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COVID-19 vaccine rollout urgent as new strains take hold – CTV News

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PARIS, FRANCE —
The spread of more infectious coronavirus strains in Britain and South Africa, with isolated cases of the U.K. variant appearing in dozens of countries, has made inoculating a maximum number of people as quickly as possible more urgent than ever, experts say.

Here’s a rundown on how the vaccination story is unfolding:

HOW MANY VACCINES?

Drugmakers worldwide defied predictions by finalising not just one vaccine in record time, but half a dozen.

“To have multiple vaccines authorized before the end of 2020 is truly remarkable,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday approved the U.S.-made Moderna vaccine, having already given a green light December 27 to one made by Pfizer/BioNTech for use in the European Union.

Both are so-called mRNA vaccines, based on a new technology previously untested in a real-world situation, and have been approved in the United States as well.

A third, more conventional vaccine made jointly by researchers at the University of Oxford and the biotech firm AstraZeneca got a green light last week from Britain, followed by India and Argentina.

Russia began inoculating its population with its own Sputnik V vaccine even before the completion of last-stage Phase 3 trials.

State-run companies in China — where the pandemic began more than a year ago — have also seen their vaccines administered months before trials had finished.

A jab produced by Sinopharm jab got “conditional” approval only last week.

All five of these vaccines were designed to be given in two doses, separated by 21 or 28 days, but many countries are poised to extend that period so as to increase the number of people given a first jab.

Another half-a-dozen vaccines are in Phase 3 trials, the last step before authorisation, including a single-dose one from Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

HOW DO THEY WORK?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use an inert snippet of genetic code from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus to trigger a immune response in the body that can repel the active virus.

The other vaccines are variants of the same method used for flu jabs, based on virus that has been killed and rendered harmless.

“The Pfizer vaccine provides a mRNA blueprint to educate the immune system as to what it needs to fight against,” explained James Gill, a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School.

“By contrast the AstraZeneca vaccine shows the immune system a deactivated version of the common cold dressed up to look like Covid-19, as far as our immune system is concerned.”

WHO’S GETTING VACCINATED?

China and Russia began inoculating people within their borders months ago, before any of their vaccines had been approved by national health authorities.

As of the start of 2021, 4.8 million people in China have been vaccinated, and 800,000 in Russia, according to official figures compiled by AFP.

Vaccines

Britain was the first western nation to initiate a vaccination programme, with nearly a million people having received a first jab by the end of 2020.

Its government has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and aims to inoculate 10 million people in four priority groups by mid-February.

Rollout in the rest of Europe has been uneven, with more than 300,000 vaccinated in Germany, 140,000 in Spain, 92,000 in Poland, and 52,000 in Denmark, but only a few hundred in France and Belgium as of January 1.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved in the United States have been given to nearly five million people so far.

The U.S. has reported 21 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 357,000 deaths, more than any other country.

The global tally stands as 86 million confirmed infections, and nearly 1.87 million fatalities.

India — with more than 10 million cases and 150,000 dead, second only to the U.S. — approved the Oxford vaccine and another from a domestic drugmaker, Bharat Biotech, only this week.

Argentina and Algeria are the only nations to have lined up for Russia’s Sputnik V jab, while Brazil has contracted to buy five million doses of the Bharat Biotech vaccine.

The Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines have been approved or distributed in Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab nations. Turkey, Brazil and Chile have also signed deals to secure doses.

Israel leads the world in per capita vaccination, with 1.37 million of its inhabitants — 17 per cent of the population — injected with a first dose as of January 4, according to the Oxford Martin Programme on Global Development.

So far, some 15 million people worldwide have been vaccinated. The global population is 7.8 billion.

“There is no value in just vaccinating one country or one population,” said Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome.

“Vaccines must be available to the whole world at the same time.”

WHICH ONES ARE BEST?

Different vaccines have different strong points.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both reported efficacy rates above 90 per cent, and were the first to meet approval by health authorities in the U.S. and Europe.

The two-dose Oxford jab provided a similar level of protection in trials, but only if the first jab was a half-dose, the manufacturers said.

The Russian vaccine was also claimed to be 90-per cent effective, but the underlying data has yet to be published.

