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Canadian snowbirds chartering private jets to fly south for faster COVID-19 vaccine access – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Some Canadian snowbirds are chartering private planes to head to Florida during the winter where anyone over age 65 is able to get vaccinated for COVID-19 right now.

Ontario couple Annie and Ralph say they have travelled south for the winter for “several years,” and despite travel advisories from the federal government, decided this year would be no different.

Annie explained in a telephone interview with CTV News from Florida that lockdowns in Ontario had left them cooped up in their home during the colder months.

“There was no activities, and we couldn’t even really go for walks every day because everything is so icy and cold, we were kind of stuck in the home all the time… and we had heard that we could be eligible for [the vaccine] in Florida if we came down here,” Annie explained.

The couple has asked CTV News not to use their last names to preserve their privacy.

Annie is over age 65 and Ralph is over age 70. Neither has any major health issues except for high blood pressure. With the slow pace of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the couple estimated they would have to wait until April or later before being vaccinated.

However, Florida adjusted its vaccination plan in December to include non-citizen seniors aged 65 or older in the first phase of inoculations with the only requirement being identification to receive a shot at no cost. The change in criteria has since increased demand, prompting long lineups and difficulties booking appointments in the state.

Arizona health officials have also confirmed that snowbirds will be eligible to receive the vaccine as local residents of the same age and health category.

Ralph explained that the couple had to fly south for their mental well-being, but says the potential of getting vaccinated so soon against the novel coronavirus was an added incentive.

When the opportunity came up to buy seats on a private jet, the couple decided travelling to the U.S. amid the pandemic would be worth it.

FLYING PRIVATE

The couple flew with four other passengers on a private flight with Momentum Jets, which charters jets and has recently started selling individual seats on them amid a spike in demand from snowbirds looking to travel south.

“We’ve had a huge demand. Over the past three weeks, it’s been a consistent flow of inquiries that we’re trying to pair people up right now on flights… just to keep it even more safe within their travel bubble,” Janelle Brind, vice-president of Momentum Jets, said in an interview with CTV News.

Brind explained that flying private means Canadians can bypass airport security lines and busy boarding gates, limiting their exposure to others. As well, everyone who flies with the company is required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before take off.

“We felt very safe that we didn’t have to go to an airport and have all the worries that go along with that many people,” Annie said.

Brind noted that customers don’t always disclose their reason for flying, but said about 20 passengers have confirmed they were flying to Florida to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She added that inquiries have been increasing since mid-December.

“This is not just people that are going to stay down in Florida, this is even people that were willing to go down with a couple of days to get the vaccine and then fly home again,” Brind said.

While purchasing individual seats on a private plane is more affordable than chartering the entire jet, Brind says a seat can set someone back $2,500 to $4,000, depending on the size of the aircraft.

She added that private flights have also been booked for the sole purpose of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, with private charters costing anywhere from $25,000 up to $80,000 per trip.

SAFETY CONCERNS

While travelling to get the COVID-19 vaccine may be worth it to some, Toronto-based travel insurance broker Martin Firestone says there are still major risks with travelling abroad during a global pandemic.

Firestone told CTVNews.ca he advises his clients that now is not the time to travel and recommends they don’t go.

“My biggest concern is not the plane or getting COVID on the plane, my worry is access to the hospital down there once you’re there for the things that always went wrong and that’s why you bought travel insurance — broken hips, car accidents, stroke, heart attack,” Firestone said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

However, he says people are jetting off anyways.

Firestone, who caters to Canadian snowbirds, estimates that approximately 30 per cent of his clientele travelled to Florida in November and says he has seen an additional 10 per cent in inquiries in the last two weeks since Florida adjusted its vaccine requirements.

“There has been an uptick no question, and every day is even more,” he said. He added that the slow pace of vaccine rollout in Canada has made a “very interesting alternative” for seniors.

“I see people now going down because they’re being influenced by their friends who have been down there since November, and this is the final incentive they needed to go down there and get the vaccine. To them, that’s all that matters at this point,” Firestone said.

