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A Revolutionary Solar Fridge Will Help Keep COVID Vaccines Cold In Sub-Saharan Africa – KCCU

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — President Biden this month announced plans to ship a half a billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the 100 lowest income countries in the world. That would include Sierra Leone and many other sub-Saharan African nations.

But there’s a looming problem. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In all of Sierra Leone, population 7.8 million, only one functioning freezer can offer storage at that temperature. It’s housed in a complex at the Ministry of Health’s medical warehouse compound in the capital Freetown. It’s only slightly larger than a residential fridge, and it’s already being used to store an Ebola vaccine which requires similar temperatures.

“It’s definitely a nice gesture by President Biden,” says Dinsie Williams, a Sierra Leonean biomedical engineer. “But we do have to think about everything else along the supply chain of how they keep those vaccines at the right temperature for a long period of time and then having people access them regardless of where they live.”

Health officials in Sierra Leone say they’re likely to request other vaccines such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which only need to be stored in standard refrigerators.

But in Sierra Leone and other sub-Saharan African countries, even ordinary refrigeration is a challenge. Only about 1 in 4 Sierra Leonean households have power. The rate is down to about 6% in rural parts, according to Sustainable Energy for All, a collaboration between the United Nations and the World Bank.

“Access to refrigeration is very limited,” says Williams. “Because there’s very limited access to electricity, at least stable electricity, in most parts of the country.”

Other countries in the region are only slightly better off: only 28% of health facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa have reliable power supplies.

A revolutionary new generation of solar fridges may prove crucial in the upcoming efforts to immunize Sierra Leoneans against COVID. UNICEF and GAVI, the vaccine alliance, have been pushing to deploy these fridges to health clinics in Africa for childhood immunization programs.

Rather than store electricity in batteries to power them through the night, these so called “direct-drive” systems store coldness. They are so efficient and so well-insulated that they can stay cold for 3 days even if the solar panels aren’t supplying power. And the lack of batteries makes them far simpler to operate and maintain.

Saffa Kamara, an immunization officer with UNICEF in Sierra Leone, raves about these solar fridges.

He says they are “far, far better” than earlier solar models, gas-powered ones or even conventional fridges run off a generator.

“All we need at the moment is [the new] solar refrigerators so we can reach the hardest areas, the most difficult communities and immunize the children,” he says. And they could also be the solution to the COVID vaccine storage problem as well, particularly for the vaccines that don’t require ultra-cold temperatures.

The Songo Health Clinic in Northern Province is one of the many government health facilities across Sierra Leone that doesn’t have electricity.

Mariama Koroma, who runs the clinic, says at times they have to deliver babies by flashlight. But they do have a solar fridge for their vaccines — one of 371 in the country.

“All the vaccine that we are supposed to use in Sierra Leone, we have here,” Koroma says peering into the thick-walled refrigerator.

Sierra Leone is in the early stages of doing COVID vaccinations. So far only a tiny portion of the population has been immunized. And the limited COVID doses haven’t yet been distributed to small clinics like Koroma’s in Songo.

But as more vaccines do arrive, the new solar freezers will be crucial to allow doses to be distributed, stored and eventually administered to people in many parts of Africa with limited or no electricity — an urgent task as COVID-19 cases rise in Africa.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A new court ruling has set up another legal battle over the 2020 Census that is likely heading to the Supreme Court. This time, the fight is over the data used for redrawing voting districts, and it could cause major delays to upcoming elections around the U.S. NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang joins us now from New York.

Hey, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so what does this new court ruling say exactly?

WANG: Well, the state of Alabama asked for an emergency court order that would have forced the Census Bureau to release the detailed 2020 census data about people’s race and other demographic information that’s used when redrawing voting districts – to release that data earlier than the bureau has been planning. The bureau’s been on track to release this data by August 16, and Alabama wanted the court to stop the bureau from also using new privacy protections for keeping people anonymous in this detailed demographic data. And this new ruling by a three-judge court means the bureau can continue its plans to use these new privacy protections and stick with its schedule for releasing new redistricting data by mid-August.

