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Elise Stolte: 'Kind of amazing' data should open doors for vaccinated care homes – Edmonton Journal

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Infection rates among vulnerable care home residents who got the COVID-19 vaccine have plummeted in Alberta and at a rate that brings excitement and relief.

Now when will it lead to family reunions?

“It really is kind of amazing,” said infectious disease expert Lynora Saxinger Monday, after combing through Alberta Health Services’ data all weekend.

The vaccine is really working, she said. “Everyone is staring at data coming out of Israel so intently. We actually have that data right here.”

Late last week, a new study from Israel, which leads the world in vaccinations, suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine isn’t just preventing symptoms of COVID-19. It prevented nine out of 10 infections and predicted the country could reach herd immunity by next month.

Alberta is far behind Israel in vaccinating most groups. But long-term care residents started getting vaccinated in December and nearly all of them now have their second shot.

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Deaths dropped off dramatically, especially from outbreaks. In February, only one person has so far died associated with a COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care setting. That compares to more than 150 people in December, said Saxinger, who is a University of Alberta professor and member of the Government of Alberta’s scientific advisory panel.

Alberta used to see multiple outbreaks with more than 50 people testing positive at once in care homes across the province. Those issues have evaporated. The outbreaks that remain are smaller, and mostly in assisted living homes that have not yet been vaccinated.

Specifically for long-term care — residents in public, private or non-profit care who require 24-hour nursing support — the number of active cases dropped to just 63 Saturday, down from a high of 770 on Dec. 27.

The numbers are similar for designated supportive care, and there are now only four outbreaks with active cases in those homes.

But the obvious next question is when can visitors re-enter?

Health officials need to recognize that the burden from this pandemic is not equal. Some of those suffering the most are in care homes — not just because they’re getting sick and dying in higher numbers — but because isolating alone in a small room is very different than isolating with family in the community.

Vonnie Zupan was one of many who raised this issue with me through Groundwork, a pilot project in engagement journalism I’m running for the Edmonton Journal. She watches her father, Laurence Babiuk, pine for his wife of 66 years, who is cut off in a dementia care unit at Shepherd’s Care Kensington. “I think he’s only living right now to see my mom again.”

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Through a window, Zupan can see her mom also struggling. She’s depressed, gaining weight, losing her balance more often and struggling to find words. “She doesn’t always recognize me anymore,” she said.

Her father used to go regularly, even just to cuddle quietly on her bed, she said. Then he couldn’t give her a hug or even hold her hand for 11 months. Now her mom is fully vaccinated, but they’re still waiting for the OK to re-enter. It seems like “no one is allowed to go in there ever,” she said. “It breaks my heart. He just wants to hug her.”

At Monday’s COVID-19 update, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw recognized the progress made but could not say when care homes can ease visitor restrictions. “That’s something we continue to evaluate,” she said.

They want to see results globally on how well the vaccine prevents transmission, in addition to infection and symptomatic cases, she said. “Until we have better information on that we still need to maintain our current approach.”

I appreciate the caution. But I hope Hinshaw and the care home operators deciding how to implement the rules will not be overcautious, not when isolation is causing declines in speech and cognitive ability that residents may never get back.

Current provincial health rules allow up to two essential caregivers. But in December, Hinshaw issued a letter asking all caregivers to limit in-person care as much as possible. Indoor social visits are banned, whether in congregate care homes or in the community, and the way rules are implemented varies between homes and operators.

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Dr. Lynora Saxinger is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases for follow up story on Syphilis outbreak in Alberta on July 17, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia
Infectious disease expert Lynora Saxinger said plummeting COVID-19 infection rates among vulnerable care home residents who got the vaccine is welcome news. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia, file

Saxinger says scientists are still studying infection patterns to confirm that vaccination also prevents a person from picking up the virus and passing it on. But all the numbers she’s seeing so far suggest that’s “extremely unlikely” to be a significant issue. She and other science advisers are starting a formal evidence synthesis on that for Alberta Health.

In her view, the dramatic decrease in cases should be enough for health officials to cautiously lift restrictions in homes with a high percentage of vaccinated residents. Variant strains of COVID-19 are an issue. But so far, the variants identified in the province are ones the existing vaccine protects against.

Require masks and precautions but reopen, “as long as everyone realizes there’s no absolutes, that it’s all an odds game,” she said, stressing that families and residents should be involved in these decisions. “We’re getting into this realm where the risk versus benefit equation starts to look like there’s more risk for continued isolation.”

estolte@postmedia.com

twitter.com/estolte

Read our Guide to the Vaccine Rollout — written from questions by people like you.

This article is part of Groundwork, the Edmonton Journal’s pilot project in engagement journalism. Sign up for the mailing list and read more about it at edmontonjournal.com/groundwork.

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Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more

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The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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Vaccines donated by the United States and China

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Both the United States and China have pledged large donations of COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. Washington has promised 80 million doses, three-quarters of which will be delivered via the international vaccine initiative COVAX, in what has been seen as an effort to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy. It began deliveries last week.

China had shipped vaccines to 66 countries in the form of aid, according to state news agency Xinhua. Beijing has not disclosed an overall figure for its donations but Reuters calculations based on publicly available data show at least 16.57 million doses have been delivered. China has also pledged to supply 10 million doses to COVAX.

