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Canadians shouldn't shop around for vaccines with higher efficacy rates, experts say – CBC.ca

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The approval of a fourth vaccine in Canada should not give Canadians the green light to hold off on getting inoculated in order to wait for other doses with higher efficacy rates, medical experts say.

That attitude will end up lengthening the time it takes to get the pandemic under control, said Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“If people start to do that, they actually prevent Canadians from moving slowly back to normal,” he said.

On Friday, Health Canada approved the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. This is the fourth vaccine approved along with shots from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford.

Different efficacy rates

Each vaccine has a different efficacy rate. Vaccine efficacy refers to the percentage reduction of disease in a vaccinated group of people compared to an unvaccinated group, under ideal conditions.

Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna both have been determined by Health Canada to have efficacy rates of around 95 per cent. AstraZeneca-Oxford has an efficacy rate of 62 per cent while Johnson & Johnson has an efficacy rate of 66.9 per cent.

Despite different efficacies, trials have shown that those who did become infected after getting vaccinated experienced only mild illness, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist in Mississauga, Ont.

Of the thousands of participants in trials for the vaccines, not a single person who received a shot died or was hospitalized from COVID-19, he told The Canadian Press.

WATCH | CBC’s The National. Why experts say take the vaccine you’re offered:

As more COVID-19 vaccines become available, a new problem is emerging: people who say they will wait until the shot they prefer is available to get vaccinated. Experts say Canadians should take whatever vaccine is available to avoid prolonging the pandemic. 2:26

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, said debates over efficacy are going to be part of the challenge of getting people vaccinated.

“I think there is obviously something we have to deal with here,” he said.

Some of that could have been sparked by confusion over the messaging of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has recommended against using that vaccine in people aged 65 and older “due to limited information” on its efficacy in that age group. 

In Europe, French and German officials are reversing their initial hesitancy about AstraZeneca and are now urging people to take the vaccine. There are reports that many in Germany have declined the AstraZeneca shot over concerns it may not work as well as others.

Detroit turned down Johnson & Johnson

In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan last week turned down 6,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying he favoured shots from Pfizer and Moderna for now.

WATCH | Dr. Sharma addresses vaccine hesitancy:

Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma says the process to approve vaccines in Canada “is based solely on science and evidence and grounded by regulation.” 1:50

Juni said long-term care homes are the only settings where it makes sense to use the highest efficacy vaccines, as residents are at extreme risk. 

For most people, “there is no such thing as a bad vaccine,” he said.

Juni compared the differences in efficacy to high octane versus low octane gas. Most engines, he said, just need gas.  

“But obviously in the situation we’re in right now, if you actually are about to run out of gas, you just take whatever is coming that actually works.”

Waiting for a preferred vaccine is just too risky, Chagla said. “You don’t want to be that person with zero per cent protection going into COVID-19 when you could be someone with at least 60 to 70 per cent protection, if not higher.”

‘Just take it’

“You would rather start the clock with some protection rather than no protection,” Chagla said.

Given the opportunity to get vaccinated, he offered some blunt advice: “Just take it.”

WATCH | J&J vaccine good for less accessible, marginalized communities, doctor says:

As a single dose COVID-19 vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson product will be especially helpful for people who sometimes have difficulty accessing health care, says Dr. Lisa Bryski, a retired ER doctor in Winnipeg. 1:23

Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at University Health Network in Toronto, said for those concerned about different efficacy rates, it’s important to know it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison because the clinical trials of vaccines were carried out differently.

Chakrabarti said the timing of the trials may have impacted efficacy. Pfizer and Moderna tested their products when the COVID burden was relatively lower in parts of the world. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, meanwhile, had their trials later when more transmissible coronavirus variants were spreading at a rapid pace.

What shouldn’t be lost, Hota said, is the overall goal of getting vaccinated which is to protect the most vulnerable from getting COVID-19 and to get us out of this pandemic.

‘Not justifiable’

That means, with the vaccine rollout being such a massive undertaking including: vaccine availability, vaccine prioritization schemes and vaccine registries, vaccine preference should not be a consideration.

“[If] you have to deal with people wanting to make decisions based on preference. It’s just, first of all, not justifiable …  but really not feasible,” Hota said.

She said people jabbed with higher efficacy vaccines are less likely to suffer from mild symptoms if they were to be infected, and on an individual level, if you don’t want to get sick at all, “that might be a better decision for you.”

“On a public health sort of population level, I would be very disappointed if people felt that was OK and it wasn’t going to cause any harm because we do need to get to a point to immunize as many people as quickly as possible to make gains in managing the pandemic itself.”

Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, says Canadians should take whatever vaccine is offered to them. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said on Friday that vaccination with a vaccine with 66 per cent efficacy does not mean a person will have a 34 per cent chance of contracting COVID-19.

“While each of the vaccines Health Canada has authorized has different efficacy numbers, the reality is that you will have a greatly reduced chance of getting COVID-19 with any of the … vaccines that have been authorized,” Sharma said.

She drove home that point earlier this week, telling CBC’s The National that her message to Canadians is that when it’s their turn, “you roll up your sleeve” and “take the vaccine that’s offered to you.

“And that will help all of us bring down the COVID-19 numbers across Canada, which is the most important thing that we’re trying to do.”

