparts. The ACS-Leger poll, whose findings were reported in National Post today, found that 69 per cent of Canadians who have been vaxxed do not trust the exemptions being issued to people who refuse to get their shots. The poll also found that 74 per cent of Canadians “believe there are legitimate medical exemptions to getting vaccinated” but that most people did not know what those exemptions were. As well, 79 per cent of respondents don’t feel that “there are legitimate religious exemptions for not getting vaccinated.” This suspicion is creating an atmosphere of tension between the two groups, says Jack Jedwab, president and CEO of the Association of Canadian Studies and Metropolis Canada (ACS), which contributed to the poll. “There’s a lot of distrust with regards to the motivation of those people that are refusing to get vaccinated and out there protesting and claiming it’s a rights issue.”

Melbourne Ends Lengthy Lockdown

Melbourne has finally ended its record-long lockdown, and will begin allowing its five million citizens to get out and enjoy the world. Officials from the capital city of the Australian state of Victoria, said that the restrictions will be lifted on Friday, ending 262 days of lockdown, the longest of its kind in the world. “Today is a great day,” said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.”Today is a day when Victorians can be proud of what they have achieved.” The decision to lift the restrictions came after the state reached its goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population. While restaurants, bars and businesses will be allowed to open, the number of customers allowed to enter these premises will remain strictly limited. Australia’s “COVID-zero” strategy has seen it escape the worst affects of the pandemic. The country of 25 million people has reported only 1,558 deaths due to virus, a rate of only 60 per million people. In comparison, Canada has a death rate of 748 per million while the U.S. has a death rate of 2,238 per million.

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 18, 2021

Saskatchewan Deals with ICU Nurse Shortage

The government of Saskatchewan is asking other provinces for help as the region gets ready for surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. With the number of patients in ICU reaching alarming levels, Marlo Pritchard, head of the Saskatchewan’s emergency pandemic command operations, has put out the call for out-of-province health-care workers like nurses and respiratory therapists to help staff hospital units for the coming wave. The province is also preparing to send some of its ICU patients to Ontario, to ease some of the burden on the their hospitals. “We are currently managing a high level of patients in our ICUs, and we’ve been doing that for a number of weeks now, and the priority is to provide the best possible care,” said Derek Miller, of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. On Friday, Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases, with 340 people in hospital and 78 receiving treatment in intensive care.

Daily Death Tolls Rise in Russia

Russia is now the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe as the country’s daily death toll has topped 1,000 for the first time. Russian health officials are acknowledging that they are dealing with a surge of infections, reporting 33,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, 1,000 more than the previous day. Despite the fact that Russia has developed its own vaccine — Sputnik V — only about 30 per cent of the country’s 150 million inhabitants have fully vaccinated so far. And while cases continue to rise, the country is showing no signs of implementing lockdown or tightening health restrictions or enforcing mask mandates.  All told, over 220,000 Russians have died from the the virus. The country now has the highest death count in Europe and the fifth highest in the world, behind only the U.S. (744,546), Brazil (603,324), India (452,321), and Mexico (284,381). 

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 15, 2021

U.S. Announces Day for Border Reopening

After announcing earlier this week that it would reopen its border crossings to travellers from Mexico and Canada next month, U.S. officials confirmed Friday that it will take effect Nov. 8.

The allowance will apply to fully vaccinated, non-essential travellers at land and ferry crossings, as well as for air travel — up to now, or rather before Nov. 8, Canadians looking to enter the U.S. by plane needed only to supply a negative COVID test, but not proof of vaccination. Moving forward they will need to be fully vaccinated, but no negative test will be required.

“The U.S.’ new travel policy that requires vaccination for foreign national travelers to the United States will begin on Nov 8,” White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz tweeted this morning.

“This announcement and date applies to both international air travel and land travel. This policy is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent.”

Electronic Vaccine Certificate Available for Download in Ontario

With vaccine mandates in place for public settings such as restaurants and gyms for more than a month, Ontario residents can finally download a proof-of-vaccination certificate with a secure QR code today — if they were born between January and April that is.

“To ensure a smooth user experience, the province is initially making the enhanced vaccine certificate with scannable QR code available for download in cohorts based on an individual’s birth month over a period of three days,” according to the Ministry of Health.

Those with birthdays from May to August can download a new vaccine receipt on Saturday, and on Sunday the remainder of residents can get theirs.

“You can also call the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900 to have your enhanced vaccine certificate emailed or mailed to you,” the ministry said.

The app that will be used to verify the new certificates went live yesterday to “ensure the app was available to businesses and organizations in real time tomorrow, the verification app was added to app stores today,” Premier Doug Ford’s office confirmed Thursday.

All this to be ready for the ‘go live’ on Oct. 22.

And how long will the program be in place?

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said residents — and visitors to Ontario — should expect a “phased exit” from the vaccine passport program sometime next year — if COVID-19 data remains encouraging.