However, the Canadian Snowbirds Association said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca that it “has not seen an increase in snowbirds looking to travel” to the U.S. to get vaccinated.

“Most snowbirds have already made a determination on whether or not to travel this season, with the vast majority of snowbirds choosing to stay home due to the pandemic,” the organization said Thursday.

While insurance companies now offer coverage for COVID-19, Firestone warned that not all are covering possible adverse reactions from the vaccines since the shots are considered elective.

“Imagine if you were down there and then for whatever reason an allergic [reaction] or something just didn’t jibe, you end up God forbid in a hospital bed and it’s linked to the fact that you had the vaccine, you could be out a lot of money,” Firestone said.

While Annie and Ralph plan on getting inoculated, they haven’t done so yet. Annie says they plan to wait a few weeks for line-ups to die down before booking their appointments.

“We feel that we wait a couple of weeks, the rush will be over and we can probably call [for an appointment] very easily and go and get our vaccine,” she said.

Annie laments jumping ahead of the line for a COVID-19 vaccine, but said she and Ralph decided to travel before knowing they would have the chance to be vaccinated.

“That would have been us if we were in Canada, but we made the choice before we heard about the vaccinations for Canadians to come down anyway, because we felt safe here in this community,” she said.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Tuesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

The European Union on Tuesday warned pharmaceutical giants that develop coronavirus vaccines to honour their contractual obligations after slow deliveries of shots from two companies hampered the bloc’s vaunted vaccine rollout in several nations.

The bloc already lashed out Monday at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, accusing it of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation. It also had expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech last week.

“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum’s virtual event in Switzerland. “And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations.”

The statement Tuesday highlighted the level of distrust that has grown between the 27-nation bloc and pharmaceutical companies over the past week.

On Monday, the EU threatened to impose strict export controls on all coronavirus vaccines produced in the bloc to make sure that companies honour their commitments to the EU.

A doctor adjusts his personal protective gear before entering a patient’s room at a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Klinikum Rechts der Isar hospital in Munich, southern Germany on Monday. (Lennart Preiss/AFP/Getty Images)

The EU said it provided €2.7 billion (more than $4.1 billion Cdn) to speed up vaccine research and production capacity and was determined to get some value for that money with hundreds of millions of vaccine shots according to a schedule the companies had committed to.

“Europe is determined to contribute to this global common good, but it also means business,” von der Leyen said Tuesday via video link.

Germany was firmly behind von der Leyen’s view. 

“With a complex process such as vaccine production, I can understand if there are production problems — but then it must affect everyone fairly and equally,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told ZDF television. “This is not about EU first, it’s about Europe’s fair share.”

The EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic and political clout of the world’s biggest trading bloc, is lagging badly behind countries like Israel and Britain in rolling out coronavirus vaccine shots for its health-care workers and most vulnerable people. That’s despite having over 400,000 confirmed virus deaths since the pandemic began.

The EU has committed to buying 300 million AstraZeneca doses with an option on 100 million extra shots. Late last week, the company said it was planning to reduce a first contingent of 80 million to 31 million.

The shortfall of planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to get medical approval by the bloc on Friday, combined with hiccups in the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech shots is putting EU nations under heavy pressure. Pfizer says it was delaying deliveries to Europe and Canada while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase production capacity.

The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Friday and its approval is hotly anticipated. The AstraZeneca vaccine is already being used in Britain and has been approved for emergency use by half a dozen countries, including India, Pakistan, Argentina and Mexico.

The delays in getting vaccines will make it harder to meet early targets in the EU’s goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of its adults by late summer.

The EU has signed six vaccine contracts for more than two billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET


What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Inside two Toronto ICUs one year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case:

A look inside two Toronto hospital ICUs one year after Canada’s first case of COVID-19, and at the doctors and nurses both exhausted and determined to keep fighting. 4:28

As Parliament resumed Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from MPs of all parties as they blasted the Liberal government for what they described as a botched approach to rolling out vaccines.

Both Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand repeated the government’s promise that by the end of September, all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated will have received their shots.

