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Canada's vaccine reserve exceeds 4 million doses, prompting calls for better tracking of donations – CBC News



The federal government’s central COVID-19 vaccine inventory has far exceeded its target of four million doses in recent months — at times holding more than triple that amount, according to a CBC analysis.

Global vaccine equity advocates say the figures show that Canada was keeping extra doses in reserve at a time when the demand for booster shots wasn’t yet there and while several lower-income countries struggled to get vaccines.

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As Canada’s vaccination drive kicked into gear over the summer, the federal government said it would maintain a reserve of about four million shots for Canadians to access, and any inventory flagged as excess would be donated to other countries.

But an analysis of the federal government’s online archives using the Wayback Machine shows that central vaccine inventory data hasn’t dipped toward the four-million-dose mark since that pledge was made by then Procurement Minister Anita Anand on Aug. 12.

At its lowest, the reserve was at 6.5 million doses around mid-November. At its highest, it was at more than 13 million doses, according to federal data.

As of Thursday, the federal reserve sat at around 6.5 million doses.

The federal reserve figures do not include any excess vaccines in provincial or territorial reserves. There are currently 16 million doses in the federal and provincial reserves combined, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday.

The figures highlight that Canada “absolutely could be doing a lot more” to follow through on its pledge to support the developing world, said Adam Houston, medical policy and advocacy officer for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.

“It’s been very troubling at a time of a very serious global vaccine inequity,” said Houston. “I think it also underscores the fact that Canada did take more than it needed.”

As the Omicron variant spreads throughout Canada and the world, numerous Canadian doctors and advocates have said that getting the world vaccinated is key to stopping further spread and mutation of the coronavirus. 

With booster shots now rolling out to more Canadians, Houston and other advocates say the federal government needs to be more transparent moving forward about its plans for excess doses and donations to lower-income countries.

Central vaccine inventory

In announcing a donation of 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine to low and middle-income countries last August, Anand pledged that the federal government would continue to support the developing world. 

“Going forward, our government will maintain a reserve of vaccines of approximately four million doses that will be managed by Minister [Patty] Hajdu and the [Public Health Agency of Canada], in co-ordination with the provinces and territories,” she said.

“The purpose of the reserve is to ensure that vaccines are on hand for Canadians when they are needed while, at the same time, ensuring that doses are available for other countries.”

Canadian doses identified as surplus, she said, would be donated to international partners “on an ongoing basis as negotiated and facilitated” by then-International Development Minister Karina Gould.

WATCH | Federal government promises vaccine reserve cap:

Federal government promises vaccine reserve cap

6 hours ago

Duration 1:38

Former Procurement Minister Anita Anand on Aug. 12 said Canada will maintain a reserve of about four million vaccines for Canadians to access as needed, and said the rest will be used in other countries. 1:38

Having some extra doses on hand is reasonable, considering vaccine deliveries and demand don’t always match perfectly, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.

“But at the same time, having that big of a reserve is a problem,” he said. “Not only a problem with the context of eight million doses in the federal reserve, and likely more in provincial reserves. There’s a problem that those doses now have to be administered on our soil.”

World Health Organization and UNICEF officials have said some countries are receiving excess vaccines from wealthier countries that are about to expire, making it difficult to distribute them.

“It grew and it kept growing, even after vaccine campaigns slowed down,” Chagla said of the federal reserve.

Officials posed next to Canada’s first donated doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which arrived in three countries in Africa on Sept. 2, 2021. The doses were part of a Canadian pledge to COVAX. (Gavi)

Canada’s pledges

Throughout the pandemic, Canada has provided vaccines and financial support to other countries through global efforts like the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative, which pools funds from wealthier countries to buy vaccines for those countries and to ensure low and middle-income countries also have access.

As of Thursday, Canada has donated more than 9.2 million surplus vaccine doses through COVAX. Canada has also shared 762,080 doses of AstraZeneca through bilateral arrangements with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“One of the big concerns about donation is that Canada has not shared a lot of doses,” said Houston.

“When you think about the fact that, much of this time, we’ve had more than 10 million doses in the central vaccine inventory alone, that really raises a lot of questions about Canada’s ability to do more.”

As of Thursday, Canada has donated over 9.2 million surplus vaccine doses through COVAX. (Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

In a statement, a Health Canada spokesperson said that when vaccine supply is “deemed surplus to domestic needs, the Government of Canada works to donate these doses.”

The statement went on to say the federal government has worked with provinces and territories to make sure “sufficient supply” is available for vaccination campaigns across the country.

