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Alberta braces for upcoming flu season, higher demand for vaccine expected – Global News

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As children get ready to go back to school in Alberta, health professionals are also preparing and bracing for flu season.

Flu season typically runs from November to April, and there are particular challenges this year because of COVID-19, including the possibility of flu season coinciding with a second wave.

However, there may be lessons learned from countries in the southern hemisphere that have already completed their flu seasons.

Countries with similar healthcare systems, such as Australia, recorded their lowest number of flu cases in recent history, according to Dr. Craig Jenne, infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary.

“This is extremely good and what we’re learning from this is we believe these low numbers are due to the physical separation and other infection control measures that were brought in to deal with COVID,” he said.

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However, it is difficult to compare Australia with what Canada could see this fall because Australia’s flu season fell around March, when the country was under severe lockdown because of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Coronavirus lockdowns might be delaying flu season in the southern hemisphere

Most parts of Alberta’s economy have reopened.

“Although we will get some protection from physical separation, handwashing, limited numbers indoors, wearing masks in particular, it is likely to be less effective than what we saw in Australia because we have reopened our businesses and our economy and our schools to a much greater extent than what Australia had during the peak of their flu season,” Jenne said.

Flu vaccination will play a critical role in what transpires in the province in the fall.

“We’re optimistic that people will understand the value of a flu shot this year. We do know if we get a large surge in influenza cases in … Alberta, this will be a heavy tax on the healthcare system,” Jenne said. “People who have a cough, fever or fatigue are going to present to the emergency room not knowing if it’s influenza or COVID.

“We’re going to see a much larger demand on our testing capacity, on our ability to do swabs on these patients so [that uses] front-line healthcare worker time, laboratory time, contact-tracing time.”

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More doses of flu vaccine ordered

In June, Alberta Health told Global News it is ordering more doses of the influenza vaccine this year.

READ MORE: Alberta doctors say fall will see spike in respiratory viruses with influenza and COVID-19

In 2019 to 2020, the province ordered 1.6 million doses of the vaccine; this year, it is ordering approximately 360,000 more doses for a total of roughly two million doses.

“We’re going to offer a high-dose flu vaccine to all seniors in continuing care facilities for the first time ever and expand our work to target at-risk populations,” a statement from Health Minister Tyler Shandro to Global News said.

The influenza immunization program typically starts in October of each year.

Higher demand anticipated for flu vaccinations

Christine Hughes, a professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta, said higher demand of the flu vaccination is anticipated this year.

Hughes cited a survey done for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, showing 57 per cent of Canadians plan to get the flu shot this year; 45 per cent of those surveyed said they got vaccinated last year.

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RELATED: More Canadians planning on getting flu vaccine amid COVID-19: survey

The same survey showed 34 per cent said they are more likely to get the flu vaccine because of COVID-19.

“I think, again, that’s similar to what was seen in other parts of the world – that there is increased interest because of COVID-19 and increased public health promotion and the importance of preventing influenza during COVID-19,” Hughes said.

Hughes said COVID-19, the flu and the common cold have overlapping symptoms so the only way to know definitively what a person may have is to use the province’s self-assessment tool and get tested. If testing is not possible, she said self-isolation is recommended until symptoms resolve.

Hughes also said it is possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time but the consequences of that are still unclear.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Long-term care system in British Columbia minimizes SARS-CoV-2 transmission – News-Medical.Net

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British Columbia found that BC was better prepared for the pandemic and responded in a more coordinated and decisive manner, leading to far fewer deaths than in Ontario.

The article is published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

As of September 10, 2020, Ontario had reported 5965 resident cases in LTC homes and 1817 resident deaths from COVID-19, compared with just 466 cases and 156 deaths in BC homes.

“The BC long-term care system before the pandemic was better prepared to minimize SARS-CoV-2 transmission and respond to outbreaks,” says lead author Michael Liu, medical and graduate student at Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, and the University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.

In a comparison of the two provinces’ preparedness and response to COVID-19, the authors found that BC’s health system had several strengths over Ontario’s.

For example, before the pandemic, the average combined per diem funding per LTC resident in BC was $222 compared with $203 in Ontario. Long-term care residents were more likely to live in shared rooms in Ontario (63%) than in BC (24%).

Links between hospitals, LTC and public health were stronger in BC, and the organizational structure of the health system was relatively stable compared with Ontario, which was undergoing significant change with the merging of regional entities and several provincial agencies into Ontario Health.

