VANCOUVER — British Columbia is gearing up for a major COVID-19 booster shot campaign this fall with the expectation that new vaccines tailor-made to fight the Omicron variant will be available.
COVID-19 boosters will be available to people in B.C. aged 12 and over starting in September, said Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the province’s COVID-19 immunization plan.
Invitations will start to go out Monday for those most vulnerable aged 65 and older, she said Friday.
The advantage of getting the second booster shot this fall is that new Pfizer and Moderna vaccines better adapted to fight Omicron variants are likely to be available, she said.
The new vaccines still require Health Canada approval, but the review process is underway, Ballem said.
“It’s all about the fall,” she said at a news conference. “We want you to wait to get your next booster in the fall. Fall is the best time to get your next shot. That’s when the risk is highest.”
Almost 94 per cent of B.C. residents have had their first vaccine, 91.2 per cent have had a second, but just 59.5 have had their first booster, she said.
Ballem said 1.3 million people in B.C. have yet to receive a third shot and they should get that immediately to ensure better protection from COVID-19.
People who feel they need their second booster now rather than the fall can contact health authorities and arrangements will be made to get them their shot, she said.
Ballem said officials also hope to get approval by the end of July to give children aged six months to four years their vaccinations, but that also still needs regulatory approval.
Acting provincial health officer Dr. Martin Lavoie said the fall booster campaign aims to offer the most protection to people from COVID-19.
“In the fall, in the winter particularly, this is when we know respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 are expected to circulate in much higher numbers,” he said. “This is when many people get sick, and this is when the risk of getting infected increases.”
He urged people who have not received their first booster dose to do so and encouraged everybody to continue practising safe habits, including wearing masks, washing hands, staying at safe distances and staying home if sick.
B.C. is following the most recent recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which says people 65 and older and others at risk of illness should receive a fall booster, while those between 12 and 64 are encouraged to get the shot.
Lavoie said the latest wave of the Omicron variant BA.5 is increasing hospitalizations.
He said vaccine makers have learned a lot about adapting to variants and the developments are promising.
“What’s important to know now is that manufacturers have developed vaccines that will be better adapted to Omicron, which is great news,” said Lavoie.
“As the virus goes further away from the vaccine that we have now, we need to have a vaccine that is closely related to what circulates to be more effective,” he said.
Up until now, B.C. has been offering second booster shots for people 70 years and older and Indigenous people 55 years and older.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s most recent update reports 765 COVID-19 cases for the week of June 26 to July 2, up from 620 the previous week.
It also says there were 172 COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week of June 26 to July 2, while there were 209 admissions for the week prior.
The centre says there were 24 COVID-19-related deaths this past week compared to 33 deaths from June 19 to 25.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said 2.8 million people in B.C. have had their first booster but urged others to get their shot.
“Get your first booster today. Get it done today,” said Dix.
B.C. has a high vaccine acceptance rate, but the numbers can always be improved, he said.
“As a community we’ve adapted and adapted and adapted and we’re going to have to continue to adapt,” said Dix.
— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Ontario confident in monkeypox vaccine strategy, Moore says, but some seek expansion – Cornwall Seaway News
TORONTO — Ontario’s top doctor says the province’s current monkeypox vaccination strategy is working and cases of the virus appear to be levelling off, but some who work with people in shelters say the immunization program should be expanded to better serve those communities.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the province has vaccinated more than 20,000 people against monkeypox so far, with the priority group being gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men that meet certain criteria.
“We have been able to get the vaccines that we need from our federal partners, we’ve been able to staff our immunization clinics to meet the needs of our population, we have the funding necessary and the partnerships to ensure that our health system protects those at risk from this virus,” Moore said in a recent interview.
“Our response in Ontario has been quite robust. We’ve got a long ways to go still, but it appears that our total number of (monkeypox) cases is plateauing.”
