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Canadian politicians struggle to come to grips with the global vaccine race – CBC.ca

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The global scramble to vaccinate the human race against COVID-19 is bigger than Canadian politics. But every Canadian politician no doubt understands the political and human importance of this country seeming to do well in this multinational competition. 

The result this week is anxiety and a rush to assign blame that has failed to produce easy answers to the central question of what, if anything, Canadian officials could be doing to procure more of what’s arguably the most precious commodity on Earth.

But this consternation among Canadian politicians might be obscuring a bigger question for the world: Is this really the best way to go about vaccinating 7.6 billion people against a common threat? 

The latest spasm of concern about Canada’s vaccine supply can be traced to a production facility in Puurs, Belgium, where Pfizer has been manufacturing one of the two approved vaccines for use in Canada. Pfizer has decided to retool that facility so that it can increase production. In the short-term, that means fewer doses will be available.

In response to Pfizer’s change of plans, Ontario Premier Doug Ford quickly declared that, if he were prime minister, he’d be on the phone to Pfizer’s top executive demanding the previously scheduled shipments. “I’d be up that guy’s ying-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” Ford said.

WATCH | Ontario premier says Trudeau’s ‘No. 1 job’ is to get vaccines:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to fight to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Canada and he suggests the alternative to the Belgian plant may be Pfizer’s Michigan facility. 0:55

It stands to reason that if getting a plentiful supply of the Pfizer vaccine was as easy as getting up Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s ying-yang with a firecracker, nearly every leader on the planet would be doing so. But Ford got a chance to test his theory — a day later he spoke with the president of Pfizer Canada. If a firecracker was lit during that conversation, it has so far failed to change Pfizer’s plans.

In Ottawa, the consternation has been only slightly less colourful, culminating in an “emergency debate” in the House of Commons on Tuesday. 

The Conservatives argue that an ill-fated partnership between the National Research Council and China’s CanSino Biologics distracted Justin Trudeau’s government from pursuing better options — but Public Services Minister Anita Anand told the Canadian Press in December that Canada was the fourth country in the world to sign a contract with Pfizer and the first to sign with Moderna, the other major supplier of an approved vaccine. 

The New Democrats argue that the federal government should have negotiated for the right to domestically produce the currently approved vaccines — but that presumably depends in large part on the willingness of companies like Moderna and Pfizer to do so. 

A real effort to ensure Canada had domestic capacity to produce a pandemic vaccine likely would have had to have been implemented years ago.

Little control over vaccine supply

Eventually, Tuesday night’s debate landed on questions of transparency. The government says it has a plan for vaccinating Canadians, but the opposition says that plan isn’t detailed enough.

The opposition insists the government should release the details of the contracts it has signed with manufacturers, but the government says those contracts are necessarily confidential. There are suggestions that Europe’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine might be smaller than the interruption to Canada’s supply, but it’s not clear why that might be the case.

The Liberals surely understand the gravity of the vaccine race, but they have never shown much interest in explaining themselves in detail. They insist that their agreements with seven potential manufacturers have put Canada in a decent position and that their medium-term and long-term targets for vaccinating Canadians over the course of this year will not be affected by the current shortfall.

WATCH | EU threatens to slow vaccine exports, increasing concerns about vaccine nationalism:

The European Union is threatening to slow exports of the Pfizer vaccine after Astra-Zeneca announced a delay in production. With vaccines in short supply, global health leaders are growing increasingly concerned about the rise of vaccine nationalism. 2:00

But Pfizer’s decision to retool the plant in Puurs underlines how little control the Liberal government can claim to have over the situation and how little sympathy they’ll receive if things don’t work out the way they said they would.

It was just over a month ago that the federal government was able to answer a previous panic with earlier-than-expected approvals and shipments of the new vaccine. If the Liberals were only too happy to bask in that good news, this interruption feels like the universe’s way of telling them to not get cocky.

Canada vs. other countries

In the meantime, even the definition of success will be up for debate.

