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'Excess' deaths in N.B. during pandemic need study, expert says – CBC.ca

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National health and population academics are pointing to high “excess mortality” numbers as an important riddle for provinces to solve in their understanding of the human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But New Brunswick, with some of the most puzzling numbers in Canada, is resisting the idea it has underreported deaths.

In the legislature on Wednesday, Opposition Leader Roger Melanson asked what the province knows about excess deaths in New Brunswick in 2021, which were among the highest in Canada.

Minister of Health Dorothy Shephard seemed baffled by the questions. 

“He’s alluding that something is wrong.” said Shephard.

 “I don’t understand where he is going with this.”

Forensic analysis

Earlier this week, University of British Columbia professor and population data scientist Kimberlyn McGrail called for a national “forensic” analysis of why some provinces have been experiencing much higher death counts in their populations during the pandemic than others. 

She also said  high overall death counts in provinces that officially recorded only moderate numbers of COVID-19 fatalities, like has  happened in New Brunswick, needs to be better understood.

“It’s just an important thing to do,” said McGrail in an interview with CBC News.

Tara Moriarty is an infectious disease expert and researcher at the University of Toronto. She has said excess mortality figures in New Brunswick show COVID deaths in the province are grossly underreported. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

“I’s really hard to disentangle all of these different things, which is why I think the focus on excess mortality — saying there’s something going on and at the population level  — that’s worth trying to dig into.”

In an ongoing study of what it calls “provisional death counts and excess mortality” related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada has been tracking and recording death counts in each province and comparing them to levels in normal years, after adjusting for population changes.

“To understand the direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic, it is important to measure excess mortality, which occurs when there are more deaths than expected in a given period,” explains Statistics Canada. 

Last month it reported that New Brunswick recorded an estimated 7,397 deaths during the first 43 weeks of 2021.  According to the agency that was 908 more than would be expected over those weeks in the absence of the pandemic, a difference referred to as “excess mortality.”

It is one of the highest excess mortality rates observed in Canada in 2021 and is in stark contrast to death counts in neighbouring Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island during the same 43 week period. They were below normal levels by a combined 301. 

Excess deaths high

The idea 908 more people than normal died in New Brunswick has also raised questions about whether the 98 people the province claims died of COVID-19 during those 43 weeks can possibly be accurate.  And if it is accurate what factors caused the deaths of the other 810.

Excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic are believed to be connected to the effects of the virus circulating in the community in some way, although the exact links to individual deaths are not necessarily known. 

Some deaths are caused by the virus directly but some can be caused by other factors like delayed or cancelled medical procedures forced  by pandemic restrictions.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said her department is looking at excess deaths but bristled at suggestions in the legislature that the numbers show more people died of COVID-19 in New Brunswick than government has reported. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Tara Moriarty, an associate professor and infectious disease researcher at the University of Toronto has said large numbers of excess deaths in New Brunswick are likely COVID-19 cases that went undetected by the province due to inadequate testing and tracking of cases.

McGrail agrees that may be an issue in some provinces and in a paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal this week she stressed the importance of sorting issues like that out to understand exactly what has happened in each province. That will help to plan for future crises, she suggested.

“Once clearer data on “true” COVID-19 case counts become available, it may be possible to better estimate to what extent the type and timing of pandemic response mattered to provinces’ overall mortality rates,” she wrote.

Population data scientist Kimberlyn McGrail said provinces with high death counts in the population during the pandemic need to understand what was caused by COVID and what wasn’t. (UBC)

Many of the excess deaths documented in New Brunswick have occurred in and around COVID-19 outbreaks that were happening at the time, including during nine weeks last September and October. 

New Brunswick had dropped indoor mask requirements and border restrictions earlier that summer but then declared a state of emergency on Sept. 24 after the Delta variant took hold in the province.   

Officially, New Brunswick documented 71 COVID deaths during that September and October period, but Statistics Canada numbers show during those two months 431 more people than normal died.

But so far, government has been resisting the idea those excess deaths might be undiagnosed COVID deaths. 

Premier Blaine Higgs and Chief Medical Officer of Health Jennifer Russell danced at New Brunswick Day celebrations in August 2021. A COVID outbreak soon hit and in September and October the province says 71 people died. Statistics Canada says there were actually 431 excess deaths in those months. (CBC News)

In the legislature, Shephard said her department is looking at the issue, but bristled at questions from Melanson asking whether hundreds more people in the province may have died from COVID-19 than the government has officially reported.

“I do not know of any deaths that have not been qualified with a cause of death. So I do not know what the member opposite is alluding to.” she said.

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Health Minister Adrian Dix must come clean on why B.C. is restricting fourth COVID-19 vaccinations – The Georgia Straight

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Former senior civil servant and diplomat Norman Spector shared a fascinating article with me this weekend from the Ottawa Citizen.