Moderna Booster Gets Nod From FDA

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend emergency use authorization of Moderna’s COVID-19 booster — a half-dose of its 100-milligram vaccine shot.

The 19-member committee all agreed that a third shot — at least six months after the second dose — should be made available to people age 65 and older; people ages 18 to 64 who are at high risk of severe COVID-19; and people ages 18 to 64 whose exposure to the coronavirus in their settings or jobs put them at risk for COVID-19 complications or severe illness.

However, whether the booster is necessary or improves protection is something about which not all members were sure the data supported.

“The data are not perfect but these are extraordinary times and we have to work with imperfect data,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

While Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of paediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, said the country needs every precaution right now. “We can’t afford to have health-care workers, even if not sick, be positive and infected and have to stay home from work because in parts of the country there’s a shortage of health care workers and there’s burnout everywhere.”

The group will continue meeting Friday, with a vote expected on the Johnson & Johnson COVID booster and — of particular importance for Canadians looking to travel to the U.S. — they will be hearing a presentation on mix-and-matching vaccines.

Earlier this month, Moderna submitted an application for emergency use of its COVID-19 booster in Canada, which is still under review by Health Canada.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 14, 2021

Sask. Looking to Ontario for ICU Spots

Saskatchewan had 76 patients with COVID-19 in ICU Wednesday, three shy of the province’s 79-bed capacity. The head of Saskatchewan’s Health Authority is warning that a single mass injury event could push the province to a point where doctors would be forced to choose which critically ill patients they could save.

“We are seeing unprecedented rates of hospitalizations and ICU admissions. This is pushing the system to a place where we are not providing care to non-COVID patients across this province as we should be,” said CEO Scott Livingstone yesterday.

The province is now looking elsewhere for help.

As the Saskatoon Star Phoenix reported, Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard said it is in “initial discussions” with Ontario about sending them ICU patients. And the office of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed, stating in an email that “Ontario has sufficient ICU capacity and is committed to assisting Saskatchewan with their COVID-19 emergency response.”

Saskatchewan reported 327 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, and 11 deaths from the illness. In comparison, Ontario — with more than 12 times the population — reported 306 new cases yesterday, and 12 more deaths.

Moe Sees Biggest Drop in Approval

An Angus Reid Institute poll of premiers’ performance released yesterday found that Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s approval rating dipped 18 points since June — around the same time he lifted all COVID restrictions, the first premier to do so. Its now at the lowest during Moe’s tenure, 43 per cent, which means just two-in-five residents say they approve of him.

“Much like neighbouring Alberta, the fourth wave has been rough for Saskatchewan,” read the summary by Angus Reid.

“Vaccination rates in the province are lagging and Premier Scott Moe has been criticized by the opposition NDP for not doing enough to denounce the use of ivermectin – a medication used to deworm livestock — as a COVID-19 treatment.”

Incidentally, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was the only provincial premier to see a lift in approval, albeit only by one point to 36 per cent.

That still leaves Ford with the third lowest approval rating of the 10 provinces, beating out interim Manitoba Premier Kelvin Goertzen (35 per cent) and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose approval fell by nine points to 22 per cent — meaning just one-in-five residents approve his performance as premier.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 13, 2021

U.S. Reopening Land Borders to Fully Vaxxed

After extensions month after month since March 2020, the Canada-U.S. border will finally reopen — on both sides — to non-essential travel next month.

“The sigh of relief coming from northern border communities following this announcement is so loud it can practically be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge,” said New York state congressman Brian Higgins in the statement Tuesday evening.

U.S. officials haven’t set a date, but announced yesterday that borders with Mexico and Canada will reopen to fully vaccinated travellers in early November. It’s good news for snowbirds, many of who drive to overwintering destinations.

But what about Canadians with mixed-dose vaccination?

In their announcement, officials noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to recommend that the U.S. recognize air travellers inoculated with any vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, including AstraZeneca — and a similar rule should be expected at land crossings. That’s one hurdle.

And as for people who got two different COVID-19 shots, officials are still waiting on guidance from the CDC as to whether it will recognize them as fully vaxxed.

As Canadians await that ruling, on the plus side there will be no negative COVID test required of fully vaccinated travellers when this new mandate goes into effect.

Winter Tires, the Next Hard-to-Get Item

The supply chain issues that have plagued consumers throughout the pandemic would seem to have snow tires in its sights as the next victim.

“We are recommending customers get in early to get the best selection of tires, as there is uncertainty regarding future supply over the next many months,” Ron Pierce, a regional director at B.C.-based KalTire, told the Toronto Star.

As the Star reports, some American short-track stock car races were cancelled this summer because of tire shortages. Although a poor rubber tree harvest in Southeast Asia isn’t helping matters, supply is being exacerbated by “a combination of COVID restrictions, labour shortages globally, and more COVID outbreaks in some key manufacturing areas of the world,” said Fraser Johnson, a professor of operations management at Western University’s Ivey School of Business.

