The health official in charge of B.C.’s pandemic response has received her COVID-19 vaccine.
The health ministry confirmed that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry received her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday (Dec. 22) morning. Henry, who resides in the Victoria area, received her vaccine from Island Health.
There have now been more than 3,600 people in B.C. who have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only COVID-19 immunization currently approved in Canada. Most of those people have been long-term care workers in Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health, but officials said that vaccination would start for those in all other health regions as well.
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‘It’s chaos’: Expanded U.S. vaccine rollout leading to bottlenecks, crashes – Global News
The rapid expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots.
Mississippi’s Health Department stopped taking new appointments the same day it began accepting them because of a “monumental surge” in requests. People had to wait hours to book vaccinations through a state website or a toll-free number Tuesday and Wednesday, and many were booted off the site because of technical problems and had to start over.
In California, counties begged for more coronavirus vaccines to reach millions of their senior citizens. Hospitals in South Carolina ran out of appointment slots within hours. Phone lines were jammed in Georgia.
“It’s chaos,” said New York City resident Joan Jeffri, 76, who had to deal with broken hospital web links and unanswered phone calls before her daughter helped her secure an appointment. “If they want to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population, good luck, if this is the system. We’ll be here in five years.”
Up until the past few days, health care workers and nursing home patients had been given priority in most places around the U.S. But amid frustration over the slow rollout, states have thrown open the line to many of the nation’s 54 million senior citizens with the blessing of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, though the minimum age varies from place to place, at 65, 70 or higher.
On Thursday, New Jersey expanded vaccinations to people between 16 and 65 with certain medical conditions — including up to two million smokers, who are more prone to health complications.
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The U.S., meanwhile, recorded 3,848 deaths on Wednesday, down from an all-time high of 4,327 the day before, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s overall death toll from COVID-19 has topped 385,000.
President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday that includes speeding up vaccinations. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration.
More than 11.1 million Americans, or over three per cent of the U.S. population, have gotten their first shot of the vaccine, a gain of about 800,000 from the day before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. The goal of inoculating anywhere between 70 per cent and 85 per cent of the population to achieve herd immunity and conquer the outbreak is still many months away.
Hard-hit Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous county with 10 million residents, said it couldn’t immediately provide shots to the elderly because it had inoculated only about a quarter of its 800,000 health care workers.
“We’re not done with our health care workers, and we actually don’t have enough vaccine right now to be able to get done more quickly,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “We haven’t heard back from the state about vaccine availability and how it would be distributed.”
Santa Clara County health officials said the county of two million people had only enough vaccine to inoculate people 75 and older, not the 65-and-older crowd.
“It’s almost like a beauty contest. And this should not be a beauty contest,” County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “This is about life and death.”
In Mississippi, officials said new appointments will probably have to wait until a hoped-for shipment of vaccine in mid-February.
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In South Carolina, Kershaw Health in Camden implored people not to call its hospitals or doctors to schedule vaccination appointments after receiving more than 1,000 requests in two days. State health authorities said their hot line got 5,000 calls on Wednesday.
Francis Clark said she tried repeatedly to schedule an appointment for her 81-year-old mother, who lives alone outside Florence, South Carolina, and doesn’t have internet access. But the local hospital had no openings on Wednesday, Clark said, and the other vaccination sites are too far away.
“My mom can’t drive to Charleston,” Clark said. “She’s too old.”
Allison Salerno, an audio producer from Athens, Georgia, said she spent the better part of a day calling her state’s health department to get a vaccine appointment for her 89-year-old mother.
“I started calling at 8:30 a.m. and on the 67th call I was finally put on hold,” Salerno said. “I had already pre-registered her two weeks before online, but I never received a confirmation.”
After Salerno had spent 65 minutes on hold, someone finally came on the line and gave her mother a Saturday appointment.
“My mother has not been out since the beginning of the pandemic,” Salerno said. “She’s a very healthy woman and she wants to go to the grocery store, she wants to get her hair done.”
Meanwhile, some states, like Minnesota, are waiting before throwing open the doors.
