OTTAWA — Canada’s top public health officer has been a model of stoicism through the first year of COVID-19, but Dr. Theresa Tam still got a little choked up last week when the first Canadians were inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine.
“That was pretty emotional,” said Tam, in an interview reflecting back on the year many would like to forget.
“I think everyone was touched by those images.”
It has been just 355 days since Tam saw the first emails warning of a pneumonia cluster in the Chinese city of Wuhan that had no known origin. Within a week those infections were connected to a novel coronavirus, which causes what we now know as COVID-19.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Tam said she is in awe that the world was able to develop, test, produce, ship and now inject a vaccine less than a year later.
“That’s never been seen before in the history of public health,” she said. “So I think it is emotional for the perspective of just, just that alone how incredible a scientific achievement that was.”
Last spring, when vaccine development efforts were well underway, most experts warned it would be a year to 18 months before one was ready, if we were lucky. Instead, massive investments from governments and the private sector pushed the development, testing and review process forward at lightning speed.
Canada expects to vaccinate more than 200,000 people by the end of 2020, three million by the end of March, and most Canadians who want the vaccine by the end of September.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said very early on, Health Canada began talking to regulators in other countries about the standards they should all use, including if any steps could be skipped to make things go faster.
“The answer to that was no,” said Sharma.
The international regulators worked “really, really early” to harmonize standards and let companies know what was expected of a vaccine. Health Canada adjusted the rules to allow its first reviews to happen while the final trials were ongoing, instead of after. Review teams were enlarged, they worked seven days a week and the companies kept their experts on constant standby to answer questions
That all paved the way for Health Canada to complete its review of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine candidate just five days after receiving the final documents from the company. Moderna, which was to submit its final documents Friday, is expected to follow a similar timeline. Together those two vaccines alone should bring enough doses to Canada to vaccinate 30 million people next year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The Canadian Press last week that Canada moved early to identify and pre-purchase multiple promising vaccines because it had learned its lesson when it didn’t have enough personal protective equipment for front-line workers when the pandemic began.
“One of the things we told ourselves in April and May was we didn’t want to ever have to go through that again, this fight with the global community over what we needed,” Trudeau said.
Canada was able to adapt domestic factories to start churning out ventilators, face masks and hand sanitizer pretty quickly. Ramping up vaccine development and manufacturing capacity is going to take a lot longer. It is one of the gaping holes in Canada’s preparedness laid bare by COVID-19, and has put some other countries on track to vaccinate their entire populations a little bit faster.
The United States, which invested at least US$18 billion to develop and procure vaccines through its Operation Warp Speed program, has multiple companies making vaccines and is likely to get enough doses to vaccinate most of its 328 million people a few months ahead of Canada’s promise to vaccinate its population of 38 million.
Tam calls this “the pandemic of the century” and said while there are many lessons to help guide future pandemic planning, every virus is different. She was alarmed by the email warnings in December, because they sounded a lot like the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
But unlike SARS, which had a death rate above 10 per cent, COVID-19 proved to be milder in most patients, and infectious before symptoms ever appear, allowing it to spread faster and more widely.
Early advice that people without symptoms didn’t need to wear masks proved to be a mistake. Tam bristles a little when asked about it.
“Just to, again, try and set the record straight,” she says, people with symptoms were always told to wear masks. As soon as there was evidence the virus was spreading from people without symptoms, the advice started to change.
Canada also made a mistake focusing mostly on travellers who had been in China early on. Genetic tracing of the virus, said Tam, shows cases that spread in Canada mostly originated in people coming from Europe and the United States.
Still, she says the measures taken for this pandemic, the wide-scale lockdowns and the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential travel, were not in the playbook.
“When in the history of the world have we seen this?” Tam says. “When have we restricted the Canada-U.S. border? It’s really rather extraordinary times and measures.”
For Tam the vaccines represent hope, but what keeps her up at night is the fear that not enough people will take them. She says communicating the vaccines’ success to date, telling the stories of those who have had them, and encouraging people to look for credible information about them, are going to be the big focus as 2021 gets underway. And she said, she feels very optimistic that 2021 will be better.
Trudeau in November summed up the feelings of many when he said living in a pandemic “sucks.” In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last week, he said if we can just hold on a little longer, keep following public health advice, and trust the science to get the vaccines, better is just a few months away.
“We’re going to be able to get through this long and difficult winter into a spring where things will be better, then the summer where things will be much better, because of vaccines,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2020.
Alberta's highest rates of active COVID-19 are in rural areas now – CBC.ca
Alberta’s big cities were the epicentre of COVID-19 for a period last fall but lately it’s rural areas that have seen the highest rates of active cases, relative to their population.
“I think there’s a misconception that there are no cases and no impact in rural zones,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said last week.
“But, in actual fact, we have seen quite high numbers in some rural places.”
Alberta Health divides the province into 132 “local geographic areas” in order to monitor a variety of health outcomes and, as of Tuesday’s data update, the top 10 areas for active COVID-19 cases, per capita, were all rural.
Some of these areas have names similar to nearby municipalities but it’s important to note the boundaries defined by Alberta Health are not identical to the municipal boundaries you might be more familiar with.
- Scroll down for a map showing all 132 local areas and their active-case rates
Many of these rural areas don’t have massive outbreaks in terms of absolute numbers, but do have high numbers of active cases relative to the number of people who live there.
In the Frog Lake and Wabasca areas of northeastern Alberta, for instance, nearly 1 out of 100 people had an active case of COVID-19, as of Tuesday’s data update. A bit further north and west, in the La Lac Biche and High Prairie areas, it was about 1 out of 150 people.
