(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press – image credit)
Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout needs to guarantee equal access for migrants and undocumented workers, advocates for migrant rights say.
The Migrant Rights Network says it fears that countless migrant and undocumented workers won’t get vaccinated because of their immigration status — either because they lack access to health coverage or they worry about their personal information being shared with immigration enforcement authorities.
“While federal and provincial governments have made promises and assurances that vaccine access will be universal, policies and practices have not changed,” said Syed Hussan, a member of the Migrant Rights Network secretariat, at a virtual press conference today.
“Concrete action is urgently necessary to ensure life-saving public health measures are accessible to all migrant and undocumented people.”
WATCH: Advocates call for equal access to vaccines for migrants and undocumented workers
The group laid out a list of demands in an open letter signed by 270 civil society organizations and addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial and territorial leaders.
Their goals include: making sure vaccines are free for everyone in Canada, regardless of immigration status; ensuring that getting a vaccine doesn’t require a health card; and directing vaccine providers to not demand personal information in exchange for receiving a vaccine dose.
The group also said that vaccines shouldn’t be mandatory and that health care providers should be trained not to turn people away if they don’t have a health card or access to health insurance.
The letter comes as provinces and territories make plans for a country-wide mass vaccination campaign. The quantity of vaccine doses being delivered to Canada is expected to ramp up substantially in the coming weeks and months.
Many lack health cards
The Migrant Rights Network estimates that over 1.6 million people in Canada don’t have permanent resident status and says that many of them work in essential jobs in such sectors as health care, cleaning, construction, delivery and agriculture. The group says many migrants and undocumented workers are being denied vaccination because they don’t have health cards — which in many cases are tied to work or study permits.
The group was joined at the press conference by an undocumented worker at a long-term care home in Toronto who came to Canada in 2014. The woman — identified only as “Lily” during the press conference — said her immigration status expired in Jan. 2020, leaving her undocumented and without an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) card.
Lily said she has been denied the COVID-19 vaccine, while all the residents and staff in the home where she works have received two shots already.
“I am on the front line every day, just like everyone else who lives and works in the home. But while they are better protected from the virus’s spread, I am not,” said Lily.
“Undocumented workers are already denied access to health care, housing, social services and legal rights. Now we are being denied access to COVID vaccinations because it is tied to an OHIP card, which we do not have.”
The Ontario Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Dr. Danyaal Raza, board chair of the physicians’ advocacy group Canadian Doctors for Medicare, said he was part of an outreach team that went into a Toronto homeless shelter last week to vaccinate residents there.
Raza said the team offers residents vaccinations without asking to see their health cards. They were also given the option of providing an alias.
Raza, who is also a family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said this model should be in place across the country — especially as provinces and territories prepare to conduct mass vaccination campaigns in the coming months.
“We need to make sure that this is the case at every single vaccine clinic because we’re hearing now that it’s not, and that’s not acceptable, especially if we’re going to hit that target for herd immunity,” said Raza.
Vaccines will be free and accessible: PHAC
Vancouver MP Jenny Kwan, the federal NDP’s critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, backed the call for vaccine access for migrants and undocumented workers.
“Migrant workers and undocumented workers do critical work in Canada and we have to ensure that we do our part in protecting them from COVID outbreaks without any fear of reprisals,” said Kwan.
“Not only is including migrant workers and undocumented workers in the vaccination process the right thing to do, if we aren’t targeting hotspots for transmission and protecting the most vulnerable to infection, then we are only prolonging the pandemic for everyone and adding additional strain to our hospitals.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed that the two COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for use in Canada — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — are free and will be accessible to everyone in Canada.
“While they’re available to priority populations first, they’ll be available to everyone in Canada who is recommended to get the vaccine by federal, provincial and territorial public health authorities,” Anna Maddison said by email. “This applies to everyone in Canada, including those who aren’t citizens (and who are over the age of 16 for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or over the age of 18 for the Moderna vaccine).”
But Maddison pointed out that provincial and territorial governments are responsible for administering the vaccine.
Each province and territory has its own separate immunization plan laying out who can get a vaccine and when, along with the location of vaccination sites.
Over 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed by the federal government since immunization began in December, and over 1.6 million doses have been administered, according to the COVID-19 Tracker project.
Canada allows Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15
(Corrects headline and lead to make clear that Canada was not the first nation as stated by Canadian officials, adds context from Pfizer in fourth paragraph)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada is authorizing the use of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15, the first doses to be allowed in the country for people that young, the federal health ministry said on Wednesday.