A family physician in the national capital, Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, hoped to conduct mass vaccinations for people who want a fourth dose of COVID-19 but don’t qualify under Ontario’s rules.

She reportedly wanted to create a large outdoor “jabalooza” clinic but health officials refused to provide her with vaccines.

Ontario restricts access to fourth shots of COVID-19 vaccines to those who are 60 years of age or older.

Next door in Quebec, people can get fourth shots if they are 18 and older.

“I am receiving lots of individual requests for help,” Kaplan-Myrth tweeted on Sunday (June 26). “I can’t give you the vaccine at this time, but hands up (and DM) if you as plaintiffs want to bring this to court as a group. Would require a litigation team.”

There’s a tremendous amount of scientific data showing that COVID-19 vaccines lessen the severity of COVID-19. They reduce the likelihood of dying or being hospitalized from the disease.

However, COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness wanes over time. This is why Kaplan-Myrth is such a strong advocate for booster shots. She believes that these boosters are particularly important when so many people are not wearing masks indoors.

Keep in mind that COVID-19 initially presents as a respiratory infection.

In some cases, however, it causes serious brain injuries and cardiovascular problems. It’s especially dangerous for the immunocompromised, who are at higher risk of suffering severe COVID-19.

That’s because the virus that causes COVID-19 not only damages blood vessels and triggers blood clots, but also disrupts the immune system. Researchers have even linked immune dysfunction to serious brain injuries, which is explained in the video below.

Video of Here’s what we know about COVID-19’s impact on the brain

Video: Here’s what we know about COVID-19’s impact on the brain.

B.C. doesn’t want most under-70s to get fourth shots

In the face of all of this, B.C. continues adopting a hard line on the distribution of fourth vaccine doses.

This is the case even after Global News B.C. reporter Richard Zussman revealed that 226,000 doses intended for the vaccine-hesitant will expire at the end of July.

In B.C., you have to be 70 years of age or older and have gone six months since a previous COVID-19 vaccination to qualify for a fourth dose.

There are exceptions: Indigenous people, for example, can get a fourth dose if they’re 55 or older.

Below, you can read other exceptions listed by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for those between the ages of 60 and 69.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control listed these exemptions, which qualify someone from 60 to 69 years old for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.

However, when the Georgia Straight asked the Ministry of Health about who qualified for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination, it did not include what’s written after the letter “d”: “Caregiver of a frail elderly or moderately to severely immunosuppressed person”.

So it remains unclear in B.C. if a person between 60 and 69 who is a caregiver for either a frail elderly person or a moderately to severely immunosuppressed person is able to receive a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.

Yet it seems pretty clear from the exemptions above that if you are a cancer survivor or have kidney disease or have heart disease or have multiple sclerosis or have had a transplant and you’re under 70 in B.C., you will not qualify for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination under existing rules.

Why is B.C. being more restrictive with COVID-19 booster shots than Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan (where you only need to be 50-plus), as well as the entire United States?

Health Minister Adrian Dix needs to come clean on that.

What possible justification is there for withholding a fourth COVID-19 shot for British Columbians under 70, especially the immune-compromised, when 226,000 vaccine doses are set to expire next month?

Why is Dix so convinced that he knows better than the governments of Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan?

We don’t know the answer.

That’s in part because our pusillanimous B.C. Liberal MLAs refuse to hold the provincial NDP government accountable for its COVID-19 policies.

Some on social media are speculating that the booster shots are being withheld as part of a population-level experiment—conducted without the people’s consent—on the efficacy of delaying second booster shots.

Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, through their actions, are giving oxygen to this hypothesis.

Who knows? There might even be a scientific justification for withholding booster shots.

But in the absence of evidence provided by the B.C. government, the health minister must get in front of a microphone on Monday (June 27) and provide a coherent explanation.

Failure to do so will only fuel more suspicion about the motives behind the government’s policy.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that in January 2021, Science published a study involving 188 people, which offered a glimmer of hope.

It showed that more than 95 percent of those who had recovered from COVID-19 had immune systems demonstrating “durable” memories of the virus, lasting up to eight months.

This prompted speculation on the National Institutes of Health website that the immune systems of those who are vaccinated would have lasting memories of the virus.

But a study of 188 people is insufficient as the basis for an entire provincewide policy.

Some might wonder if the government isn’t making fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines available to those under 70 because of the cost of distribution or due to the labour shortage in the health-care sector.

Others might suspect it’s because the B.C. government thinks everyone is going to get COVID-19 anyway, so why bother?

If that’s the real reason, it’s a monumental disservice to those with compromised immunity. This should demand a response from Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender that goes well beyond writing a letter to Henry. Like by holding a public inquiry under section 47.15 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.

In the meantime, show us the evidence, Minister Dix, for why so many British Columbians are being denied a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.

And if you’re unwilling to do that, then please step aside so another health minister can do this in your place.

