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Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force co-chair explains why she now backs 2nd dose delay – CBC.ca

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The co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force says she’s now “very much in favour” of delaying the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines for shots that must be administered under a two-dose regimen.

It’s a relatively new reversal for Dr. Catherine Hankins, who told CBC Radio’s The House that she resisted the idea of extending the interval between first and second doses as recently as January.

“I didn’t feel that we had the data,” Hankins told host Chris Hall. “But the population, real-world data coming in from the U.K., from Israel and even from B.C. and Quebec are convincing to me.”

On Wednesday, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the maximum interval between the two doses should be stretched to four months to increase the number of people receiving their first shot.

The committee previously recommended that the maximum interval between Pfizer-BioNTech doses should be three weeks, a number that climbed to four weeks for the Moderna vaccine and 12 weeks for the AstraZeneca-Oxford product. The newly approved Johnson & Johnson shot is a single-dose vaccine. 

The updated guidance comes from findings from two clinical trials examining the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after a single dose, as well as population health data from several countries — and two Canadian provinces — on how well those shots performed after being administered once.

While the population studies yielded lower efficacy results after one dose than the clinical trials, NACI said the difference was expected given that vaccine effectiveness tends to be lower in the general population than it is under the controlled setting of a clinical trial.

CBC News: The House15:50Vaccination frenzy grips Canada

CBC’s J.P. Tasker walks through a busy week of vaccine developments and COVID-19 Immunity Task Force co-chair Dr. Catherine Hankins discusses prospects for achieving mass immunization. 15:50

One dose still confers benefits — and reduces transmission

Hankins said it was the population health data that convinced her to change course.

“Basically, it’s showing that you have sustained protection … for two months, in terms of reducing hospitalizations and deaths, including against this B117 variant that was first identified in the U.K.,” she said.

“So you have those benefits to the individuals that get the single dose, but you have then this additional benefit that they showed in Israel, that people who get infected after they’ve had the vaccine … are much less likely to transmit to other people.”

Hankins, who is also a professor of public and population health at McGill University in Montreal, cautioned that the new recommendation does not mean people should forgo the second dose altogether.

“What’s clear is we can offer more individuals the direct benefit that [a] single dose will bring, plus the indirect benefit of reduced transmission that will avert hospitalizations and deaths for people who don’t yet have the vaccine. So to me, it’s a win-win situation.”

Before NACI released its guidelines, British Columbia had already moved to implement a four-month gap in administering doses. A number of other provinces have now extended their dose intervals to widen initial rollout efforts.

A registered nurse delivers a COVID-19 vaccine to a front-line worker at Vancouver General Hospital on March 4. British Columbia was the first province to put in place a four-month gap between vaccine doses. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Science continues to evolve

The decision has its critics — Canada’s chief science adviser, Mona Nemer, on Monday called B.C.’s plan a “population level experiment,” a comment Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said was “unfortunate.”

Nemer told CBC’s Power & Politics that data from Pfizer and Moderna is based on first and second doses being spaced weeks apart, rather than months.

Hankins said she understands the confusion that can arise from mixed messaging, but noted that the evidence is clear that one dose can confer a degree of protection and help curb chains of transmission.

“I would say this is a very pragmatic public health policy decision,” she said. “It’ll be monitored very, very closely, both in terms of breakthrough infections, variants and how they’re being dealt with, etc.”

And that means scientific guidance could change again.

“I think it’s important for the public to realize that we are gathering data all the time and it’s helping inform decisions, and they should expect there to be changes as we go forward,” Hankins said.

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Two dead in Tesla crash in Texas that was believed to be driverless

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(Reuters) -Two men died after a Tesla vehicle, which was believed to be operating without anyone in the driver’s seat, crashed into a tree on Saturday night north of Houston, authorities said.

“There was no one in the driver’s seat,” Sgt. Cinthya Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 said.

The 2019 Tesla Model S was traveling at a high rate of speed, when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the roadway, crashing to a tree and bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV said.

After the fire was extinguished, authorities located 2 occupants in the vehicle, with one in the front passenger seat while the other was in the back seat of the Tesla, the report said, citing Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman.

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The accident comes amid growing scrutiny over Tesla’s semi-automated driving system following recent accidents and as it is preparing to launch its updated “full self-driving” software to more customers.

The U.S. auto safety agency said in March it has opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles; at least three of the crashes occurred recently.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in January that he expects huge profits from its full self-driving software, saying he is “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year.”

The self-driving technology must overcome safety and regulatory hurdles to achieve commercial success.

Umanzor said the two crash victims were born in 1962 and 1951.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Berkeley, California and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by David Shephardson in Washington)

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Livid Russia expels 20 Czechs after blast blamed on Skripal suspects

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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Robert Muller

MOSCOW/PRAGUE (Reuters) -Moscow expelled 20 Czech diplomats on Sunday in a confrontation over Czech allegations that two Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were behind an earlier explosion at a Czech ammunition depot that killed two people.

Prague had on Saturday ordered out 18 Russian diplomats, prompting Russia to vow on Sunday to “force the authors of this provocation to fully understand their responsibility for destroying the foundation of normal ties between our countries”.

