Public health experts are urging Canadians to get their flu shots before, during or even after getting their COVID-19 vaccine jab, warning that the rapidly-approaching flu season could spike back again “with a vengeance” following a record low year.
Flu cases had previously dropped to record lows in North America and Europe during the first year of the pandemic, and countries in the southern hemisphere reported lower than usual numbers.
In Canada alone, detections of the flu were so low over the last year that it didn’t even pass the threshold set by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) normally used to declare the start of the fall flu season.
In the 2020-21 season, PHAC reported 69 detections of influenza during its final report on Aug. 28. Around 52,000 cases are detected normally.
“When you have a low year, usually the following year is a bad year and when you look around the world, there’s a lot of influenza and RSV occurring,” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an epidemiologist and pediatrician at the University of Toronto.
“So absolutely people should be getting their flu vaccine,” she said.
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According to Banerji, getting your jab to protect against the flu has greater urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, with both being respiratory illnesses.
“When we still have COVID, no one really wants to get a viral respiratory illness with body aches because you’re going to think it’s COVID and until you can prove that, it will cause a lot of anxiety for people,” she said.
Dr. Gerald Evans, the chair of infectious diseases at Queen’s University, agreed that people should also be getting the flu shot especially after a record low season of influenza.
Whether the number of flu cases could potentially be even worse than prior years, Evans was skeptical.
“When you have almost zero activity, anything is going to represent an increase,” said Evans.
Regardless, as public health measures continue to be pulled back in Canada and in many other parts of the world, Evans said we should expect quite “a lot” of flu activity in the coming months.
“So I’m really recommending [getting] it and I think this season, this upcoming flu season, could be a lot certainly a lot different from what we had,” he said.
“And if it’s even like a typical flu season, you know, we really have to avoid all of the consequences of influenza. And we know that vaccine reduces severe influenza and it reduces things like hospitalization.”
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On whether it was safe for people to get their flu shot during or after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine jab, Evans pointed at new recommendations from Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
On Tuesday, NACI updated their advice to recommend COVID-19 vaccines to be given at the same time, or any time before or after other vaccines like the flu shot.
Previous advice from the advisory committee recommended that COVID-19 vaccines be given after 28 days before and 14 days after any other vaccine, which, according to experts, was most likely done to avoid potentially more or overlapping side effects from getting jabbed by multiple vaccines at the same time.
Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director at the Vancouver ID Research & Care Centre Society, pointed to recent announcements in B.C. to give a third booster shot — and flu shot — simultaneously to long-term care home residents.
“I think this basically underscores the need for the flu shot in COVID world, we really need this,” he said.
Conway said that we should be expecting a “big” wave of influenza infections in the coming season, and pointed to several reasons why flu cases could explode.
More relaxed public health measures in place compared to the same time as last year could account for many more cases, and a lack of widespread resistance or “immune memory” within people who contracted the flu last year means less protection for the population overall.
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He also pointed to the usual yearly flu vaccine administered as being based on and adapted from what was circulating last year.
“So since there is nothing circulating, our vaccine is an educated guess and it may mismatch with the viruses that are being transmitted,” said Conway.
Lastly, Conway said that the last thing that marks this upcoming flu season as concerning is that most people were “just tired of all this and they just want this to go away.”
“We’re having enough trouble selling the fact that we live in a COVID world and it’s not going away to say and then to say ‘well, in addition to COVID world, there is the flu.’”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot '95 per cent effective' – The National
Trial results have found that having a third or “booster” dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is more than 95 per cent effective at preventing disease.
The clinical trial findings, released by the two companies that developed the shot, are described as the first efficacy results from a “randomised, controlled Covid-19 vaccine booster trial”.
There were more than 10,000 participants in the trial, all of whom had completed an initial two-dose programme with the vaccine.
Half the participants then received a third dose of the vaccine, and half were given a placebo, with the third dose given an average of 11 months after the second.
Researchers recorded whether participants subsequently developed symptomatic Covid-19 at least seven days after the booster was given, with individuals followed up for an average of 2.5 months.
In the boosted group there were just five Covid-19 cases, while in the non-boosted group 109 cases were recorded, which gives an efficacy – or effectiveness at preventing disease – of 95.6 per cent.
Prof David Taylor, professor emeritus of pharmaceutical and public health policy at University College London, said the results indicated “having a booster is an extremely sensible idea” for people in at-risk groups.
“The message to everybody, including if you’re 50 or 60 or over, is having a booster dose after six months or longer is extremely sensible,” he said.
In a statement, Ugur Sahin, the chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech, said the results added to the “body of evidence” that the vaccine protected “a broad population of people from this virus and its variants”.
“Based on these findings we believe that, in addition to broad global access to vaccines for everyone, booster vaccinations could play an important role in sustaining pandemic containment and a return to normalcy,” he said.
Pfizer and BioNTech said detailed analysis of the results indicated that efficacy of a booster did not vary with age, sex, race, ethnicity, or any other serious medical conditions a person has.
The companies plan to share the results with regulators, including the Food and Drug Administration in the US and the European Medicines Agency.
A booster programme using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that began in Israel in July has been credited with helping the country overcome its fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.
Infection rates fell faster in over-80s, who were given boosters first, than in other age groups, indicating that the third doses were improving immunity, which may have waned over time after the second dose.
