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Dentists, teachers disappointed they won't be prioritized for vaccine in B.C. – St. Albert Today

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VANCOUVER — Dentists, bus drivers and teachers are among the essential workers who are disappointed they won’t be given priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in British Columbia.

B.C. rolled out its vaccination plan on Friday, revealing that after the most vulnerable groups have been immunized, shots will be given out according to age, with the oldest residents first in line.

That means many people who have not been able to work from home during the pandemic, including grocery store workers, police officers and mail carriers, will have to wait to get the vaccine along with others in their age group.

The British Columbia Dental Association has written a letter to Premier John Horgan strongly urging him to include dentists in Stage 2 of the vaccination plan, alongside family doctors and medical specialists.

“Dentistry is an essential service. More importantly, dental care, including aerosol-generating dental procedures, are provided to patients who cannot wear a mask during treatment,” said association president Dr. Anthony Nadolski in the letter.

“B.C. dentists continue to do everything they can to ensure dental offices are safe for patients and staff. Early access to vaccines will ensure continued access to urgent and emergency dental care.”

Other agencies such as the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have included dentists and dental workers in Stage 2 along with doctors and specialists not directly involved in providing care to COVID-19 patients, Nadolski added.

More recently, Ontario included dentistry in its second stage because dentists generally provide in-person care and many dental procedures are urgent and cannot be delayed, he said.

The B.C. Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The province initially suggested that people delivering essential services such as teachers, grocery store workers and those in law enforcement could be prioritized to get the vaccine. 

But when the finalized plan was released on Friday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said scientific evidence supports an age-based approach because older populations are at much higher risk of infection and death from COVID-19.

Currently, hospital workers, Indigenous communities and long-term care home residents, staff and essential visitors are among those being vaccinated in Stage 1 of the plan.

Stage 2 will begin in February and include people 80 and over, Indigenous seniors over 65, general practitioners and medical specialists.

In April, the province will start vaccinating the general public according to five-year age groupings, starting with seniors aged 75 to 79 before moving on to those aged 70 to 74 and so on.  

However, Henry added that the approval of more vaccines may mean the province’s plan could be revised to vaccinate essential workers between April and June.

Metro Vancouver bus drivers are “very disappointed” they will not be prioritized while they risk their lives to provide transportation to the public, said Balbir Mann, president of Unifor Local 111.

The union is calling on the provincial government to immediately change the plan and include transit operators in Stage 2.

“We’re basically frontline workers, taking people to work and grocery shopping. Our members are real heroes,” said Mann. “They’re putting their lives in front of this to help out the general public.”

Teachers are also disappointed there is no prioritization for front-line workers who have kept schools, public services and the economy open, said B.C. Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring.

“However, the vaccine supply limit is beyond our control and those among us who are most vulnerable of death and serious illness must be vaccinated first,” she said in a statement. 

Hopefully more vaccines are approved and the immunization strategy will be appropriately adjusted and accelerated, she said.

Mooring added if teachers are not prioritized for vaccines, the government must take immediate action to improve safety measures in schools, including mandatory masks, better physical distancing and ventilation upgrades.

“There is no denying that teachers are stressed, anxious and even afraid. We do not have the layers of protection in our schools that exist in other environments.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press

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'We need this:' Getting COVID-19 vaccine to remote and urban Indigenous populations – Kamloops This Week

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Chief Chris Moonias looked into a web camera as he prepared to get a COVID-19 vaccine just after precious doses arrived in his northern Ontario community.

“I’m coming to you live from Neskantaga First Nation community centre where our vaccines will be administered,” a jovial Moonias, wearing a blue disposable mask, said during a Facebook live video at the start of February.

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Moonias was first to get the vaccine in the fly-in Oji-Cree First Nation on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake north of Thunder Bay.

The vaccine had arrived by plane earlier in the day after weeks of planning, and the chief’s video was part of a campaign to get community members on board.

Moonias said in an interview that he had done his own research, had spoken with medical professionals and wasn’t concerned about getting the shot.

About 88 per cent of eligible on-reserve members have since received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Second doses are to arrive Monday.

However, earlier this week, the reserve declared a state of emergency due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with some cases linked to the Thunder Bay District Jail.

Moonias said four off-reserve members in Thunder Bay, all under the age of 40 — including his nephew — have died. And he’s worried about the 200 other members who live off the reserve — almost the same number as those on the reserve — and when they’ll get inoculated.

“I even thought about flying my peopleup… to get the vaccine,” said Moonias, who added it’s unlikely to be an option because of cost.

Canada is in the midst of the largest vaccine rollout in its history. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Indigenous populations much harder and Ottawa says they are a priority for vaccinations.

The actual distribution remains complex and varied across the country.