And when can we expect a resolution?

“I think it’s going to be another year or so, and for some industries, even longer,” said Johnson.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 12, 2021

IMF Downgrades Outlook for Canada, Global Economy

The International Monetary Fund today gave a slight downgrade to its global growth projection for the rest of the year, from 6 to 5.9 per cent, but warned that poorer countries in particular face greater challenges bouncing back from the pandemic.

Their estimates show that while so-called advanced economies could exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2024, developing countries could remain 5.5 per cent below their pre-pandemic forecast.

“These divergences are a consequence of the ‘great vaccine divide’ and large disparities in policy support,” said Gita Gopinath, chief economist at the IMF.

“While over 60 per cent of the population in advanced economies are fully vaccinated and some are now receiving booster shots, about 96 per cent of the population in low-income countries remain unvaccinated,” he said.

The United Nations is also sounding a warning about vaccine disparity as it relates to recovery. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an IMF panel Monday that global solidarity “is missing in action” and people living in conflict-affected and poor countries are suffering most of all.

“Vaccine inequality is a moral outrage that is condemning the world to millions more deaths and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars, hitting the poorest countries hardest of all.”

Guterres said the pandemic has forced more than 100 million people into poverty and left more than four billion people with little or no social support, health care or income protection.

Canada’s economic growth projection for 2021 faced just a 0.6 per cent decrease by the IMF today, down from 5.7 per cent earlier this year.

Unvaxxed Health-Care Workers Face Suspension in Quebec

Roughly 15,000 Quebec health-care workers who are not fully vaccinated will be suspended without pay starting Friday.

Health Minister Christian Dubé has asked all professional orders in the province’s health sector to suspend the licences of workers who aren’t immunized, and in a tweet Monday he welcomed a decision by the Quebec Order of Nurses to follow through on the order.

“I encourage all nurses who haven’t gotten vaccinated to go now,” wrote Dubé. “It’s never too late.”

Among Quebec’s 80,500 nurses, 4,338 are not adequately vaccinated, including 2,807 not vaccinated at all and 1,531 who have had one dose, Luc Mathieu, president of the order told Radio-Canada. And another 5,716 nurses whose vaccine status is yet known could be suspended without pay as of Friday if they have not received two shots.

“They will have to live with the impact of not being vaccinated on time,” said Mathieu.

Quebec’s Collège des médecins is also on side with the order, already saying they will suspend licenses of unvaccinated doctors — practising in-person or remotely. Quebec’s Order of Respiratory Therapists will also be abiding the minister’s order.

“We have no choice but to apply this decree,” Josée Prud’homme, executive director of the order, told Radio-Canada. “As we speak, vaccination is the only scientifically proven way to end this pandemic. We can’t help but agree with the measure.”

Her members, however, have one of the highest vaccination rates in the province’s health-care sector, at 96 per cent, meaning only about 140 therapists would be affected by a suspension order.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 8, 2021

Unemployment Numbers Not Quite Back to Normal

Statistics Canada says the economy added 157,000 jobs in September, bringing employment back to February 2020 levels.

The unemployment rate fell from 7.1 per cent in August to 6.9 per cent — the last time we saw such a large employment gain was this past June, when the economy added 231,000 jobs as the country reopened after the third wave.

But, much like everything else right now, it’s not quite back to normal. As the CBC reports, the number of people working less than half the hours they would normally is still higher — 218,000 people higher — as compared to February 2020. And the total number of hours worked by all employees is still 1.5 per cent below the pre-pandemic level.

And despite the job gains, long-term unemployment — people not having a job for at least 27 weeks in a row, or about six months — is now twice was it was before the pandemic, and represents more than a quarter of everyone without a job.

“In the midst of a mass labour shortage, 27.3 per cent of unemployed Canadians are unaccounted for. Where did they go?” said Leah Nord with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“Canadians want to work; most are not unemployed by choice, so we need to dig down and find out exactly what’s holding them back so we can make evidence-based decisions. Our full economic recovery depends on it.”

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

In a tweet yesterday Cana da’s top doc, Dr. Theresa Tam,  said that as we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, “the need for continued caution remains.” She advised Canadians to abide local public health guidelines as “ongoing regional variation in disease activity” persists.

In New Brunswick, parts of the province go into a two-week circuit breaker lockdown tonight, and the province announced Tuesday that no residents are allowed to gather privately with friends and family from other households — indoors or outdoors — between Friday at 6 p.m. and Monday at midnight.

“We have seen an unprecedented number of deaths, hospitalizations and ICU admissions over the last month — more than at any time since the pandemic began,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, told reporters Wednesday.

“With the health-care system under significant strain and the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, more actions are needed to protect the health and safety of New Brunswickers.”

