The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of four more northern B.C. residents.
On Monday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported that the Northern Health region’s death toll from the pandemic had grown to 52 – up from 48 in Friday’s update.
“”There have been 31 new COVID-19 related deaths, for a total of 1,078 deaths in British Columbia,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement released on Monday afternoon. “We offer our condolences to everyone who has lost their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
There were 166 new cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Health region since Friday’s update, according to the B.C. CDC data. The region’s number of active cases rose to 531, up from 497 on Friday.
The Northern Health’s case counts are moving the opposite direction of the province as a whole. On Monday, the province had 4,326 active cases of COVID-19, down from 4,604 on Friday and 5,232 a week ago.
Across B.C. there were 343 hospitalized with COVID-19, including 68 in critical care. Forty of those hospitalized were in the Northern Health region, and 16 of those people were in critical care.
B.C. had a total of 1,330 new cases of COVID-19 since the last update, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 61,447 – including 2,911 in the north.
A breakdown of COVID-19 cases by local health area released by the B.C. CDC reported there were 108 cases of COVID-19 in the Prince George area between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9.
A map showing cases by Health Service Delivery Area showed 132 cases between Jan. 8 and Jan. 14 in the Northern Interior area, which includes Prince George.
As of Monday, 87,346 British Columbians have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“With notice of a temporary reduction in Pfizer vaccine supply in Canada, we have adjusted our immunization program to match availability,” Henry and Dix said. “Our focus continues to be on immunizing all those in long-term care, as well as the people who care for the residents, and starting dose two at 35 days.”
As of this week, the B.C. CDC will add vaccination information to its COVID-19 dashboard information.
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“We have to remember that even though our COVID-19 immunization program is underway, the risks remain high. This is why we all need to continue using our layers of protection and follow the public health orders, to keep everyone without a vaccine as safe as possible,” Henry and Dix said. “The COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly effective, greater than what we see in the vaccines for many other illnesses. But right now, it is our individual efforts that have the biggest impact. Let’s show each other that we remain committed to doing our part to keep everyone safe, to protect our seniors and Elders who have not yet had the vaccine, our neighbours and loved ones.”
Canada approves AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot, 500,000 doses … – Thomson Reuters Foundation
(Adds comments from Verity CEO on arrival of doses in Canada)
By Julie Gordon and Allison Martell
OTTAWA, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Canada on Friday approved AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, including the version produced by the Serum Institute of India, and 500,000 doses are due to arrive next week.
The vaccine is the third to be approved by Health Canada following the December approval of vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc with BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.
“With Pfizer, Moderna, and now AstraZeneca, Canada will get more than 6.5 million doses before the end of March,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters. “And there will be tens of millions more doses to come between April and June.”
Canada has ordered 20 million doses of the vaccine from AstraZeneca, and is due to receive 1.9 million through COVAX – the international initiative set up to provide equitable access to vaccines – in the first half of the year.
On Friday, Canada said it had secured an additional 2 million doses through its agreement with Verity Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc and the Serum Institute of India.
The initial 500,000 doses would arrive in coming weeks and be ready to distribute to provinces and territories, Procurement Canada said. The remaining 1.5 million doses would arrive by mid-May.
Verity Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Howard Glase said 500,000 doses would arrive in Canada on Wednesday.
While Canada has ordered more COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita any other country, its initial roll-out has been slow in part because of temporary disruptions in deliveries from manufacturers. None of the approved vaccines are made in Canada.
The added doses from the Serum Institute of India are meant to accelerate the inoculation drive and could safeguard against future delays from other manufacturers.
AstraZeneca has told the European Union it expects to deliver less than half the COVID-19 doses it was contracted to supply in the second quarter, an EU official said.
Canada has reported 858,217 coronavirus infections and 21,865 deaths since the start of the pandemic about a year ago.
Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for all adults under Health Canada’s accelerated approval system, saying its efficacy in those over age 65 was supported in part by evidence gathered outside of clinical trials. It said the efficacy of the vaccine was 62.1%.
The United States has not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the European Union has. Germany is only using the product on people under 65.
Trudeau has said repeatedly that every willing resident will be able to get inoculated by the end of September.
“But of course we have seen there can be bumps in the road – things can happen on the manufacturing side,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Friday.
The timing of Health Canada’s decisions on two other vaccines, produced by Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc , is likely to be “in line with the other major regulators,” said Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at the regulator.
The J&J review is pretty much complete, with some manufacturing information expected on Friday, Sharma said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s expert advisory panel is expected to recommend authorization for J&J’s one-shot vaccine on Friday. (Reporting by Allison Martell and Julie Gordon, additional reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Asia Today: S. Korea allows workers to squeeze extra doses – Vancouver Is Awesome
SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency has allowed health workers to squeeze extra doses from vials of coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
The decision on Saturday came after some health workers who were administering the AstraZeneca shots reported to authorities that they still saw additional doses left in the bottles that had each been used for 10 injections.
KDCA official Jeong Gyeong-shil said skilled workers may be able to squeeze one or two extra doses from each vial if they use low dead-volume syringes designed to reduce wasted medications and vaccines.
However, she said the KDCA isn’t allowing health workers from combining vaccines left in different bottles to create more doses.
The KDCA had previously authorized 10 injections for each AstraZeneca vial and six for each Pfizer vial.