But for some, the province’s vaccination strategy doesn’t do enough to protect those living in high-risk settings like homeless shelters, noting a recent confirmed monkeypox case in a person who attended a Toronto shelter.
Diana Chan McNally, a community worker at a Toronto centre for people in need, said she believes monkeypox vaccines should be broadly available to those living in shelters given the congregate nature of the settings and the fact those who live there might share belongings.
“This kind of laissez-faire attitude towards the vaccine is part and parcel of the fact that we don’t seem to prioritize creating special protocols or really taking into account the unique conditions that can lead to monkeypox infection in the shelter system,” said Chan McNally.
She also said the current monkeypox vaccine strategy doesn’t account for intersections between people who live in shelters and those who might be eligible for the shot, such as sex workers and people in the LGBTQ community experiencing homelessness, who may not have access to city-run immunization clinics.
“Why we can’t bring, even in small amounts, dedicated amounts of the vaccine to the priority groups within the shelter system, I don’t know,” she said. “I think that’s something that could potentially help mitigate any potential for spread.”
Chan McNally also said she wants to see the shot offered to shelter workers. “If we protect their health, we can protect other people in the shelter system,” she said.
Toronto Public Health held pop-up monkeypox vaccine clinics at the shelter where a case was recently reported, which Moore says is part of Ontario’s “ring immunization” strategy targeting those who may have been exposed to a known case.
Patricia Mueller, CEO of Homes First, the company that oversees the shelter where the case was confirmed, said there have been no further cases of monkeypox linked to that one. She said their staff, the city and Toronto Public Health acted quickly to move the infected individual to an isolation and recovery site and set up a vaccination clinic.
Mueller added that shelter workers are considered low risk for monkeypox infection.
Rita Shahin, associate medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health, said the city is not currently planning a larger monkeypox vaccine program for all shelter residents, though those who meet the criteria are eligible for the shot.
“We need to watch where the disease is, who’s most at risk, and if we see additional cases or spread in the shelter system, that’s certainly something we would look at,” Shahin said.
Shahin also said the city’s monkeypox vaccine supply is “fairly limited,” though Moore said the province has a “significant reserve” of doses ready for emergency situations.
Thomas Tenkate, a professor at the School of Occupational and Public Health at Toronto Metropolitan University, said he agrees men who have sex with men should remain the primary group targeted for monkeypox vaccination based on transmission trends, but added that pop-up clinics in shelters could be a way to proactively curb spread of the virus.
“If you’re going to vaccinate people who are in shelters, the strategies have to be different than the general community,” Tenkate said. “People who use shelters or are homeless, you really have to go to them.”
He said another challenge to vaccinating those in shelter settings is understanding their health history to flag any possible complications from getting the shot. “That might be a limiting factor to implementing it as well,” he said.
Public Health Ontario reported a total of 449 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the province as of Thursday, up from 423 on Tuesday. The agency’s latest report said the majority of cases — more than 77 per cent — were reported in Toronto.
It also said almost all the people infected are male, with only two reported in female patients. The virus generally doesn’t spread easily and is transmitted through prolonged close contact via respiratory droplets, direct contact with skin lesions or bodily fluids, or through contaminated clothes or bedding.
— With files from Allison Jones.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.
Major test of 1st potential Lyme disease vaccine in 20 years begins in U.S., Europe – CBC.ca
Researchers are seeking thousands of volunteers in the U.S. and Europe to test the first potential vaccine against Lyme disease in 20 years in hopes of finding a better way to fight the tick-borne threat.
Lyme disease, caused by bacteria entering the body through the bite of an infected tick, is a growing problem, with reports of case numbers rising and warming weather helping ticks expand their habitat.
While a vaccine for dogs has long been available, the only Lyme disease vaccine for humans was pulled from the U.S. market in 2002 due to lack of demand, leaving people to rely on bug spray and tick checks.
“There’s currently no Lyme disease vaccine available for humans,” according to Health Canada. “However, there are clinical trials taking place in Europe and the U.S.”