N.B. officials also clarified on Wednesday that those who live alone can bubble with another household during the holiday weekend.

While in Ontario, where daily case counts continue to drop, officials said yesterday that although success in curbing the fourth wave remains “fragile,” residents can follow Step 3 gathering limits for Thanksgiving: 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

“I think an 86.7 per cent immunization rate in Ontario is what’s allowing that to happen,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. “I think one of the first questions as you move indoors for Thanksgiving events should be: Is everyone here vaccinated?”

If there is a combination of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the group, attendees should consider keeping masks on indoors, particularly for older people or those with chronic medical conditions.

Moore’s recommendations also included:

  • No one should attend a gathering if they have even mild symptoms.
  • Windows should be kept open, if possible.
  • High-touch surfaces should be cleaned and hand sanitizer should be provided.
    If there.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 7, 2021

Pfizer Asks FDA for Approval in 5 to 11-Year-Olds, Health Canada Next

Drug makers Pfizer and BioNTech said Thursday that the they have officially submitted their request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use of their COVID-19 vaccine in children aged five to 11.

If granted emergency use, it would be the first COVID-19 vaccine available to children under the age of 12.

Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech released details of a Phase 2/3 trial that showed a two-dose regimen of the vaccine was safe and generated a “robust” antibody response in children aged five to 11. After their second shot, participants were said to have developed virus-fighting antibody levels as strong as teens and young adults, but with a third the dose.

“Kids have a really great immune system and so respond well to vaccines,” explained Dr. Kawsar Talaat, an investigator on Pfizer’s vaccine trials, in a recent interview with the CBC.

Speaking to Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald, Talaat, an infectious-disease physician and vaccine scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that even though kids tend not to get sick from COVID-19 as frequently or seriously as adults, getting them vaccinated is still crucial.

“There is absolutely a benefit to protecting the kids.,” she said. “There’s also a benefit to society as a whole, because the more people you vaccinate, the less susceptible people the virus will find to replicate in and transmit to other people, and the better control you can get over the pandemic.”

An FDA expert panel will meet on Oct. 26 to publicly debate the evidence.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Canada says it is in the final stages of working with Health Canada ahead of the submission for kids between five and 11 to receive the shot in this country, with the formal application expected to be made by mid-October.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 in May. But children would be given a third the dose as is used for that demo — and in adults. Health Canada, nor the drug makers, have said whether supplies of the vaccine already here can be modified for use in younger children or if we would need to wait for new shipments.

Vaccine Mandates Ramping Up

By November 30, people who want to travel by air, VIA rail, or on say a cruise ship in Canada will need to be fully vaccinated, the federal government announced yesterday.

“Testing will no longer be an option before boarding,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference Wednesday.

“For the vast, vast majority of people, the rules are very simple: To travel, you’ve got to be vaccinated.”

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will also be required by no later than the end of October for all employees in Canada’s federally regulated workplaces.

“These travel measures, along with mandatory vaccination for federal employees, are some of the strongest in the world,” said Trudeau. “Because when it comes to keeping you and your family safe, when it comes to avoiding lockdowns for everyone, this is no time for half measures.”

Meanwhile, municipal employees were put on notice in Toronto. A statement released yesterday said city workers who do not provide proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19 will be suspended without pay beginning Nov. 1.

Suspension will last six weeks and if staff don’t provide proof of full vaccination by Dec. 13, they will be fired “for cause, as they will have chosen not to comply with the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy,” read the statement.

The release also noted that city officials “will continue to comply with its human rights obligations, and employees who are not able to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine under a protected ground set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code, will be entitled to accommodation.”

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 6, 2021

Good News, for a Change

The World Health Organization is saying their is good news on the global pandemic front, reporting that the number of new COVID-19 cases worldwide fell last week. This continues a downward trend that began in August. The WHO reported yesterday that there were 3.1 million new cases last week, a nine per cent decline from the previous week.

Case numbers fell by about 43 per cent in Africa, 20 per cent in Southeast Asia, 20 per cent in the Middle East and 12 per cent in the Americas. While the number of cases are down, the deaths due to the virus remained roughly the same last week, at about 54,000. The WHO estimates that as of Oct. 3, there have been 4.8 million virus-related deaths worldwide.

The pandemic has killed nearly 28,000 Canadians.

Frustration for Mixed-Dose Travellers

A Canadian travel association is saying that the government must do more to convince other countries to open up their borders to Canadians who have received mixed doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Several countries, including the U.S., are only allowing travellers who have received both doses of an approved vaccine. Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca shot, which at least 1.5 million Canadians received as their first dose, is not on their list of approved vaccines. As well, many countries have adopted the policy of only allowing visitors who have received both doses of an identical vaccine to fly across their borders. This means that close to four million fully vaccinated Canadians who have received mixed doses may not be allowed to fly into the U.S. or other countries.

