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Alaska health officials seek to boost COVID-19 vaccine rates – The Record (New Westminster)

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska health officials are seeking to boost plateauing vaccination numbers as COVID-19 cases climb in the state.

The week of July 4 marked a month of week-over-week increases in infections in Alaska, according to the health department. That was the most recent weekly update available.

State health officials say vaccines are the best defense against the spread of COVID-19.

“The vaccine effectiveness is exceptionally high. But it’s not perfect,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist.

A new report from the department shows that between Feb. 1 and June 30, there were 656 cases of COVID-19 in residents who were fully vaccinated, which included 17 people who were hospitalized and two who died, Alaska Public Media reported.

The report said 38% had no symptoms and described the two people who died as having “substantial” pre-existing conditions.

The cases represent about 4% of the 15,562 COVID-19 infections reported in Alaska during that time.

Between February and June, 391 hospitalizations and 58 deaths were reported in people who were not fully vaccinated, according to the report. The health department did not provide further details on those cases.

Those who were fully vaccinated but still got COVID-19 represent 0.2% of the roughly 300,000 Alaskans who were fully vaccinated as of June 30.

Jennifer Meyer, an assistant professor of health science at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the way in which such cases are announced on social media or elsewhere could create an illusion “that somehow these breakthrough cases are common, when they’re not,” she said.

Recently, about 325 residents have been getting vaccinated each day, state officials say, compared with as many as 10,000 early in the vaccination campaign. The latest figures from the health department show that about 52% of Alaska residents 12 or older are fully vaccinated.

McLaughlin said vaccination progress has “really plateaued.” Officials would like to see higher vaccination numbers, particularly amid concerns nationwide about the highly contagious delta variant.

“That’s the big goal that we have. And in terms of how do we focus the messaging in such a way that maximizes the likelihood that people will get vaccinated? It’s a very tricky question,” he said. “I don’t have a good answer for how to do that — I don’t think anybody does.”

The Associated Press

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African countries to receive six million Johnson and Johnson vaccines, the African Union says – News Track English

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Around six million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine will be delivered by the African Union to 27 African nations that have paid for the shipments through the end of August. AU coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa said 18 countries are finalizing loans from the World Bank and other global lenders before they make payment.

Deliveries will rise to an average of 10 million a month from September, increasing to 20 million in January until the order is fulfilled by September next year. Global pharmaceutical firms should license production of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa rather than just do piecemeal contract deals, Masiyiwa said while speaking a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced a “fill and finish” deal with South Africa’s Biovac Institute under which it will carry out the final stages of vaccine manufacturing where the product is processed and put into vials.

Pfizer and BioNTech will handle drug substance production at their facilities in Europe. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called the arrangement “restrictive” and said much more is needed to support vaccine independence in Africa.

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CDC Panel Says J&J COVID-19 Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Risks – Healthline

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  • The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee reviewed cases of a rare neurological disorder seen in some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • As of June 30, there have been 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome reported through the CDC’s vaccine safety monitoring system for Johnson & Johnson.
  • This comes out to 8.1 cases per million doses administered, which is higher than the 1.6 cases per million doses expected in the general population.

Despite reported cases of a rare, but serious, neurological disorder after vaccination, an advisory group for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday the benefits of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine “continue to outweigh the risks.”

As of June 30, there have been 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome reported through the CDC’s vaccine safety monitoring system.

This comes out to 8.1 cases per million doses administered, which is higher than the 1.6 cases per million doses expected in the general population, according to slides presented at the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meeting on Thursday.

It is also about eight times the rate of Guillain-Barré syndrome seen with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna-NIAID vaccines.

Cases reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) still need to be reviewed in depth to confirm that they fit the definition of this neurological condition.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s nerves.

Symptoms include weakness and tingling in the extremities, difficulty with facial movements or walking, vision problems, and difficulty controlling the bladder or bowel.

This condition can also occur after a respiratory or digestive tract infection, including after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Of the 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome reported through VAERS, 95 people were hospitalized, according to slides presented on Thursday. Ten patients were intubated and/or required mechanical ventilation and one person died. The other five cases were not serious.