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Frank Bures: COVID shots for tots | Column | winonadailynews.com – Winona Daily News

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They are finally here! Vaccinations against COVID-19 were at last approved for the youngest people ages 6 months to 5 years old. Studies in children have been done showing definite protective benefits and no major adverse reactions occurring. The first step was the FDA approval after an advisory panel deliberated the week of June 13 — only 2 days — to vote unanimously to recommend authorization, stating the benefits outweigh any risks for young kids.

The CDC signed off on the vaccines June 18 with another unanimous vote. The two vaccines consist of the Pfizer mRNA version in adults, but a much-reduced dose of 3 micrograms instead of 30 micrograms, given in three doses to induce a high level of antibodies equivalent to young adults. The first two doses are spaced three weeks apart, and the third at least two months later. The study found only 10 COVID cases in the three-dose group and seven in the placebo group for an efficacy of 80%. The study included only a small number of patients. Most of the infectious disease and pediatrician experts cautioned not to lose sight of the fact that the vaccines were saving children’s lives.

People are also reading…

The Moderna mRNA vaccine is the same as the adult one but only a quarter of the dose at 25 micrograms in a two-dose series given four weeks apart. Both this and the Pfizer vaccine achieved the same levels of immunity that have protected young adults against severe disease. None of the developed COVID vaccines have achieved the ideal of elimination of the infection. But they have saved many lives.

In children, the risk from COVID is very real, even though hospitalization and deaths are lower than in adults. In children ages 1-4, COVID is the fifth leading cause of death. One source that looked at the period from January 2020 through May 2022 said 202 kids in this age group died from COVID. Another source quoted 480 kids dead from COVID. That’s more deaths per year than hepatitis, meningitis, rotavirus, and other common infectious diseases each caused before routine vaccinations for them were recommended. And the risk wasn’t limited to any particular group. More than half of the youngsters hospitalized due to COVID had no underlying conditions.

These vaccines have proven to be some of the safest of any for adults. In the preliminary studies in this age group the adverse reactions/side effects were mostly mild and short lived, much like those in adults, and similar to those from other vaccines. The main one was pain and redness or tenderness at the injection site. There might be some irritability, fatigue, or sleepiness, loss of appetite, headache, abdominal pain or discomfort, mild diarrhea, vomiting. But everyone got better quickly! Fevers were uncommon and mild in the participants. Those can be treated with acetaminophen.

A pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital, Denver, Colo., said it’s important to keep in mind that COVID-19 is now one of the vaccine-preventable diseases with the highest mortality rate. Hospitalization rates for children with COVID were five times higher during the recent wave than the worst previous points of the pandemic. Katherine Poehling, director of pediatric population health at Wake forest School of Medicine, said, “I am struck by these numbers. I’m also concerned there’s a real underappreciation of the potential severity.” FDA commissioner Robert Califf said, “Any death of a child is tragic, and should be prevented if possible.”

It’s a guarantee that, if a respiratory germ gets into a home, it gets into everyone living there. It may not take hold in each individual to create what we call disease for a host of reasons, but the microbe made the rounds, positive test or not. That includes every kid kissing you or sharing food with you.

The COVID variants currently crawling down our craws are killing fewer Americans daily than during any other period except the summer of 2021. But the country is now recording 10 times as many cases as it was at that time, indicating that a smaller number of cases are causing deaths. But COVID is still killing an average of 314 people a day. These darling little Petri (not “peach tree”) dishes we parents and grandparents love to hug and kiss can be vectors of so many viruses. The vaccines are a tool to help prevent that spread and contagion. It’s an incomplete tool, but it’s part of a larger effort to stop infections, along with hand washing, etc.

Maybe you could liken it to a fork among our eating utensils. We could eat most everything on the plate with that fork, but a knife and spoon sure help us to divide and down the delectables we can’t spear. The vaccines are essentially safe and a valuable tool. One preventable child’s death is one too many. Get your tot shot!

Dr. Bures, a semi-retired dermatologist, since 1978 has worked Winona, La Crosse, Viroqua and Red Wing. He also plays clarinet in the Winona Municipal Band and a couple dixieland groups. And he does enjoy a good pun.

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Moderna COVID-19 shots now an option for older kids in U.S. – CGTN

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A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children six months through five years old is seen, June 21, 2022. /AP

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children six months through five years old is seen, June 21, 2022. /AP

There is now a second COVID-19 option for kids aged six to 17 in the U.S. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday announced it is recommending Moderna shots as an option for school-age kids and teens. This group has been able to get shots made by Pfizer since last year.

CDC sets the federal government’s vaccine guidance for U.S. doctors and their patients. 

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the shots – full-strength doses for children ages 12 to 17 and half-strength for those six to 11. The doses are to be given about a month apart. An expert advisory panel this week voted unanimously to recommend that CDC endorse the Moderna shots, too. 

Moderna officials have said they expect to later offer a booster to all kids aged six to 17.

Source(s): AP

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