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B.C. to do clinical trial of COVID-19 drug on emergency basis to treat severe cases – Vancouver Is Awesome

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VICTORIA — British Columbia will begin a clinical trial on a COVID-19 drug therapy approved by Health Canada on an emergency basis for patients who are at risk of being hospitalized with severe illness.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the trial on the drug bamlanivimab, which has been studied elsewhere, is expected to get underway by the beginning of March.

“The clinicians here in B.C. felt they had to better understand who it works best in,” she said.

The drug would be given to patients within a certain time period after diagnosis, involving a one-hour infusion and two hours of observation.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the trial will be done at Surrey Memorial Hospital with the help of a $1-million donation from a biotech company in B.C.

Bamlanivimab is designed to block the COVID -19 virus from attaching to and entering human cells. Health Canada authorized its use in November.

Henry reported 1,236 cases of COVID-19 in the last three days and said 40 cases of two variants have been diagnosed in B.C. — 25 involving a strain first identified in the United Kingdom and the rest from the South African variant.

There have been 13 more deaths, for a total of 1,259 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

Officials are trying to understand how variants of concern are getting into communities as part of their assessment on when to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, Henry said, as she reinforced the need to follow public health orders.

“We are on track and that is why it is important for all of us to continue doing what we are doing and not throw away the progress that we have made.”

Henry suggested that if variants take hold, as they have done in other countries including the U.K., then health officials could be dealing with a new pandemic.

“It does change the game if it starts to take off and become dominant in the community,” she said.

Henry said she agrees with the province’s ombudsperson that the policy on long-term care visits needs to be more fair and consistent after complaints from those trying to see loved ones during the pandemic.

Jay Chalke said he welcomes Henry’s recent order that legally requires all long-term care homes to apply the visitor policy issued last month by the Health Ministry.

While Henry’s order expressly anticipates that changes to the policy may be needed, Chalke said he wants the ministry to make improvements because of his concerns about how it’s being implemented.

He called for mandatory timelines for decisions made by facility staff on requests for visits as well as for each stage of an appeals process. Care homes should also provide written reasons when visits are denied or restricted, he added.

“These shortcomings are unnecessarily amplifying an already difficult situation,” he said in a news release.

COVID-19 hit dozens of long-term care homes in the province and the outbreaks are responsible for the majority of deaths since the pandemic began. 

Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said all care-home residents are entitled to an essential visitor but some are only allowed one “designated” or social visitor who is denied access to the resident’s room.

Mackenzie said the decision on visitors should be left up to residents or whoever speaks for them, which she highlighted in a report in November.

“What we have is guidelines in place that allow for an essential visitor, but that does not guarantee that a resident will be allowed the essential visitor,” she said Monday.

The public health order issued Friday stipulates that residents who have an essential visitor should also get a designated or social visitor, Mackenzie said, adding the issue has caused confusion for care-home operators and the Fraser Health Authority in particular.

Mackenzie said families that have not been allowed an essential visitor have called her office to express their frustration and she’s concerned that those who have always helped feed and care for their loved ones have been treated as “an issue to be managed.”

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Seniors now able to book COVID-19 shots in two provinces, with more on the way – Canora Courier

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Tens of thousands of seniors in the Prairies secured appointments to receive COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday as officials in the two provinces hardest hit by the pandemic laid out their own plans for inoculating older residents.

The launch of vaccine reservations in Alberta saw some 20,000 slots filled as of early Wednesday afternoon, just hours after the province opened up bookings to those born in 1946 or earlier, public health officials said.

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But the process was not without hiccups as many hoping to book shots for elderly relatives reported difficulties accessing the government’s website and phone line.

Kim Fandrick, who sought to make appointments for her parents, said she logged on to the government portal at 8 a.m. only to have it crash. Later attempts saw her kicked off the site before she could submit the forms.

Fandrick, who lives with her parents in a rural area south of Edmonton, also tried the 811 health line and got a busy signal.

In the end, she managed to reserve shots for both of them, but at different times, requiring four separate trips to the city so her parents can each get two doses.

“It’s just disappointing that I couldn’t book both of them at the same time,” she said.

The provincial health agency said more staff were brought in to manage the surge in calls to 811, but Alberta’s top public health doctor has advised people to be patient, noting there are 230,000 people in the eligible age group.

Appointments were also made available Wednesday to Manitobans over the age of 95, or over 75 for First Nations individuals, as the province began to roll out vaccines to the general population. So far, only those in designated groups such as health-care workers had access to the shots.

In Quebec, one of the two provinces most affected by COVID-19, officials said residents born in 1936 or earlier would be able to reserve vaccinations starting Thursday. The Montreal region is a priority, they said.

The move comes as the province, which has so far focused its vaccine campaign on seniors’ homes, seeks to inoculate as many residents 70 or older in an effort to protect them against dangerous new variants of the virus.

“This vaccination of the most vulnerable population is going to help us protect them from the most severe form of the disease,” said Dr. Mylene Drouin, who heads Montreal’s public health department.

Ontario also laid out its timeline for vaccinating older residents on Wednesday, announcing that a booking system similar to Alberta’s would be made available March 15 for those 80 and older, and opened up to younger seniors in the weeks and months after. Health officials stressed, however, that the timeline largely depends on the province’s supply of vaccines.