On Monday, for instance, Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus complained that Canada was not doing as well as the Seychelles, which had delivered at least a first dose to 20.22 per cent of its population through January 25. By comparison, Canada’s rate of vaccination was 2.23 per cent.

But the tiny island nation has a population of 98,000 people (roughly the equivalent of Red Deer, Alta). In absolute terms, the number of people who had received a dose in the Seychelles was 19,889. Canada, meanwhile, had administered doses to 839,949 people.

WATCH | Ottawa offers assurances about COVID-19 vaccine supply:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to reassure Canadians about the COVID-19 vaccine supply after the European Union raised the possibility of imposing export controls on vaccines leaving the EU. Canada’s Pfizer-BioNTech shots are made in Belgium. 1:44

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland countered that Canada was ahead of Germany, France, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. But three of those countries — Japan, Australia and New Zealand — haven’t yet begun their vaccination programs. And in two of those countries — Australia and New Zealand — COVID-19 is almost non-existent. 

‘This is pure nonsense’

During the emergency debate on Tuesday night, the NDP’s Don Davies said Canada ranked 16th per capita in doses administered. He meant it as a complaint. But it could just as easily be framed as a compliment — if Canada ends up being the 16th fastest country to vaccinate its population, it will have finished ahead of 174 other countries. Among the 32 OECD countries who have begun vaccinations, Canada ranks 12th in doses administered per capita.

A few countries — the United States, United Kingdom and Israel — seem to be benefiting from their own unique circumstances. The U.S. and U.K., for instance, have access to domestic production of the available vaccines.

In every other country, there might be some version of the Canadian debate playing out; Trudeau said last week that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had commiserated about the similar criticism that they were each facing. 

WATCH | COVID’s one year anniversary in Canada:

One year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, are we really all in it together? A PSW speaks about the reality of working the front lines in long-term care homes, and an artist questions life after CERB. PLUS, why first-world countries like Canada are being accused of hoarding vaccines. 45:36

But all of this might underline the questions of whether an every-country-for-itself scramble to acquire vaccines from a limited number of private manufacturers is the sensible way to go about vaccinating the human race.

“‘Could Canada have done more?’ The problem for me is that this is not the right question. What we’ve been seeing, for me, is a bit of a catastrophe,” said Marc-Andre Gagnon, a political science professor at Carleton University who focuses on pharmaceutical policy.

“You end up with a handful of companies that are developing their own vaccines, each by themselves, working in silos. So then you have a product with a patent, so monopoly rights on the product. And then you end up with this vaccine nationalism of all countries basically doing a free market negotiation in terms of who can jump the queue in order to get faster access to the vaccines. In terms of priorities of global public health, this is pure nonsense.”

A better approach, Gagnon suggests, would have focused on collaboration, data sharing and making use of all available manufacturing capacity around the world. 

Pfizer’s new deal with Sanofi, a rival producer, might at least be a step in that direction. But any serious rethinking of global vaccination policy might have to wait for the next pandemic.

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Montreal sauna suspected origin of Canada’s monkeypox outbreak: doctors – Global News

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Monkeypox cases in Canada are suspected to have originated from a local sauna in Montreal, doctors have told Global News.

The country’s first two cases were reported by Quebec public health officials on May 19.

Dr. Robert Pilarski, a general physician in Montreal, who treated one of those patients last week, said the individual likely got the virus from a sauna he recently visited.

“He actually got it from G.I. Joe. So this is the suspected epicentre of the epidemic,” Pilarski told Global News.

Read more:

Quebec to start vaccinating monkeypox contacts, confirms 25 cases

Another doctor, who did not wish to be identified, also said the source of Montreal’s monkeypox outbreak was Sauna G.I. Joe.

Government officials have so far stayed clear of confirming the origin of monkeypox in Canada due to concerns of privacy and stigmatization.

“As it was the case with COVID-19, we never confirm publicly outbreaks for both privacy and identification matters,” Jean Nicolas Aubé, a spokesperson for Montreal public health, told Global News in an emailed response.

“Rest assured that we always intervene directly with businesses or settings where an outbreak occurs or where our investigation could lead us,” Aube added.


