As provinces continue to ramp up booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, questions are arising over whether the booster could be considered as part of the full series of vaccines — and necessary for a Canadian to be considered “fully vaccinated.”
The consideration to add a third dose to the “primary series” in mRNA vaccines could potentially cause widespread changes to public health measures — including vaccine admissions to restaurants and other businesses. It also comes amid the spread of a possibly more infectious Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Speculation on whether the primary series could be expanded to three doses of the vaccine comes amid comments from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and Public Health Agency of Canada last Friday.
Asked whether the booster would eventually be considered part of the primary series of vaccines, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the booster dose would only remain “strongly suggested,” but did not discount the possibility for it to be added once more data on the vaccines comes to light.
“So it is a little bit complicated. But the bottom line is that if there is waning immunity over time, then an additional dose or a boost to your immune system helps, at least in the short term, boost your antibody levels and increase the quality of your overall immune response and the durability of the response,” said Tam.
“But I think part of it is because we’re doing clinical trials and observational studies as the pandemic is progressing.”
Tam said that due to time constraints set by the pandemic, researchers still haven’t been able to observe the efficacy of the doses over long periods for the general public, but added that NACI as of now considers additional doses for people with underlying immune conditions as part of the “primary series.”
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In a statement sent to Global News Friday, Health Canada said that the government would continue to monitor the available data on booster shots for the general population and to “make additional recommendations, as necessary.”
“The need to administer booster shots to the general population is eventually likely, but not at this time,” read the statement.
How will Canada decide?
Currently, the mRNA vaccines offered by Pfizer and Moderna are to be taken in a series of two jabs in order for a person to receive full protection and vaccination status.
Pfizer’s CEO told CNBC on Wednesday that people could potentially need a fourth COVID-19 dose sooner than expected, citing preliminary research on the Omicron variant.
The lab study from Pfizer and BioNTech still showed that a third shot was effective at fighting the variant, though its two-dose series — while still offering protection against serious disease — had dropped significantly to protect against contracting the new strain.
On the other hand, experts like Dr. Gerald Evans, Queen’s University’s chair of infectious diseases, have voiced support for a third dose to be part of the full series, though he was more skeptical on who could make the final decision on what constituted a full series.
“My general belief, my opinion at this point is that this vaccine is probably a three-dose vaccine,” said Evans.
The decision to fully make it a three-dose regimen would ultimately depend on a province and territorial basis, as the administration of health care remained within those jurisdictions, he said.
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While Health Canada is the governing body in charge of approving vaccines, NACI could only make recommendations “based on current scientific evidence and expert opinion” — with neither having a say should provinces decide to implement a three-dose series.
“In Canada, provincial and territorial jurisdictions may choose to offer an additional vaccine dose to specific populations to enhance their protection against COVID-19,” read Health Canada’s statement.
“This would be considered off-label use since Health Canada has not authorized a three-dose regimen for any of the vaccines authorized in Canada.”
While none have officially added the booster to the current vaccine series, several provinces have started to aggressively roll out campaigns on booster doses. Most recently, Ontario announced Friday that fully vaccinated people 18 and older would be eligible to get booster shot starting Jan. 4.
According to Evans, having three or even four vaccine doses could still be considered as part of a “typical schedule,” and is common in other shots.
Vaccine schedules such as the ones for human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B include three doses given at specific intervals.
Evans said that preliminary research points to the current mRNA vaccines has having to be administered in a three-dose regimen.
“Even our Canadian data, to some degree, is showing a little bit of waning now — it take about eight months or longer for that to happen when you have an eight- to 12-week interval between first and second doses,” he said.
And while Tam and Health Canada’s strong recommendation for people, especially immunocompromised groups, remains, the country’s health agency said that any such “widespread” waning of protection against severe disease in the general population still has not been observed.
Doctor sheds light on Omicron variant as cases continue to rise
On how many vaccines could be added to the series, or boosters for people to take in the future, however, Evans said that we could be looking at bi-annual shots akin to influenza if it was anything beyond four doses.
“I think we’re looking at a three-dose series and then with the potential, you know, with emergence potentially of other variants, especially if they move out an Omicron variant vaccine, then that would be the answer,” he said.