“The Government of Canada also holds doses on behalf of provinces and territories that have already been allocated for domestic use, including supply to support booster campaigns,” the statement said.

Public Services and Procurement Canada deferred comment to Health Canada.

Need for transparency

Vaccine equity advocates say Canada needs to be more transparent about what it is doing with its excess doses moving forward, as at least a million doses have already expired here.

“We do not need to have the kind of stockpiles of six to 10 million doses more than we need. There’s just a huge risk there — that’s a risk of expiry,” said Julia Anderson, CEO of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization that aims to enhance Canada’s global impact and reputation.

“Canadians need vaccines to get into arms. And that’s both to get into Canadian arms but, really, the race now is to get it into arms around the world if you don’t want another Omicron that is much more deadly.”

In particular, details like timelines are needed on some of Canada’s pledges, advocates say.

“I actually want them to have a mandate, a timeline and a plan to make sure that as vaccines are in excess, that they’re actually going to be given globally,” said Ananya Tina Banerjee, an assistant professor at McGill University’s School of Population and Global Health and at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 

“There needs to be a zero-excuses approach to solving this global challenge if Canadians want their lives back,” said Anderson.

Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.

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Blend of optimism and caution highlights Canada's COVID-19 forecast – CTV News



Across Canada a blend of optimism and caution is emerging as provinces and territories revise their strategies for riding out the latest wave of the pandemic.

In Saskatchewan where rising hospital admissions and staff shortages due to COVID-19 are a growing concern, the provincial health authority says it is looking at redeploying staff from other government departments to bolster the health-care system.

Next door in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney says there are signs the province has “reached and surpassed” peak COVID-19 cases in the fifth wave. But he is still warning that hospitalizations — currently at record levels — will continue rising and put more pressure on an already overwhelmed health system.

In an effort to cope with that scenario the province says it will create new pandemic response units in Edmonton and Calgary.

More than 2,100 new COVID cases were reported in British Columbia Thursday as the province announced that 200-thousand COVID-19 test kits will be distributed among elementary and high schools to try to keep them open.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week that he’s confidant the latest COVID wave powered by the Omicron variant has now crested. However, Doctor Gerald Evan — one of Ontario’s COVID advisers — has warned that Ford is acting too soon with his plan to start easing health restrictions at the end of January.

Quebec’s Health Department reported a slight dip in COVID hospitalizations Thursday, its first since Dec. 16. But unlike Ontario, Premier Francois Legault said the situation in his province’s hospitals remains too fragile to start loosening restrictions that have kept gyms, bars and entertainment venues closed since December.

In Atlantic Canada there are glimmers of optimism, with Newfoundland and Labrador announcing that students in kindergarten to Grade 12 will head back to in-class learning on Tuesday, and Prince Edward Island reporting COVID-19 recoveries are currently outpacing new cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.

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Public Health Agency of Canada involved in 'error' on trucker vaccine rules: sources – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

Published Friday, January 21, 2022 5:20AM EST

Last Updated Friday, January 21, 2022 5:20AM EST

OTTAWA — Turmoil and confusion over whether truckers would remain exempt from the vaccine mandate last week stemmed from bureaucrats misinterpreting policy in more than one federal agency — including the one that co-ordinates Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trucking industry was caught by surprise Jan. 12 when the Canada Border Services Agency sent a statement to media saying that unvaccinated and partially vaccinated truck drivers crossing into Canada from the United States would remain exempt from the vaccine mandate that had long been expected to come into force last weekend.

The federal government reversed itself again the next afternoon with a statement that said the information shared the day before had been sent “in error.” The exemption would still end Jan. 15, meaning truck drivers would need to be fully vaccinated if they wanted to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19 before crossing into Canada.

The government provided no more explanation for the botched messaging, which one trucking industry association said had prompted some unvaccinated big-riggers to be dispatched across the border during the period of time when everyone thought Ottawa had backed down.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had been consistent that the exemption would end this month.

“There was a miscommunication from an official last week that contradicted that, that was quickly corrected,” he said.

The Canadian Press has learned the miscommunication went beyond one official and even beyond one department, stemming from confusion among officials over whether a key government order-in-council on COVID-19 mandates covered truckers or not. An order-in-council lays out decisions made by cabinet, such as regulations or appointments.

Four federal government sources with direct knowledge of what happened behind the scenes shared the details on the condition they not be named, as they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The confusion spilled into the public realm after a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, issued a statement on the evening of Jan. 12.