Click to play video: 'Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine'



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Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine


Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine

Despite multiple attempts and inquiries from Global News about health regulations and tracing measures, there was no response from Sauna G.I. Joe by the time of publication.

Recent cases of monkeypox around the world have researchers scrambling to find out how the virus is spreading in countries that typically don’t see it.

Monkeypox, a rare zoonotic infectious disease, is usually found in certain parts of Africa, where it is endemic.

Read more:

More monkeypox surveillance needed, WHO tells member countries

What started out as a small cluster of cases in Quebec is now being called a “serious outbreak” of the virus by provincial health officials.

As of Thursday, 25 cases have been confirmed in the province and about 20 to 30 suspected cases are under investigation.

The majority of confirmed cases in the province are tied to men aged between 20 and 30 years, who have had sexual relations with other men. There has been one case in a person under 18.

Monkeypox is not considered a sexually-transmitted infection, but the virus can survive on surfaces such as bedding and is transmitted through prolonged close contact.

“It’s not sexual activity as such that transmits it. It’s skin-to-skin contact that transmits it as far as we know at this moment,” said Dr. Michael Libman, a tropical disease expert and professor of medicine and infectious disease at McGill University.


Click to play video: 'Scientists trying to identify origins of Monkeypox cases detected in Canada'



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Scientists trying to identify origins of Monkeypox cases detected in Canada


Scientists trying to identify origins of Monkeypox cases detected in Canada

Stigmatization and transparency

Cases of monkeypox started emerging in Europe earlier this month.

Montreal public health said it had alerted physicians about a week before the first cases were confirmed. It also contacted “local actors” and communicated advice on hand hygiene and environmental cleaning procedures, Aubé said.

According to social media posts, Sauna G.I. Joe hosted a sex party on May 19, the same day Canada confirmed its first cases of monkeypox.

Read more:

Monkeypox likely spread through sex at 2 raves in Europe, expert suggests

During a press conference on Thursday, Quebec public health officials said they do not think it’s necessary to single out locations over fears of “stigmatization,” adding that there are now measures in place.

“The enemy is the virus, not the people affected,” said Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health.

However, experts stress that there should be greater transparency and omitting key public health information can be problematic.


Click to play video: 'Monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted infection, WHO says'



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Monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted infection, WHO says


Monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted infection, WHO says

David Brennan, research chair in gay and bisexual men’s health at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), believes not disclosing information can have a negative impact on the community.

Hiding information could be interpreted as “men having sex with men is bad,” said Brennan.

There needs to be a culture shift and harm-reduction approach as has been the case in the past with sexually-transmitted infections, such as HIV/AIDS, added Nolan Hill, gay men’s health specialist at the Center for Sexuality in Calgary, Alta.

“I think it really does speak to this broader culture where we’re uncomfortable with the idea of sex and we’re uncomfortable talking about sex,” he said.


Click to play video: 'What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?'



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What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?


What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?

Outside of Quebec, only one other case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Toronto.

On Saturday, Toronto Public Health (TPH) identified two locations connected to possible cases of monkeypox: Axis Club and Woody’s bar.

Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said these details matter, especially when it comes to higher risk settings.

“I would argue it is important to identify where it is coming from because if you don’t then people are not in a position to protect themselves,” he said.

Read more:

Physical distancing recommended amid monkeypox spread in Canada, Njoo says

However, disclosing that information comes with the “added responsibility” of not feeding into any prejudice, Bowman added.

Federal public health officials are working to finalize and release guidance on case identification, contact tracing, isolation as well as infection prevention and control.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says this updated guidance will be released in the next few days.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said Thursday mass vaccinations are not yet needed, but people can avoid infection by maintaining physical distance, masking and hand hygiene.


Click to play video: 'Monkeypox: 26 confirmed cases in Quebec, Ontario, officials recommend physical distancing'



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Monkeypox: 26 confirmed cases in Quebec, Ontario, officials recommend physical distancing


Monkeypox: 26 confirmed cases in Quebec, Ontario, officials recommend physical distancing

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Supreme Court of Canada to rule on sentencing for Quebec City mosque shooter

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada is slated to rule this morning on the sentencing of a man who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque.

