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All eyes on Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking system Wednesday for AstraZeneca – Global News

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Eligible Albertans can start making appointments for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, and upgrades have been made that officials believe will prevent a repeat of last month’s system crash.

READ MORE: Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking site experiences ‘very high volumes’ as appointments open to those 75 and older

Starting Wednesday, Albertans 50 to 64 years old, as well as First Nations, Metis and Inuit people 35 to 49 years old, who do not have a severe chronic illness can call 811 or make appointments through the online portal.

There are roughly 400,000 Albertans who fall in those age groups, the province said Monday.

READ MORE: Alberta to begin Phase 2A of COVID-19 vaccine rollout March 15; plan for AstraZeneca vaccine released

AHS said it upgraded its online portal on March 3 to increase capacity and make it more convenient for Albertans to make an appointment. The health authority is also adding staff to support 811.

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“The system has been improved by making several upgrades, including adding more servers to support the website and increasing processing power.

“More network bandwidth has also been added, meaning the network can manage a higher volume of data than before,” reads a statement from AHS to Global News.


Click to play video 'Alberta to begin offering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible'



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Alberta to begin offering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible


Alberta to begin offering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible

“It’s encouraging that there has been such a high demand. At the same time, these challenges should have been anticipated,” Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease professor at the University of Alberta, said about last month’s booking issues.

“We’ve had over a year now to plan for the ultimate rollout of vaccinations.

“I hope that increasing capacity will be able, from the IT perspective, and having people managing phones etc., is going to be able to manage that increase.”

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Click to play video 'Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system'



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Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system


Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system – Feb 24, 2021

Bookings will take place by year of birth, one day at a time, while supply lasts. Albertans born in 1957, or those First Nations, Metis or Inuit born in 1972, can start booking appointments Wednesday. Those born in later years can book in the subsequent days.

Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s (EZMSA) pandemic response committee, is hopeful this change, and other upgrades, will make a difference.

“I think it appears AHS has certainly learned a lot since the first rollout,” he said.

“I certainly think it will be an improvement. Only time will tell whether or not people will obey and not book on the days they are not supposed to book.”

The portal is able to book approximately 100,000 appointments over a 24-hour period, according to AHS.

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Read more:
Alberta opens rest of Step 2 relaunch as 278 new COVID-19 cases confirmed

Dr. Don Wilson, a community physician and president of the community physicians’ division of the EZMSA, said there are indications Wednesday’s bookings will run smoother than the last time around but he does not expect completely smooth sailing.

“I still think it’s going to be slightly overwhelmed, or at least long waits to get people into queue, mainly because you’re dealing with a much larger population than dealing with the over 75,” he said.

More pharmacies have been tasked with vaccinating Albertans against COVID-19, but Wilson said vaccine rollout could speed up if family doctors were involved.

“We’re missing opportunity here to get this vaccine out. Physicians are always willing to help out. Really, it’s part of the tool chest,” he said.


Click to play video 'COVID-19 vaccines set to be delivered at some Alberta pharmacies'



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COVID-19 vaccines set to be delivered at some Alberta pharmacies


COVID-19 vaccines set to be delivered at some Alberta pharmacies – Feb 24, 2021

As of last Friday, Alberta Health told Global News that work is underway to potentially include community physicians in later phases of the rollout.

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“We will update Albertans in the weeks ahead as vaccine supply increases, and Alberta’s immunization program expands,” said spokesperson Christa Jubinville.

Definition of severe chronic illness unclear

While upgrades to the booking system have been made, it is still unclear how the province is defining “severe chronic illness” for those it does not believe should get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Monday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that, without a definition, it is confusing and said work on a list of what qualifies as a severe chronic illness is being made.

“With AstraZeneca coming sooner than anticipated, unfortunately, I recognize the timing isn’t ideal for those trying to decide if they should get AstraZeneca or not. We will be making that list available publicly very soon,” she said.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Could Albertans choose which vaccine they get?

At this point, it is not clear whether a list will be available before bookings for the AstraZeneca vaccine start Wednesday.


Click to play video 'Should AstraZeneca be given to seniors? Doctor answers top COVID-19 questions'



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Should AstraZeneca be given to seniors? Doctor answers top COVID-19 questions


Should AstraZeneca be given to seniors? Doctor answers top COVID-19 questions

Schwartz, who is of the opinion the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be withheld from any age group, said the situation about severe chronic illnesses isn’t binary, saying everyone has some degree of wellness or illness on the spectrum.

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He stresses that there have been no signals the vaccine is unsafe or lacks efficacy in particular age groups or based on comorbidities, saying there was not enough data from the clinical trials to make definitive conclusions.

However, he said the lack of a clear definition for Albertans is confusing.

“I think that people should expect that unless they already know they have a serious illness that they should expect by default that they are eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Those individuals that do have severe illnesses will know that is the case,” Schwartz said.

Vaccination will lead to protection

The province has said that Albertans who fall into Wednesday’s eligibility could also wait until later in the year to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Read more:
Alberta Health Services apologizes for ‘frustration, worry’ due to COVID-19 vaccine rollout errors

Schwartz is encouraging people to get the vaccine that is offered to them as quickly as possible.

“There is no protection while we’re waiting for another vaccine to be coming down the line. The faster you get vaccinated, the faster you’re going to be protected,” he said.

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Gibney, meanwhile, said real-life trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Scotland have shown the vaccine functions well and prevents severe illness.

“From my perspective, I would say to anyone within that age group – don’t hesitate. Get your vaccination as quickly as you can and the best vaccine is the one you can get most rapidly,” he said.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Italy approves AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65 as death toll nears 100,000'



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Coronavirus: Italy approves AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65 as death toll nears 100,000


Coronavirus: Italy approves AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65 as death toll nears 100,000

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28

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* 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

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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.

‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’

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

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LONDON —
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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