Trudeau has stressed that the delay that is currently hampering vaccination efforts is only temporary and that Canada is expected to receive four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March. The prime minister noted that the country is still receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “tremendous pressure” on the global supply chain for vaccines that the government has tried to mitigate.

“We are working on this every single day, because we know how important vaccines are to Canadians, to first and foremost the lives of Canadians and also to our economy,” she told a news conference in Ottawa by video.

WATCH | New urgency for vaccinations in long-term care homes:

Faced with a COVID-19 vaccine shortage, Ontario says it will now vaccinate only long-term care residents and other seniors in at-risk retirement homes and care settings. 2:54

Despite the vaccine delay, some provinces continued to report encouraging drops in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Ontario reported fewer than 2,000 cases on Monday, as well as fewer people in hospital. It was a similar story in Quebec, where hospitalizations dropped for a sixth straight day.

As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 753,011 cases of COVID-19, with 62,444 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,238.

In Alberta, health officials reported the province’s first case of a COVID-19 variant first seen in the United Kingdom that can’t be directly traced to international travel. Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that while it is one case, the variant has the potential to spread faster than the original novel coronavirus and could quickly overwhelm hospitals if not checked.

“There’s no question that this kind of exponential growth would push our health-care system to the brink,” Shandro told a virtual news conference Monday.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across Canada:

From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET 


 What’s happening around the world

As of early Tuesday morning, more than 99.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 55.1 million of the cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.

In Europe, the U.K. is set to announce changes to its quarantine rules later Tuesday that could see anyone arriving in the country having to spend ten days in a hotel at their own expense. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said there will be an “announcement on this issue later on today,” but would not be drawn on what the changes would entail.

The British government has been reviewing its quarantine policies amid concerns over new variants of the coronavirus. Whether the changes will be universal and apply to everyone arriving, including British citizens, or just to those arriving from high-risk coronavirus countries, is unclear. Zahawi told Sky News that “as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.”

Pedestrians walk past a sign pointing toward a COVID-19 testing centre in Walthamstow over the weekend in London. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

The U.K. has seen more than 3.6 million reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 98,700 deaths.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said Monday that Canada is considering additional international travel restrictions. Speaking on CBC’s Power & Politics, Freeland said she is, “very sympathetic to the view that, with the virus raging around the world, we need to be sure our borders are really, really secure.”

In Portugal, the health minister said authorities are considering asking other European Union countries for help amid a steep surge in COVID-19 cases. Portugal has had the world’s worst rate of new daily cases and deaths per 100,000 people for the past week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Health Minister Marta Temido said sending patients to other EU countries is not uncommon in the bloc. But, she said, Portugal has the disadvantage of being geographically remote and hospitals across the continent are under pressure from the pandemic. She said the country may instead be asking for medical workers to be sent.

Portuguese hospitals are under severe strain, Temido told public broadcaster RTP. “We have beds available,” she said. “What we’re struggling with is finding staff.”

That request may be difficult to fulfil, because all countries in the 27-nation bloc are dealing with their own pandemic strains, made more difficult now because of the emergence of virus variants.

In the Asia-Pacific region, health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new coronavirus cases linked to a hospital.

Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began crossed one million on Tuesday and hospitals in some hard-hit areas were near capacity.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry announced that new daily infections rose by 13,094 on Tuesday to bring the country’s total to 1,012,350, the most in Southeast Asia. The total number of deaths reached 28,468.

The milestone comes just weeks after Indonesia launched a massive campaign to inoculate two-thirds of the country’s 270 million people, with President Joko Widodo receiving the first shot of a Chinese-made vaccine. Health-care workers, military, police, teachers and other at-risk populations are being prioritized for the vaccine in the world’s fourth-most populous country.

Medical workers visit COVID-19 patients at a general hospital in Indonesia on Monday. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese airlines are offering refunded tickets as the coronavirus continues to spread in the country’s northeast. The offer Tuesday from the government’s aviation authority comes amid a push to prevent people travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

In the Americas, Mexico’s death toll passed 150,000 on Monday following a surge in infections in recent weeks.

