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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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Moderna says waiving IP rights won’t help increase vaccine supply

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Moderna Inc said on Thursday that waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines will not help boost supply in 2021 or 2022, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden backed a proposed waiver that is aimed at giving poorer companies access.

 

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Canada allows Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15

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(Corrects headline and lead to make clear that Canada was not the first nation as stated by Canadian officials, adds context from Pfizer in fourth paragraph)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada is authorizing the use of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15, the first doses to be allowed in the country for people that young, the federal health ministry said on Wednesday.

Supriya Sharma, a senior adviser at the Canadian federal health ministry, said the Pfizer vaccine, produced with German partner BioNTech SE, was safe and effective in the younger age group.

“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she told reporters.

Sharma and a health ministry spokesman said Canada was the first country to grant such an approval, but a Canadian representative for Pfizer later said Algeria permitted use of the vaccine for this age group in April. The Canadian health ministry said it had no information about the discrepancy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to take a similar step “very soon,” U.S. health officials said.

Separately, authorities reported the third death of a Canadian from a rare blood clot condition after receiving AstraZeneca PLC’s’s COVID-19 vaccine. The man, who was in his sixties, lived in the Atlantic province of New Brunswick.

Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health in New Brunswick, said the province would continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Alberta reported a death from clotting on Tuesday and Quebec announced one on April 27.

“There will be rare cases where thrombosis will occur. However, the risks remain minimal compared to the risks, complications and potential consequences of COVID-19,” Russell told reporters.

Canada‘s federal government has bought tens of millions of doses of vaccines but critics complain the pace of inoculation is lagging due to bottlenecks in the 10 provinces, which are responsible for administering the doses.

Alberta will become the first province to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone aged 12 and over from May 10, Premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday, a day after he introduced tighter public health measures to combat a third wave of the pandemic.

Alberta, home to Canada‘s oil patch, has the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 in the country, with nearly 24,000 active cases and 150 people in intensive care.

Around 20% of the 1,249,950 cases of COVID-19 in Canada have been reported in people under the age of 19. Canada has recorded 24,396 deaths.

(Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Nia Williams in Calgary;Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

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Younger people filling up COVID-19 intensive care

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By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) –COVID-19 infections continue to spread fast across the Americas as a result of relaxed prevention measures and intensive care units are filling up with younger people, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40s and tripled for those in their 50s since December, Carissa Etienne said.

Hospitalization rates among those under 39 years have increased by more than 70% in Chile and in some areas of the United States more people in their 20s are now being hospitalized for COVID-19 than people in their 70s.

“Despite all we learned about this virus in a year, our control efforts are not as strict, and prevention is not as efficient,” Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington.

“We are seeing what happens when these measures are relaxed: COVID spreads, cases mount, our health systems become overwhelmed and people die,” she said.

Canada continues to report significant jumps in infections in highly populated provinces such as Ontario as well as in less populated territories of the North and Yukon, home to remote and indigenous communities, according to PAHO.

Puerto Rico and Cuba remain significant drivers of COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean, which is facing a new surge of the virus, PAHO directors said.

Cases are rapidly accelerating in the Guyanas and across Argentina and Colombia, where weekly case counts are five times higher today than they were this time last year and hospitals are reaching capacity in large Colombian cities.

In Central America, Guatemala is seeing significant spikes in cases and Costa Rica is reporting record-high infections.

While vaccines are being rolled out as fast as possible, they are not a short-term solution because they are in short supply, said Etienne, the World Health Organization’s regional director.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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