“I am reaching out to you today to provide an update on our previous response,” she wrote, adding that she could now say unvaccinated truckers crossing into Canada from the U.S. would remain exempt from testing and quarantine requirements. That spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about the statement.

One of the sources said the border agency only issued that statement after it consulted with the Public Health Agency of Canada, which told them that day that truckers would retain their exemption from the vaccine mandate beyond Jan. 15.

In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada had drafted a similar statement to be issued on Jan. 12. That statement, which has been viewed and verified by The Canadian Press, said: “Unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated, Canadian truck drivers arriving at the border (would) remain exempt from pre-arrival, on arrival and post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements … as crew members.”

It also mentioned the United States would require Canadian truckers to provide proof of vaccination to enter that country beginning Jan. 22.

Attached to the statement were multiple sources, including orders-in-council for COVID-19.

Another source said the border agency had started hearing from the public health agency that day that truckers were not going to be included in the vaccine mandate after all. When the public health agency sent its memo, the border agency moved quickly to share the policy shift publicly. Officials were under the impression they were correcting information they had been providing for days that truckers would be part of the change.

The mistake, the source said, stemmed from an order-in-council issued by cabinet that was interpreted within the public health agency as a sign the policy on truckers had changed. That interpretation was wrong, however, as the government intended the exemption to end.

The Liberal government had announced last November the exemption for truck drivers would end mid-January, which sparked an outcry among truckers.

Trade associations on both sides of the border had been pushing for a delay to the restriction on unvaccinated truckers, which they said could put added strain on supply chains amid the latest COVID-19 surge and cause severe worker shortages. The first source said the supply-chain problems had also caused misgivings within the government.

The Canadian Press reached out to both the federal public health and border agencies for comment about the behind-the-scenes communications mistake.

Neither commented on what had gone wrong when asked for comment Thursday but reiterated that the exemption for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated truck drivers had ended Jan. 15.

Eric Morrissette, a spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the measures were announced in November and restated Jan. 13 (the day the government corrected its mistake).

“The measures have been the subject of several engagements with industry stakeholders in advance of the Jan. 15 coming into force date. In the case of truck drivers, this included meetings with industry and labour associations,” he said in the written statement.

The Canada Border Services Agency also noted in its statement Thursday that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign national truck drivers who do not have a right to re-enter will be turned away at the border and directed back to the United States.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations say up to 26,000 of the 160,000 drivers who make regular trips across the Canada-U.S. border will likely be sidelined as a result of the vaccine mandate for truckers in both countries.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

— with files from Christopher Reynolds in Montreal and Mia Rabson in Ottawa.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday – CBC News



The latest:

Quebec seems to have reached a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations, but the province “can’t afford” to lift any more measures aimed at slowing the spread of infections, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

“Today, finally, we had a net decrease of hospitalizations, so 14 fewer people in hospital … [and] for the time being, things seem to be stabilizing at around 3,400 hospitalizations,” he told reporters.

However, Legault noted that Quebec is still missing about 12,000 employees in its health-care network, who are absent due to COVID-19, so people in the province should “stand in solidarity,” continue to follow measures, “stay prudent” and “think about hospital staff.”

“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible, to protect the lives of Quebecers.”

Quebec on Thursday reported 3,411 hospitalizations, with 285 people in intensive care. The province’s COVID-19 situation report, which is updated daily, showed 98 additional deaths. The province also reported 6,528 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Ontario to gradually lift restrictions

In neighbouring Ontario, Premier Doug Ford on Thursday announced a phased approach to lifting restrictions.

Among the changes, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, cinemas, museums and zoos — which have been closed since early this month — will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity on Jan. 31.

Ford said there will be 21 days between each reopening step, noting that pauses are a possibility if health indicators aren’t trending the right way.

“If trends remain stable or improve, Ontario will move to the next step on Feb. 21, and then March 14,” he said.

The provincial COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday showed hospitalizations at 4,061, with 594 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 75 deaths, though health officials noted the number reflected a data catch-up.

Ontario also reported 7,757 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney on Thursday said the province would only consider relaxing COVID-19 restrictions further if there is a “sustained decline” in pressure on hospitals, which “would follow a sustained decline in new cases, of course.”

“I think we can reasonably expect to see 1,500 or more COVID patients in non-ICU beds when we reach the hospitalization peak a little later in January,” Kenney said at a news briefing.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province increased to 1,131 on Thursday, up by 30 from the previous day. Of those patients, 108 were in ICUs, a number unchanged from Wednesday. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | The life-saving decisions inside an Ontario ICU: 

The life-saving decisions inside an Ontario ICU

1 day ago

Duration 3:52

CBC News goes inside the intensive care unit of a Scarborough, Ont., hospital to witness the life-saving decisions staff have to make, where staff describe the common factors among patients. 3:52

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

In Atlantic Canada, students in Newfoundland and Labrador will be back in the classroom as of next Tuesday, Premier Andrew Furey announced on Thursday. 

