To help keep Ontarians safe this flu season, the Ontario government has launched one of its largest flu immunization campaigns.
Starting in November, all Ontarians will have access to free flu shots through doctor and nurse practitioner offices, participating pharmacies, and public health units.
“Our government is prepared for flu season and is launching an even larger flu shot program this year to keep Ontarians healthy as we continue to respond to COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“It is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time, so if you’re receiving your flu shot and still have yet to receive a first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time,” explained Elliott.
Ontario is investing over $89 million this year to purchase over 7.6 million flu vaccine doses, which is 1.4 million more doses than last year.
Vaccines for seniors living in long-term care homes will be a priority for the provincial government, they have allocated 1.8 million doses specifically for seniors.
To make getting your shot easier, the provincial government will provide pharmacies with 40% of the 7.6 million doses, up from the 36% last year.
“The annual flu shot is the best defence against the flu this season,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Moore continued “As we head into the fall and begin gathering indoors more often with family and friends, it is even more important to get your flu shot, in addition to following public health measures, to protect yourself and those around you.”
Last year, flu cases per the national and Ontario surveillance systems were historically low, with less than 25 cases of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza reported. This is in comparison to 12,829 laboratory-confirmed cases in 2019/20 and 10,743 in 2018/19.
The flu shot is especially important for children under five, people who are pregnant and those 65 and older. Flu-related complications such as pneumonia and heart attack can be very serious, sometimes deadly for those with weakened immune systems.
Singapore tests out ‘smart bandage’ for remote recovery
Researchers in Singapore have developed a smart bandage to enable patients to have chronic wounds monitored remotely via an app on a mobile device, potentially saving them visits to the doctor.
A research team at the National University of Singapore has created a wearable sensor attached to a transparent bandage to track progress in healing, using information like temperature, bacteria type, and levels of pH and inflammation.
“Traditionally when someone has a wound or ulcer, if it’s infected, the only way to examine it is through looking at the wound itself, through visual inspection,” said Chwee Teck Lim, lead researcher at the university’s department of biomedical engineering.
“If the clinician wants to have further information then they will obtain the wound fluid and send to the lab for further testing,” he said.
“So what we’re trying to do is use our smart bandage to cut the number of hours or days to just a few minutes.”
The “VeCare” technology will enable patients to convalesce more at home and visit a doctor only if necessary.
The bandage is being tested on patients with chronic venous ulcers, or leg ulcers caused by circulation problems in veins.
Data collection by researchers on the wounds has so far been effective, according to Lim, who said the smart bandage could potentially be used for other wounds, like diabetic foot ulcers.
(This story refiles to correct to cut extraneous word in the first paragraph)
(Reporting by Ying Shan Lee; Writing by Masako Iijima; Editing by Martin Petty, William Maclean)
Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates
The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.
Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.
Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.
“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.
Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.
The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.
The White House declined to comment.
The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.
Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.
Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.
Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.
The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.
In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)
Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says
The Omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, the director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said on Tuesday.
The discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa for fear it could spread quickly even in vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization saying it carries a high risk of infection surges.
“We thought what will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, in terms of transmissibility at least, … perhaps this particular variant is the variant,” Adrian Puren, acting executive director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), told Reuters in an interview.
If Omicron proves even more transmissible than the Delta variant, it could lead to a sharp spike in infections that could put pressure on hospitals.
Puren said scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, and whether it leads to worse clinical symptoms than other variants.
Anecdotal accounts by doctors who have treated South African COVID-19 patients say Omicron appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever and night sweats, but experts have cautioned against drawing firm conclusions.
Puren said it was too early to say whether Omicron was displacing Delta in South Africa, since local scientists have only produced 87 sequences of Omicron so far.
But the fact that cases have started to rise rapidly, especially in the most populated Gauteng province, is a sign that some displacement might already be happening.
Delta drove a third wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa that peaked at more than 26,000 cases per day in early July. Omicron is expected to trigger a fourth wave, with daily infections seen topping 10,000 by the end of the week from around 2,270 on Monday.
Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the NICD, said it looked like infections were rising throughout the country.
On Monday, an NICD presentation a flagged a large number of COVID-19 admissions among infants aged under two years as an area of concern. But von Gottberg cautioned against linking that with Omicron just yet.
“It looks like in fact some of those admissions might have started before the emergence of Omicron. We are also seeing that there was an increase in influenza cases just in the last month or so, and so we need to be really careful to look at the other respiratory infections,” she said.
“We are looking at the data very, very carefully, but at the moment I’m not too sure that we can link it definitively to Omicron.”
South Africa has been praised for alerting the global scientific community and WHO so quickly to Omicron — a brave move given the damage that travel restrictions imposed by multiple countries including Britain will do to its important tourism sector.
The country has reported close to 3 million COVID-19 infections during the pandemic and over 89,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Johannesburg; Editing by Alison Williams)
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