The mRNA-based vaccines, however, are expensive and must be stored and transported at ultra-cold temperatures — minus 20C for Moderna, and minus 70C for Pfizer.

By contrast, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be kept in an ordinary fridge and costs only 3 euros ($4) a dose.

“It is extremely attractive in that it is inexpensive, scalable, and can be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius,” said Hatchett.

It is also the only one made on a not-for-profit basis, putting it more easily in reach for developing and poor nations.

What about transmission and the new strain?It is still unclear whether the vaccines being snapped up around the world only protect against symptoms, or prevent infection of others as well.

“We remain uncertain about the impact the vaccines have on transmission,” said Gail Carson, deputy chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

Until that becomes clear, even people who have received a jab should continue to take measures to prevent the virus from spreading.

“Recipients of the vaccine will still have to follow distancing, hand-washing and other non-medical interventions to protect themselves and those around them,” said Stephen Evans, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“No vaccine is 100-per cent effective and behaving as if it were will serve to prolong the pandemic.”

As for the more contagious strain that has swept across Britain, there is no evidence so far that vaccines will prove less effective against it, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

TWO DOSES OR ONE?

With the virus still raging across much of the world, and the threat of a strain that could be up to 70 per cent more contagious, experts differ on whether it is best to respect the two-dose protocols of the clinical trials or to postpone the second jab so more people can get the first one quickly.

“The trials did not compare different dose spacings or compare one versus two doses, so we simply do not know what is ‘optimal’,” said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the LSHTM.

“But we know that vaccinating only half of a vulnerable population will lead to a notable increase in cases of COVID-19,” he added.

“When resources of doses and people to vaccinate are limited, then vaccinating more people with potentially less efficacy is demonstrably better than a fuller efficacy in only half.”

At the end of the day, experts say, the objective must be to vaccinate as many people worldwide as possible to pass the “herd immunity” threshold that will see the virus retreat for lack of hosts to infect.

Most scientists put that threshold at around 70 per cent.

If one assumes — as do many epidemiologists — that there are about 10 times as many infections as confirmed cases, that would mean less than a billion people have gotten the virus so far.

“At a time when we see the pandemic accelerating beyond our control, a rapid and efficient vaccination programme with good population coverage is our only way out,” said Daniel Altman, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London.

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Ontario teen who died of COVID-19 was refugee who worked as long-term care home cleaner – CBC.ca

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An Ontario teenager who worked as a cleaner at a long-term care home and died after being diagnosed with COVID-19 was a Syrian refugee who moved to Canada with his family in 2016, according to the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, Mohamad Fakih.

Yassin Dabeh, 19, of London, Ont., worked at Middlesex Terrace, a long-term care home in nearby Delaware, Ont.

“The family had four boys and one daughter, and now they’ve lost Yassin,” said Fakih, a philanthropist and businessman, who spoke with Yassin’s father to offer his condolences.

“He said [Yassin] wanted to study, to do something more for his life, and he joined this company that does the cleaning for LTCs,” he explained.

Fakih said he offered to organize a fundraiser to cover the costs of a funeral for the young man but was told that it was already taken care of.

“[The father] was very emotional about it. He told me how the community came together for the funeral costs and how he’s very appreciative of how the community is coming together to help them.”

Youngest in the region with COVID-19 to die

In an interview with CBC News on Saturday, Dr. Alex Summers, the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s associate medical officer of health, said the teen is the youngest person in the region diagnosed with the virus to die.

“It’s certainly a very sad day and a reminder of how the impact of this pandemic can be felt,” he said.

The health unit has not confirmed Dabeh’s identity or workplace, only that he was a male teenager who was a staff member at a long-term care home.

APANS Health Services, which is the parent company of Middlesex Terrace, issued a statement extending its ‘deep sympathies to the family and friends of Yassin Dabeh.’ (Hillary Johnstone/CBC)

Summers said the diagnosis came within the last four weeks, and that the teen’s infectious period had actually ended. An investigation into his death is underway he said. 

He could not say whether the teen had underlying health conditions. 

Summers previously said the teen was not working at a long-term care home while infectious, but the health unit now says the teen did work at the home for a short period of time, early on in the infectious period, before going into isolation.

