OTTAWA — Members of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine task force are casting worried eyes at the Trump administration’s political push to get a vaccine approved before the U.S. presidential election in November.
Dr. Joanne Langley, the task force co-chair, and member Alan Bernstein say they are concerned about “vaccine hesitancy” in Canada, the phenomenon where people have doubts about taking a readily available vaccine because of concerns about its safety.
Langley says that when a vaccine against COVID-19 is eventually found, governments and health-care professionals will have to mount a vigorous information campaign to counter opposition.
And it won’t help that President Donald Trump has said a pandemic-ending vaccine could be rolled out as soon as October, stoking concern that he is rushing the timeline to further his re-election chances on Nov. 3.
Countering concerns that an apparent hurry to approve a vaccine could spook people out of getting it is an ongoing concern among the approximately one dozen health experts on the government’s vaccine advisory panel.
It’s tasked with recommending which vaccine candidates the government should be spending money on.
This past week, Trump chided the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for being “confused” when he testified at a Senate committee that a safe and effective vaccine wouldn’t be ready by U.S. election day.
“As a scientist, and as a citizen, that’s concerning to me because the regulator is designed to be independent of any political influence,” Langley said in an interview. She is an expert in pediatric infectious disease at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University.
“All the decisions are made based on the evidence of science, which includes the immune response, how well it protects, all of the adverse events,” she added. “And really, politicians have nothing to do with that.”
Bernstein said if politicians successfully pushed health regulators to approve a vaccine prematurely, that would violate public trust and discourage the widespread vaccine use needed to end the pandemic.
“I think it would be a big mistake. So I don’t see it happening before Nov. 3, no,” Bernstein said in an interview. Bernstein is the head of CIFAR, a Canadian-based global research organization.
“What a disaster it would be if we actually got a great vaccine, but in the U.S., the population didn’t trust it, because they felt that the decision was being compromised.”
In Canada, the federal government has made advance purchase deals with a handful of international biotech companies for tens of millions of vaccine doses if they are found to be safe and effective.
Canadian politicians and public health officials have said that widespread use of a vaccine is key to stamping out the novel coronavirus.
Bernstein said the government’s purchasing decisions have been based on recommendations born out of the painstaking research that his advisory group has undertaken. The task force reports to Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.
“They’ve been very conscientious in terms of listening to us, visiting with us, talking with us. Both ministers,” said Bernstein, who was the first president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He serves on medical advisory boards in the U.S., Britain and Australia, and with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Science is driving the decisions.”
Langley said there is an onus on governments and health professionals to communicate to Canadians the merits of taking a safe vaccine when a viable candidate is found and approved for use.
“We want to make sure that the Canadian public has a chance to learn about the very high standards that will have to be met for these vaccines,” she said, “and that they feel confident that people have chosen these vaccines with a view to their best interest.”
Bernstein said Canadians have a high level of trust in the institutions and political leaders.
“I’m not a Liberal or Conservative. I’m not commenting on Prime Minister Trudeau, but just in general, Canadians are pretty trusting, and that trust has been earned.”
Langley and her co-chair Mark Lievonen spent half a day briefing the Liberal cabinet during its two-day retreat in Ottawa this past week.
“It was all about the health consequences for Canadians of COVID and what we know so far, and what we might further be able to do and what the future is going to look like,” said Langley.
The vaccine task force was formally announced by the government in early August but it has been working since June. Over the summer it met in six-hour Zoom sessions at least twice a week, “interviewing various companies, various scientists, comparing notes with other national task forces to hear what they’re up to,” said Bernstein.
He and Langley are hopeful at least one viable vaccine candidate will emerge before the end of December from the several ongoing human trials.
They both say it could take several months after that before Health Canada gives the necessary final approval.
“We have to educate the public,” said Langley.
“It will be absolutely our responsibility to make sure that the public is informed so that they’re confident and can get those vaccines for themselves and their families knowing that the regular high standards that we have in Canada for vaccines are all met.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2020.
Quebec reports another quadruple-digit COVID-19 case count, 20 new deaths – Squamish Chief
A COVID-19 outbreak at a Quebec pork-processing plant grew Thursday as Manitoba expanded its restrictions and Alberta announced a testing pilot at two international border crossings that it hopes will eventually boost its ailing travel industry.
Olymel said 62 workers at its plant southeast of Quebec City had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The union representing plant workers is calling for a temporary closure, but the company says it is following guidance from public health officials who have not recommended a shutdown.
One worker died following a positive test result, but it wasn’t yet determined whether the death was due to the novel coronavirus.
Quebec, the province hardest-hit by COVID-19, reported 1,033 new cases Thursday and 20 additional deaths. Five hundred and fifty-three people were in hospital, including 101 in intensive care.
Premier Francois Legault said chances are slim restaurants in Quebec’s largest cities will be allowed to reopen this month as the province continue to report daily case increases in the quadruple digits.
Montreal and Quebec City have been under a 28-day partial lockdown since Oct. 1.
“At this time, we need to reduce even the risk of contact because we cannot afford to continue having about 1,000 new cases every day,” Legault said.