CHANG: Wait. Tell us more about these protections. Like, how exactly has the bureau been planning to protect people’s privacy in this redistricting data?

WANG: Well, the bureau has been developing a new way of keeping people’s information confidential. It’s based on a mathematical concept known as differential privacy. And it’s important to note federal law prohibits the bureau from releasing personally identifiable information until 72 years after it’s collected for the census. And bureau says it’s trying to keep up with advances in computing and access to commercial data sets that can be cross-referenced and makes it easier to trace supposedly anonymized census to get back to a person. And the bureau concluded that a privacy protection system based on differential privacy is the best way to balance protecting confidentiality and keeping census data useful.

CHANG: So what’s Alabama’s argument? Like, why does the state oppose the Census Bureau’s plan to protect privacy?

WANG: Alabama has been arguing that it will make the new redistricting data unusable for the redrawing of voting maps because of the way the bureau is planning to add noise or data for fuzzing the census results and the way the bureau is trying to smooth out the effects of adding that noise. Now, Alabama’s argument, though, is citing early analysis of some preliminary test data, and bureau has since changed its privacy plans. And it says that its latest version – in a statement – quote, “ensures the accuracy of data necessary for redistricting and Voting Rights Act enforcement.” So at this point, we’ll have to keep watching this debate play out in court.

CHANG: Right. This is most likely not the end of the road legally, right?

WANG: Right, because federal law allows this three-judge court’s rulings to be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. And this legal fight is keeping just a cloud of uncertainty over this data and the Census Bureau’s privacy protection plans.

CHANG: Well, talk about that uncertainty. Like, how could it affect upcoming elections, you think?

WANG: Well, to prepare for upcoming elections, many local and state redistricting officials are waiting for new 2020 census data. They determine the areas future elected officials will represent – those maps. And some state and local governments have already been pushing back primary and general election dates. And these delays in getting the data out could also shrink the amount of time for public feedback on new voting maps. And, you know, the bureau says if the courts ultimately block its current privacy protection plans, the bureau will need six to seven months to work out alternative plans. And that would mean it’s possible that 2020 census redistricting data may not be out until early 2022.

CHANG: Yeesh (ph). That is NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang who covers the census for us.

Thank you, Hansi.

WANG: You’re welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Interior Health will make COVID-19 vaccinations available in downtown Kelowna starting Friday – Kelowna News – Castanet.net

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Interior Health will hold a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in downtown Kelowna for the next several days.

In conjunction with the Downtown Kelowna Association, the clinic will be held in the lobby of the Kelowna Yacht Club beginning Friday.

The pop-up clinic will be held from 3 p.m. to 7p.m. for five consecutive days, and will be re-evaluated after that time to determine whether it will continue.

Anyone who has not yet received a first vaccination, or those 28 days past their first shot in welcome to drop in. No appointments are necessary.

Access to the clinic is from the boardwalk entrance.

There have been calls for a downtown clinic as positive COVID-19 cases swell in the Central Okanagan.

Interior Health declared an outbreak in the Central Okanagan Wednesday after it was revealed 240 positive cases had been recorded over the past seven days.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry brought back a mask mandate for the region from Peachland to Lake Country, making the wearing of masks mandatory indoors.

That mandate is expected to run for at least 14 days.

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Alberta's top doctor came up with plan to lift all COVID-19 orders: health minister – The Record (New Westminster)

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CALGARY — Alberta’s health minister says it was the idea of the province’s chief medical health officer to end isolation requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with someone who has.

Tyler Shandro said Dr. Deena Hinshaw came to the government with the plan. He said the government agreed with science and data supporting it and wanted to respect the independence of her position. 

“It came from Dr. Hinshaw,” Shandro said Thursday when asked about the province’s strategy. “This is work that was developed by those who are in public health.”

He acknowledged concerns about moving forward so quickly. “We have many different opinions in the medical community and that’s to be expected and that’s encouraged.”