Most of the cases occurred within 42 days following vaccination and in people 18 to 64 years old. In addition, 61 percent occurred in men.

ACIP member Dr. Pablo Sanchez, a pediatrician at The Ohio State University, said during the meeting that although he agrees the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks, based on current data he would recommend an mRNA vaccine over the J&J vaccine.

However, “I have no problem continuing to have the [J&J] product available,” he added. “But I think that those risks have got to be stated up front to the person who’s receiving that vaccine.”

The ACIP’s review of these cases comes about a week after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the fact sheets for the J&J vaccine to include a warning about the risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome within 42 days after vaccination.

On July 12, the FDA updated the fact sheets for both recipients and caregivers, and healthcare providers.

ACIP chair Dr. José Romero said the one-dose J&J vaccine is an important tool for addressing the recent surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations — almost all in unvaccinated people.

“Having access to a single-dose vaccine is very important to move us out of this situation,” he said, noting there are “individuals who will not come back for a second dose” of an mRNA vaccine.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) at the FDA, said in a video on Twitter that the benefits of getting vaccinated greatly outweigh the risks of rare side effects such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

“COVID-19 is very real, and it’s unfortunately very much still with us. It is making a comeback [in the United States],” he said. “So if you’re not vaccinated, particularly if you’re in a community where there are low vaccination rates, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated.”

The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee also discussed the possibility of COVID-19 vaccine booster doses for people who are immunocompromised.

These people are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 and may not generate as robust an immune response to the standard vaccine dose regimen.

During Thursday’s meeting, CDC staff suggested that both regulatory and non-regulatory approaches will be needed to help keep immunocompromised people safe from COVID-19.

Currently, the FDA’s emergency approvals allow people to receive one dose of the J&J vaccine or two doses of an mRNA vaccine.

The FDA would need to modify its current emergency use authorization (EUA) to allow a booster dose to be given. Another route would be full FDA approval, which would allow doctors to recommend a booster dose “off-label.”

FDA liaison Dr. Doran Fink said during the meeting that the agency does not yet have the data on the vaccines to support regulatory actions that would allow for booster doses.

Several studies have already looked at the benefits of booster doses for immunocompromised people.

The ACIP reviewed some studies during the meeting which found that among immunocompromised people who didn’t have a detectable antibody response to two doses of an mRNA vaccine, 33 to 50 percent did after a third dose.

However, without a decision from the FDA on boosters, some immunocompromised people are “taking matters into their own hands” and “proceeding with additional vaccine doses as they see fit,” said ACIP member Dr. Camille Kotton, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Until booster doses are available to immunocompromised people in the U.S. — and maybe even after — the CDC recommends that these people continue to take other precautions, such as wearing a face mask while in indoor public spaces, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds.

The agency also says that family members and close friends can help protect immunocompromised people by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 themselves.

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A look at COVID-19 reopening plans across the country – OrilliaMatters

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As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and case numbers drop across the country, the provinces and territories have begun releasing the reopening plans for businesses, events and recreational facilities.

Most of the plans are based on each jurisdiction reaching vaccination targets at certain dates, while also keeping the number of cases and hospitalizations down. 

Here’s a look at what reopening plans look like across the country:

Newfoundland and Labrador:

The province’s reopening plan begins with a transition period during which some health restrictions, like limits on gatherings, will loosen. 

Requirements for testing and self-isolation lifted entirely for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers on Canada Day, while those requirements will ease over the next few months for travellers with just one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

If case counts, hospitalization and vaccination targets are met, the province expects to reopen dance floors as early as Aug. 15, and lift capacity restrictions on businesses, restaurants and lounges while maintaining physical distancing between tables.

As early as Sept. 15, mask requirements for indoor public spaces will be reviewed.

Nova Scotia:

Nova Scotia has further reduced COVID-19 public health orders after entering the fourth phase of its reopening.

Under the new rules, retail stores can operate at full capacity, churches and other venues can operate at half capacity or with a maximum of 150 people, and up to 50 people can attend outdoor family gatherings.