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“As we learn more, we will work to make sure everyone who is eligible for a vaccine knows how, where, and when they can get their shots,” the state Health Department said in an email. “Everyone’s opportunity to get vaccinated will come; it will just take some time.”
Arizona, which had the nation’s highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week, will start signing up people 65 and older next week. It also plans to open a vaccination site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in addition to the one dispensing thousands of shots daily at the home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
To step up the pace of vaccinations, South Carolina made a rule change allowing medical students, retired nurses and other certain professionals to administer the shots.
California lawmakers are increasing the pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to likewise expand authorization for who can give injections to include nursing students, retired medical workers, firefighters and National Guard members with medical training.
Newsom said the state’s priority is to deliver vaccines “as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences.” He urged patience for those not yet eligible, saying: “Your turn is coming.”
Jeffri, the New Yorker, spent several days trying to book a vaccination and once actually received a slot, only to get a follow-up text saying they didn’t have the doses. Finally, with some online sleuthing from her daughter, the retired arts-administration professor got an appointment for her first shot — two weeks from now.
“It’s a relief,” said Jeffri, who wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo about her ordeal. “But I’m not sure I trust it until it’s done.”
© 2021 The Canadian Press
In coronavirus vaccine drive, Deep South falls behind – Airdrie Today
ATLANTA — The coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out unevenly across the U.S., but four states in the Deep South have had particularly dismal inoculation rates that have alarmed health experts and frustrated residents.
In Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, less than 2% of the population had received its first dose of a vaccine at the start of the week, according to data from the states and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As in other parts of the country, states in the South face a number of challenges: limited vaccine supplies, health care workers who refuse to get inoculated and bureaucratic systems that are not equipped to schedule the huge number of appointments being sought.
But other states have still managed — at their best — to get the vaccines into the arms of more than 5% of their populations.
Though it’s not clear why the Deep South is falling behind, public health researchers note that it has typically lagged in funding public health and addressing disparities in care for its big rural population.
“When you combine a large percentage of rural residents who tend to be the hard-to-reach populations and have lower numbers of providers with trying to build a vaccine infrastructure on the fly, that’s just a recipe for a not-so-great response,” said Sarah McCool, a professor in public health at Georgia State University.
In Georgia, the state’s rural health system has been decimated in recent years, with nine hospital closures since 2008, including two last year. Local health departments have become the primary vaccine providers in some locations, as officials work to add sites where doses can be administered.
“If we’re the only game in town, this process is going to take a long time,” Lawton Davis, director of a large public health district that includes Savannah, said at a news conference on Monday.
Alabama and Mississippi have also been hit hard by rural hospital closures. Seven hospitals have shut down in Alabama since 2009 and six in Mississippi since 2005, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Sheps Center. Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi ranked in the bottom five of U.S. states in their access to health care, according to a 2020 report from a not-for-profit foundation connected to insurance giant UnitedHealth.
But overall, experts say it’s too early in the vaccine rollout to draw conclusions about the region’s shortcomings, and they can’t easily be attributed to a particular factor or trend.
“We’re sort of building this plane as we’re flying, and there are going to be missteps along the way,” said Amber Schmidtke, a microbiologist who has been following vaccine dissemination in the South.
Officials in the individual states have cited a number of challenges, but also acknowledged shortcomings.
“We have too many vaccines distributed that are not in arms yet,” said Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who noted that some hospitals in the state are not using their vaccine doses. He said that practice “has to stop.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp cited a similar challenge and warned providers holding on to vaccines that the state would take their unused doses even if that required “firing up” his pickup truck and doing it himself.
But in South Carolina, hospital officials say it is the state that has moved too slowly to expand access to the vaccinations, leaving them with unused doses. The state recently did offer the vaccine to those 70 and older.
Mississippi’s Reeves said one of the biggest weaknesses in the state’s vaccination system is the federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccinations in long-term care facilities. The pharmacy chains have been slow in hiring enough people to do the work in Mississippi, the governor said.
CVS Health said in a statement that it has “the appropriate resources to finish the job” at long-term care facilities. Walgreens did not respond to an email.