In Africa, Russia and China have approached Zimbabwe about supplying vaccines to tackle its escalating COVID-19 outbreak amid concern about Harare’s ability to afford the shots.

In the Middle East, Oman said earlier this week it will extend the closure of its land borders for another week until Feb. 1.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET

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Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19 – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Canadian Press interviewed a group of leading Canadian experts in disease control and epidemiology and asked them what should be done to reduce the harms the next time a germ with similar destructive potential emerges. Here are the five most important lessons they offered.

 

SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND HEALTH INEQUITIES HAVE MADE SOME PEOPLE MORE VULNERABLE

COVID-19 has exposed fault lines in the Canadian society by showing how long-standing inequities contributed to higher rates of infections and mortality, said Steffanie Strathdee, a Toronto-born epidemiologist at the University of California in San Diego.

“The people who are, by and large, getting COVID are people who are poor, or of-colour, or living in poor socio-economic conditions,” Strathdee said.

In an analysis of COVID-19 deaths between March and July, Statistics Canada found that death rates because of the virus were double in Canadian neighbourhoods where more than 25 per cent of the people are members of visible minorities compared to neighbourhoods where minorities are less than one per cent of the people.

Strathdee said people in many areas in Canada have limited health services.

“In my sister and mother’s region of Stouffville (a suburb of Toronto), it’s very, very difficult to get a doctor,” she said.

“What we need to do is invest in our public health and health care infrastructure, because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic we see.”

University of British Columbia professor Erica Frank, a doctor and population-health expert, said almost all those who have died because of COVID-19 had pre-existing risk factors, including age.

“Not paying enough attention to reduction of chronic-disease risk has greatly increased the cohort of susceptible people to COVID,” she said.

She said there is a need to spend money on public health systems and on social determinants of health, such as housing, to decrease sickness and death.

 

CANADA’S DIVISION OF HEALTH-CARE RESPONSIBILITIES IS INEFFICIENT

The disconnect between federal and provincial or territorial actions to fight the pandemic is getting in the way of an effective response, said Donald Sheppard. He’s the chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the faculty of medicine at McGill University and a member of Canada’s COVID-19 therapeutics task force.

For instance, Sheppard said, after Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment was approved by Health Canada, bought by the federal government and greenlit by the federal therapeutics task force, British Columbia health authorities decided to reject the federal approval of the medication.

He said there many more examples, including the handling of long-term care homes.

“Quebec is screaming they want money but they’re refusing to sign on to the minimum standards of long-term care,” he said.

He said there have been poor communication and a lot of territorialism since the beginning of the pandemic.

“There should be a time when it’s all hands on deck and we don’t play games,” he said. “That didn’t happen. We saw these fragmentations between the provinces and the feds leading to, frankly, people dying.”

 

CENTRALIZED DECISION-MAKING IN HEALTH CARE STIFLES INNOVATION

Sheppard said the Canadian health care system can’t be nimble because federal and provincial governments have seized control of decisions on how to handle the pandemic.

“During a new disease like a pandemic, when we’re learning about things, the people on the ground actually are learning a lot faster than the people sitting in Ottawa, Quebec City or Toronto,” he said.

He said Canadian businesses and universities have been struggling to get approval for testing strategies that use rapid tests to reopen safely.

“The way that the ministries of health are set up, they actually make it incredibly difficult to set those type of things up, because they hold on to all the power with a stranglehold.”

Sheppard said there’s no process private entities can use to launch innovative testing programs.

“The dogma from the ministries of health are simple: What we’re doing is right. There is no other better way to do anything … therefore we will not help anybody do anything different than what we’re doing. And anything other than that is a threat to our authority,” he said. “That’s the mentality, and it’s just killed innovation in the health-care setting.”

 

LACK OF COORDINATION STYMIED RESEARCH

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crucial research is to inform health decisions, said Francois Lamontagne, a clinician-scientist at the University of Sherbrooke.

He said Canadian scientists have played prominent roles scientifically during the pandemic but recruiting patients to participate in clinical trials has been a challenge due to lack of coordination.

“There have been a lot of studies launched. A lot of those studies overlapped,” he said.