Capacity limits for dance classes, music lessons and indoor play spaces have also been lifted.

Organized sports practices, games, league play, competitions and recreation programs can involve up to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors without physical distancing.

Day camps can operate with 30 campers per group plus staff and volunteers, following the day camp guidelines. In addition, professional and amateur arts and culture rehearsals and performances can involve up to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors without physical distancing.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated residents of long-term care homes can now have visitors in their rooms and visit their family’s homes, including for overnight stays.

New Brunswick:

The province is lifting all public health orders next Friday. That means by midnight on July 30, all limits on gatherings will be lifted, including in theatres, restaurants and stores. The mask mandate will also be allowed to expire. 

New Brunswick had earlier moved into the second phase of its reopening plan, which opened travel without the need to isolate to all of Nova Scotia after earlier opening to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Travellers from elsewhere in Canada who’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can enter the province without the need to isolate, while those who haven’t had a shot must still isolate and produce a negative test before being released from quarantine.

Restaurants, gyms and salons can also operate at full capacity at the moment as long as customer contact lists are kept.

Prince Edward Island: 

Prince Edward Island has dropped its requirement that non-medical masks be worn in public indoor spaces.

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says masks are still encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and businesses are free to adopt stricter rules.

Officials say those who serve the public, such as in restaurants, retail stores and hair salons, should continue to wear a mask.

All health-care facilities will continue to require masks until 80 per cent of eligible P.E.I. residents are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the province has allowed personal gatherings to increase so that up to 20 people can get together indoors and outdoors. Restaurants are allowed to have tables of up to 20. Special occasion events like backyard weddings and anniversary parties of up to 50 people hosted by individuals are permitted with a reviewed operational plan.

Organized gatherings hosted by a business or other organization are permitted with groups of up to 200 people outdoors or 100 people indoors.

On Sept. 12, the province expects physical distancing measures to be eased, as well as allowing personal and organized gatherings to go ahead without limits. 

Quebec: 

Quebec’s government has removed capacity restrictions in retail stores across the province and reduced the two-metre physical distancing health order to one metre.

Quebecers from separate households are now required to keep a one-metre distance from one another indoors and outdoors instead of two metres. 

The previous two-metre distance now applies only at places characterized by physical activity or singing.

Outdoor events are limited to a maximum of 5,000 people, while Indoor events are capped at 3,500 spectators.

Fans and those attending theatres or other performance venues must keep at least one empty seat between each other, and wearing a mask in public spaces remains mandatory.

All of Quebec is now at the lowest green alert level under the province’s COVID-19 response plan as public health restrictions continue to ease.

Last month, the province permitted gyms and restaurant dining rooms to reopen. Supervised outdoor sports and recreation are also allowed in groups of up to 25 people.

Quebec ended its nightly curfew on May 28, and also lifted travel bans between regions.

Ontario:

Ontario has moved to the third step of its reopening plan, allowing for more indoor activities including restaurant dining and gym use, while larger crowds are permitted for outdoor activities. 

Masking and physical distancing rules, however, remain in place.

Social gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Religious services and other ceremonies are allowed indoors with larger groups of people who are physically distanced.

Nightclubs and similar establishments are open to 25 per cent capacity. Crowd limits have expanded for retail stores and salons, which can offer services that require masks to be removed.

Spectators are permitted at sporting events, concert venues, cinemas and theatres, with larger limits on crowds for outdoor events. 

Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, bingo halls and amusement parks are also open with larger crowd limits on outdoor attractions. 

Manitoba:

Manitoba is loosening restrictions and allowing extra freedoms for people who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as it moves into the second phase of its reopening plan.

Indoor gatherings are now allowed for up to five people, on top of those who live in a household, and 25 people in indoor public spaces. Outdoor gatherings are expanded to 25 people on private property and 150 in public spaces. 

Restaurants and bars are allowed up to 50 per cent capacity and opening hours are extended until midnight. Retail stores can run at 50 per cent capacity or 500 people, whichever is lower. Fitness centres can open at 50 per cent capacity, but masks are still required.