He also said that while Alberta is alone in Canada in the approach, others will eventually follow suit. 

“We are leading the way in moving to the endemic (phase of the COVID-19) response. We’ve led the way throughout in the response to the pandemic quite frankly.”

Hinshaw has always said she presents scientific evidence, numbers and trends, but the final decision on how to respond to pandemic developments lies with the government.

Close contacts of positive cases are no longer notified of exposure by contact tracers, nor are they required to isolate. The government has also ended asymptomatic testing.

As of Aug. 16, individuals who test positive won’t be legally required to isolate either — although it will still be recommended. Isolation hotels will close and quarantine supports will end. 

Reaction to Hinshaw’s announcement Wednesday was swift and critical — much of it on Twitter. Opposition politicians, the medical community and private citizens all weighed in.

On Thursday, Dr. Daniel Gregson, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Calgary, said the government’s decision to end mandated isolation is irresponsible. 

“The message we’re sending is that if you have an infection with COVID, or think you might have an infection with COVID, you can do whatever you want,” said Gregson. “I would not agree with that.”

He said a fourth wave is inevitable, primarily among young and healthy individuals. “We are going to see a bump in our hospitalizations. The question is how much?” 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it’s inconceivable Alberta is eliminating almost all of its remaining COVID-19 public health orders as cases climb in the province.

“It is the height of insanity,” Nenshi said.

“It is putting the health of Albertans at risk to stop contact tracing, to stop testing people for the coronavirus and to become one of the first — if not the first — jurisdictions in the world to say that people who have tested positive, who are infectious, can just go about their lives.”

Nenshi said if he were in another jurisdiction he would contemplate travel restrictions on Albertans starting Aug. 16. 

“I’m aware of no science that backs this up,” he said. “Even the most fervent of the anti-maskers wouldn’t say (to) unleash people who are actually infectious into the population.”

Nenshi said he worries the decision to lift the orders is politically motivated and has nothing to do with science.

Rida Abboud also questioned the province’s motives. 

Abboud, who teaches at Calgary’s Mount Royal University and has a child starting kindergarten in the fall, said the United Conservatives are taking a gamble and the odds aren’t in their favour.

“I feel like I’m sending my child into the COVID Wild Wild West,” said Abboud. “It really feels like this government has no interest whatsoever in supporting families in … diminishing the risks to anyone under the age of 12 who can’t get vaccinated.”

She’s also worried about returning to the classroom come September. Abboud said poorly ventilated rooms and teaching an age cohort with lower vaccination rates is concerning, especially as it will be unknown who’s infected. 

“This government likes to gamble on a lot of different approaches. They’ve lost in many ways and this is, I think, unfortunately, another one,” she said. “It’s just so shocking and saddening that it’s on the backs of parents and women, in particular.” 

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley urged the government to reverse course with necessary resources.

“This isn’t fair to Albertans. It’s not fair for them to be exposed and not know,” Notley said. “It’s also quite reasonable to keep asking Albertans who are infected to stay home until they are no longer contagious.”

She said the changes will do little to encourage uptake of vaccines.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2021.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Bill Graveland and Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press


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COVID-19 in B.C.: Over 200 new cases and over 1000 active cases; Fraser Health shifts to vaccine hubs; and more – The Georgia Straight

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Today’s total and new case numbers are provisional but they are concerning.

Both new and active cases continue to rise and hit new highs in recent weeks, with the bulk of both of them still in Interior Health—which continues to have more new and active cases than both Fraser and Vancovuer Coastal Health combined.

Meanwhile, like the last heat wave, some immunization clinics may be affected by the high temperatures and at least one is already being relocated.

According to the B.C. Health Ministry, the following numbers for total and new cases are provisional due to a delayed data refresh.

For now, the B.C. Health Ministry is reporting 204 new COVID-19 cases today.

Currently, there are 1,055 active cases, which is an increase of 146 cases since yesterday.