Manitoba reported four COVID-19 fatalities on Thursday in its deadliest day yet.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, announced 147 new cases — 87 in Winnipeg, where more restrictions on restaurants, pubs and gathering sizes came into effect this week.
He said the measures will also apply to the northern health region and Churchill starting next week. Extra measures are being put in place for schools in the Winnipeg area and the north starting Monday, including cancelling field trips, banning choirs and wind instruments and requiring substitute teachers to wear medical masks.
Manitoba’s daily test positivity rate is up to 5.6 per cent.
“We have to change things. We fell back on the fundamentals,” Roussin said. “We got back to all that normalcy that we want, but we just know this is what happens when we attempt that.”
Also Thursday, the European Union’s council reimposed a travel ban on Canada, reversing a decision in June that lifted entry restrictions on a number of non-EU countries. Europe is battling a second wave of the pandemic.
In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney announced a joint federal-provincial pilot project that will enable international travellers re-entering Canada via the Calgary International Airport or the Coutts land border crossing from Montana to avoid a full 14-day quarantine. Instead, they would only have to isolate for a matter of days.
The pilot is to begin on Nov. 2 and is open to asymptomatic travellers returning to Canada who are Canadian citizens, permanent residents or foreign nationals permitted to enter Canada.
“Though a lot of work lies ahead, we can see a return to normal travel,” said Kenney. “The results will help shape provincial and federal policy and ultimately they’ll help to find a new approach for international travel.”
Those who voluntarily participate will receive a COVID-19 test upon entry into Canada before going into quarantine. If the result is negative, they can leave, as long as they promise to get tested six or seven days later at a pharmacy.
Participants will be subject to daily symptom checks and will have to wear masks in public places and avoid visiting high-risk groups.
Anyone who chooses not to get a test will still have to quarantine for two weeks.
Kenney said the provincial tourism industry has suffered a 63 per cent drop in spending this year. He also noted that three per cent of the province’s active cases were acquired through travel.
“We must find ways to bring back safe travel if we’re ever going to get the economy firing again on all cylinders.”
Kenney made his remarks by phone as he was self-isolating at home. The premier tested negative for the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, but said he will remain in isolation for another week.
Kenney attended events with Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who contracted COVID-19 last week.
Alberta reported 427 new infections in Thursday’s update, a new record and the second day in a row its daily case count breached the 400 mark. Its test positivity rate was at three per cent on Wednesday.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government is keeping a “sharp eye” on the Alberta border pilot project.
“I’d be open to it, but I just first want to see what’s happening in Calgary,” said Ford, who noted that Pearson International Airport in Toronto gets far more volume and international traffic.
Ontario reported 841 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as two more Toronto hospitals declared outbreaks.
Canada’s most populous province also recorded nine more deaths and had a daily test positivity rate of 2.5 per cent.
Two hundred and seventy people were in hospital, including 74 in intensive care and 48 on ventilators.
The Scarborough Health Network said six patients were infected in one unit at its general hospital, and the University Health Network said it was dealing with an outbreak involving four patients at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto Western Hospital and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have also declared outbreaks among staff or patients.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.
COVID-19 Today: A look at the numbers for Newmarket, York Region, Ontario – NewmarketToday.ca
Newmarket (reported Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 5 p.m.)
- 348 cases of COVID-19
- 4 new cases since Oct. 20
- 303 (+5) cases resolved (87%)
- 23 (-1) active cases
- 22 deaths
- 1 (-2) hospitalized, 1 in ICU
- 2 institutional outbreaks: outbreak #2 at Mackenzie Place LTC (2 health-care workers);outbreak #2 at Vita Community Living (3 residents, 7 staff)
- 4 schools under surveillance: Newmarket High; Huron Heights Secondary, Terry Fox P.S., Sir William Mulock Secondary
- 18 (+1) new cases in last 7 days
- 390 (+5) cases per 100,000 population
- 1,084 tests Oct. 11 to 17: 14 positive (1%), 1,067 negative, 3 indeterminate
The Nitty Gritty
- 136 cases outbreak, or 39%
- 93 (+2) cases close contact, or 27%
- 65 (+1) cases community transmission, or 19%
- 13 cases under investigation, or 5%
- 24 cases travel, or 7%
- 11 cases workplace outbreak, or 3%
- 68 cases age 19 to 34, 20%
- 62 cases age 80+, or 18%
- 54 cases age 55 to 64, or 16%
- 54 (+1) cases age 35 to 44, or 16%
- 49 cases age 65 to 79, or 14%
- 43 (+3) cases age 45 to 54, or 12%
- 9 cases age 4 to 13, or 3%
- 8 cases age 14 to 18, or 2%
- 1 case age 0 to 3, or 0%
York Region (reported Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 5 p.m.)