Supriya Sharma, a senior adviser at the Canadian federal health ministry, said the Pfizer vaccine, produced with German partner BioNTech SE, was safe and effective in the younger age group.
“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she told reporters.
Sharma and a health ministry spokesman said Canada was the first country to grant such an approval, but a Canadian representative for Pfizer later said Algeria permitted use of the vaccine for this age group in April. The Canadian health ministry said it had no information about the discrepancy.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to take a similar step “very soon,” U.S. health officials said.
Separately, authorities reported the third death of a Canadian from a rare blood clot condition after receiving AstraZeneca PLC’s’s COVID-19 vaccine. The man, who was in his sixties, lived in the Atlantic province of New Brunswick.
Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health in New Brunswick, said the province would continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Alberta reported a death from clotting on Tuesday and Quebec announced one on April 27.
“There will be rare cases where thrombosis will occur. However, the risks remain minimal compared to the risks, complications and potential consequences of COVID-19,” Russell told reporters.
Canada‘s federal government has bought tens of millions of doses of vaccines but critics complain the pace of inoculation is lagging due to bottlenecks in the 10 provinces, which are responsible for administering the doses.
Alberta will become the first province to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone aged 12 and over from May 10, Premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday, a day after he introduced tighter public health measures to combat a third wave of the pandemic.
Alberta, home to Canada‘s oil patch, has the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 in the country, with nearly 24,000 active cases and 150 people in intensive care.
Around 20% of the 1,249,950 cases of COVID-19 in Canada have been reported in people under the age of 19. Canada has recorded 24,396 deaths.
(Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Nia Williams in Calgary;Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)
Younger people filling up COVID-19 intensive care
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) –COVID-19 infections continue to spread fast across the Americas as a result of relaxed prevention measures and intensive care units are filling up with younger people, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40s and tripled for those in their 50s since December, Carissa Etienne said.
Hospitalization rates among those under 39 years have increased by more than 70% in Chile and in some areas of the United States more people in their 20s are now being hospitalized for COVID-19 than people in their 70s.
“Despite all we learned about this virus in a year, our control efforts are not as strict, and prevention is not as efficient,” Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington.
“We are seeing what happens when these measures are relaxed: COVID spreads, cases mount, our health systems become overwhelmed and people die,” she said.
Canada continues to report significant jumps in infections in highly populated provinces such as Ontario as well as in less populated territories of the North and Yukon, home to remote and indigenous communities, according to PAHO.
Puerto Rico and Cuba remain significant drivers of COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean, which is facing a new surge of the virus, PAHO directors said.
Cases are rapidly accelerating in the Guyanas and across Argentina and Colombia, where weekly case counts are five times higher today than they were this time last year and hospitals are reaching capacity in large Colombian cities.
In Central America, Guatemala is seeing significant spikes in cases and Costa Rica is reporting record-high infections.
While vaccines are being rolled out as fast as possible, they are not a short-term solution because they are in short supply, said Etienne, the World Health Organization’s regional director.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Alberta confirms first death linked to AstraZeneca vaccine
Reuters) -The province of Alberta reported its first death of a patient from a rare blood clot condition after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, its chief medical officer said.
Canada has reported at least five cases of blood clots following immunization with the vaccine, but public health officials maintain the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the potential risks.
The Alberta case, of a woman in her 50s, marks the second case of blood clots, and the only death after more than 253,000 doses of AstraZeneca were administered in the province, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said in a statement on Tuesday.
“While any death is tragic, it is important to remember that the risks of dying or suffering other severe outcomes from COVID-19 remain far greater than the risk following AstraZeneca vaccine,” Hinshaw said.
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for a comment.
Canada has had 1,243,242 confirmed coronavirus cases and 24,342 deaths, according to a Reuters tally
Last month, the province of Quebec reported Canada’s first death of a patient after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
AstraZeneca, working with the vaccine’s inventor Oxford University, was one of the leaders in the global race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Its cheap and easily transportable shot was hailed as a milestone in the fight against the crisis, but has since faced a series of setbacks.
The rare complication, which some regulators including Health Canada are calling Vaccine-Induced Prothrombotic Immune Thrombocytopenia, involves blood clots accompanied by a low count of platelets, cells in the blood that help it to clot.
Dozens of countries paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March after reports of rare, but serious, blood clots. Several of them have now resumed use either fully or with restricions after health regulators said the benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.
(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander and Sabahatjahan Contractor in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Angus MacSwan)
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