Moscow gave the Czech diplomats just a day to leave, while Prague had given the Russians 72 hours.

The Czech Republic said it had informed NATO and European Union allies that it suspected Russia of causing the 2014 blast, and European Union foreign ministers were set to discuss the matter at their meeting on Monday.

The U.S. State Department commended Prague’s firm response to “Russia’s subversive actions on Czech soil”.

The row is the biggest between Prague and Moscow since the end of decades of Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1989.

It also adds to growing tensions between Russia and the West in general, raised in part by Russia’s military build-up on its Western borders and in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, after a surge in fighting between government and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s east.

Russia said Prague’s accusations were absurd as it had previously blamed the blast at Vrbetice, 300 km (210 miles) east of the capital, on the depot’s owners.

It called the expulsions “the continuation of a series of anti-Russian actions undertaken by the Czech Republic in recent years”, accusing Prague of “striving to please the United States against the backdrop of recent U.S. sanctions against Russia”.

ARMS SHIPMENT

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the attack had been aimed at a shipment to a Bulgarian arms trader.

“This was an attack on ammunition that had already been paid for and was being stored for a Bulgarian arms trader,” he said on Czech Television.

He said the arms trader, whom he did not name, had later been the target of an attempted murder.

Bulgarian prosecutors charged three Russian men in 2020 with an attempt to kill arms trader Emilian Gebrev, who was identified by Czech media as the same individual. Reuters was unable to reach Gebrev for comment.

Czech police said two men using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov had travelled to the Czech Republic days before the arms depot blast.

Those names were the aliases used by the two Russian GRU military intelligence officers wanted by Britain for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018. The Skripals survived, but a member of the public died.

The Kremlin denied involvement in that incident, and the attackers remain at large.

Czech interior and acting foreign minister Jan Hamacek said police knew about the two people from the beginning, “but only found out when the Salisbury attack happened that they are members of the GRU, that Unit 29155”.

Hamacek said Prague would ask Moscow for assistance in questioning them, but did not expect it to cooperate.

“DANGEROUS AND MALIGN”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the Czechs “have exposed the lengths that the GRU will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations”.

A NATO official said the alliance would support the Czech Republic as it investigated Russia’s “malign activities”, which were part of a pattern of “dangerous behaviour”.

“Those responsible must be brought to justice,” added the official, who declined to be named.

The United States imposed sanctions against Russia on Thursday for interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, bullying Ukraine and other actions, prompting Moscow to retaliate.

On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had told Moscow “there will be consequences” if Alexei Navalny, the opposition figurehead who almost died last year after being given a toxin that Western experts say was Novichok, dies in prison, where he is on hunger strike.

The 2014 incident has resurfaced at an awkward time for Prague and Moscow.

The Czech Republic is planning to put the construction of a new nuclear power plant at its Dukovany complex out to tender.

Security services have demanded that Russia’s Rosatom be excluded as a security risk, while President Milos Zeman and other senior officials have been putting Russia’s case.

In a text message, Industry Minister Karel Havlicek, who was previously in favour of including Russia, told Reuters: “The probability that Rosatom will participate in the expansion of Dukovany is very low.”

(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Elizabeth Piper in London, Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Phil Stewart in WashingtonEditing by Kevin Liffey, Mark Heinrich, Alexandra Hudson)

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Canada’s immigration initiative for Hong Kong residents receives over 500 applications early on

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hong kong

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special immigration initiative for Hong Kong residents received over 500 applications in its first three weeks, a spokesman for Canada‘s immigration ministry said on Friday.

In November, the Canadian government said it would make it easier for Hong Kong youth to study and work in Canada in response to new security rules imposed by China on the former British colony.

“In the first three weeks that the program was open (Feb. 8 to Feb. 28), IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) received 503 applications for work permits and 10 applications for work permit extensions,” press secretary Alexander Cohen said in an emailed statement.

Canada shares the grave concerns of the international community over China’s National Security Legislation and strongly supports the right to peaceful protest, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly”, the statement added.

Canada said in February that Hong Kong graduates of Canadian universities could apply for a new category of three-year work permit from that month.

China imposed a new national security law in late June 2020 in Hong Kong, aimed at anything Beijing regards as subversion, secession or terrorism.

As China imposed the sweeping law, residents of the city moved tens of billions of dollars across the globe to Canada, where thousands were hoping to forge a new future.

Capital flows out of Hong Kong banks reaching Canada rose to their highest levels on record last year, with about C$43.6 billion ($34.87 billion) in electronic funds transfers (EFT) recorded by FINTRAC, Canada‘s anti-money-laundering agency, which receives reports on transfers above C$10,000.

The Hong Kong government has said the city has not seen significant capital outflows since the anti-government unrest first began in 2019.

Canada is a second home for many Hong Kong residents after their families moved to the Vancouver and Toronto areas ahead of the British handover of its former colony to China in 1997. After obtaining Canadian citizenship, many returned to Hong Kong, which is now home to about 300,000 Canadians – one of the largest Canadian communities abroad.

Canadian visa applications from Hong Kong, excluding visitors’ visas, rose 10% to 8,121 in 2020.

($1 = 1.2503 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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