- 5,816 confirmed cases of COVID-19
- 103 new cases since Oct. 20
- 4,846 (+76) cases resolved (83%)
- 703 (+23) active cases
- 2 more deaths, totalling 267
- An 86-year-old Markham woman passed away Oct. 20 at Mackenzie Health, Richmond Hill (institutional outbreak at Mackenzie Health)
- An 80-year-old Vaughan man passed away Oct. 17 at Etobicoke General Hospital (close contact)
- 41 (-3) cases are hospitalized; 6 (-1) patients in ICU
- 166 (+4) workplace outbreaks, 21 (+3) active, 871 (+9) cases
- 607 (-23) new cases reported in last 7 days
- 543 (+11) cases per 100,000 population
- 78 (+2) new community cases daily average in last 7 days
- 0.95 (-0.02) 7-day median reproductive number*
- 40% of new cases unknown source of infection
- 13,019 total tests Oct. 11 to 17: 550 (4%) positive, 12,448 negative, 21 indeterminate
*Rt is the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus stops spreading.
Cases in schools, child care centres
- Full daily reporthere
- 4 (+1) school outbreaks
- Outbreak declared Oct. 21 at Sir Walter Scott Public School, Richmond Hill (2 staff)
- 2 schools closed
- 99 (+5) school cases to date
- 69 (+4) schools under surveillance, 41 (+4) active
- 5 (+3) active child care centre outbreaks
- 12 (+4) child care cases to date
- 108 (+1) institutional outbreaks; 23 (-1) active
- Outbreak #3 declared Oct. 20 at Participation House – Farintosh, Markham (1 health-care worker)
- 12-day outbreak #3 resolved Oct. 20 at Villa Leonardo Gambin LTC, Vaughan (2 health-care workers)
- 25-day outbreak resolved Oct. 20 at Mackenzie Health LTC, Richmond Hill (2 health-care workers)
The Nitty Gritty
- 2,528 (+46) cases, or 43%, close contact
- 1,415 (+29) cases, or 24%, community transmission
- 1,076 (+2) cases, or 19%, institutional outbreak
- 229 cases under investigation, or 4%
- 250 cases, or 5%, travel
- 238 (+4) cases, or 4%, workplace outbreak
- 1,547 (+25) cases age 19 to 34, or 27%
- 972 (+20) cases age 45 to 54, or 17%
- 908 (+11) cases age 55 to 64, or 16%
- 710 (+18) cases ages 35 to 44, or 12%
- 622 (+10) cases age 65 to 79, or 11%
- 599 (+2) cases age 80+, or 11%
- 211 (+8) cases age 14 to 18, or 4%
- 188 (+6) cases age 4 to 13, or 3%
- 59 (+1) cases age 0 to 3, or 1%
Around the region:
- Vaughan 2,512 (+39) cases, 341 (+11) active
- Markham 1,356 (+41) cases, 167 (+16) active
- Richmond Hill 731 (+13) cases, 60 (+1) active
- King 143 (+1) cases, 37 (-1) active
- Aurora 232 cases, 24 (-2) active
- Newmarket 348 (+4) cases, 23 (-1) active
- Whitchurch-Stouffville 166 (+2) cases, 23 active
- East Gwillimbury 130 (+2) cases, 22 active
- Georgina 182 (+1) cases, 2 active
Ontario (reported today at 10:30 a.m.):
- 67,527 confirmed cases of COVID-19
- 841 new cases since Oct. 20
- 9 more deaths, totalling 3,071
- 58,066 resolved 86% of cases
- 270 (+10) cases are hospitalized; 74 (+3) in ICU; 48 (-1) on ventilators
- 38,860 more tests completed, with 34,784 awaiting results
- 2.5% (-1.1%) positivity Oct. 20
Cases in schools, child care centres and homes
- Full daily reporthere
- 531 (+2) outbreaks at long-term care homes, 79 (-1) active
- 249 outbreaks at retirement homes, 45 (-2) active
- 118 outbreaks at hospitals, 15 (-1) active
- 1,984 (+3) long-term care resident deaths
- 6,487 (+25) cases are long-term care residents
- 7,532 (+29) cases are health-care workers (11.3%)
70 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death in Ottawa – CBC.ca
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is reporting 70 cases of COVID-19 and one additional death Thursday.
That’s precisely on par with the rolling seven-day average of new cases in the city. Slightly more than half of the new cases reported Thursday are people under 40, OPH said.
A total of 6,296 Ottawa residents have now tested positive for COVID-19, including 675 known active cases, 5,312 resolved cases and 309 deaths.
Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches, who announced on Sept.18 that a second wave of the illness had struck Ottawa, said Wednesday there are signs the rate spread in the capital may be plateauing.
There was still plenty of availability at Ottawa’s COVID-19 testing sites Thursday, though the backlog of swabs sitting at local labs for more than 24 hours had grown to more than 2,300 on Wednesday.
OPH is now hearing about positive tests within 48 hours 73 per cent per cent of the time, continuing its slow improvement.
There are now 49 patients being treated for COVID-19 in Ottawa hospitals, five of them currently in intensive care — the fewest in an ICU since early October.
There are new outbreaks at All Saints High School and École élémentaire catholique Montfort, while OPH has declared an outbreak at École élémentaire catholique Saint-Joseph d’Orléans over. There are active outbreaks at 10 Ottawa schools.
Elsewhere, the Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit is reporting three new cases of COVID-19, while 32 more people have tested positive in western Quebec.
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