“The problem we have here in Canada is that we’re one of the few places that have really [mixed vaccines] in any significant way,” says Richard Vanderlubbe, director of Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

Vanderlubbe asserts that the federal government has an “obligation” to convince other countries that people from here who have received mixed doses are just as safe to travel as those who have received identical doses. If not, there will be a lot of fully vaxxed Canadians forbidden from flying into foreign destinations.

“I’m sure the frustration will rise,  there’s no doubt about it,” he predicted.

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 5, 2021

Cases on the Rise in Manitoba

A top health official in Manitoba is sounding the alarm that the number of new COVID-19 cases in the province could soar by the end of the year.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, told CBC that the province is on a worrisome trajectory with regards to COVID-19 diagnoses — the number of new cases has increased by more than 50 per cent over the last two weeks (from 60 new cases daily to 90) and the positivity rate has risen from 2.3 per cent to 3.7 per cent over the last week.

“We’re in a trajectory right now that could take us to a place where we’ll see quite a significant amount of strain on our health care system, unless we change it,” he said.

Many of the new cases are coming form the Southern Health Region, which also has the province’s lowest vaccination rates. The province is ramping up vaccination efforts in the region as well as imposing limitations on public and private gatherings on those who haven’t received their doses.

Roussin is pleading with Manitobans to “follow these directives, and to do whatever they can to decrease the chances of transmission of this virus, or we are going to be into a very, very significant fourth wave here.”

Study: COVID-19 Is Becoming More Virulent

A new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reveals that the COVID-19 variants of concern (VOCs) that are spreading throughout Canada are leading to far more hospitalizations and deaths than the original strain.

Looking at data from over 200,000 cases in Ontario between February and June of this year, researchers found that the VOCs were 52 per cent more likely to cause people to go to hospital, 89 per cent more likely to put people in intensive care and 51 per cent more likely to cause death than the original strain.

The author’s interpretation of the results carries a grim warning: “The increasing virulence of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs will lead to a considerably larger, and more deadly, pandemic than would have occurred in the absence of the emergence of VOCs.”

The study also noted that getting your vaccine has never been more important. “The effects reported here represent a substantial degree of protection against death conferred by vaccines (about 80 to 90 per cent), even when they fail to prevent infection”

In a press release announcing the results, Dr. Kirsten Patrick, interim editor-in-chief of the CMAJ, described what the findings mean to individuals and health officials. “The virus has become smarter and more dangerous, which means that we need to be smarter too.”

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 4, 2021

New Case Counts Soar in New Brunswick

New Brunswick health officials are blaming private gatherings on a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in that province. Schools in some areas have been closed as the government reports that there were 140 new cases on Saturday, a single-day record for new cases since the pandemic began.

“In this fourth wave, we have seen a high number of cases sparked from private gatherings,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical health officer. “Limiting those gatherings to 20 as per the mandatory order helps reduce spread and improve our contact tracing.”

Russell pinpointed the kinds of gatherings that are causing the spread of new cases, which she identified as “hunting parties, prayer groups, birthday parties, private funerals and a backyard wedding.” This is worrisome news for the province, which largely avoided the worst effects of the disease during the first three waves of the pandemic. There are currently 45 people in hospital with the disease, 20 in intensive care.

“I know people are tired of COVID, but it doesn’t mean people can take that out on people who are working really hard to protect the public,” warned Russell.

Study Makes Case for Booster Shot 

A new study suggests that the effectiveness of the Pfizer COVID-19 two-dose vaccine may wane after six months, and that recipients may need a booster shot to help them fight off variants of the virus.

Researchers analyzed the blood tests of 56 people who received both doses of the vaccine. In half of the subjects studied, the “neutralizing agents” that are “critically important” in protecting against the virus had disappeared after six months.

“Our study shows vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine induces high levels of neutralizing antibodies against the original vaccine strain, but these levels drop by nearly 10-fold by seven months,” the authors told Reuters.

These findings (which are reported here ahead of peer review) “have raised concerns about the potential lack of durability of immunity to vaccination.” The authors also concluded that “these findings suggest that administering a booster dose at around six to seven months following the initial immunization will likely enhance protection against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.”

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 1, 2021

Ontario Makes Vax Mandatory for LTC Workers

In an effort to avoid another COVID-19 outbreak in nursing and retirement homes, Ontario’s minister of long-term care announced today that all workers and volunteers in provincial long-term care facilities must be fully vaccinated.

“The measure is essential,” said Rod Phillips, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, in a press conference Friday. The vax order will apply to all in-home staff, nurses, personal support workers and volunteers who work in long-term care facilities.

The minister followed up with a statement noting that while 90 per cent of long-term care workers have received at least one dose, “there is variation among homes.” This “variation” means that close to half of homes have vaccination rates below that 90 per cent figure – a threshold that the health minister deemed far too low, especially for those caring for such a vulnerable population.