He said having too many studies at the same time has resulted in shortages of suitable patients who are willing to be subjects in clinical trials.

“This, essentially, dilutes all of the studies and you end up enrolling very few people in too many studies.”

Lamontagne said the United Kingdom has been the locomotive of the world in enrolling patients in clinical trials because research is an integral part of the country’s national health system.

“It’s not something that happens in a silo. It’s part of the (National Health Service),” he said. “This led them to build the infrastructure … And then there’s an effort to co-ordinate and prioritize studies so they do one study and they do it well and they get the answers very quickly.”

He said creating better research infrastructure and coordination should be a priority for Canada.

“This is a criticism directed at me as well. I am part of ‘us’ — researchers. We have to get our act together and there has to be an effort of coordination.”

Lamontagne said health research in Canada is largely funded by the federal government whereas health care is a provincial jurisdiction and both levels need to co-operate.

“The stakes are so important for not only how we respond to pandemics now and in the future, but also for the sustainability of a public health-care system,” he said.

 

GOOD MESSAGING AND COMMUNICATION MATTER

Strathdee said good science communication with the public is important to address misinformation regarding the novel coronaviruses and its vaccines.

“We need for people to understand that science and medicine don’t have all the answers all the time, that we’re learning just like everybody else,” she said.

Strathdee said guidelines will be updated as more data become available and that’s what happened when more data showed that face masks reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

She said government officials should be trained in health literacy.

John Brownstein, a Montreal-born Harvard University epidemiologist, said minority communities, including Indigenous communities, tend to have more mistrust in vaccines and for good historical reasons.

“We got to figure out how to improve communication and improve confidence,” he said.

Strathdee said it’s critical for politicians and public health officials to be honest with the public by “making people aware that, you know, it could get worse before it gets better, and that they need to stay the course.”

She also said people need to understand that if segments of the population are left behind in vaccination, like prisoners and homeless people, that will put everyone at risk.

She said Canada did a good job in detecting COVID-19 cases because it was hit hard by SARS.

“We have to make sure that we don’t unlearn those lessons going forward and that we build upon what we’ve learned from COVID and prepare for the next pandemic.”

——-

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19 – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Canadian Press interviewed a group of leading Canadian experts in disease control and epidemiology and asked them what should be done to reduce the harms the next time a germ with similar destructive potential emerges. Here are the five most important lessons they offered.

 

SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND HEALTH INEQUITIES HAVE MADE SOME PEOPLE MORE VULNERABLE

COVID-19 has exposed fault lines in the Canadian society by showing how long-standing inequities contributed to higher rates of infections and mortality, said Steffanie Strathdee, a Toronto-born epidemiologist at the University of California in San Diego.

“The people who are, by and large, getting COVID are people who are poor, or of-colour, or living in poor socio-economic conditions,” Strathdee said.

In an analysis of COVID-19 deaths between March and July, Statistics Canada found that death rates because of the virus were double in Canadian neighbourhoods where more than 25 per cent of the people are members of visible minorities compared to neighbourhoods where minorities are less than one per cent of the people.

Strathdee said people in many areas in Canada have limited health services.

“In my sister and mother’s region of Stouffville (a suburb of Toronto), it’s very, very difficult to get a doctor,” she said.

“What we need to do is invest in our public health and health care infrastructure, because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic we see.”

University of British Columbia professor Erica Frank, a doctor and population-health expert, said almost all those who have died because of COVID-19 had pre-existing risk factors, including age.

“Not paying enough attention to reduction of chronic-disease risk has greatly increased the cohort of susceptible people to COVID,” she said.

She said there is a need to spend money on public health systems and on social determinants of health, such as housing, to decrease sickness and death.

 

CANADA’S DIVISION OF HEALTH-CARE RESPONSIBILITIES IS INEFFICIENT

The disconnect between federal and provincial or territorial actions to fight the pandemic is getting in the way of an effective response, said Donald Sheppard. He’s the chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the faculty of medicine at McGill University and a member of Canada’s COVID-19 therapeutics task force.