VACCINES DONATED BY U.S. (plan for the first 25 mln):

Regional partners and priority recipients

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Including Canada, Mexico, 1 mln to S.Korea in June

South Korea, West Bank and

Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo,

Haiti, Georgia, Egypt,

Jordan, India, Iraq, Yemen,

United Nations

TOTAL 6 mln 1 mln

Allocations through COVAX

South and Central America

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Brazil, Argentina, Colombia,

Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador,

Paraguay, Bolivia,

Guatemala, El Salvador,

Honduras, Panama, Haiti,

Dominican Republic and other

Caribbean Community

(CARICOM) countries

TOTAL 6 mln

Asia

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

India, Nepal, Bangladesh,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka,

Afghanistan, Maldives,

Malaysia, Philippines,

Vietnam, Indonesia,

Thailand, Laos, Papua New

Guinea, Taiwan, and the

Pacific Islands

TOTAL 7 mln

Africa

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

To be selected in

coordination with the

African Union

TOTAL 5 mln

VACCINES DONATED BY CHINA (source – Reuters calculations and official data):

Asia Pacific

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Afghanistan 400,000

Bangladesh Second batch of First batch of 500,000 delivered

600,000 on May 12

Brunei 52,000 in Feb

Cambodia 1.7 mln as of April 28

Kyrgyzstan 150,000 in March

Laos 300,000 in Feb

800,000 in late March

300,000 in late April

Maldives 200,000 in early March

Mongolia 300,000 in late February

Myanmar 500,000 in early May

Nepal 800,000 in late March

1 mln in early June

Pakistan 500,000 in early Feb

250,000 in Feb

500,000 in March

Philippines 600,000 in late Feb

400,000 in late March

Sri Lanka 600,000 at end March

500,000 in late May

Thailand 500,000 in May

500,000 in June

Timor-Leste 100,000 100,000 in early June

TOTAL 11.052 million

Africa

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Angola 200,000 in late March

Algeria 200,000 200,000 in Feb

Botswana 200,000 in April

Cameroon 200,000 in April

Congo 100,000 100,000 in March

Egypt 600,000 in March

Ethiopia 300,000 in late March

Equatorial Guinea 100,000 in Feb

Guinea 200,000 in early March

Mozambique 200,000 in late Feb

Namibia 100,000 by early April

Niger 400,000 in late March

Sierra Leone 240,000 by late May

Togo 200,000 in April

Uganda 300,000

Zimbabwe 200,000 in Feb

200,000 in March

100,000 in May

TOTAL 3.74 million

South America

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Bolivia 100,000 in late Feb

100,000 in late March

Venezuela 500,000 in early March

TOTAL 700,000

Europe & Middle East

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Belarus 100,000 in Feb

300,000 in May

Georgia 100,000 at end April

Iran 250,000 at end February

Iraq 50,000 in early March

Montenegro 30,000 in early March

North Macedonia 100,000 in May

Syria 150,000 in late April

TOTAL 1.08 million

 

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Cooper Inveen in Dakar; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Coronavirus Worldwide right now

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Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus now:

Australia’s Melbourne to exit lockdown

Australia’s second largest city Melbourne will exit a hard lockdown as planned on Thursday night, Victoria state authorities said, although some restrictions on travel and gatherings would likely remain for another week.

After two weeks in a strict lockdown that forced people to remain at home except for essential business, Melbourne’s five million residents will get more freedom to step outside from 11:59 p.m. local time (1359 GMT) on Thursday.

However, people must stay within 25 km (15 miles) of their homes, officials said, in an effort to stop transmission during an upcoming long weekend. There will also be a total ban on house gatherings and masks will be mandatory indoors.

Deliveries of Thai-made AstraZeneca vaccines delayed

Malaysia and Taiwan are expecting deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in Thailand to be delayed, officials said, the latest countries to report a holdup with orders from the Thai plant.

The delay comes amid concerns over AstraZeneca’s distribution plans in Southeast Asia, which depends on 200 million doses made by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand’s king that is making vaccines for the first time.

Any questions about Siam Bioscience meeting production targets are sensitive because King Maha Vajiralongkorn is its sole owner. Insulting Thailand’s monarchy is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Indonesia aims to speed up vaccinations

President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday he hoped Indonesia’s vaccination rollout will hit one million shots a day by July, as authorities opened up inoculations to anyone aged over 18 in Jakarta to contain increased transmission in the capital.

Health officials in the world’s fourth most populous country, which aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people by next year, are trying to speed up the rollout after facing some supply issues.

The president said he wanted vaccinations to hit a targeted 700,000 doses a day this month and then rise again.

Singapore finds Delta most prevalent among variants

Singapore has found the Delta variant of the coronavirus to be the most prevalent among local cases of variants of concern (VOCs), according to health ministry data, highlighting its level of infectiousness.

There were 449 local cases with VOCs as of May 31, of which 428 were the Delta variant first detected in India and nine of the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Singapore reported its 34th death due to COVID-19, taking its toll from the pandemic beyond the 33 casualties recorded during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

U.S. forming expert groups on lifting travel restrictions

The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Another U.S. official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work.

The groups will be led by the White House COVID Response Team and the National Security Council and include the Centers for Disease Control and other U.S. agencies.

 

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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