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Health Canada agrees Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vials have six doses – PrinceGeorgeMatters.com

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OTTAWA — With new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 escalating in Canada, provincial governments lifting lockdown restrictions must be ready to slam them back into place at a moment’s notice, Canada’s chief public health doctor said Tuesday.

At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took another step toward trying to keep more variants from getting into the country, with a plan to start making people arriving in Canada by land show recent negative COVID-19 tests.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s COVID-19 picture is getting better, with daily case counts less than half of what they were a month ago and hospitalizations dropping.

About 100 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day but that’s down from almost 150 people a day in the last week of January.

Not all the news was good. Newfoundland announced 30 new cases Tuesday, its second highest single-day total in the pandemic thus far. The province invoked new public health measures in St. John’s, closing bars, lounges and gyms, while limiting capacity in restaurants.

But over the last week daily case counts have come down in most provinces.

In British Columbia, health officials said progress is being made in pushing back the spread of the virus as it announced 435 new cases. 

Ontario reported just over 1,000 cases Tuesday, its lowest total since the first week of November and less than one-third of the case totals a month ago. Quebec reported fewer than 900 cases, back to levels not seen regularly since October.

Both those provinces, and Manitoba, are relaxing some restrictions starting this week, with Quebec opening most shopping malls and hair salons, Ontario lifting its stay-at-home order for most of the province by next week and Manitoba starting to allow in-person dining for the first time since November.

All of it gives Tam pause.

“I think what my concern is that right now if we release some of these measures that a resurgence will occur,” said Tam. “But that resurgence could be due to one of these variants, and then it will be much more difficult to control.”

She said because we’re not yet screening every positive COVID-19 case for the variants, Canada probably doesn’t have a full picture of the Canadian presence of more contagious variants of the virus behind COVID-19. But because they could become the most prevalent sources of infection in Canada, any sign that they’re beginning to spread needs to be met with a rapid and decisive public health response.

“You’ve got to put the brakes on quickly,” she said.

The number of cases linked to any of the variants doubled in the last week, said Tam, and many are now not linked to any travel cases. 

Trudeau said Tuesday that as of Feb. 15, non-essential workers arriving at land borders will have to show negative PCR COVID-19 tests completed less than three days before arriving.

Failing to do so can net a fine up to $3,000 and increased enforcement of the required two-week quarantine. Land travellers will not be sent to the mandatory quarantine hotels for those arriving by airplane.

The government began requiring all people arriving in Canada by air to show negative PCR-based COVID-19 tests in early January.

Trudeau said Canadians arriving by land can’t be refused entry because they’re already on Canadian soil when they meet with border guards. Air travellers getting on planes on foreign soil can be denied boarding without the tests.

The latest statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency show that since the end of March 2.9 million people, excluding truck drivers, entered through land border crossings, while 2.4 million arrived by airplane.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma also said Monday the department’s vaccine review team agrees with Pfizer and BioNTech that each vial of their vaccine contains six doses, rather than five.

Sharma said the review team is confident that sixth dose can be extracted consistently, if the special low dead-volume syringes are used. Those syringes trap less vaccine between the plunger and needle after an injection.

Dr. Marc Berthiaume, the director of the bureau of medical sciences at Health Canada, said if people administering the vaccine are careful and use the special syringes “it’s going to be very easy to draw the six doses from the vial.”

Canada has ordered 64 million of the syringes and is starting to ship the first two million to provinces this week.

The change however means Pfizer will fulfil its contract to ship four million doses to Canada by March by sending fewer vials. Next week Pfizer’s shipment of 67,275 vials will be said to contain 400,000 doses, instead of 336,000.

Provincial governments have reported varying success at getting a sixth dose already. Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro called the sixth dose change “frustrating.”

“The federal government has contracted out on the basis of doses, not vials, so it means the provinces are going to end up not getting as many doses, I think,” Shandro said.

He said even with the right syringe, they’re only going to get the sixth dose out of each vial 75 per cent of the time.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the acting chief medical officer in Ontario’s Niagara health region, said on Twitter medical professionals there were 100 per cent successful at getting a sixth dose, and half the time were even able to get a seventh dose.