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at the same briefing that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 had risen to 20 — the highest level of hospitalizations the province has seen in the pandemic. That figure includes four people in critical care, a statement from the province said.

The province also reported two additional deaths due to COVID-19 and 360 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Fitzgerald said school is important to children not just for their academic well-being — but also for their physical and emotional well-being. 

“COVID is circulating in our communities, and we will see that reflected in schools,” she said, noting that the province’s system can withstand a rise in cases among a “very low-risk age group.”

“At this time, the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.”

The province will stay in Alert Level 4 as kids head back to class, which means officials will continue to urge people to stay home as much as possible.

New Brunswick on Thursday reported a total of 112 people in hospital with COVID-19, down from a record high of 123 on Wednesday. Of those, 12 were in intensive care, up from 11 the previous day.

The province also reported 488 new lab-confirmed cases and three additional deaths.

“The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated and those who are over six months from their second dose,” the New Brunswick health department said in a statement.

In Nova Scotia, health officials on Thursday reported three additional deaths. The number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 rose by two to 85 patients. Twelve remained in ICU, a number unchanged from Wednesday.

The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.

Prince Edward Island on Thursday reported the number of people in hospital for treatment of COVID-19 remained at 10, with three patients in ICU, no change from the previous day.

There were also 294 additional cases of COVID-19, island officials said.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Thursday reported a total of 665 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 50 in ICU. Health officials also reported seven additional COVID-19-related deaths and 851 lab-confirmed cases.

In Saskatchewan, the province said the total number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 215, with 23 people in intensive care. The province, which had no additional deaths to report on Thursday, also saw an additional 1,158 lab-confirmed cases.

Across the North, Nunavut’s Health Minister John Main on Thursday extended the territory’s public health emergency until Feb. 3 as 35 new lab-confirmed cases were reported.

Health officials in the Northwest Territories on Wednesday reported the first intensive care admission of the current Omicron-driven wave.

In Yukon, a spokesperson for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board said that people who believe they contracted COVID-19 at work will need a PCR test to make a workplace claim.

In British Columbia, health officials on Thursday said hospitalizations decreased by four patients to 891, with 119 people in ICU, an increase of four from Wednesday. The daily COVID-19 brief from the province outlined an additional 15 deaths and 2,150 lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

As of Thursday evening, more than 340.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Europe, Austria’s parliament voted on Thursday to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for residents 18 and older, beginning Feb. 1, the first measure of its kind in Europe.

A person protests on the street in Vienna on Thursday before Austria’s parliament approved the introduction of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for adults starting in February. (Lisa Leutner/The Associated Press)

Enforcement will only begin in mid-March as police routinely check people’s vaccination status. Exempted from the mandate are pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons can’t be vaccinated, and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

Meanwhile, France will ease work-from-home rules from early February and allow nightclubs to reopen two weeks later, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

Caps on the number of people allowed into sports and entertainment venues will also be lifted on Feb. 2, and masks will no longer be required outdoors from that date.

Infections continue to accelerate in the Americas, reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 deaths in the last week, the Pan American Health Organization said.

WATCH | N95 masks are increasingly in demand — but often hard to find: 

N95 masks often recommended, hard to find

1 day ago

Duration 2:02

Doctors have been recommending N95 masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but for many people, they remain hard to find. 2:02

Mexico registered a record daily increase of more than 60,000 new cases, as the country steps up testing for the virus.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Biden administration is giving colleges and universities another $198 million to help them curb COVID-19 and address student needs, such as housing and food, amid the ongoing pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Monday until after the approaching Lunar New Year, authorities said, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools.

In Africa, top public health bodies called for donated vaccines to come with a shelf life of three to six months so countries could plan their rollouts and avoid a situation where doses expire.

Health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported an additional 4,322 cases and 156 deaths, though officials noted there was a backlog of deaths.

Meanwhile, in Algeria, officials announced that elementary and secondary schools would be closed for a period of 10 days in the face of a wave of Omicron cases.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia reported two additional deaths and 5,591 additional cases of COVID-19. The country recently announced that as of Feb. 1, people will need to show proof of having a booster dose to get into certain public spaces, like malls and restaurants.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:50 p.m. ET

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