“We know that long-term care residents have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. As new variants continue to spread, we are seeing a growing number of outbreaks in long-term care homes where the risk to those most vulnerable remains high,” said Phillips, explaining why the province was reversing a previous order that allowed unvaccinated workers and volunteers to submit a test to show that they weren’t carrying the virus.

Long-term care workers have until Nov. 15 to comply with the new order. Those who refuse to get their shots will not be allowed to enter any LTC facility. While the measure doesn’t currently apply to family members or friends visiting loved ones in nursing homes, the health minister didn’t rule out the possibility that, down the road, this too could change.

—Peter Muggeridge

Early Results Show Experimental Pill Cut Severe Outcomes in Half 

New Jersey-based drug maker Merck & Co. said Friday that it will be seeking authorization in the U.S. and elsewhere, soon for its experimental COVID-19 pill.

The company, and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in Florida, said early results showed that hospitalization and death were reduced by about half in patients who’d received their drug, called molnupiravir, within five days of COVID symptoms, as compared to patients who’d received a placebo.

“It exceeded what I thought the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial,” said Dr. Dean Li, vice-president of Merck research. “When you see a 50 per cent reduction in hospitalization or death that’s a substantial clinical impact.”

The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe disease due to conditions such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3 per cent were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1 per cent of those getting the placebo.

Only limited information on side effects was made public in the press release, but the companies said rates were similar between both groups. An adverse event occurred in 35 per cent of those who received molnupiravir and 40 per cent of those who received placebo. Only 1.3 per cent from the molnupiravir group discontinued the drug because of an adverse event, compared to 3.4 per cent who discontinued placebo.

Earlier results showed the drug did not benefit patients who were already hospitalized with severe disease.

The study results have yet to be peer reviewed.

Kenney Cedes to Help From N.L.

Newfoundland and Labrador will once again be coming to the aid of a fellow province, this time sending ICU staff to Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that an agreement with N.L. is being finalized, which includes the lending of five or six ICU-trained medical staff. The team of five or six ICU-trained medical staff will likely be dispatched to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray, the premier said.

“As [Premier Andrew Furey] joked with me, Fort McMurray is Newfoundland’s second largest city,” said Kenney. “This is a wonderful gesture from a province whose people have done so much to build prosperity.”

Of course this comes after Kenney had weeks earlier refused the offer.

In a briefing just this Tuesday, Premier Furey said about the deal, “We were moving toward a start date for that … and then last week, Premier Kenney said that the situation had evolved to the point where their predictive modelling would suggest that they wouldn’t require our resources at this time.”

But by Thursday, Kenney had changed his tune, saying, that some hospitals are “under severe stress,” citing low vaccination uptake in the central part of the province.

This will mark the second time N.L. has helped out another province under strain from COVID-19 hospitalizations, having sent two waves of doctors and nurses to Ontario hot spots this past spring.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 30, 2021

Indigenous Groups Lead Manitoba Vax Push 

Alarmed by the low COVID-19 vaccination rates among Innuit, Métis and First Nations people living in Manitoba’s urban centres, the province’s government and Indigenous leaders are combining forces to encourage people to get their shots.

Premier Kelvin Goertzen and David Monias, vice-chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, held a joint press conference Friday to announce that the government will spend $2.8 million to increase the reach of urban vaccination clinics in urban neighbourhoods with low vaccination rates, estimated to be at least 10 per cent lower than other areas.

“A few months ago I said that COVID does not discriminate. I’m here to tell you, I learned a lot from society, it does discriminate,” Monias said. “It discriminates against the weak, against the people who have compromised body immune systems, it discriminates against people who are not vaccinated.”

Premier Goertzen said that the bulk of the money will go toward supporting Indigenous-run clinics in Winnipeg. “This will help ensure another COVID-19 immunization option is available to people who might otherwise face barriers in being immunized at other locations,” he said.

Another $250,000 will go toward funding a mobile immunization clinic that will offer the doses to those living in Winnipeg’s downtown and Point Douglas neighbourhoods.

Manitoba’s health minister Audrey Gordon lauded the efforts of Indigenous leaders, saying “your leadership and partnership has been a cornerstone of success, and has truly kept your people and your communities safe.”

—Peter Muggeridge

Alberta Indigenous Docs Take Their Own Approach at Vaxx Fest

According to the latest figures from Indigenous Services Canada, Alberta has seen the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in First Nations communities, with 11.659 cases — more than a quarter of the total recorded, 40,761.

And it’s been reported that Alberta’s Indigenous communities also have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“There’s many factors that are preventing Indigenous Peoples coming to get their vaccine, and a lot of that is centred in mistrust and previous government policies, which were genocidal in nature,” Cree physician Dr. James Makokis told CTV News Friday.