Pfizer’s vials have 2.25 ml of liquid, including 0.45 ml of active vaccine and 1.8 ml of sodium chloride. Each dose is 0.3 ml, and when the amount trapped in syringes after an injection is accounted for, there is about 0.25 ml still left.

As part of the agreement to change the label Pfizer has to report to Health Canada every three months if there are any issues getting that sixth dose, and provide ongoing educational support. Health Canada is also providing training for medical professionals.

Canada’s contract with Pfizer and BioNTech is to buy 40 million doses this year, with four million to be shipped by the end of March, and most of the rest before the end of September.

The United States, Europe and the World Health Organization all made the dose change last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2021.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results – Victoria News

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B.C. has completed 39 pilot projects on its available COVID-19 rapid testing technologies, including at seven outbreaks in long-term care facilities to screen employees who are not showing symptoms.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry responded this week to repeated calls for more widespread use of rapid testing, describing how nasal swabs and rapid result machines have been used in provincial prisons, workplace outbreaks and in B.C. schools where exposures have taken place. Results have not been encouraging.

“Of the thousands of tests that have been done, two of them have been positive, and both of those cases were in facilities that were having an outbreak,” Henry said at a COVID-19 briefing March 4. “So if our community transmission rates are low, screening with these less sensitive tests is not very effective. It doesn’t help us because the yield is so low and they have a very much higher false-negative rate. In those areas where we have an outbreak or where community transmission rates are higher, that’s when they might have more utility and those are the areas that we are looking at more closely.”

RELATED: COVID-19 Rapid tests not effective, use restricted, Dix says

RELATED: Rapid tests deployed for B.C. homeless shelter outbreaks

B.C. started receiving Health Canada-approved rapid tests in late October, but each batch required validation by a B.C. Centre for Disease Control lab, before pilot projects could be done. The first school test was at Garibaldi secondary in Maple Ridge, where a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus turned up in the more accurate genetic testing used for diagnosis.

“There are two situations that we use them in,” Henry said. “One is for testing of people with symptoms to determine whether they might have COVID or something else. This has been very helpful in situations where people have had a test three days before they go for surgery and the day of their surgery they have a bit of a cough or runny nose.”


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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Dentists, teachers, bus drivers want Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in B.C. – National Post

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VANCOUVER — Dentists, teachers and bus drivers are among the essential workers who hope to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in British Columbia, as a provincial committee decides who should be prioritized for the shot.

BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said her members should be included in the plan expected to be released by the B.C. Immunization Committee around March 18.

Education staff have had the second-highest number of COVID-19 claims accepted by WorkSafeBC, behind only health-care workers, and teachers have faced challenging conditions, Mooring said.

“It’s been a very difficult and stressful environment for teachers in B.C.,” she said Friday.

“Teachers have not, from the very start, been satisfied with the preventative measures that have been in place in classrooms. What we see is one of the most lax mask policies in all of Canada.”

The province does not require elementary students to wear masks, unlike in Ontario and high-risk areas of Quebec. B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said young children don’t get as sick from COVID-19 or pass it on as well as others.

Henry has said the immunization committee will use public health principles, vaccine science and an ethical framework to reach its decision on which essential workers and first responders should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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Once the plan is finalized, the vaccine will be administered in a parallel program to the province’s age-based strategy for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement Friday that the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine will become another tool in its program to accelerate the protection of more people in the province.

The officials reported 634 new cases and four more fatalities, pushing the death toll to 1,380 in B.C. Four new cases were confirmed to be variants of concern, bringing the total to 250.

The BC Dental Association said in a statement it would be “extremely pleased” if its members were included in the group to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot. Dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely, work in very close proximity to the mouth and often use aerosol-generating procedures, it said.

The association also pointed out that dentists, dental hygienists and certified dental assistants are included in Henry’s recent order to help administer the vaccines.

“We would expect that any dentist choosing to participate in mass vaccination clinics would be required to have been vaccinated themselves prior to providing them,” it said.