For instance, Sheppard said, after Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment was approved by Health Canada, bought by the federal government and greenlit by the federal therapeutics task force, British Columbia health authorities decided to reject the federal approval of the medication.

He said there many more examples, including the handling of long-term care homes.

“Quebec is screaming they want money but they’re refusing to sign on to the minimum standards of long-term care,” he said.

He said there have been poor communication and a lot of territorialism since the beginning of the pandemic.

“There should be a time when it’s all hands on deck and we don’t play games,” he said. “That didn’t happen. We saw these fragmentations between the provinces and the feds leading to, frankly, people dying.”

 

CENTRALIZED DECISION-MAKING IN HEALTH CARE STIFLES INNOVATION

Sheppard said the Canadian health care system can’t be nimble because federal and provincial governments have seized control of decisions on how to handle the pandemic.

“During a new disease like a pandemic, when we’re learning about things, the people on the ground actually are learning a lot faster than the people sitting in Ottawa, Quebec City or Toronto,” he said.

He said Canadian businesses and universities have been struggling to get approval for testing strategies that use rapid tests to reopen safely.

“The way that the ministries of health are set up, they actually make it incredibly difficult to set those type of things up, because they hold on to all the power with a stranglehold.”

Sheppard said there’s no process private entities can use to launch innovative testing programs.

“The dogma from the ministries of health are simple: What we’re doing is right. There is no other better way to do anything … therefore we will not help anybody do anything different than what we’re doing. And anything other than that is a threat to our authority,” he said. “That’s the mentality, and it’s just killed innovation in the health-care setting.”

 

LACK OF COORDINATION STYMIED RESEARCH

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crucial research is to inform health decisions, said Francois Lamontagne, a clinician-scientist at the University of Sherbrooke.

He said Canadian scientists have played prominent roles scientifically during the pandemic but recruiting patients to participate in clinical trials has been a challenge due to lack of coordination.

“There have been a lot of studies launched. A lot of those studies overlapped,” he said.

He said having too many studies at the same time has resulted in shortages of suitable patients who are willing to be subjects in clinical trials.

“This, essentially, dilutes all of the studies and you end up enrolling very few people in too many studies.”

Lamontagne said the United Kingdom has been the locomotive of the world in enrolling patients in clinical trials because research is an integral part of the country’s national health system.

“It’s not something that happens in a silo. It’s part of the (National Health Service),” he said. “This led them to build the infrastructure … And then there’s an effort to co-ordinate and prioritize studies so they do one study and they do it well and they get the answers very quickly.”

He said creating better research infrastructure and coordination should be a priority for Canada.

“This is a criticism directed at me as well. I am part of ‘us’ — researchers. We have to get our act together and there has to be an effort of coordination.”

Lamontagne said health research in Canada is largely funded by the federal government whereas health care is a provincial jurisdiction and both levels need to co-operate.

“The stakes are so important for not only how we respond to pandemics now and in the future, but also for the sustainability of a public health-care system,” he said.

 

GOOD MESSAGING AND COMMUNICATION MATTER

Strathdee said good science communication with the public is important to address misinformation regarding the novel coronaviruses and its vaccines.

“We need for people to understand that science and medicine don’t have all the answers all the time, that we’re learning just like everybody else,” she said.

Strathdee said guidelines will be updated as more data become available and that’s what happened when more data showed that face masks reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

She said government officials should be trained in health literacy.

John Brownstein, a Montreal-born Harvard University epidemiologist, said minority communities, including Indigenous communities, tend to have more mistrust in vaccines and for good historical reasons.

“We got to figure out how to improve communication and improve confidence,” he said.

Strathdee said it’s critical for politicians and public health officials to be honest with the public by “making people aware that, you know, it could get worse before it gets better, and that they need to stay the course.”

She also said people need to understand that if segments of the population are left behind in vaccination, like prisoners and homeless people, that will put everyone at risk.

She said Canada did a good job in detecting COVID-19 cases because it was hit hard by SARS.

“We have to make sure that we don’t unlearn those lessons going forward and that we build upon what we’ve learned from COVID and prepare for the next pandemic.”

——-

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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