As the days shorten and people come indoors, what should we expect as we head into our second COVID-19 autumn and winter?
Last year, Thanksgiving and Christmas triggered a pandemic spike. Over holiday season 2020, California’s daily case counts climbed as high as 54,000. In contrast, the state is now reporting about 5,500 new cases a day.
While nothing is certain, there is more optimism. “We’re in a much better place than we were last year,” said UC San Francisco epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford.
“I think we’ll see a small to moderate winter surge,” Rutherford predicted. It won’t be as pronounced as last winter’s pandemic but may mimic the smaller spike in cases experienced in August, he said.
Why? There’s growing immunity — and several pending steps by federal authorities to fight the virus. While there are still pockets of unvaccinated people in the Bay Area, overall vaccination rates in some counties for residents 12 and up have surpassed 80%. Statewide, 71% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated. This population-wide protection is expected to climb still higher once children are eligible to get shots.
Here’s a look at what the months ahead will bring.
Children will start to be vaccinated.
On Thursday, Pfizer submitted clinical trial data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of their vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. Pfizer’s data shows that the vaccine is safe and triggers a robust strong immune response in kids.
The agency will meet on Oct. 26 to consider this plan — suggesting we may see a decision and distribution of the vaccine for kids between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
The pediatric vaccine is not as straightforward as it sounds. It will hold one-third the dosage of the vaccine for older youth and adults, according to Pfizer. This likely requires dilution and perhaps a different formulation.
If successful, that move would help protect another 28 million Americans.
“It’s an important advance,” said Rutherford. “The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is right up there with the worst of the childhood infectious diseases. We want to extend the existing technology — not just to protect them from getting sick, but to prevent transmission.”
Waning immunities will get a boost.
There’s concern that as immunity levels in communities start to subside, there will be a new resurgence of cases. So far, only Pfizer’s vaccine has been authorized for booster doses. And it’s offered only to older and other vulnerable Americans, such as people with medical conditions or jobs that place them at higher risk of exposure. There are no imminent plans to expand the eligible population.
Americans are welcoming this third shot, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Of the 6.6 million shots given from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, more than 2.6 million of them were booster shots, compared to 2 million first doses and 2 million second doses.
Next week, on Oct. 14 and 15, an FDA committee plans to discuss Moderna and J&J booster vaccines. If authorized, these vaccines may be offered to a narrower group of people than the Pfizer vaccine. That’s because overall immunity after the initial round of Moderna and J&J vaccines seems to hold up better over time than the Pfizer vaccine.
There will be more mixing-and-matching of vaccines.
Also next week, the FDA committee plans to discuss whether people should be allowed to get a booster shot of a different vaccine than the one they originally received.
So-called “mixing and matching” of vaccines — getting a first dose of Pfizer, followed by a second dose of Moderna — is already used in Europe and other places, so it will likely be approved in the U.S. In fact, there have been recent studies suggesting that using two different vaccine technologies — getting both the J&J and Pfizer vaccines, for instance — may offer more vigorous protection than sticking with one type.
That could boost convenience. It could also assure better protection on university campuses, where a large number of Chinese and other international students have gotten the Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines, which work less well than their foreign counterparts.
Pharmaceutical companies don’t conduct mix-and-match clinical trials; they only research their own product. So the National Institutes of Health has structured a giant comparison study to help answer the mix-and-match question.
There will be more testing.
Earlier this year, we thought vaccinated people couldn’t spread the virus. That’s changed.
“For now, testing and knowing your status is going to be extremely important to keep businesses and schools running,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
This past week, the FDA authorized a new COVID-19 home test that is expected to double the nation’s limited supply of non-prescription tests. The FDA’s emergency use authorization of ACON Laboratories’ Flowflex COVID-19 home test means that tens of millions of additional tests will soon be available. While the consumer price is not yet known, large retailers such as Walmart, Amazon and Kroger have agreed to sell at-home tests at the cost they pay for them.