Wetaskiwin County in central Alberta had the highest rate in the province in early January, with about 1 in 50 people battling an active infection at that time. But the numbers there have since been on the decline.
Changes over time
These recent trends stand in contrast to last fall, when the highest active-case rates were seen in Edmonton and Calgary.
But it’s not unusual for rural areas to see sudden spikes like this. An outbreak in a small community can quickly affect a significant portion of its population.
Since the pandemic began, there have been periodic surges in viral spread in a wide variety of locations, from the most remote corners of the province to the most densely populated urban areas.
“COVID-19 cannot be restricted to a specific municipality, and what we have seen … is how interconnected we all are,” Hinshaw said.
“The movement between different towns, the movement between large, urban centres and small rural areas — all of that movement is part of what spreads COVID-19.”
The interactive map below shows all 132 local health areas, as defined by Alberta Health, and the latest active-case rates in each area. The darker the shading, the higher the rate.
You can zoom in, scroll around and click on an area for more information.
You can also type the name of a community into the search bar to locate it on the map.
When you zoom in past a certain point, labels appear on each area showing the latest count of active cases.
If the map isn’t displaying well on your mobile device, click here for a standalone version.
Hamilton's COVID vaccine clinic shut down | TheSpec.com – TheSpec.com
The clinic shut its doors Wednesday after reducing appointments on Monday and Tuesday to 300 a day from 1,000 at its height.
In total, 21 COVID patients have been transferred to area hospitals — seven to the Charlton Campus of St. Joseph’s Healthcare, five to Hamilton General Hospital, six to Burlington’s Joseph Brant Hospital and three to Niagara Health.
Hamilton hospitals were caring for 135 COVID patients Wednesday. To compare, fewer than 150 people total were hospitalized in Hamilton over the first four months of the pandemic.
The last month has seen a particularly significant jump, with HHS caring on Wednesday for nearly double the number of COVID patients at 97 than it was on Dec. 29, when it set a record of 50.
There is hope hospitals will see relief as new daily infections are lower now than at the beginning of January.
Hamilton reported 70 new cases Wednesday — only once in the last nine days has the number been above double digits. It’s also well below the single-day record of 209 set on Jan. 5.
But provincial public health officials caution the number of COVID infections remain high. To compare, Hamilton’s single-day record was 71 on Nov. 26, when the city was in the red zone.
There is also worry about three fast-spreading COVID variants — one is already in Ontario, although there have been no cases of the B.1.1.7 variant found in Hamilton so far despite increased surveillance.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, cautioned Monday that the B.1.1.7 variant “took off exponentially” in the U.K.
“We haven’t seen that yet,” he said. “That gives me some reassurance that our measures are holding.”
Hamilton’s pandemic death toll is 243 after the city reported three more COVID deaths Wednesday — 11 deaths have been reported in two days.
Of the most recent deaths, two appear to be seniors age 80 or more and one appears to be between the ages of 70 to 79. It’s unknown if they died in outbreaks because the city no longer provides that information.
There was a new death reported in the outbreak on unit E3 of Juravinski Hospital, where 29 have been infected and seven have died. As of Wednesday, there are outbreaks on 11 hospital units at HHS and St. Joseph’s.
The city’s 50 ongoing outbreaks also include 22 seniors’ homes and 11 other vulnerable congregate settings, including the Salvation Army Lawson Ministries, where an outbreak was declared Jan. 26 after two people tested positive.
In addition, there are outbreaks at three workplaces and three daycares.
Outbreaks have been declared over at long-term-care home Idlewyld Manor, accounting firm Pettinelli Mastroluisi on James Street South and Rygiel Supports for Community Living on the west Mountain. However, a second Rygiel outbreak is ongoing.
No date has been given yet for when the HHS immunization clinic will reopen for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s second doses, some of which started being administered on Jan. 18.
The second doses will be stretched as far out as 42 days compared to the recommended 21. Only residents of seniors’ homes are expected to get the second dose on time. The second dose of the Modena vaccine will be give within the recommended 28 days.
So far 19,200 doses have been administered in Hamilton but public health can’t provide any kind of breakdown of who has received them. It also doesn’t know how many seniors are left to vaccinate in long-term care and high-risk retirement homes.
It’s significant because the province wants residents vaccinated by Feb. 5 and is diverting vaccine to make that happen.
Local public health said in a statement that no vaccine destined for Hamilton has been diverted so far.
It has blamed the lack of data on the province.
“It’s a complete lack of transparency,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “Why all the secrecy?”
Alberta company begins human clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate – Campbell River Mirror
Human clinical trials have begun in Toronto for a proposed COVID-19 vaccine made by a Canadian company.
Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says 60 subjects will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected next month.
The group of healthy volunteers aged 18 to 65 have been divided into four groups of 15. Three of the groups will get three different dose levels, while a fourth group gets a placebo.
Pending regulatory approval, the company’s CEO Brad Sorenson says a larger Phase 2 trial may start in May with seniors, younger subjects and pregnant people.
Providence uses messenger RNA technology for a product it calls PTX-COVID19-B.
Sorenson says if successful, the vaccine could be released by the end of the year.
“We are thrilled to begin human clinical trials of PTX-COVID19-B. Having a made-in-Canada solution to address the global COVID-19 pandemic will augment the reliability of vaccine supply for Canadians, contribute to the global vaccine supply and position a Canadian company on the global stage as a contributor to the solution,” Sorenson said Tuesday in a release.
The Canadian Press
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