South Korea, which launched its public vaccination campaign on Friday, is administering the AstraZeneca shots to residents and workers at long-term care facilities and the Pfizer ones to front-line medical workers.
South Korea on Saturday reported another 405 coronavirus cases.
In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:
— Over 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday following a two-day delay due to export procedures, offering a second inoculation option for the city. The Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be offered to about 2.4 million eligible residents from priority groups such as those aged 60 and above and health care workers. About 70,000 residents who have registered for the vaccination program, which kicked off on Friday, will receive the shots developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. The Sinovac vaccines were the first to arrive last week. Registration details for those wishing to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shots haven’t been announced yet. Hong Kong has struck deals for a total of 22.5 million doses, with 7.5 million each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which is delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
—- New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland is going back into a seven-day lockdown after a new unexplained coronavirus case was found. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement Saturday evening after an urgent meeting with top lawmakers in the Cabinet. She said the lockdown would take effect from Sunday morning. Auckland earlier this month was placed into a three-day lockdown after new cases of the more contagious variant first found in Britain were found. New Zealand has pursued a zero-tolerance elimination strategy with the virus, and had successfully stamped out community spread before the latest cases were found this month. Ardern said the latest patient had experienced symptoms since earlier in the week and could have infected others. The rest of New Zealand will also have increased restrictions.
— Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry has decided to vaccinate everyone aged 30 and above in the high-risk areas of the capital Colombo and suburbs where COVID-19 cases are rising. There were 466 new cases in the last 24 hours. Sri Lankan began its inoculation drive in January starting with health workers. So far, more than 406,000 people have received their shots.
The Associated Press
Experts caution against the temptation to comparison shop COVID-19 vaccines – St. Albert Today
TORONTO — While it’s tempting to compare various aspects of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to others, several experts cautioned against focusing on data that is not comparable and the danger of underrating the product’s ability to curb hospitalizations and deaths.
Health Canada’s long-awaited announcement Friday that a third vaccine would soon be deployed came just as the provinces faced heightened scrutiny over regional immunization plans that vary by timeline, age eligibility and priority groups.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the boost to Canada’s pandemic arsenal would mean “more people vaccinated, and sooner,” and would be key to helping contain spread.
Nevertheless, Health Canada chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma acknowledged questions over how the public should evaluate trial results that show AstraZeneca has an efficacy of 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases. That’s compared to the 95 per cent efficacy of the country’s two other approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
But Sharma stressed that all three have been shown to prevent 100 per cent of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.
“Each vaccine has unique characteristics and Health Canada’s review has confirmed that the benefits of the viral vector-based vaccine, as with the other authorized vaccines, outweigh their potential risks,” Sharma said.
Several medical experts including Dr. Stephen Hwang say Canadians do not have the luxury to pick-and-choose as long as COVID-19 cases continue to rage in several hot spots and strain health-care systems.
With multiple COVID-19 projections warning of a variant-fuelled third wave without tighter suppression measures, any tool that can slow the pandemic should be embraced, he argued.
“It would be important for people to be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is first available in their community to them, rather than trying to hold out for a specific vaccine,” advised Hwang, who treats COVID-19 patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Still, Toronto resident Maria Brum couldn’t help but question whether AstraZeneca was safe for her 79-year-old mother.
The vaccine was not tested on people over the age of 65. Health Canada, however, says real-world data from countries already using the product suggest it is safe and effective among older age groups, promising an update on efficacy in the age group as more data comes in.
“I personally would take that one out as an option for my mom,” said Brum, who is her mother’s main caregiver.
“Maybe I am wrong but, I don’t know, I don’t see that it’s more useful. I’d like to see one that has a higher percentage of (efficacy).”
As for herself, Brum said she has allergies that she believes may put her at greater risk of adverse reactions and so she is unsure whether she can take any vaccine.
But she’d like the option of choosing, if possible, even while acknowledging that limited supply could make that unlikely.
“As a Canadian, I would like to see us all have choices, regardless of age, gender, or ability,” says Brum.
“I’m going to wait where I can have more choices.”
Such hesitancy could pose public health challenges to Canada reaching the vaccination coverage needed to build protective immunity against COVID-19, said Hwang.
He noted that Germany has seen a reported preference among some for the vaccine made by Germany’s BioNTech with Pfizer, as well as a misconception that the AstraZeneca vaccine is inferior because of a lower efficacy rate.
Hwang says efficacy between vaccines cannot be compared because each involved completely different trials at different time periods, in different countries, with different volunteers of different age groups and varying trial design.
“Until we have direct comparison studies where we give people one vaccine versus another and directly compare, it’s very difficult to know for sure how it’s going to pan out,” he says.
Then there’s the fact Canada’s initial AstraZeneca doses will be made at the Serum Institute of India, which dubs its version CoviShield, while later packages will be produced at the drug giant’s own manufacturing facilities.
Hwang acknowledges that could invite further scrutiny but says the Pune, India-based biotech firm has a “strong track record of producing vaccines.”
Sharma also stressed the similarities between the two shots Friday.
“For all intents and purposes they’re the same vaccine,” said Sharma.
“There are some slight differences in terms of manufacturing and the places that they are manufactured are different. The analogy is a bit like the recipe – so the recipe for the vaccine is the same, but they’re manufactured in different kitchens.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
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