Production could double to 200 million monthly tests by February, according to the FDA. That could be enough to supply the schools and companies who carry out President Biden’s “vaccinate-or-test” mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees.
It’s important to test yourself promptly before traveling or attending an event, said Mina. Currently, many places allow testing up to three days before.
“That’s like going through a TSA security checkpoint at the airport and then being allowed to go back home for three days and repack your bags,” he said. “Then when you come back, you don’t have to go through security again. That’s not a good way to screen.”
Toronto police officers who ignore COVID-19 vaccinate mandate policy will be put on unpaid leave – CBC.ca
Toronto police officers who aren’t fully vaccinated or haven’t disclosed their COVID-19 vaccination status by Nov. 30 will be put on indefinite unpaid leave, the service says.
Any such member, uniformed or not, will not be allowed to enter buildings until they comply with the mandatory vaccine and disclosure policy.
Those members will also not be eligible for promotions to supervisory or management positions, the service said in a news release Thursday.
“Vaccination against COVID-19 protects the health and safety of each of our members, our workplaces and the public we serve,” said Chief James Ramer.
Consistent communication needed for kids COVID-19 vaccine rollout: experts – Delta-Optimist
Kelly Grindrod remembers the confusion pharmacists felt last spring as Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine policy changed rapidly throughout the rollout, sometimes with little warning.
Shifting eligibility requirements differed across the country, booking sites were harder to navigate in some regions, and one vaccine product came to be seen as inferior to the rest, infuriating the public and vaccinators alike.
Grindrod, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo and the pharmacy lead for Waterloo Region’s vaccine rollout, hopes provinces learned lessons from Canada’s first vaccination campaign for adults.
And if a COVID-19 vaccine is soon approved for children, she said a kid’s rollout needs consistent and clear messaging.
“Communication was a real challenge,” Grindrod recalled. “(Policy) would be announced nationally and everybody on the ground had to scramble because we were all hearing it at the same time.
“Immediately the phones would go crazy in pharmacies because people were trying to make sense of it…. We need a bit more lead-in, a bit more clarity, so (vaccinators) have answers before people start calling.”
Pfizer-BioNTech asked Health Canada to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged five-to-11 this week. The regulator is reviewing data before making a decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that Pfizer is ready to ship millions of child doses in the event of authorization, while Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand added that Canada has already procured syringes and other supplies needed to speed up the rollout.
In the United States,an advisory group with the Food and Drug Administration, which received an approval request from Pfizer earlier this month, is scheduled to meet next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is then set to discuss authorization in early November.
Grindrod said U.S. regulators, which sometimes stream meetings online, have shown “more transparency around the (decision-making) process.”
Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization supply “fairly comprehensive” documents after they’ve made decisions, she said, but vaccinators could use a heads up “to facilitate planning.”
Logistics of the kids rollout — where children get a vaccine, how they book appointments and whether certain kids will be prioritized — are still to be determined. Ontario said Tuesday it was open to running mass vaccine clinics at schools after school hours.
Omar Khan, an immunology and infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, said school clinics are a great way to reach more kids. Pharmacies and family doctors can also help, but proper scheduling — which includes flexibility around parents’ work hours — is needed to ensure half-empty vaccine vials aren’t tossed at the end of the day.
“Anything that reduces accessibility barriers will help distribute (vaccines) to the queue of people waiting to get vaccinated across multiple sites,” he said.
Most logistics can be ironed out once supply is determined, Grindrod said.
Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine involves a different formulation, but Grindrod said some pharmacists have asked whether they must wait for kid-specific shipments or if a diluted adult dose could serve if supply was scarce. She urged clear information as soon as possible.
Messaging around the kids vaccine in general has to be handled with more care, she said,starting with whatever NACI and Health Canada recommend after reviewing its safety and efficacy.
“We need very careful communication … because we haven’t seen the data,” she said. “There are questions that need to be answered very clearly — what is the risk of COVID to kids at the point at which vaccines become available? What are the known side effects we expect to see based on data from trials?