He and Blackfoot physician Dr. Lana Potts are the organizers of Vaxx Fest, an Indigenous-led vaccination event held this past weekend at the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the Tsuut’ina Nation, both within an hour drive of Calgary.

Potts said the event would be based on what Indigenous teachings call the “Power of 100.”

“The whole idea is really protecting our youth and protecting our future,” she said. “We looked at a concept around our teaching of our buffalo and how when our buffalo face a threat, they will circle their young and face that threat, head on.”

Makokis noted that Indigenous Peoples are keenly aware of the dire outcome past pandemics have had in their communities. “And at the same time,” he said, “we realize our own personal responsibility to work to protect everyone.”

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 29, 2021

Boosters Recommended for All Nursing Home Residents 

On Tuesday, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) released updated guidance in which they note that residents in long-term care, retirement homes and assisted-living facilities, “are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection because of their daily interactions with other residents and staff.” .

“They are also at increased risk for severe disease because of their age and underlying medical conditions.”

As such, the committee has recommended that seniors living in such settings get another shot of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine — Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — six months after their last shot. A booster dose of a viral vector vaccine, like Oxford-AstraZeneca, is only recommended when Pfizer or Moderna are unavailable or the person can’t have an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons.

This came on the same day that Quebec announced it would offer people in long-term care homes and seniors residences a COVID-19 vaccine booster. The extra dose, which will also be offered to residents of other congregate care settings, is intended to protect people with waning immunity amid a rise of outbreaks in such facilities. Health Minister Christian Dubé said about 220,000 people live in settings where the booster will be available.

“We have about 150 active cases among these people, so it’s very few,” Dubé said yesterday. “The measure is much more preventive than corrective.” At the beginning of the month, there were around 10 cases of COVID-19 in those facilities, he added.

Trudeau Says Vaccine Mandate to Fly Coming by End of October

Anyone still hesitant to travel may welcome comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said Tuesday that Canadians have just weeks left to get vaccinated if they want to travel domestically by plane — or train.

The Liberals first announced a plan to require travellers be fully vaccinated back in August, days before the prime minister called an election. Details have been scarce since.

But Tuesday, Trudeau said his No. 1 priority is implementing inoculation requirements, including vaccine mandates for employees of the federal civil service and federally-regulated industries, and the requirement that everyone travelling by air or inter-provincial rail provide proof of vaccination.

“If you want to, or are planning on getting on a plane or a train in the coming weeks or months, make sure that you and all members of your family over 12 years old have gotten vaccinated and are getting your second shot if you haven’t already,” Trudeau said yesterday.

“You will not be able to travel on a plane or a train in Canada if you are not fully vaccinated.”

Prince Edward Island Visitors Will Need to Get Tested

If P.E.I. is your destination anytime after the end of this month, you’ll need to get tested for COVID, twice — regardless of vaccination status or age.

“Now is not the time for discretionary travel,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison Tuesday, after reporting two new cases of COVID-19 — one linked to travel off the island.

Those who travel outside P.E.I., or anyone entering from another province, will be tested upon arrival and between Day 4 and Day 8 after their arrival. Delays at the border entries will be inevitable, Morrison acknowledged, though there may be some exceptions for same-day travel.

School-age children who can’t be tested will be given a self-administered test, and must have a negative result before returning to school.

“We will continue to do everything we can to protect our health-care system here from being overburdened with COVID-19,” Morrison said.

“And when we say this, it means that we want to make sure there’s capacity in the ICU and in P.E.I. hospitals to care not only for COVID-19 patients but to care for your partner, your mother, your loved one if they have an accident or require hospital care.”

—Tara Losinski


Sept.28, 2021

Michael Kovrig Gets First Shot

One of “the two Michaels” got his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a Toronto-area drugstore Monday.

“I want everyone to know this, vaccines are the way to combat this disease,” Kovrig said.

He had spent 1,020 days in a Chinese prison before returning to Canada on Saturday — the Globe and Mail reporting yesterday that it was U.S. President Joe Biden who insisted any deal struck to drop the extradition case against Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou hinged upon the release of Kovrig and fellow Canadian Michale Spavor.

Kovrig is reported to have gotten a standing ovation from staff at the Lawlor Pharmasave on Kingston Road. Pharmacist Kyro Maseh tweeted Monday that he had “the honour” of providing Kovrig with his first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

“He is a man that understands the value of freedom better than most people on this earth. He felt that he must ensure his safety and health so he can heal & enjoy his life,” Maseh said on Twitter.

That Kovrig has only now received a first dose suggests that China has yet to vaccinate its incarcerated population. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that China had not “publicized any plans for targeted vaccinations in prisons.”

Calls Keep Coming for Alberta to Rachet Up Measures

A day after an Alberta former top doc called for a province-wide lockdown to help curb the fourth wave, the president of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dr. Ruth Grimes, and Alberta Board representative, Dr. Raphael Sharon, sent an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney Monday, calling for stronger public health measures to “reduce the suffering of children, youth, and families across the province.”

