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.”
Coronavirus Canada Updates: BC shatters records with 274 new COVID-19 cases, social gatherings blamed – lintelligencer
For the second day in a row, British Columbia has announced a record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases.
At a Thursday briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported 274 new cases — shattering the previous record, announced Wednesday, of 203.
B.C. is now facing 1,920 active cases, nearing the previous record of 1,987 set in September. In addition, 4,425 people were in isolation due to possible exposure.
The province’s death toll was unchanged at 256.
Despite surging cases, the situation in B.C. hospitals has remained relatively stable since early October.
Seventy-one people were in hospital, 24 of them in critical or intensive care.
About 82 per cent of B.C.s 12,331 cases have recovered.
Much of the surge in new cases has been driven by social gatherings, such as weddings and funerals, which Henry described as “high risk.”
A small percentage of the new cases were also linked to “large” Thanksgiving gatherings.
Many of the events have been concentrated in the Lower Mainland, but their effects have since spread province-wide as attendees returned to homes outside the region, Henry said.
They have also spread into the healthcare system and workplaces people who were exposed returned to work, she added.
“People are not sticking with their COVID-19 safety plans for social gatherings, particularly ones like weddings and funerals,” Henry said.
Take a step back from social interactions, says B.C.'s top doctor – NiagaraFallsReview.ca
VICTORIA – British Columbia reported 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, tipping the number of active infections over 2,000.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says in a statement infections have been detected at two more assisted-living or long-term care homes and there are two new community outbreaks.
The latest health-care outbreaks are at Laurel Place in Surrey and Fair Haven Homes at Burnaby Lodge, while the community outbreaks involve Coast Spas Manufacturing and Pace Processing in Langley.
Outbreaks at a number of other care homes have been declared over, leaving 16 homes and two acute-care facilities with active infections.
Seventy-five people are in hospital, including 24 in intensive care, but no one else has died from the illness since the province’s last update.
Henry says contact tracing teams throughout the province are working around the clock, but their success depends on everyone taking a step back from social interactions.
There are nearly 4,640 people under public health monitoring as a result of exposure to a known case.
B.C. has confirmed 12,554 cases of COVID-19 so far.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.
Northern Manitoba braces for increased COVID-19 restrictions while cases rise – Global News
While Manitoba’s north is set to come under increased restrictions meant to combat rising COVID-19 case numbers Monday, the mayor of The Pas says heightened rules are necessary to quell the virus’s spread.
“We need to get a handle on this virus in our community and if the restrictions will allow us to do that, then it needs to be done,” said Herb Jaques, the mayor of the northern town of 12,000.
Generally, gatherings will be capped at five people under the province’s orange level in its pandemic rating system — gatherings of more than five can take place if the number of people doesn’t exceed 30 per cent of a given location’s capacity, the location is physically divided into separate areas where five people are allowed at a time and people aren’t allowed to come into close contact.
Masks will be mandatory in all public, indoor spaces. Restaurants, retail stores and other businesses will be allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity, while casinos and bingo halls will have to close.
Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin made the announcement Thursday.
“We know that the north is already at risk for transmission of this virus, especially in remote, isolated communities (where there is lack of) access to health care,” Roussin said at the time.
Manitoba tightens restrictions on schools in Winnipeg Metro, northern regions, in response to rising COVID-19 numbers
Jaques said people in The Pas have already begun to wear masks in the town’s shopping district.
“It’s very common now to see people wearing masks in town; all the local businesses have taken measures to ensure there is social distancing,” Jaques said. “It’s just a regular occurrence now in their businesses.
“Handwashing stations are everywhere; we’re doing whatever we can for the recommendations of (chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin) to be compliant and try to get ahead of this.”
The sprawling Northern Health Region, which encompasses 396,000 square kilometres of the province, avoided significant numbers of COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic. On Saturday, however, the region saw 15 new cases, while 58 cases are active.
“I think a solemnness is setting in in my community,” Jaques said. “As you know, we were almost exempt from participating in (the pandemic), we had no cases and we went with no cases for quite a while. Now it’s here and it appears to be here with a vengeance.”
The neighbouring communities of The Pas, Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the rural municipality of Kelsey currently have 15 active novel coronavirus cases combined.
Jaques said he is concerned about the area health-care system’s capacity — The Pas Health Complex has 48 beds total, according to the health authority.
Four of those are functioning intensive care beds, Jaques said.
“If this starts to get out of hand, we’re going to fill up those spaces fairly quickly and that’s a concern,” he said.
“Now is not the time to point fingers or lay criticism, but when this is over, there really needs to be some serious discussions about health care in the north and in Manitoba.”
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas on travel to northern Manitoba
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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