During an online forum hosted by Jackson State University in Mississippi on Thursday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who is Black, noted the reluctance of many African Americans to be vaccinated. He cited a general mistrust of medical systems stemming back to a now-defunct government study that started in the 1930s and left Black men untreated for syphilis for decades.
So far, only 15% of COVID-19 vaccinations in Mississippi have gone to Black people, who make up about 38% of the population, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during the forum.
Officials in all four states also said some health care workers — among the first groups eligible for a vaccine — are choosing not to get inoculated. And some stressed that states were dealing with limited supplies and high demand and implored people to be patient.
“Yes, the phone lines will be busy. Yes, the websites will certainly crash,” Kemp said Tuesday. “There are simply vastly more Georgians that want the vaccine than can get it today.”
Mississippi officials said the state’s website and telephone hotline were overwhelmed after the governor announced Tuesday that vaccinations were available to people 65 or older or people who have underlying medical conditions.
Liz Cleveland, a 67-year-old retired state employee who lives in Jackson, waited hours on the website using her cellphone, computer and tablet only to encounter unknown errors.
“It’s like gambling. You may hit or you may bust,” Cleveland said.
About 2 a.m. Wednesday, she was finally able to book appointments for herself and her husband next week in Hattiesburg, which is 90 miles (145 kilometres) away. Mississippi officials said Thursday that they will open an additional drive-thru site for vaccinations soon in the state’s largest county.
Alabama officials also have been inundated with requests for appointments since announcing the state will begin vaccinations for people over 75 next week. A state hotline received more than a million calls the first day it was open.
Celia O’Kelley of Tuscaloosa said she couldn’t get through to anyone to get an appointment for her 95-year-old mother.
“I am scared because Tuscaloosa is a hot spot,” she said.
Associated Press writers Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; and Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
Sudhin Thanawala, The Associated Press
Norway Warns of Vaccination Risks for Sick Patients Over 80 – Bloomberg
Norway said Covid-19 vaccines may be too risky for the very old and terminally ill, the most cautious statement yet from a European health authority as countries assess the real-world side effects of the first shots to gain approval.
Norwegian officials said 23 people had died in the country a short time after receiving their first dose of the vaccine. Of those deaths, 13 have so far been autopsied, with the results suggesting that common side effects may have contributed to severe reactions in frail, elderly people, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency.
“For those with the most severe frailty, even relatively mild vaccine side effects can have serious consequences,” the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said. “For those who have a very short remaining life span anyway, the benefit of the vaccine may be marginal or irrelevant.”
The recommendation does not mean younger, healthier people should avoid being vaccinated. But it’s an early indication of what to watch as countries begin to issue safety monitoring reports on the vaccines. Emer Cooke, the new head of the European Medicines Agency, has said tracking the safety of Covid vaccines, especially those relying on novel technologies such as messenger RNA, would be one of the biggest challenges once shots are rolled out widely.
Allergic reactions have been uncommon so far. In the U.S., authorities reported 21 cases of severe allergic reactions from Dec. 14-23 after administration of about 1.9 million initial doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. That’s an incidence of 11.1 cases per million doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though both Covid-19 vaccines approved so far in Europe were tested in tens of thousands of people — including volunteers in their late 80s and 90s — the average trial participant was in his or her early 50s. The first people to be immunized in many places have been older than that as countries rush to inoculate nursing-home residents at high risk from the virus.
Norway has given at least one dose to about 33,000 people, focusing on those considered to be most at risk if they contract the virus, including the elderly.
In France, one frail patient died in a care home two hours after being vaccinated, but authorities said given the patient’s previous medical history there is no indication the death was linked to the vaccine. The French pharmaceutical safety agency on Thursday reported four cases of severe allergic reactions and two incidents of irregular heartbeat after vaccination.
Representatives for Pfizer and BioNTech didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved late last year has been used most broadly, with a similar shot from Moderna Inc. approved earlier this month also now being administered.
— With assistance by Rudy Ruitenberg, and Stephen Treloar
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