Outdoor weddings and funerals can have up to 150 people and indoor events now have a limit of 25. Faith-based gatherings can expand to half capacity or 150 people indoors.

Businesses, such as casinos, museums and movie theatres, can open at 50 per cent capacity but only fully vaccinated Manitobans can take part. An upcoming Blue Bombers CFL game will also be open fully to fans who are double-vaccinated.

Saskatchewan:

Saskatchewan has removed all public health orders — including the province-wide mandatory masking order, as well as capacity limits on events and gathering sizes.

Premier Scott Moe says the province decided to go ahead with full implementation of Step 3 of its Reopening Roadmap because more than 70 per cent of residents over the age of 18 and 69 per cent of those over 12 have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite the lifting of the health orders, Regina and Saskatoon say they will still keep up extra cleaning in municipal facilities.

Alberta: 

All remaining COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on July 1.

There are no longer limits on weddings, funerals or bans on indoor social gatherings. In addition, there are no more limits on gyms, sports or fitness activities, no more capacity limits at restaurants, in retail stores or in places of worship.

Anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will still be required to self-isolate and protective measures at continuing care centres may remain.

The overall requirement for masks in public indoor spaces has ended, but masks may still be required in taxis, on public transit and on ride shares.

Some remaining COVID-19 health restrictions in continuing-care centres have also been eased.

The province says it is no longer limiting the number of visitors, since vaccination rates are rising and there have been few cases in care homes.

Visitors, however, still need to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms or known exposure, and masks are still required in common areas.

The province recommends people wear a mask at all times when visiting a care home if they have not been fully vaccinated, including children under 12.

Limits on dining and recreation activities have been eliminated, and residents are not required to be screened if they are re-entering the building or go into quarantine if they have gone off site.

British Columbia:

The province took the next step in its reopening plan on Canada Day when most COVID-19 restrictions were removed and outdoor gatherings of up to 5,000 people got the go ahead.

Restaurants and pubs no longer have limits on the number of diners, but people are still not allowed to mingle with those at other tables. Masks are no longer mandatory and recreational travel outside the province can resume.

Casinos and nightclubs are open for the first time in 16 months, but some barriers remain in place and socializing between tables is not allowed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says some businesses may want people to continue wearing masks for now, and everyone should comply with those requirements or face the potential of fines.

Meanwhile, visitors to long-term care homes will soon be allowed to see loved ones without COVID-19 restrictions. Unscheduled visits resumed July 19, but staff will be required to report whether they have been immunized.

All COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be removed on Labour Day. 

Nunavut:

Public health orders affecting what is allowed to open vary by community.

Restrictions in Iqaluit were eased on July 2. Travel restrictions in and out of Iqaluit have been lifted. A household can now have up to 10 people in their home and up to 50 people can gather outdoors.

Theatres and restaurants can also open at 25 per cent capacity or 25 people, whichever is less.

Meanwhile in Kinngait and Rankin Inlet, outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people and those indoors are restricted to a household plus 15 people. Restaurants and bars are allowed to open for regular business at 50 per cent capacity, and there must be a two metre distance between tables, with no more than six people seated or around each table.

Northwest Territories:

Up to 25 people are allowed in a business that is following an approved COVID-19 plan. Households can have up to 10 people with a maximum of five guests from another household.

Non-essential travel outside the territory is not recommended, and leisure travel into the territory is not permitted.

The territory is no longer requiring masks to be worn in public places in Yellowknife and three other communities.

Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola says it’s still a good idea to wear a mask indoors when there is a crowd, poor ventilation, or shouting or singing.

Yukon:

Yukon has expanded the rules for gatherings, allowing up to 200 people to get together, as long as masks are worn indoors and other health protocols are followed. 

Fully vaccinated people can have personal gatherings of up to 20 people indoors and 50 outdoors, but the unvaccinated are encouraged to stick with their “safe six” because they are at significantly higher risk. 

Bars and restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity with restrictions.  

The government says starting Aug. 4, people returning to the territory will not be required to self-isolate and masks in indoor public places will not be required.

Bars and restaurants will also be allowed to return to full capacity without the need for physical distancing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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