Mary Raithby, CEO of APANS Health Services, the parent company of Middlesex Terrace, said in a statement that “we extend our deep sympathies to the family and friends of Yassin Dabeh.”

“Out of respect for their loss, we are declining to make any comments at this time.”

Fakih said a funeral is being planned in the next couple of days. He also said the entire family has also been diagnosed with the coronavirus “because of the son coming back home every time after work.”

Fakih, who was born in Lebanon and now lives in Toronto, said he and some friends are cooking 500 meals to give out to those in need in their community. They’ve decided to hold the event in Yassin’s honour, he said.

“It’s an Islamic tradition when somebody dies. It’s good to do food and gifts for people in need. We believe that helps in the blessing of their soul.”

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As COVID surges in Canada, workers ‘can’t afford to get sick’ – Al Jazeera English

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Toronto, Canada – When Carolina Lopez woke up with a sore throat in November, her mind immediately went to the worst-case scenario: COVID-19.

For the Toronto resident, who works two jobs as a restaurant server and cleaner, a COVID-positive diagnosis would not only affect her health – it could mean losing the pay she needs for rent, groceries and transportation.

“Every time you go outside, you are at risk of getting sick and you just can’t afford to get sick,” Lopez told Al Jazeera. “If you get sick and stay home, you’re not going to receive money to pay for your basic needs.”

Lopez ultimately did not have COVID-19 and she recovered from her illness after a few days.

But her fear that a positive COVID-19 diagnosis would spell financial disaster is shared by thousands of essential workers around the world and in Canada, where a surge of infections is pushing healthcare systems in many provinces to the brink.

The second wave has also prompted growing calls for paid sick leave in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, where worker advocates, city officials and public health experts say workers cannot stay home when they are ill, which fuels the spread of the virus.

Supporters tape photographs of migrant worker Rogelio Munoz Santos, who died from COVID-19, during a pro-immigration rally in Toronto, Ontario on July 4 [File: Chris Helgren/Reuters]

Workplace outbreaks

Ontario on January 22 reported a seven-day average of 2,703 new daily COVID-19 cases – and the province overtook Quebec on Saturday to record the most total infections in the country, at more than 252,000 since the pandemic began.

Amid recent rising cases and hospitalisations, the Ontario government issued an emergency stay-at-home order earlier this month, imposing stricter lockdown measures until at least February 10 across the province.

But Premier Doug Ford did not address the growing demand for paid sick leave for essential workers – fuelling frustrations among workers’ advocates who say such a measure is necessary to stem infections.

Shortly after he was elected in 2018, Ford moved to eliminate emergency leave provisions for workers in Ontario that were introduced by the previous government, including two guaranteed sick days. Currently, Ontario workers can take three unpaid sick days once they have worked for two weeks. The province also passed new rules to allow employees to take “job-protected infectious disease emergency leave” for reasons related to COVID-19 – but that too is unpaid.

There are currently 256 workplace outbreaks in the province, according to most recent data, including 46 in retail and 24 in food processing.

Dr Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, recently recommended Ontario guarantee five permanent paid sick days for workers after three months of employment. That figure, she said, should increase to 10 days during an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

De Villa said in her report that only 42 percent of Canadian workers have access to paid sick days, while that rate drops to around 10 percent for low-wage workers, many of whom have been deemed essential during the pandemic.

Toronto’s board of health also urged the province to take up de Villa’s recommendations on paid sick days, as well as ensure all workers could take protected, paid leave to care for loved ones who are ill.

Joe Cressy, a Toronto city councillor and chair of the board, said: “The truth is, COVID will continue to spread through essential workplaces and our communities unless we guarantee paid sick leave now.”

Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre, a group that advocates for better workplace and employment conditions in Ontario, said essential workers are living in a state of constant stress because they have to choose between going to work sick or staying home without pay.

“I think essential workers are very worried and feeling that they’re putting their health on the line every time they go to work because they don’t have paid sick days,” she told Al Jazeera.

In particular, guaranteed paid sick leave would benefit, low-wage front-line workers including taxi drivers, factory workers and cashiers at supermarkets and big-box stores, she said. “They’re precarious, they’re low wage or they’re casual so all these factors combined with the fact that we’re seeing infection rates rise lends itself to a sense of stress and panic.”