The new and active cases include:

  • 107 new cases in Interior Health, with 600 total active cases (an increase of 97 cases since yesterday);
  • 58 new cases in Fraser Health, with 241 total active cases (33 more cases than yesterday);
  • 23 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, with 139 total active cases (three more cases than yesterday);
  • 14 new cases in Island Health, with 51 total active cases (10 more cases than yesterday);
  • two new cases in Northern Health, with 19 total active cases (three more cases than yesterday);
  • no new cases of people from outside of Canada, with five total active cases (same number as yesterday).

At the moment, 51 individuals are in hospital (four more people than yesterday), and 20 of those patients are in intensive care units (same number as yesterday).

Thankfully, no new COVID-19-related deaths have been reported, which leaves the overall total at 1,771 people who have died during the pandemic.

With 54 recoveries since yesterday, a cumulative total of 146,810 people have now recovered.

During the pandemic, B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 149,648 cases.

The forecast heat wave may cause some clinics to be relocated again, as they were during the previous heat wave in June.

In preparation for the expected high temperatures this weekend, Island Health announced today that it will move the Eagle Ridge immunization clinic to the air-conditioned Victoria Conference Centre (720 Douglas Street, Victoria) tomorrow (July 30).

Also tomorrow, Island Health will hold a pop-up clinic from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Starlight Stadium (1089 Langford Parkway) in Langford, during the game between Victoria’s Pacific FC and Calgary’s Cavalry FC.

Meanwhile, Fraser Health announced today that it has now administered over two million vaccine doses—80 percent of eligible people in the region have received at least one dose, and over 60 percent have received their second dose.

Consequently, as of tomorrow (July 29), Fraser Health is transitioning from a network of immunization clinics to establishing four main hubs at existing clinics at:

  • Ag-Rec Centre (32470 Haida Drive) in Abbotsford (for both COVID-19 testing and immunizations);
  • Poirier Forum (618 Poirier Street) in Coqutilam;
  • Guildford Rec Centre (15105 105th Avenue) in Surrey;
  • North Delta Rec Centre (11415 84th Avenue) in Delta.

Immunization will also continue to be available at COVID-19 testing and immunization centres in Hope, Chilliwack, Mission, Langley, South Delta, South Surrey, Surrey 66, Coquitlam, and Burnaby. In addition, Fraser Health will continue to hold pop-up and mobile clinics, outreach clinics, and community initiatives (such as beachside clinics) to ensure easy access to immunizations.

The following clinics, however, will be closed on the dates listed below:

  • July 28: South Surrey Rec Centre and Chuck Bailey Rec Centre;
  • August 1: Abbotsford test collection centre at the University of the Fraser Valley will close and testing will relocate to Abbotsford Ag Rec;
  • August 7: Agassiz Agricultural Hall, Langley Events Centre, Anvil Centre, and Christine Sinclair Community Centre;
  • August 14: Chilliwack Mall, Hope Legion, Cloverdale Rec Centre, Surrey North, and Haney Place Mall;
  • August 30: Mamele’awt Community Indigenous Centre, Stó:lō Service Agency, Fraser River Indigenous Society, Mission Friendship Centre, Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre.

As part of its effort to increase vaccinations amid the recently declared outbreak in the Central Okanagan, Interior Health will hold pop-up immunization clinics from 3 to 7 p.m. from Friday (July 30) to Wednesday (August 4) at the Kelowna Yacht Club (1370 Water Street) in Kelowna, and vaccinations are available for eligible drop-in visitors.

In the ongoing provincial immunization program so far, B.C. has administered 6,732,309 doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines.

As of today, 81 percent (3,753,057) of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose and 64.1 percent (2,971,793) have received their second dose.

In addition, 81.9 percent (3,543,503) of all eligible adults in B.C. have received their first dose and 66.8 percent (2,890,948) have received their second dose.

None of the five regional health authorities declared any new healthcare or community outbreaks, or listed any new business closures or public exposure events.

Currently, there are two active healthcare outbreaks, both in longterm care facilities: Holyrood Manor (Fraser Health) and Nelson Jubilee Manor (Interior Health).

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