Join us as experts answer some of your vaccine questions on a special CBC News National Town Hall on Tuesday, March 9. We’ll discuss the differences between vaccines, how vaccine passports work and where you might be in the queue. The special starts at 8 p.m. ET on CBC Gem and CBC News Network, and 10 p.m. local time (10:30 p.m. NST) on CBC Television.

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Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

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(Reuters) -A recent surge in COVID-19 cases could see major parts of Japan slide back into states of emergency with authorities in Tokyo and Osaka looking at renewed curbs, while quarantine-free travel started between Australia and New Zealand for the first time in more than a year.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS * Eikon users, see COVID-19: MacroVitals https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1592404098 for a case tracker and summary of news.

EUROPE

* The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units in France edged up on Sunday, amid a nationwide lockdown to try to stem a third wave of infections.

* British scientists launched a trial which will deliberately expose participants who have already had COVID-19 to the coronavirus again to examine immune responses and see if people get reinfected.

* Italy will ease curbs in many areas from April 26, warning caution was still needed to avoid any reversals in the reopening of many long-shuttered activities.

AMERICAS

* Just more than half of U.S. adults have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Sunday, with nearly 130 million people aged 18 years or more having received their first shot.

* Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday predicted that U.S. health regulators will end the temporary pause on distributing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, adding he expects a decision could come as soon as Friday.

* Canada will present a budget with billions of dollars for pandemic recovery measures as COVID-19 infections skyrocket, C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) toward national childcare, and new taxes on luxury goods.

* The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year.

* Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday the government has made a second payment to the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to access around 11 million COVID-19 vaccines.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* India’s capital New Delhi recorded 25,500 coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, with about one in three people tested returning a positive result, its chief minister said, urging the federal government to provide more hospital beds to tackle the crisis.

* Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has agreed to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s request to supply additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine minister of Japan said on Sunday.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa can break through the protection provided by Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study in Israel found.

* Vaccination against COVID-19 is a requirement to perform the Umra pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi state TV said on Sunday, citing a government official.

* Tunisia on Saturday announced the closure of all schools until April 30, as well as restrictions on movement, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine was 67% effective in preventing symptomatic infection, data from a huge real-world study in Chile has shown, a potential boost for the jab which has come under scrutiny over its level of protection against the virus.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Asian shares hovered near 1-1/2 week highs on Monday, helped by expectations monetary policy will remain accommodative the world over, while COVID-19 vaccine rollouts help ease fears of another dangerous wave of coronavirus infections. [MKTS/GLOB]

(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Devika Syamnath and Milla Nissi; Edited by William Maclean, Anil D’Silva and Subhranshu Sahu)

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New Zealand says ‘uncomfortable’ with expanding Five Eyes

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new zealand

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand said it is “uncomfortable” with expanding the role of the Five Eyes, a post-war intelligence grouping which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, recently criticised by China.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner, and Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a speech that New Zealand sought a predictable diplomatic relationship.

New Zealand will find it necessary to speak out on issues where it does not agree with China, including developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, she said in a speech on Monday to the government-funded New Zealand China Council.

In later comments to media reported by New Zealand’s Newshub, Mahuta said New Zealand didn’t favour invoking the Five Eyes for “messaging out on a range of issues that really exist out of the remit of the Five Eyes”.

“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticised the Five Eyes, after all members issued a joint statement about the treatment of Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators in November.

Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “the Five Eyes have taken coordinated steps to gang up on China”, after Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement on Xinjiang.

Last year, the Five Eyes discussed cooperation beyond intelligence sharing, including on critical technology, Hong Kong, supply chains and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne in 2020.

Mahuta’s office told Reuters it couldn’t provide a copy of her comments on the Five Eyes.

Payne will travel to New Zealand on Wednesday for meetings with Mahuta and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the first diplomatic visit between the neighbouring countries since borders reopened both ways.

Canberra has recently endured a rockier relationship with Beijing than Wellington, with Australia’s trade minister unable to secure a call with his Chinese counterpart as exporters were hit with multiple trade sanctions from China.

A diplomatic dispute between China and Australia worsened in 2020 after Canberra lobbied for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

China and New Zealand upgraded a free trade agreement in January, when, Mahuta said, trade ministers had held a “constructive” call.

 

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Australia to hold inquiry to examine military suicides

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By Colin Packham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia will hold a Royal Commission to examine suicides among serving and former military personnel, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, bowing to public pressure to find ways to stem a mounting toll.

More than 500 have died from suicide since 2001, government data shows, a statistic that has fuelled public anger, including among the prime minister’s own Liberal party.

“I think and I hope it will be a healing process,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, as he announced his call for a commission to be set up.

“I hope it will be a process by which veterans and families can find some comfort, but it obviously can’t replace the loss.”

The issue became prominent in Australia following a high-profile campaign by Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David, a former naval petty officer, committed suicide in 2019 after he had earlier been deployed to Iraq, East Timor and Bougainville.

Australian troops have been involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deployed for humanitarian missions in the Pacific.

The United States, Britain and Canada are also exploring ways to reduce suicide rates among serving and former military personnel.

Morrison said he hopes the Royal Commission will begin hearings later this year. Final recommendations are expected in 2023, he said. A permanent national commissioner will be tasked with ensuring the recommendations are enforced.

 

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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