“And then separately, what are the unknowns?”
Science communicator Samantha Yammine noted the difficulty in maintaining consistent vaccine advice when the science on COVID-19 evolved quickly throughout the pandemic.
Policies introduced midway through the adult rollout, such as NACI’s recommendation against using AstraZeneca for second doses, seemed to contradict earlier advice. But public health messaging constantly adapts to new data, she said.
While communication was confusing at times, the country still vaccinated nearly 82 per cent of its eligible population to date.
Since parents are likely more concerned about vaccinating children than getting the jab themselves, fears should be addressed honestly and parents made to feel part of the plan, Yammine said.
That includes equipping parents with child-friendly information they may need to field youngsters’ questions about the vaccine, she added.
And kids’ comprehension level shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I’m advising people to acknowledge how great a job kids have done,” Yammine said. “Wearing masks, understanding why they have to play with friends outside, it’s been really hard on kids.
“But they’ve shown us they can be involved and they can understand complex things.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.
Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
Get the flu shot: Public Health – Quinte News
Local public health officials says getting the flu shot this year is especially important to reduce the risk of illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since many people are vulnerable to serious risks related to the flu, officials say everyone can help reduce the spread by getting vaccinated.
In a release, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health points out that it’s safe to get the flu vaccine at the same time as, or any time before or after the COVID-19 vaccine.
They point out influenza can be a serious disease and can lead to pneumonia or organ failure.
Statement from Hastings Prince Edward Public Health:
Getting the flu vaccine is especially important this year, to reduce your risk of illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many people are vulnerable to serious risks related to the flu, everyone can help reduce the spread by getting vaccinated. Your choice to get vaccinated will also help ensure critical health care resources are available to those who need them most. It’s safe to get the flu vaccine at the same time as, or any time before or after the COVID-19 vaccine, so do not delay – protect yourself with these important vaccines today!
Influenza is not caused by the viruses that cause COVID-19 or a cold. It can be a serious disease that causes some individuals to be in bed for a week or longer. It can also lead to complications such as pneumonia or organ failure. Vaccinated individuals are less likely to have severe complications and end up in the hospital – which will help ensure health care resources are available to those who need them most.
This year, residents are encouraged to seek their flu vaccination as soon as possible through their health care provider or a pharmacy. As public health resources continue to be redeployed to the COVID-19 pandemic, HPEPH is not able to offer community flu clinics to the general public this year. However, flu vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself and those you love from serious illness and complications. Getting your flu vaccine early is the best way to protect yourself from the flu, as it can take up to two weeks to build immunity. The vaccine is available to individuals over 2 years of age at local pharmacies, and everyone over 6 months of age can receive the flu vaccination from their health care provider. HPEPH is considering the feasibility of offering small flu vaccination clinics to populations who are unable to receive the vaccine through these avenues, but any such clinics are dependant on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination and local case rates, as resources continue to be required for COVID-19 case and contact management.
“You got your COVID-19 vaccine – now it’s time to protect yourself, and those you love, from the flu,” says Dr. Ethan Toumishey, Acting Medical Officer of Health at HPEPH. “The COVID-19 vaccine has shown us how important and effective vaccines can be at reducing the severity of illness. While the COVID-19 vaccine reduces your risk of complications from COVID-19, it won’t protect you from the flu.”
To reduce the spread of illness in the community, all residents should continue public health precautions. The same measures that are helping control the spread of COVID-19 will help reduce the spread of seasonal influenza. If you have symptoms of the flu, stay home and follow testing guidance for COVID-19. Even if you are vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19, you can still get a mild case of these illnesses and spread them to others. The same public health precautions that prevent the spread of COVID-19, will prevent the spread of the flu.
- Stay home when you are sick
- Get tested for COVID-19 (if advised by screening)
- Wash your hands often
- Cover your cough and sneeze
- Clean frequently touched surfaces often
- Get vaccinated.
For more information, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/flu-facts
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