Those trials involve Pfizer and French biotech company Valneva. They are aiming to avoid previous pitfalls in developing a new vaccine to protect both adults and kids as young as five from the most common Lyme strains on two continents.
When the last vaccine was pulled from the market, Pfizer vaccine chief Annaliesa Anderson told the Associated Press that “there wasn’t such a recognition, I think, of the severity of Lyme disease.”
Robert Terwilliger, an avid hunter and hiker, was first in line Friday when the study opened in central Pennsylvania. He’s seen lots of friends get Lyme and is tired of wondering if his next tick bite will make him sick.
“It’s always a worry, you know? Especially when you’re sitting in a tree stand hunting and you feel something crawling on you,” said Terwilliger, 60, of Williamsburg, Pa. “You’ve got to be very, very cautious.”
Canadian cases under-reported
Exactly how often Lyme disease strikes isn’t clear.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites insurance records suggesting 476,000 people are treated for Lyme in the U.S. each year. Pfizer’s Anderson put Europe’s yearly infections at about 130,000.
In Canada, provincial public health units have reported 14,616 human cases of Lyme disease between 2009 and 2021. But the federal government says on its website the numbers are like under-reported “because some cases are undetected or unreported.”
Black-legged ticks, also called deer ticks, carry bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The infection initially causes fatigue, fever and joint pain. Often — but not always — the first sign is a circular red rash around the spot of the tick bite.
Early antibiotic treatment is crucial, but it can be hard for people to tell if they have been bitten, since some ticks are as small as a pin.
Untreated Lyme disease can cause severe arthritis and damage the heart and nervous system. Some people have lingering symptoms even after treatment.
How the vaccine works
Most vaccines against other diseases work after people are exposed to a germ. The Lyme vaccine offers a different strategy — working a step earlier to block a tick bite from transmitting the infection, according to Dr. Gary Wormser, a Lyme expert at New York Medical College who isn’t involved with the new research.
It does this by targeting an “outer surface protein” of the Lyme bacterium called OspA that’s present in the tick’s gut.
It’s estimated a tick must feed on someone for about 36 hours before the bacteria spreads to its victim. That delay provides time for the antibodies the tick ingests from a vaccinated person’s blood to attack the germs right at the source.
In small, early-stage studies, Pfizer and Valneva reported no safety problems and a good immune response.
The newest study will test the safety and efficacy of the new vaccine, called VLA15. The companies aim to recruit at least 6,000 people in Lyme-prone areas including the Northeast U.S. plus Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
Subjects will receive three shots of either the vaccine or a placebo between now and next spring’s tick season. A year later, they’ll get a single booster dose.
“We’re really looking at something that’s a seasonal vaccine,” Anderson said, so people have high antibody levels during the months when ticks are most active.
Volunteers for the study can be as young as five and should be at high risk because they spend a lot of time in tick-infested areas, such as hikers, campers and hunters, said Dr. Alan Kivitz, who heads one of the study sites at Altoona Center for Clinical Research in Duncansville, Pa.
In his own practice, Kivitz said “not a single day goes by that someone either has a concern about Lyme disease, could possibly have Lyme disease.”
Tick-bite prevention vaccine
The new Pfizer-Valneva vaccine is engineered somewhat differently than its predecessor and also targets six Lyme strains in the U.S. and Europe instead of just one.
The Pfizer study will span two tick seasons to get answers — but it’s not the only research into new ways to prevent Lyme.
The University of Massachusetts scientists are working on a vaccine alternative, shots of pre-made Lyme-fighting antibodies. And Yale University researchers are in the early stages of designing a vaccine that recognizes a tick’s saliva — which in animal testing sparked a skin reaction that made it harder for ticks to hang on and feed.
Since different tick species carry many diseases other than Lyme, ultimately “we’re all hoping for a tick-bite prevention vaccine,” Wormser said.