“You might need one more vaccine with the variant, but it would only be one shot at that point, and it would be to cover off an extremely mutated variant like you see with Omicron.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are travelling abroad despite Omicron – CBC News
Despite growing concerns across the globe last fall over the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, Sandy Long and her husband departed on Nov. 28 for a 10-day vacation in Mexico.
Long said they felt comfortable travelling, because they planned to take strict safety precautions. Plus, the couple hadn’t gone abroad for two years due to the pandemic and were yearning to get away.
“Life is short,” said Long, 58, of Richmond, B.C. “We needed to feel some warmth [and] we really missed Mexico.”
It appears many Canadians have a similar attitude toward travel these days despite Omicron’s fast and furious spread, which prompted Canada to repost its advisory against non-essential international travel last month.
Statistics Canada tallied 742,417 Canadian air-passenger arrivals returning home from abroad in December.
When adjusted to account for recent changes in tracking air travel, that total is almost six times the number of arrivals for the same month in 2020, and more than half the total for pre-pandemic December 2019.
The increase in international travel is likely to continue: there were 216,752 Canadian air-passenger arrivals to Canada during the week of Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, according to the latest data posted by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Travel agency owner Lesley Keyter said that, since October, the number of clients booking trips has jumped by between 30 and 40 per cent compared to the same time last year.
She said popular destinations for her clients, most of whom are aged 50 or older, include Europe, Mexico and Costa Rica. When Omicron cases started to surge in December, Keyter said some clients cancelled their trip, but most kept their travel plans.
“People are saying, “Listen, we only have a limited time on this planet.… We’ve put off travel for two years now, I don’t want to put it off anymore,” said Keyter, owner of The Travel Lady Agency in Calgary.
She said travellers also feel confident with the added protection of their COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot. Because Omicron is so transmissible and more able to evade vaccines, even vaccinated people may get infected, however, they’re less likely to wind up in the hospital.
Risk of testing positive abroad
But even if infected travellers only experience mild symptoms, they’ll still face hurdles returning home.
To enter Canada, air passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. If a traveller tests positive, they must wait at least 11 days before boarding a flight home.
Brennan Watson, 26, of Milverton, Ont., tested positive on Dec. 28 while travelling in Ireland.
He was set to fly home the following day, but instead had to find a place to self-isolate in Belfast. Due to Canada’s rules at the time — which have now changed — Watson had to wait 15 days before he could fly home.
“It was very stressful in the beginning,” he said. “It was a bit of a panic just to think that I’m stuck here.”
Brennan said the delay cost him: he missed 11 days of work as an electrician and spent $2,000 in added expenses, including another plane ticket home.
“There’s nothing you can really do about it,” he said. “It’s just something I didn’t even think would happen.”
WATCH | Canada once again advises against travel abroad:
Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said travellers can avoid such unexpected costs by purchasing trip-interruption insurance. He said most of his clients now opt for the coverage that will reimburse travellers for some or all of their costs if they test positive and must extend their trip.
“Trip interruption — which used to be a very rarely [purchased product] — is now being added to all the emergency medical plans, because clients worry terribly about testing positive,” said Firestone with Travel Secure.
“That’s the new world we live in right now with the pandemic.”
Another hurdle travellers may face is unexpected flight cancellations.
This month, Air Canada Vacations announced it will suspend some flights to sun destinations between Jan. 24 and April 30. After cutting 15 per cent of its January flights, WestJet announced on Tuesday it will cancel 20 per cent of its February flights.
Long said she and her husband enjoyed their trip to Mexico so much, they had planned to return again in the upcoming weeks. However, the couple recently nixed their plans due to concerns over flight cancellations.
“It’s the uncertainty right now,” said Long. “I don’t want to get down there and then be stranded.”
However, she’s still optimistic about a trip the couple has booked in May to Spain.
Despite testing positive while travelling, Brennan hopes to return to Ireland this summer — even if the pandemic hasn’t waned by then.
“I spent a year and a half of my life not seeing family, not seeing friends,” he said. “I’m not going to stop living my life.”
Immigration: Canada border tragedy a sign of what's ahead – CTV News
PEMBINA, N.D. —
The discovery of four people who perished in the cold trying to cross the Canada-U.S. border could put a new twist on the immigration debate in the United States.
The group, which included an infant and a teen, were found Wednesday near Emerson, Man., just metres from the Canadian side.