The high court decision in Alexandre Bissonnette’s case will determine the constitutionality of a key provision on parole eligibility in multiple murder convictions.

Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six charges of first-degree murder in the January 2017 assault that took place just after evening prayers.

In 2019, Bissonnette successfully challenged a 2011 law that allowed a court, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.

A judge found the provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid, ultimately ruling Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal struck down the sentencing provision on constitutional grounds and said the parole ineligibility periods should be served concurrently, meaning a total waiting period of 25 years in Bissonnette’s case.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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‘Always hope’: Remains of Cree woman sent home to Alberta decades after disappearance

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Violet Soosay’s search for her missing aunt began four decades ago.

The pursuit took her to parts of Alberta and B.C. and down paths of uncertainty as weeks, months and years passed without word of Shirley Ann Soosay.

On Friday, about 43 years after she was last heard from, the body of Shirley Ann Soosay is expected to be returned to her home community of Samson Cree Nation, south of Edmonton.

Her remains had been buried in a California cemetery in 1980 under the name Kern County Jane Doe. Last spring, the county sheriff’s office identified the remains as belonging to 35-year-old Soosay.

Violet Soosay has worked since then with the county coroner’s office and the California cemetery to transport the body back to Alberta.

“Now there’s closure. There’s healing that can start happening,” Violet Soosay said in a phone interview.

The website for the American non-profit group DNA Doe Project says the Jane Doe’s body was found in an almond orchard near Bakersfield, Calif., in July 1980. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed.

Wilson Chouest was convicted of killing the Jane Doe, along with another unidentified woman in 2018.

Violet Soosay said she last saw her aunt in 1977 at a family funeral. She remembers her as caring, supportive and a free spirit.

“That was my constant memory that I kept because it gave me that sense of connection,” she said.

Shirley Ann Soosay was close with her mother and had maintained regular  contact with her, whether it was through holiday cards or letters, said Violet Soosay. The last correspondence came in 1979.

“After that, she just disappeared. Nobody knew. My grandmother was very frantic and heartbroken. She knew something happened.”

A few years later, Violet Soosay said she promised her grandmother she would bring Shirley Ann Soosay home. Her grandmother died in 1991.

In early 2020, Violet Soosay said she came across an artist’s rendering of the Jane Doe on a Facebook post from the DNA Doe Project. She believed the woman was her aunt.

The volunteer organization formed in 2017 to help identify unidentified deceased persons using forensic genealogy. The Kern County Sheriff-Coroner Division contacted the project in 2018 hoping to determine the identity of its Jane Doe.

Dawn Ratliff, the coroner division chief, said her office set up tip lines and worked with media to broadcast stories hoping to identify the woman, but every effort led to a dead end.

“In all the years that we had her, we never received a single inquiry. And at that point I just knew she wasn’t local. But I just didn’t know where she would be from.”

Ratliff said when she eventually heard from Violet Soosay, she asked her to submit a DNA sample. It was processed and compared to DNA they had from the remains. The two were a familial match.

Violet Soosay said that when she got the call with the results, she was flooded with years of emotions, including frustration, anger and elation.

“It was a crazy moment when I found out that she was my aunty.”

The family is planning to bury Shirley Ann Soosay in a cemetery at Samson Cree Nation.

Violet Soosay said bikers are supposed to follow her aunt’s casket from a funeral home in Wetaskiwin to her final resting place. There will also be a wake with traditional drumming.

Before the body was disinterred in California, the Tule River Tribe performed a ceremony there with prayers and drumming, added Ratliff.

“To be able to restore her name has really been tremendous,” she said.

Violet Soosay said she is grateful for the support and work of Ratliff, investigators and those involved with confirming the identity of her aunt’s remains.

She said she also has a message for Indigenous families with missing loved ones: “There’s always hope. There’s always some way to bring them home.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

 

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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