Climate hazards make 58% of infections diseases in people worse, study shows – Global News
Climate hazards such as flooding, heat waves and drought have worsened more than half of the hundreds of known infectious diseases in people, including malaria, hantavirus, cholera and anthrax, a study says.
Researchers looked through the medical literature of established cases of illnesses and found that 218 out of the known 375 human infectious diseases, or 58%, seemed to be made worse by one of 10 types of extreme weather connected to climate change, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature Climate Change.
The study mapped out 1,006 pathways from the climate hazards to sick people. In some cases, downpours and flooding sicken people through disease-carrying mosquitos, rats and deer. There are warming oceans and heat waves that taint seafood and other things we eat and droughts that bring bats carrying viral infections to people.
Doctors, going back to Hippocrates, have long connected disease to weather, but this study shows how widespread the influence of climate is on human health.
“If climate is changing, the risk of these diseases are changing,” said study co-author Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Doctors, such as Patz, said they need to think of the diseases as symptoms of a sick Earth.
“The findings of this study are terrifying and illustrate well the enormous consequences of climate change on human pathogens,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University infectious disease specialist, who was not part of the study. “Those of us in infectious diseases and microbiology need to make climate change one of our priorities, and we need to all work together to prevent what will be without doubt a catastrophe as a result of climate change.”
In addition to looking at infectious diseases, the researchers expanded their search to look at all type of human illnesses, including non-infectious sicknesses such as asthma, allergies and even animal bites to see how many maladies they could connect to climate hazards in some way, including infectious diseases. They found a total of 286 unique sicknesses and of those 223 of them seemed to be worsened by climate hazards, nine were diminished by climate hazards and 54 had cases of both aggravated and minimized, the study found.
Glaciers melting at alarming rate due to summer heatwaves, scientists warn
The new study doesn’t do the calculations to attribute specific disease changes, odds or magnitude to climate change, but finds cases where extreme weather was a likely factor among many.
Study lead author Camilo Mora, a climate data analyst at the University of Hawaii, said what is important to note is that the study isn’t about predicting future cases.
“There is no speculation here whatsoever,” Mora said. “These are things that have already happened.”
One example Mora knows firsthand. About five years ago, Mora’s home in rural Colombia was flooded _ for the first time in his memory water was in his living room, creating an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes — and Mora contracted Chikungunya, a nasty virus spread by mosquito bites. And even though he survived, he still feels joint pain years later.
Sometimes climate change acts in odd ways. Mora includes the 2016 case in Siberia when a decades-old reindeer carcass, dead from anthrax, was unearthed when the permafrost thawed from warming. A child touched it, got anthrax and started an outbreak.
Mora originally wanted to search medical cases to see how COVID-19 intersected with climate hazards, if at all. He found cases where extreme weather both exacerbated and diminished chances of COVID-19. In some cases, extreme heat in poor areas had people congregate together to cool off and get exposed to the disease, but in other situations, heavy downpours reduced COVID spread because people stayed home and indoors, away from others.
Longtime climate and public health expert Kristie Ebi at the University of Washington cautioned that she had concerns with how the conclusions were drawn and some of the methods in the study. It is an established fact that the burning of coal, oil and natural gas has led to more frequent and intense extreme weather, and research has shown that weather patterns are associated with many health issues, she said.
“However, correlation is not causation,” Ebi said in an email. “The authors did not discuss the extent to which the climate hazards reviewed changed over the time period of the study and the extent to which any changes have been attributed to climate change.”
But Dr. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard School of Public Health, Emory’s del Rio and three other outside experts said the study is a good warning about climate and health for now and the future. Especially as global warming and habitat loss push animals and their diseases closer to humans, Bernstein said.
“This study underscores how climate change may load the dice to favor unwelcome infectious surprises,” Bernstein said in an email. “But of course it only reports on what we already know and what’s yet unknown about pathogens may be yet more compelling about how preventing further climate change may prevent future disasters like COVID-19.”
© 2022 The Canadian Press
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