U.S. officials allege they were part of a larger group of Indian migrants trying to cross into the U.S. from Canada.
Border expert Kathryn Bryk Friedman, a University at Buffalo law professor, calls it a troubling sign that the country’s immigration challenges are getting worse.
Friedman says the discovery is likely a “warning shot” that more people are willing to put their lives on the line to enter the U.S., even on foot in the dead of winter.
Florida resident Steve Shand is to appear in court Monday in Minneapolis to face human smuggling charges.
“I do think it’s a warning shot,” said Friedman, who remarked about the enduring appeal life in the U.S. seems to hold for people all around the world.
Indeed, the crush of South American migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border has become a defining characteristic of American politics in recent years, most notably during the tenure of former president Donald Trump.
Nor is Canada a stranger to the problem: thousands of asylum seekers crossed the border in Quebec each year while Trump was in office, though the numbers have dropped precipitously since then.
But an organized effort to sneak groups of people into the U.S. from Canada is a new one on Friedman.
“It just demonstrates the allure still — maybe the enduring allure — of trying to get to the United States. It’s really kind of fascinating,” she said.
But a single incident isn’t likely to prompt either country to seriously rethink the way they manage and defend their shared frontier, she added.
“This sounds terrible, but I think it’s going to take more than four people dying at the border to really galvanize action on the part of Canada and the United States.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2022.
Omicron's potential peak has experts cautiously optimistic – CTV News
Canada’s top doctor has said the latest wave of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron variant may have reached its peak.
But while the modelling appears encouraging, experts say the news should be interpreted with cautious optimism.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters on Friday that there are “early indications that infections may have peaked at the national level” based on daily case counts, test positivity, the reproduction number and wastewater data.
“I hope we’re at or nearing the peak, but the problem that I have is where we’ve got some uncertainty in the counting now since we don’t do as much PCR testing as we once did,” Dr. Ronald St. John, former director-general of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
Due to the shortages in PCR testing capacity, many people who develop COVID-19, particularly if they’re not in a high-risk group and have mild or no symptoms, have been unable to get PCR tests.
“We can’t count people who are asymptomatic, so we have to look at other datasets (like) wastewater concentration, things like that, to try to get an understanding of where we are.” St. John said.
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba, says the news shows “some optimism that things will slowly get back to normal, what they were like prior to Omicron.”
However, Tam said that hospitalizations and ICU admissions are still climbing across Canada and health systems remain under “intense strain.” Kindrachuk says it’s unclear how quickly we might start seeing hospitalizations and ICU admissions start to decrease.
“I think we’ve learned over and over again from the pandemic is that you know, cases rise and then hospitalizations lag behind … and that trend also stays in place when cases start to recede,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Saturday.
“You may be able to slow down that hospitalization rate over time, but you are still going to have pressure on a health-care system that that has been pushed to its limits.”
Dr. Christine Palmay, a Toronto-based family physician, says the hospitalization and ICU data also leave out a lot of patients dealing with debilitating symptoms. She and her colleagues have seen numerous patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are struggling with the virus at home.
“They’re not captured by ICU stats. They’re not necessarily accessing ER, but they’re not functioning,” she said.
PROVINCES BEGIN EASING RESTRICTIONS
Several provinces have also reported that Omicron may be peaking or close to peaking. In Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said cases are expected to peak this month, followed by a peak in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. Quebec also reported that hospitalizations declined for the third straight day on Saturday.
Wastewater data in B.C. and Alberta have also shown signs that the virus may have peaked. However, health officials in Manitoba and Saskatchewan say it’s too early to tell.
When COVID-19 cases began to reach unprecedented highs throughout Canada last month, provinces and territories imposed numerous health measures affecting restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, in-person schooling and more. Now, some provincial and territorial governments have plans to life some of these restrictions.
Kindrachuk says these restrictions, on top of the rollout of booster shots, appear to have helped plateau cases. However, as these restrictions start to ease, he notes that cases have the potential to rise again.
“When you start to remove those safety breaks, you have the potential that things could start to build back in the opposite direction. So, we have to do it very methodically and certainly with a lot of oversight,” he said.
St. John says he’s also worried about health measures being lifted too quickly.
“We have to wait and stick to our public health measures as long as possible until we can be absolutely sure that we’re coming out of the woods, and I’m not sure that we are yet,” he said.
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