They are recommending mandatory vaccination for all adults working in schools or child care, or regular testing for those who cannot be vaccinated. And they are asking for masking in those settings for all children over the age of two.

“There are now more active cases being reported in those aged 19 and under than in those over the age of 50,” the letter read. “As adults, we must do everything in our power to protect the health and well-being of Alberta’s children and youth — especially given their continued ineligibility for vaccination.”

The letter also called for the immediate set up of vaccination clinics in schools, and that household contact isolation mandates be reinstated.

Also yesterday, the Alberta Medical Association Section of Intensive Care released its own letter warning of potential outcomes from the strain on the province’s health-care system.

“We remain on the verge of a health system collapse in Alberta,” the letter reads.

The group warn that “equitable” ICU care is under threat, with 1,063 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals, including a record 265 in ICUs.

“Given the magnitude of disruptions, this very well may have already impacted you or one of your loved ones,” the ICU physicians wrote, saying it’s unclear how much longer surgeries, for example, would be postponed by the fourth wave.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 27, 2021

Biden Gets Pfizer Booster

On Monday, just days after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention okayed booster shots for millions of Americans, President Joe Biden received his COVID-19 vaccine booster.

“We know that to beat this pandemic and to save lives … we need to get folks vaccinated,” Biden said ahead of his third shot this afternoon at the White House. “So, please, please do the right thing. Please get these shots. It can save your life and it can save the lives of those around you.”

The 78-year-old president said his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, would also be getting a booster, soon. Being “way over” 65, as the president joked, he is eligible for a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — the only one yet approved for a booster dose in the U.S.

“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Over 77 per cent of adults have gotten at least one shot. About 23 per cent haven’t gotten any shots, and that distinct minority is causing an awful lot of us an awful lot of damage for the rest of the country,” Biden went on to say.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. That’s why I’m moving forward with vaccination requirements wherever I can.”

Earlier this month the president announced an order that requires employers with more than 100 workers to mandate immunizations or offer weekly testing, affecting as many as 100 million Americans.

Tensions High Between Vaxxed and Unvaxxed, New Poll Suggests

A new poll by Leger for the Association of Canadian Studies suggests tensions are high between Canadians who have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine and those who have not.

“There’s a high level of I would say antipathy or animosity toward people who are unvaccinated at this time,” said the association’s president Jack Jedwab .

“What you are seeing is the tension played out among family members and friends, co-workers, where there are relationships between people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated.”

The online poll surveyed 1,549 Canadians between Sept. 10 and 12, with results showing more than three in four respondents hold negative views of people who are not immunized against the coronavirus.

The survey found that vaccinated people consider the unvaccinated irresponsible and selfish. While unvaccinated respondents justify their personal reasons for not being immunized, but will reject others’ decision to follow the same course, noted Jedwab.

The vast majority of Canadians eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, 87 per cent as of Monday morning, have gotten at least one dose according to figures from COVID-19 Tracker Canada.

Kenney Says No to Lockdown Amid Fourth-Wave Surge

After two doctors in Alberta — one who was the chief medical officer of health for the province from 2012 to 2015 — called for a province-wide “fire break” lockdown on Sunday, Premier Jason Kenney said no to such a measure.

In a radio interview later the same day, Kenney said a “hard lockdown” would make “no sense for the 80 per cent of the population that is vaccinated,” and who he said are much less likely to transmit COVID-19 and are far less likely to be hospitalized. The premier said the roughly 20 per cent of Albertans who remain unvaccinated are the reason for the fourth-wave surge in cases, adding that they are also less likely to follow restrictions recommended by public health to help curb spread.

But in a letter to the province’s Health Minister Jason Copping, Dr. Dr. Noel Gibney — a critical-care specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta — and Dr. James Talbot — Alberta’s former top doc — said measures including a lockdown are needed to address the “crushing COVID-19 burden being borne by Alberta and Alberta Health Services.”

“All Albertans have and do depend on our acute-care hospitals. We are within days of being forced to implement a triage protocol which will force health-care workers to make life and death decisions on who will get scarce resources, like ventilators,” they wrote.

As of Sunday, Alberta had 20,040 active cases of COVID-19 — more than three times that of any other jurisdiction in Canada. And the province’s ICU capacity was at 82 per cent, with 302 patients in the province’s 368 available ICU beds — the majority of whom have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The president of the Alberta Health Service, Dr. Verna You, offered a sombre silver lining last week. “It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these sort of numbers because, in part, some of our ICU patients have passed away,” she said Thursday. “This reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams.”

In the last seven days, Alberta reported 99 deaths from COVID-19 — nearly twice as many as Ontario, which has more than three times the population, and on Monday reported no new deaths related to the illness.

—Tara Losinski


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