BC overall was better prepared for the pandemic, and elected leaders and public health officials responded faster and more decisively with measures to limit transmission of SARS-CoV-2 into long-term care homes.”

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, Physician, St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto & the University of Toronto

The authors recommend governments should ensure clear, consistent communications; respond rapidly and proactively; ensure disparities between for-profit and non-profit homes do not affect quality of care; move to single rooms; ensure infection prevention and control teams can support LTC homes during outbreaks; and consider organizational structures to support integration between LTC, public health and hospitals.

“Residents of long-term care homes will always be vulnerable to infections,” says Dr. Dhalla. “Our analysis highlights policies and practices that, if implemented, could help protect these vulnerable seniors from a second wave of COVID-19 as well as other infectious diseases.”

Journal reference:

Liu, M., et al. (2020) COVID-19 in long-term care homes in Ontario and British Columbia. Canadian Medical Association Journal. doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.201860.

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Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine won't be ready by US election: Report – Times of India

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WASHINGTON: US biotech firm Moderna won’t seek an emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine before November 25, its CEO told the Financial Times on Wednesday.
The news deals a blow to President Donald Trump‘s hopes of having an injection ready before the election to give his campaign a much-needed boost.
Stephane Bancel told the newspaper: “November 25 is the time we will have enough safety data to be able to put into an EUA file that we would send to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) – assuming that the safety data is good, i.e. a vaccine is deemed to be safe.”
Trump, whose approval has taken a hit over his handling of the Covid-19 crisis, has frequently hinted a vaccine could be ready before the November 3 vote.
This has raised concern among experts that his administration may attempt to interfere with the regulatory process for political reasons.
The Republican repeated his claim on Tuesday night, during a debate with his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
“It’s a possibility that we’ll have the answer before November 1,” he said.
Moderna’s vaccine is one of 11 experimental vaccines in final stage trials.
Another is being developed by Pfizer, whose CEO Albert Bourla has taken the position that his company may have a clear answer about whether their shot works by October.
Most experts are skeptical of the claim, believing that the ongoing trials will not have sufficient statistical data to prove the drug’s safety and effectiveness by that time.
Speaking to the Washington Post on Tuesday, Bourla denied he was attempting to curry favor with the president by making his October claim.
“For me, the election day is an artificial day. The end of October is an artificial day. This is how we operate. If we can bring it earlier, we will,” he said.

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Moderna COVID-19 vaccine appears safe, shows signs of working in older adults: study – Reuters

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CHICAGO (Reuters) – Results from an early safety study of Moderna Inc’s MRNA.O coronavirus vaccine candidate in older adults showed that it produced virus-neutralizing antibodies at levels similar to those seen in younger adults, with side effects roughly on par with high-dose flu shots, researchers said on Tuesday.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, offers a more complete picture of the vaccine’s safety in older adults, a group at increased risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

The findings are reassuring because immunity tends to weaken with age, Dr. Evan Anderson, one of the study’s lead researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, said in a phone interview.

The study was an extension of Moderna’s Phase I safety trial, first conducted in individuals aged 18-55. It tested two doses of Moderna’s vaccine – 25 micrograms and 100 micrograms – in 40 adults aged 56 to 70 and 71 and older.

Overall, the team found that in older adults who received two injections of the 100 microgram dose 28 days apart, the vaccine produced immune responses roughly in line with those seen in younger adults.

Moderna is already testing the higher dose in a large Phase III trial, the final stage before seeking emergency authorization or approval.

Side effects, which included headache, fatigue, body aches, chills and injection site pain, were deemed mainly mild to moderate.

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In at least two cases, however, volunteers had severe reactions.

One developed a grade three fever, which is classified as 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (39°C) or above, after receiving the lower vaccine dose. Another developed fatigue so severe it temporarily prevented daily activities, Anderson said.

Typically, side effects occurred soon after receiving the vaccine and resolved quickly, he said.

“This is similar to what a lot of older adults are going to experience with the high dose influenza vaccine,” Anderson said. “They might feel off or have a fever.”

Norman Hulme, a 65-year-old senior multimedia developer at Emory who took the lower dose of the vaccine, said he felt compelled to take part in the trial after watching first responders in New York and Washington State fight the virus.

“I really had no side effects at all,” said Hulme, who grew up in the New York area.

Hulme said he was aware Moderna’s vaccine employed a new technology, and that there might be a risk in taking it, but said, “somebody had to do it.”

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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