Federal benefit

In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced a programme to provide financial assistance to essential workers that need to take time off due to COVID-19. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit covers up to 55 percent of an employee’s earnings for a maximum of $595 per week for up to two weeks.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, the office of Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, said the measure aims to provide workers with paid sick leave “if it is not a protection provided by their provincial government”.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced a federal programme to provide financial assistance to essential workers [File: Blair Gable/Reuters]

“We did this so that no worker – regardless of where they live in Canada, or who they work for – has to choose between going to work while impacted by COVID-19 and putting food on the table,” the statement read.

But Ladd said only workers who have COVID-19 symptoms and have lost 50 percent of their work in a one-week period can apply for the programme. Even if they meet those criteria, they typically need to wait two to four weeks to receive the funds, she added.

“And so provincially mandated sick days are critical because they mean that workers will not have their wages disrupted if they’re sick or if they have to take a day off to get a COVID test.”

Systemic issues

Harry Godfrey, press secretary for the Ontario Ministry of Labour, told Al Jazeera that while negotiating a COVID-19 economic stimulus plan – the Safe Restart Agreement – with the federal government, it was agreed that Ottawa would provide paid sick leave support.

“We appreciate the federal government’s work on paid sick leave, which as they note, mean workers do not have to choose between going to work and putting food on the table. To date, over 110,000 Ontarians have applied for the paid sick benefit,” Godfrey said in a statement.

Godfrey also noted that the provincial government legislated an amendment to the Employment Standards Act that “ensures that those who stay home to self-isolate or care for a loved one will not be fired”.

Speaking to reporters this month, Ford said instating paid sick days at the provincial level would be doubling up on what the federal government is already providing – and said his government would not be offering paid sick leave subsidies.

Front-line workers stage a ‘die-in’ protest to demand paid sick days for all workers, in front of the Ontario provincial legislature in Toronto, Ontario on January 13, 2021 [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

But mayors across Ontario, the provincial opposition party, and public health and medical experts, have urged the Ford government to move on paid sick leave quickly as a way to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Dr Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist with the University Health Network in Toronto, said it “boggles” his mind that Ontario has not done so yet.

Meanwhile, he said people of colour are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic in the province and many often cannot self-isolate either, without fear of infecting their loved ones.

“These are often people living in households that are multigenerational in nature,” Sharkawy told Al Jazeera. “When they become sick, they don’t have the luxury of being in their space, using their own bathroom, having their own sleeping quarters, their own room to separate from the other people in their family safely.”

He said the province’s calls for people to stay home are insufficient when it is not addressing the root causes of the virus’s spread. “I’m very disappointed when all I hear is better stay home or do better,” Sharkawy said.

“It’s falling on deaf ears when you’re not changing the systemic issues that are preventing people from doing better and giving them the job security and paid sick leave that will incentivise them and give them some support.”

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

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The latest:

  • Health Canada approves Spartan Bioscience’s previously recalled rapid COVID-19 test.
  • The pros and cons of naming workplaces that have COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • Israel includes teens in vaccination drive, plans to close Ben Gurion Airport to nearly all flights.
  • Belgium bans foreign tourism to avoid third COVID-19 wave.
  • New Zealand reports 1st community case in more than 2 months.
  • Montreal woman says mother with dementia accidentally given Pfizer vaccine after receiving dose of Moderna.
  • P.E.I. to ease some COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Tracking the coronavirusWhere is the pandemic getting better or worse?
  • Do you have a tip or question about the pandemic? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

An Ottawa company’s made-in-Canada rapid COVID-19 test has been approved, Health Canada confirmed on Saturday.

The test developed by Spartan Bioscience is performed by a health-care professional and provides on-site results within an hour, a spokesperson for the federal agency said.

The company originally unveiled a rapid test for COVID-19 last spring but had to voluntarily recall it and perform additional studies after Health Canada expressed some reservations about the “efficacy of the proprietary swab” for the device.