Neskantaga is one of 31 fly-in First Nations included in Operation Remote Immunity, part of the first phase of Ontario’s vaccination rollout. The operation was developed with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ornge, the province’s air ambulance service. The goal is to provide mass vaccinations by April 30 and it is having early successes.

There are challenges getting the vaccine to remote First Nations and questions about distribution for urban Indigenous populations.

The Assembly of First Nations says most Indigenous communities haven’t received sufficient supply to extend doses to their off-reserve members. The National Association of Friendship Centres says there is no national vaccination plan for urban Indigenous people.

There’s also concern there is no national plan to tackle decades of mistrust created by systemic racism and experimentation on Indigenous people.

There are many examples throughout Canadian history of scientists sponsored by the federal government or the government itself doing medical experiments on Indigenous people, including children, who were the subject of a tuberculosis vaccine trial in Saskatchewan that began in the 1930s.

Ontario New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the electoral district of Kiiwetinoong, said some constituents tell him they are scared to take the vaccine. They don’t trust it.

He has been travelling to communities to help promote it and received his first dose alongside members of Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation.

Community engagement has been key in vaccine uptake, Mamakwa said. Promotion begins weeks before vaccine teams arrive and includes radio campaigns, social media posts and live online question-and-answer sessions.

It’s about giving people information, he said.

“One of the only ways out of this pandemic is the vaccine,” said Wade Durham, Ornge’s chief operating officer, who added it’s key to have Indigenous people involved in vaccine planning.

Each First Nation in Operation Remote Immunity has a community member responsible for answering questions and setting up a vaccination site. Immunization teams are required to take cultural training and, when possible, include Indigenous medical professionals and language speakers.

Indigenous Services Canada said it is aware that a history of colonization and systemic racism has caused mistrust, so campaigns are being developed specifically for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.

Michelle Driedger, a Metis professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, said experience has shown that stakes are high when it comes to Indigenous communities.

During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the Public Health Agency of Canada prioritized vaccines by geography. A main lesson learned was to increase Indigenous representation at decision-making tables, she said.

At the time, Indigenous people were over-represented in hospitalizations and intensive care stays, as well as in deaths. Those living in remote and isolated communities experienced worse outcomes.

Driedger said the vaccine response is better now, but there is “rational skepticism.” There needs to be a transparent vaccination plan for Indigenous communities — no matter where they are, she said.

The Matawa First Nations tribal council said its four communities reachable by road are not getting the same vaccine access as its five fly-in ones, and more needs to be done.

Provincial officials have said that remote First Nations received priority for the vaccine rollout because of less access to on-site health care and increased health risks. Chief Rick Allen from Constance Lake First Nation has said the vaccine needs to go where the outbreaks are.

Back in Neskantaga, Moonias said he’ll do anything he can to protect anyone he can.

He continues to give updates about his vaccination. In another Facebook video posted soon after he received his shot, the chief gave a thumbs-up and said he had no pain or discomfort.

“We need this. We need to beat this virus.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2021.

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This story was produced through the Journalists for Human Rights Indigenous Reporters Program under the mentorship of The Canadian Press, with funding from the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch.

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One-third of new virus cases in north of province – Winnipeg Free Press

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As case counts, hospitalizations and test positivity rates continue to trend downwards across the province, northern Manitoba continues to take on the brunt of the province’s COVID-19 cases, with more than a third of new cases identified in the region.

The province reported 90 new cases of COVID-19 and four new deaths as of Saturday morning.

Of the new cases 37 were identified in the Northern health region, with an additional 34 in Winnipeg, eight cases each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern Health regions, and three cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The number of confirmed B.1.1.7 variant of concern cases in the province remains at five.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate continues to dip closer to three per cent — the number health officials indicated could lead to looser restrictions — reaching 3.7 percent provincially and 3.2 per cent in Winnipeg.

Public health officials said Thursday loosened restrictions will be considered in two phases as early as March 5, with the second phase to come Mar. 26.

Manitoba completed 1,861 tests Friday, bringing the total number of lab tests since last February to 523,507.

The total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Manitoba is 31,809, with 1,208 cases listed as active and 29,708 individuals who have recovered from the virus.

The COVID-19 related deaths reported Saturday include two women in their 80s, and a man and woman in their 90s, all from the Winnipeg health region.

The total number of virus-related deaths in the province is now 893.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to improve, too. The province announced 69 people are currently in hospital with active cases of the virus, with an additional 120 people in hospital who are considered no longer infectious but still require care for a total 189 hospitalizations.

There are 11 people in intensive care units with active COVID-19 and 16 people who are no longer infectious but continue to require critical care for a total of 27 ICU patients, the province said.

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

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Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies – Arab News

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JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.

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