Other countries are also launching booster programmes, including the UK, which began a programme last month focused on over-50s and other vulnerable groups.
In August, Abu Dhabi mandated a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine for people who had previously received the Chinese-developed shot.
More recently, at the beginning of this month, the UAE authorised booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Russian-developed Sputnik vaccines for over 60s and members of other vulnerable groups, with the third dose to be given at least six months after the second.
Prof Taylor said it was unclear at the moment whether people would need to have Covid-19 vaccination boosters indefinitely.
“For the next few years, it does look like especially the older population will need top-up immunisation. Whether that will be twice-yearly or yearly we don’t know,” he said.
Updated: October 22nd 2021, 3:20 AM
Toronto police officers who ignore COVID-19 vaccinate mandate policy will be put on unpaid leave – CBC.ca
Toronto police officers who aren’t fully vaccinated or haven’t disclosed their COVID-19 vaccination status by Nov. 30 will be put on indefinite unpaid leave, the service says.
Any such member, uniformed or not, will not be allowed to enter buildings until they comply with the mandatory vaccine and disclosure policy.
Those members will also not be eligible for promotions to supervisory or management positions, the service said in a news release Thursday.
“Vaccination against COVID-19 protects the health and safety of each of our members, our workplaces and the public we serve,” said Chief James Ramer.
Consistent communication needed for kids COVID-19 vaccine rollout: experts – Delta-Optimist
Kelly Grindrod remembers the confusion pharmacists felt last spring as Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine policy changed rapidly throughout the rollout, sometimes with little warning.
Shifting eligibility requirements differed across the country, booking sites were harder to navigate in some regions, and one vaccine product came to be seen as inferior to the rest, infuriating the public and vaccinators alike.
Grindrod, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo and the pharmacy lead for Waterloo Region’s vaccine rollout, hopes provinces learned lessons from Canada’s first vaccination campaign for adults.
And if a COVID-19 vaccine is soon approved for children, she said a kid’s rollout needs consistent and clear messaging.
“Communication was a real challenge,” Grindrod recalled. “(Policy) would be announced nationally and everybody on the ground had to scramble because we were all hearing it at the same time.
“Immediately the phones would go crazy in pharmacies because people were trying to make sense of it…. We need a bit more lead-in, a bit more clarity, so (vaccinators) have answers before people start calling.”
Pfizer-BioNTech asked Health Canada to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged five-to-11 this week. The regulator is reviewing data before making a decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that Pfizer is ready to ship millions of child doses in the event of authorization, while Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand added that Canada has already procured syringes and other supplies needed to speed up the rollout.
In the United States,an advisory group with the Food and Drug Administration, which received an approval request from Pfizer earlier this month, is scheduled to meet next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is then set to discuss authorization in early November.
Grindrod said U.S. regulators, which sometimes stream meetings online, have shown “more transparency around the (decision-making) process.”
Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization supply “fairly comprehensive” documents after they’ve made decisions, she said, but vaccinators could use a heads up “to facilitate planning.”
Logistics of the kids rollout — where children get a vaccine, how they book appointments and whether certain kids will be prioritized — are still to be determined. Ontario said Tuesday it was open to running mass vaccine clinics at schools after school hours.
Omar Khan, an immunology and infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, said school clinics are a great way to reach more kids. Pharmacies and family doctors can also help, but proper scheduling — which includes flexibility around parents’ work hours — is needed to ensure half-empty vaccine vials aren’t tossed at the end of the day.
“Anything that reduces accessibility barriers will help distribute (vaccines) to the queue of people waiting to get vaccinated across multiple sites,” he said.
Most logistics can be ironed out once supply is determined, Grindrod said.
Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine involves a different formulation, but Grindrod said some pharmacists have asked whether they must wait for kid-specific shipments or if a diluted adult dose could serve if supply was scarce. She urged clear information as soon as possible.
Messaging around the kids vaccine in general has to be handled with more care, she said,starting with whatever NACI and Health Canada recommend after reviewing its safety and efficacy.
“We need very careful communication … because we haven’t seen the data,” she said. “There are questions that need to be answered very clearly — what is the risk of COVID to kids at the point at which vaccines become available? What are the known side effects we expect to see based on data from trials?
“And then separately, what are the unknowns?”
Science communicator Samantha Yammine noted the difficulty in maintaining consistent vaccine advice when the science on COVID-19 evolved quickly throughout the pandemic.
Policies introduced midway through the adult rollout, such as NACI’s recommendation against using AstraZeneca for second doses, seemed to contradict earlier advice. But public health messaging constantly adapts to new data, she said.
While communication was confusing at times, the country still vaccinated nearly 82 per cent of its eligible population to date.
Since parents are likely more concerned about vaccinating children than getting the jab themselves, fears should be addressed honestly and parents made to feel part of the plan, Yammine said.
That includes equipping parents with child-friendly information they may need to field youngsters’ questions about the vaccine, she added.
And kids’ comprehension level shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I’m advising people to acknowledge how great a job kids have done,” Yammine said. “Wearing masks, understanding why they have to play with friends outside, it’s been really hard on kids.
“But they’ve shown us they can be involved and they can understand complex things.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.
Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
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