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Albertans urged to sign up for AstraZeneca vaccine as province launches first stage of rollout –



As Alberta begins its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, there is still a lot of confusion about who should get it and who should wait.

On Wednesday at 8 a.m., all Albertans turning 64 this year (those born in 1957) can start booking their AstraZeneca vaccine through Alberta Health Service’s online booking portal or by calling Health Link at 811.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit people aged 49 (born in 1972) can book vaccines through Health Link only.

This is the first step in a staggered distribution plan for Albertans between the ages of 50 and 64 who want this particular vaccine and do not have a severe chronic illness. The province says appointments will be rolled out in stages by birth year, as long as supplies last.

Pharmacies are not yet carrying the AstraZeneca vaccine — which will be given in two doses about 16 weeks apart.

Those eligible also have the option to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or “Covishield,” which is the Serum Institute of India’s version that Health Canada approved last month.

Who should get it?

There are a lot of questions about who should get the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Some of the confusion was sparked by the release of conflicting information as it went through the Canadian approval process.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended against giving it to people aged 65 and older because the information on its efficacy in that age group was limited. That came after Health Canada authorized its use in adults of all ages.

As a result, it is not being offered to seniors over 65 in Alberta. Quebec, on the other hand, recently decided to offer it to seniors over 65.


Albertans born in 1957 can start booking their AstraZeneca shots on the AHS website or by calling Health Link at 811starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday. (Alberta Health Services)

“That core key information, does this vaccine work and is it safe? That message has been confused by the variability of the information that’s come out,” said Dr. Jim Kellner, infectious disease physician, professor of pediatrics at the University of Calgary and a member of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force of Canada.

“I think in time we’ll see that this is a very good vaccine and that anybody should feel comfortable getting this as a vaccine as opposed to another vaccine.”

According to Kellner, while information about Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was distributed based on very large single clinical trials, there were a number of clinical trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which muddied the waters.

“I think with a vaccine like the AstraZeneca vaccine where the information has come from different sources — different clinical trials in different settings, using different doses, different dose schedules — it has inevitably led to some confusion about just how effective is this vaccine in all aspects.”     

Chronic conditions

Alberta Health also recommends the AstraZeneca vaccine only be used in people who do not have a “severe chronic illness.” But, even as distribution begins, what constitutes a severe chronic illness has yet to be defined.  

Albertans between 18 and 64 — who have chronic underlying health conditions — are included in Phase 2B of the vaccine rollout and are expected to be eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in May.

“I acknowledge that that is confusing right now,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw during Monday’s daily COVID-19 briefing. “Unfortunately I recognize the timing isn’t ideal for those who are trying to decide if they should get AstraZeneca or not. We will be making that list available publicly very soon.”

On Tuesday, CBC News contacted Alberta Health to find out when that information will be made public and a spokesperson would only say it will be released “soon.”  

According to Kellner, the list will likely include conditions that are known to put people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

“I expect the list is going to … include things like obesity, important underlying conditions — I should expect — like diabetes, uncontrolled high-blood pressure and things like that.”

To further complicate matters, healthy Albertans in the target age group can choose to wait and get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead. They would be eligible in Phase 2D of the rollout, which is expected closer to June.

Albertan Karl Kuhnlein, 90, and family wore party hats to celebrate Kuhnlein’s vaccination against COVID-19 on Feb. 24, 2021. (Alberta Health Services)

Worries about waiting

“The numbers have shown that … although perhaps we saw slightly lower numbers for preventing infection, this vaccine was just as good as the others at preventing severe disease and critically preventing death,” said Craig Jenne, associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.

Jenne says anyone with questions about whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is a good fit for them should ask their doctor.

But he’s concerned some eligible Albertans may decide to hold off — putting them unnecessarily at risk.

“It would be pretty tragic if you could have been vaccinated and you weren’t and then you caught the virus and ended up hospitalized, or worse in intensive care or lose your life because you didn’t opt for a vaccine that was made available to you,” he said.

Jenne also worries about the broader community impact if too many people decide against the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dr. Craig Jenne, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, says people with questions about whether the AstraZeneca is right for them should talk to their doctor (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

“If we have people that are offered a vaccine and people are refusing to receiving it or delaying receiving it, we are creating these holes in the community where we could have protection.… We’re really inviting a rise in infections, a rise in hospitalizations and the need to not only prolong restrictions, but a significant risk of losing other members of our community,” he said.

“So when we have an offer for protection I would really recommend that people take that offer and get protected as soon as possible.”

The province is expecting 58,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week.

In an open letter to Albertans on Tuesday, AHS said while it will be offered in communities in each health zone, some people will need to travel outside their communities to receive it.

AHS — which has acknowledged serious problems with its earlier vaccine rollout for people 75 and older — says the online booking system and Health Link have been improved and have the capacity to book about 5,000 appointments an hour. 

“It is one more step towards the end of the pandemic, and a return to normal life,” the letter said.

“With every dose administered, we reduce the pressure on our healthcare system, lower the risk of community spread, and further protect the health of Albertans.”

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28



* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets



By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.


The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry



British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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