WATCH | Health Canada approves Canadian-made rapid COVID-19 testing system:

Canada’s health authority approved Spartan Bioscience’s rapid COVID-19 testing system. 3:12

Meanwhile, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, warned that COVID-19 continues to strain the health-care system even as daily case counts decline in several long-standing hot spots.

“Stringent and consistent efforts are needed to sustain a downward trend in case counts and strongly suppress COVID-19 activity across Canada,” Tam said in a statement. “This will not only prevent more tragic outcomes but will help to ensure that new virus variants of concern do not have the opportunity to spread.”


What’s happening across Canada

As of 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Canada had reported 746,406 cases of COVID-19, with 63,625 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,065.

In British Columbia, 20 people in custody at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam have tested positive for COVID-19. The Fraser Health Authority announced the outbreak on Friday and said it is working to identify others who may have had contact with those who tested positive at the jail.

Alberta saw 573 new COVID-19 cases and 13 additional deaths on Saturday.

Saskatchewan recorded 274 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths.

WATCH | CBC medical contributor answers your COVID-19 questions:

The CBC’s John Northcott puts your coronavirus-related questions to family physician and CBC medical contributor Dr. Peter Lin. 9:28

Manitoba announced 216 new cases and three more deaths. The latest update comes on the day strict restrictions for much of the province eased, following recent drops in case numbers.

Ontario reported 2,417 new COVID-19 cases and 50 more deaths on Sunday.

WATCH | Teenage long-term care worker dies of COVID-19:

The CBC’s Natasha Fatah talks with London-Middlesex’s Associate Health Director, Dr. Alex Summers, following the death of a teenage Long-Term Care worker. 9:34

Quebec on Sunday registered 1,457 new cases and 41 additional deaths, which were reported between Jan. 17 and Jan. 22.

New Brunswick reported 17 new cases on Saturday. Ten of those cases were in the Edmundston region in the northwest, which was set to go into a lockdown first thing Sunday morning.

Nova Scotia saw one new case on Sunday. On Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil said almost all of the province’s public health restrictions will remain until at least Feb. 7, but some restrictions in sports, arts and culture will be eased starting Monday.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases on both Saturday and Sunday after seeing one new case on Friday; one person remains in hospital in the province due to COVID-19.

In Prince Edward Island, larger organized gatherings and later hours for bars and restaurants are now allowed as the province eases some of its COVID-19 restrictions.

Nunavut announced a second active case in the hard-hit community of Arviat. The new case comes a day after the territory confirmed its first new infection since Dec. 28.


What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 98.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 54.6 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to the coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.

In Europe, Belgium is banning residents from taking vacations abroad until March to limit the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants and avoid a deadly third wave of COVID-19 cases. The government says travel into or out of Belgium for recreation or tourism is prohibited from Jan. 27 to March 1.

Police check documents at a train station in Brussels on Friday. (Reuters TV)

Belgium has one of the world’s highest per-capita death tolls from COVID-19. It has had nearly 700,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths. But it now has a lower rate of infections than its neighbours and has avoided the total lockdowns of Britain, the Netherlands and Germany.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., police broke up an illegal rave in the London borough of Hackney, where about 300 people gathered under a railway arch. The BBC reports nearly 80 fines were issued for breach of lockdown restrictions.

In the Middle East, Israel expanded its COVID-19 vaccination drive on Sunday to include 16- to 18-year-olds in what the government described as an effort to enable their attendance at school exams.

Israel, which has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate, is hoping to begin reopening its economy next month.

Israel will also be closing Ben Gurion Airport to nearly all flights to help bring the coronavirus outbreak under control, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

“We are closing the skies hermetically, except for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations,” he said.

Tomer, who is 18, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli media said the closure of the country’s busiest international airport, 25 kilometres southeast of Tel Aviv, would begin on Tuesday and remain in effect until Jan. 31.

New Zealand has reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in more than two months, although there was no immediate evidence the virus was spreading in the community.

Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said on Sunday that the case was a 56-year-old woman who recently returned from Europe.

Like other returning travellers, she spent 14 days in quarantine and twice tested negative before returning home on Jan. 13. She later developed symptoms and tested positive.

Bloomfield said health officials are investigating to see whether its possible she caught the disease from another returning traveler who was staying in the same quarantine facility.

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