There are 216 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths from the illness in Manitoba, according to a provincial news release issued on Saturday.
Of the new cases, more than half — 118 — are in the Northern Health Region, which has seen a worrisome spike recently.
The rest of the cases are in the Winnipeg (50), Interlake-Eastern (22), Southern (14) and Prairie Mountain (12) health regions.
The deaths reported Saturday were all in the Winnipeg health region — a man in his 60s, a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 80s.
The provincial five-day test positivity rate — a rolling average of the number of tests that come back positive — is 9.8 per cent, up from 9.3 per cent on Friday. Winnipeg’s rate also rose slightly, to 6.5 per cent from 6.2.
The province’s news release says 1,836 COVID-19 tests were completed Friday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since early February 2020 to 463,084.
The number of Manitobans in hospital is 272, up from 268 on Friday. There are also 40 people in intensive care, up from 33 the day prior.
On Friday, the province reported 173 new cases of COVID-19, with more than a third — 64 — in the Northern Health Region.
As well, Fox Lake Cree Nation declared an outbreak of COVID-19 on Friday.
There are 34 active cases in the First Nation, about 700 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, Chief Morris Beardy said in a news release.
That number includes Beardy himself.
“This is very serious and scary for us all. I also know how resilient and strong our community is, and how we can support each other through difficult times,” he said.
There are 88 Fox Lake households affected by the virus, including 15 in the Bird reserve and 70 in the nearby town of Gillam, according to the release.
The northern region, including the town of Churchill, was excluded from an easing of some of the province’s strict pandemic restrictions, which came into effect for the rest of Manitoba Saturday, following recent drops in case numbers.
Two designated visitors are now allowed for each household, and group of up to five can gather outdoors on private property.
Retailers are allowed to sell non-essential items in-store again, and barbers and hair stylists are able to go back to work.
As well, as of Saturday, all Manitoba teachers, educational support staff and other staff working in schools and directly with students can now make an appointment for rapid COVID-19 testing at the Winnipeg Fast Pass site at 1066 Nairn Ave., provided they meet certain criteria.
To be eligible, people who work in schools must be symptomatic, identified as a close contact because of an exposure at school, or have a symptomatic household member.
Appointments for the pilot site are now open for eligible staff working in all schools and school divisions, the province says.
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Experts caution against the temptation to comparison shop COVID-19 vaccines – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, February 27, 2021 3:01PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 27, 2021 3:13PM EST
TORONTO – While it’s tempting to compare various aspects of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to others, several experts cautioned against focusing on data that is not comparable and the danger of underrating the product’s ability to curb hospitalizations and deaths.
Health Canada’s long-awaited announcement Friday that a third vaccine would soon be deployed came just as the provinces faced heightened scrutiny over regional immunization plans that vary by timeline, age eligibility and priority groups.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the boost to Canada’s pandemic arsenal would mean “more people vaccinated, and sooner,” and would be key to helping contain spread.
Nevertheless, Health Canada chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma acknowledged questions over how the public should evaluate trial results that show AstraZeneca has an efficacy of 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases. That’s compared to the 95 per cent efficacy of the country’s two other approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
But Sharma stressed that all three have been shown to prevent 100 per cent of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.
“Each vaccine has unique characteristics and Health Canada’s review has confirmed that the benefits of the viral vector-based vaccine, as with the other authorized vaccines, outweigh their potential risks,” Sharma said.
Several medical experts including Dr. Stephen Hwang say Canadians do not have the luxury to pick-and-choose as long as COVID-19 cases continue to rage in several hot spots and strain health-care systems.
With multiple COVID-19 projections warning of a variant-fuelled third wave without tighter suppression measures, any tool that can slow the pandemic should be embraced, he argued.
“It would be important for people to be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is first available in their community to them, rather than trying to hold out for a specific vaccine,” advised Hwang, who treats COVID-19 patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Still, Toronto resident Maria Brum couldn’t help but question whether AstraZeneca was safe for her 79-year-old mother.
The vaccine was not tested on people over the age of 65. Health Canada, however, says real-world data from countries already using the product suggest it is safe and effective among older age groups, promising an update on efficacy in the age group as more data comes in.
“I personally would take that one out as an option for my mom,” said Brum, who is her mother’s main caregiver.
“Maybe I am wrong but, I don’t know, I don’t see that it’s more useful. I’d like to see one that has a higher percentage of (efficacy).”
As for herself, Brum said she has allergies that she believes may put her at greater risk of adverse reactions and so she is unsure whether she can take any vaccine.
But she’d like the option of choosing, if possible, even while acknowledging that limited supply could make that unlikely.
“As a Canadian, I would like to see us all have choices, regardless of age, gender, or ability,” says Brum.
“I’m going to wait where I can have more choices.”
Such hesitancy could pose public health challenges to Canada reaching the vaccination coverage needed to build protective immunity against COVID-19, said Hwang.
He noted that Germany has seen a reported preference among some for the vaccine made by Germany’s BioNTech with Pfizer, as well as a misconception that the AstraZeneca vaccine is inferior because of a lower efficacy rate.
Hwang says efficacy between vaccines cannot be compared because each involved completely different trials at different time periods, in different countries, with different volunteers of different age groups and varying trial design.
“Until we have direct comparison studies where we give people one vaccine versus another and directly compare, it’s very difficult to know for sure how it’s going to pan out,” he says.
Then there’s the fact Canada’s initial AstraZeneca doses will be made at the Serum Institute of India, which dubs its version CoviShield, while later packages will be produced at the drug giant’s own manufacturing facilities.
Hwang acknowledges that could invite further scrutiny but says the Pune, India-based biotech firm has a “strong track record of producing vaccines.”
Sharma also stressed the similarities between the two shots Friday.
“For all intents and purposes they’re the same vaccine,” said Sharma.
“There are some slight differences in terms of manufacturing and the places that they are manufactured are different. The analogy is a bit like the recipe – so the recipe for the vaccine is the same, but they’re manufactured in different kitchens.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.
AstraZeneca-Oxford co-creator on efficacy of vaccine – CBC News
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