Balbir Mann, president of Unifor Local 111, which represents Metro Vancouver bus drivers, said his members should receive the vaccine because they have been at risk throughout the pandemic.

“When people get on the bus to pay their bus fare, they’re literally a couple feet away. Our members, day to day, they’re scared of the sneezes and coughs they have to deal with on a daily basis.”

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Henry has suggested that workers in food processing plants will be prioritized because there have been a number of outbreaks in the facilities that have led to broader community transmission.

James Donaldson, CEO of BC Food and Beverage, said his organization has been advocating for food production workers to receive priority access to vaccines since they became available.

“Our industry is essential as it ensures the continuity of the food supply for people in B.C. and around the world,” he said.

Kim Novak, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 1518, represents food plant workers including those at Grand River Foods in Abbotsford who recently grappled with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s because of the nature of the work. People are working in close proximity. Even with enhanced (personal protective equipment), staggering breaks and other health and safety protocols that have been implemented, there is still a high level of exposure,” she said.

Novak’s union also represents grocery store workers and she hopes they will be included in the plan for the vaccine.

“In grocery stores in particular, there is a lot of exposure to different people in the public,” she said. “That exposure not only is a risk for our members … but also the public who interact with them.”

BC Trucking Association president Dave Earle, meanwhile, said his group represents both long-haul truckers and local drivers who return home every night. He wants to hear from the province about where the COVID-19 hot spots are in the transportation system.

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For example, in B.C., there are 300,000 people with a Class 1 licence allowing them to operate a semi-trailer truck, Earle said.

“Not everybody with a Class 1 licence operates a heavy truck at the moment and many of those who do don’t do it in an environment where they’re at any greater risk than you and I just going about our daily lives,” he said.

In some European countries, people have been hesitant to receive the AstraZeneca shot because of fears it is less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization has also not recommended AstraZeneca for people over 65, while Health Canada has approved it for all adults.

Henry sought on Thursday to assure essential workers that the AstraZeneca vaccine is extremely effective. The clinical trials for all three vaccines were done under different conditions and cannot be fairly compared, she said.

The groups representing essential workers said Friday they hadn’t heard any concerns about the AstraZeneca shot from members.

Earle said his association takes guidance from public health officials and they’ve been abundantly clear.

“Whatever you’re offered, take it. Let’s get out of this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

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Why it's 'urgent' BC teachers get vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer – Comox Valley Record – Comox Valley Record

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BC Teachers’ Federation is calling for the province to inoculate its exhausted teachers with the COVID-19 vaccine before summer.

“We’ve kept B.C. schools open throughout the pandemic but it’s come at a cost: teachers’ physical and mental health,” stated president Teri Mooring.

“It’s important for both their safety and peace of mind that they get vaccinated.”

With recent vaccine approvals in Canada, Mooring said there’s more space than ever for teachers to get vaccinated alongside other essential workers.

“There’s an urgency now that we know of 16 schools in the Fraser Health region that reported variant COVID-19 cases,” she told Black Press Media Friday.

RELATED: Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Even with the addition of rapid response teams in the sector, Mooring still doesn’t think enough is being done to prevent virus transmission in schools.

“Even before variants were detected, teachers were deeply unsatisfied with the safety protocols in place,” said Mooring, highlighting the federation’s ongoing appeal for a broader in-school mask mandate and reduction in class sizes.

“The provincial health officer continues to tell us that rates of COVID-19 transmission in schools are low, but the data is telling a different story.”

Evidence from WorkSafeBC shows teachers being infected with COVID-19 more than all others employed – aside from B.C. health care workers.

Eighty-two per cent of teachers’ COVID-19 claims have been accepted by the Workers’ Compensation Board, compared to 70 per cent from those in other sectors.

READ MORE: ‘Status quo is unacceptable’: BCTF calls on Fraser Health to improve school safety

Since early December, the education sector has seen a 250 per cent increase in claims relating to the virus, WorkSafeBC data reveals.

“Teachers would feel more comfortable if they at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before going into the next school year,” Mooring stated.

“Vaccinations will also allow schools to be reliable and stay open.”


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