The head of the province’s vaccination task force, retired Gen. Rick Hiller, said those 75 and older should start getting immunized mid-April, and those 70 and older at the start of May. Ontarians 65 and over will be next in June, and those 60 and older will start getting shots the following month.

Moderna, one of two drugmakers with a COVID-19 vaccine currently approved for use in Canada, confirmed Wednesday it will ship 1.3 million doses to Canada next month. The shipments will fulfil the company’s contract to ship two million doses by the end of March.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said 1.5 million doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech would delivered in the first two weeks of April. Pfizer is shipping 2.2 million doses in March.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Friendship Centres called on Ottawa to co-ordinate a vaccine rollout for Indigenous people living in urban communities, as it is doing in collaboration with First Nations and Inuit governments for those on reserves.

The organization’s executive director, Jocelyn Formsma, called on the federal government to consider doling out doses to clinics serving Indigenous people in urban areas, rather than waiting for the provinces to do it. She said more than 50 clinics run by her organization could administer the shots.

But Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the distribution of vaccines to Indigenous people outside of reserves will be faster and more efficient if done through the provinces.

At the same time, active cases of the virus in First Nations communities are going down across Canada, the minister said. He reported 1,443 active cases on reserves as of Tuesday, adding vaccinations have begun in 440 Indigenous communities.

Surging cases prompted officials in the Nunavut community of Arviat to declare a state of emergency Wednesday, and impose a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. effective immediately.

There are currently 27 active cases in the community of about 2,800 people, which was previously the centre of Nunavut’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.

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

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As BC COVID Cases Rise, Health Officials Say Better Days Are Ahead – Toronto Star

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Despite rising COVID-19 cases, especially in Metro Vancouver, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry didn’t announce new measures to curb the spread of the virus in a briefing today.

Henry urged British Columbians to continue to stay home when sick, wear a mask in public spaces and not socialize outside their households — public health orders that have been in place for nearly five months.

“It is concerning that we’re seeing an increase in our per-cent positivity and in our weekly average, particularly in the Lower Mainland,” she said.

“We know what to do to manage.”

The province need only stay the course to lower transmission as it continues to roll out vaccines to the most vulnerable to serious illness, she said.

But recent data shows the number of people infected is beginning to climb again after a slow decline. Earlier this month, the province was reporting about 450 new COVID-19 cases each day.

On Thursday, the province reported 617 new cases. Today, Henry said 559 new cases had been identified.

And the rolling seven-day average of new daily cases has surpassed 500 for the first time since early January.

Recent polling also suggests British Columbians are less likely to consistently follow COVID-19 guidelines than people in other provinces.

Concerns have also increased after seven schools reported students and staff had been exposed to COVID-19 variants that are believed to be more easily transmitted and potentially more likely to cause serious illness.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside acknowledged the issue in a briefing Monday.

“I can appreciate the anxiety,” she said. But she added that testing has shown the variants are not being spread within schools.

Henry said the province is testing all positive cases for evidence of a variant, and genomic sequencing has been ramped up to confirm the extent of variants in the community.

“We are paying extra attention, so we better understand how and where these are spreading,” she said.

“We’re learning about the impacts of these variants of concern,” Henry said. “But we know what we have to do to manage it.”

Henry said there are signs the province’s vaccination effort has saved lives, particularly in long-term care.

More than 220,000 people have been vaccinated, and at least 55,057 of those have had two doses.

The province reported one death due to COVID-19 today, an individual in assisted living.

There have been no new cases or deaths in long-term care in the last 24 hours, and 92 per cent of residents have had their first dose of the vaccine, Henry said.

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Outbreaks in long-term care have also dropped from almost 60 in December to 12. There are five outbreaks in assisted living facilities.

On Monday the province will announce the plan for vaccinating seniors over 80 living in the community, Henry said, which will begin shortly.

“We are in a period of vaccine hope and pandemic reality,” she said.

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21K vaccinations booked, thousands left frustrated by technical issues around Alberta's rollout – CTV Toronto

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CALGARY —
Registration opened Wednesday morning for Alberta seniors to book vaccination appointments, but the system crashed within minutes, leaving many frustrated.

“As anticipated, we are experiencing very high volumes with the AHS COVID-19 immunization booking tool,” officials wrote on social media.

“The tool remains live. If you are having trouble accessing the site, please try again shortly. Thank you for your patience.”

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said on social media he was “disappointed that the launch of the vaccine booking tool today did not go more smoothly.”

“At launch, more than 150,000 users attempted to visit the site, causing a number of technical issues,” he wrote.

To fix the problems, Shandro said network capacity had been added to 10 servers and additional staff has been brought in to answer Health Link calls.

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Shandro said 21,000 appointments had been booked.

All Albertans age 75 and older — including those who will turn 75 this year — can book appointments by calling Health Link (811) or using and an online portal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Anyone born in 1946 or earlier is eligible as part of Phase 1B of the province’s vaccination plan rollout. First Nations and Metis who are age 65 or older are also eligible. Vaccines will be provided in two doses, given five to six weeks apart.

There will be 58 sites set up to deliver vaccinations, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Tuesday.

Officials have said the first appointments will be available as early as 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

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