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Canada’s high-risk populations face COVID-19 vaccine barriers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – As Canada‘s vaccination campaign ramps up, people at higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 often lack the resources to navigate labyrinthine booking systems or the documentation that would ease their path to inoculation.

Those without provincial health insurance, such as refugee claimants or undocumented workers, often perform front-line jobs or live in neighbourhoods that put them at high risk of infection. Immunizing this population is critical to tackling Canada‘s crushing third-wave of the pandemic, epidemiologists said.

But a recent study from Toronto’s ICES – previously known as the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences – found vaccination rates are lower among Ontario’s immigrants, refugees, and those new to the provincial health system.

Twenty-two percent of refugees had at least one dose of vaccine, as did 12% of recent provincial health plan registrants, well below the 38% for Canadian-born and long-term residents, the study found.

The study did not look at people who lacked provincial health insurance.

Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, does not require people to have provincial health insurance to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine. But it can be extremely difficult for people without a health card to sign up for a shot.

Nurse Shazmah Hussein sets aside two full days of her week to work the phones and help people navigate vaccine sign-ups at Toronto’s Crossroads Refugee Clinic. In an average day, she said she may help 17 people sign up for shots after getting bounced from one phone number or website to another.

Registering for a shot takes maybe 15 minutes for someone who has Ontario health insurance. For people without the health coverage, it can take 45 minutes, even for someone familiar with the system who speaks fluent English.

“They’ve cried on the phone and said, ‘Thank you so much, you’re my angel,'” said Hussein. “I don’t think I did anything special. But just because they’ve had such a hard time navigating … it makes me feel like I’ve moved a mountain.”

Reuters called 20 pharmacies in Toronto and the neighbouring Peel region that were offering vaccines. Seven said they required health cards. Even within the same retail chain, there was variation in what a person needed to get vaccinated.

Loblaw Co Ltd, which owns Shoppers Drug Mart, told Reuters a health card was not required and “we have been doing our best to clarify criteria with stores.”

On Friday, Toronto announced it is partnering with community agencies to help people without provincial health coverage register for a vaccine.

Byron Cruz, an advocate with Sanctuary Health in Vancouver, said those without a valid visa and other documents have avoided signing up for a vaccine out of fear of exposing themselves to immigration authorities.

A spokeswoman for the province of British Columbia’s health ministry said information “provided to public health for the purpose of the immunization plan will not be shared with other organizations.”

An Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson said that province would adhere to privacy legislation but did not commit to not sharing the information with immigration authorities.

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Denny Thomas and Bill Berkrot)

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Man assaulted nurse over vaccinating his wife: Quebec cops – Toronto Sun

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The man accused the nurse of having “vaccinated his wife without his consent” before repeatedly punching the woman in the face, police said.

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Sherbrooke police have turned to the public to help track down a man who assaulted a nurse Monday at a local pharmacy.

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Police say a man showed up at the office of a nurse assigned to give vaccinations at a pharmacy on 12th Ave. N.

“He was angry and aggressive,” said police spokesperson Martin Carrier.

The man accused the nurse of having “vaccinated his wife without his consent” before repeatedly punching the woman in the face and leaving, police said, adding that the nurse was taken to hospital to treat “serious” injuries to her face.

The man being sought is 30 to 45 years old, of medium build and has a dark complexion. He has short dark hair, dark eyes and “big eyebrows.”

The man spoke French and was wearing a dark sweater and jeans. He wore earrings and had a hand tattooed with what resembled the image of a cross.

Police are urging anyone with any information on the case to call them at 1-800-771-1800.

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B.C. reports 759 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, 1 death in Island Health – CHEK

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British Columbia health officials on Wednesday reported 759 new COVID-19 cases — including 79 in Island Health — and 10 new deaths since their last update on Sept. 21.

One of the deaths was in Island Health, the province says.

The number of confirmed cases in B.C. is now at 180,937 while the death toll climbs to 1,910.

There are currently 5,458 active cases in the province, 324 people in hospital — 157 of whom are in intensive care. The provincial government says there are 636 active cases in the Island Health region.

Of the new cases identified, 79 were in Island Health, 233 were in Interior Health, 214 were in Fraser Health, 129 were in Northern Health, 101 were in Vancouver Coastal Health and three were people who normally reside outside of the country.

A total of 173,215 people in B.C. have recovered from COVID-19 while 7,739,828 doses of vaccine have been administered province-wide.

Today’s data was released as a statement to the media.

Island Health

According to the latest update on Island Health’s dashboard shows that there are 563 active cases — 44 in North Island, 180 in Central Island, and 339 in South Island — on Vancouver Island.

Thirty-five people in the region are currently in hospital with COVID-19, 20 of whom are in critical care.

Over the past 24 hours, there were 188 recoveries, 1,358 new tests for COVID-19 performed, and 2,370 doses of vaccine administered in the region. Of those doses, 37 were AstraZeneca, 1,409 were Moderna and 924 doses were Pfizer.

A total of 1,289,871 vaccine doses — 619,306 of those are second doses — have now been administered on Vancouver Island. This includes 33,465 doses of AstraZeneca, 345,767 doses of Moderna and 910,639 doses of Pfizer.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been 8,020 cases reported, 59 deaths, 355 total hospitalizations, and 7,254 recoveries recorded on Vancouver Island.

Cases and deaths continue to climb this month

With Wednesday’s announcement of 79 new cases and yet another death in Island Health, the region has now recorded 11 deaths and seen a 22 per cent increase in new cases since the beginning of September.

Since Sept. 1, total hospitalizations on the Island have risen 23 per cent while the total number of recoveries has increased by 22 per cent.

When it comes to active cases, the data isn’t as clear due to major discrepancies between the two main reporting agencies, Island Health and the BCCDC.

Island Health’s data shows that active cases in the region have increased by 31 per cent since the beginning of the month, while the BCCDC’s data shows that active cases have only increased by 18 per cent during the same period.

However, Island Health is the only agency to provide daily updates on active cases with a breakdown by region and based on their latest data update, active cases in the South Island are the highest they have ever been.

More concerning, perhaps, is that active cases on the South Island have increased 113 per cent since Sept. 8. Active cases in Central Island have only managed to climb by 10 per cent since Sept. 8 and on the brighter side, active cases in the North Island have decreased by 37 per cent during the same period.

The vaccine card effect on Vancouver Island

Time — and likely one’s perspective — will only tell whether the B.C. vaccine card system proves to be effective here on the Island. But if the provincial government’s goal was strictly to get more shots in people’s arms for the first time, then it appears to be working to a degree.

On Aug. 23, which was the day Premier John Horgan announced the vaccine card system, a total of 640,426 first doses had been administered on Vancouver Island.

That number had climbed to 649,293 — slightly more than 1 per cent — by Sept. 1, less than two weeks before the B.C. vaccine card system was to come into effect.

But by Sept. 22, more than a week after the B.C. vaccine card system was implemented, that figure had increased to 670,565 first doses, a five per cent increase since Aug. 23.

That may not seem like a lot, but that does mean 30,139 people in the region opted to get the first dose of vaccine in less than a month.

However, it is worth pointing out that the total number of vaccine doses — first and second doses combined — administered on Vancouver Island has risen by 3.3 per cent since Sept. 1 and just 1.5 per cent since Sept. 13, the day the B.C. vaccine card coming into force.

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New Zealand’s Ardern says lockdowns can end with high vaccine uptake

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.

With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.

“If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.

The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90% plus rate of vaccination.

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40% of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75% have had at least one dose.

Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.

The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID cases again.

 

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

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