A vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen with injection supplies at a clinic in Winnipeg on March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Health Canada is devising a warning about a rare possible side-effect of blood clots from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine but is still certain the inoculation is safe and effective against COVID-19.
It is another blow for a vaccine that has now faced everything from a mistake in dosing during early trials, lower efficacy results than its main competitors, confusion about whether it is effective for seniors, and, this week, accusations the company overstated the results from a large trial in the United States.
Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, said at a news conference she is confident the evidence shows the vaccine is safe and effective for adults.
But she says there are concerns that this vaccine is suffering in public confidence.
“We’ve said this many times before, that even the most effective vaccine only works if people trust it and agree to receive it,” she said. “It’s like any other reputation — once there’s some doubt that creeps into that reputation, it’s that much more difficult to gain that back.”
Health Canada is adding the blood-clot warning following a similar warning issued by the European Medicines Agency last week after reports 38 people developed blood clots, out of almost 20 million people who were vaccinated.
The warning says the overall risk of blood clots is not heightened by the vaccine but it may cause a very rare blood clot in the brain.
Sharma said symptoms would include sudden, intense or persistent headaches, shortness of breath and pain or tenderness in the legs.
Health Canada authorized the vaccine at the end of February, based on clinical trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil that showed the vaccine was 62 per cent effective against COVID-19 infections and entirely prevented hospitalizations and deaths.
Monday the company reported preliminary results from a trial in the United States that appeared stronger, saying it was 79 per cent effective against infection. That report prompted the independent monitoring board overseeing the trial for the U.S. National Institutes of Health to accuse the company of reporting incomplete data to show a better result.
The board members said their analysis pegged the vaccine’s efficacy at between 69 per cent 74 per cent, and said the company’s decision to issue a press release with better results erodes public trust.
AstraZeneca said in a statement Monday’s preliminary report was accurate with data until Feb. 17, and that its analysis of more recent results are consistent with the preliminary report. It said it plans to issue its report on the updated data within 48 hours.
Sharma said it’s not unusual for companies to report preliminary data but said in this case the report came when the company was a lot closer than is typical to knowing what the final data shows. Still, she said, Canada approved the vaccine based on other trials and this doesn’t change those trials’ findings.
“At this point in time, we, of course, believe that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh the risks,” she said.
Health Canada expects to receive the U.S. trial data within the next few weeks and Sharma said it will be reviewed thoroughly and the findings communicated to Canadians.
Canada has thus far received about 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and expects to get 1.5 million more as soon as this week from the United States. The U.S. has a supply of doses it can’t use because it hasn’t approved them.
Even without those doses Canada’s deliveries of more than two million doses of other COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the most in a week yet. Though the first of two shipments expected from Moderna has been delayed a day, arriving Wednesday instead of Tuesday.
More than 3.5 million people in Canada have received at least one dose now.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said she knows everyone is tired of the “tricks and turns of this virus” and said there are many reasons to be hopeful, including the faster pace of vaccinations.
Still she warned, variants of concern continue to rise and the number of new COVID-19 cases rose 15 per cent over the last week. In turn, the numbers of people in hospital overall, and those needing intensive care, are creeping upwards.
In the last week an average of 2,100 people were in hospital in Canada being treated for COVID-19 on any given day, including 580 in critical care, compared to 2,040 in hospital and 550 in ICUs a week ago.
Since vaccinations began, COVID-19 infection rates in people over 80 have slowed, said Tam, but younger people, particularly under the age of 40, are seeing higher rates.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health in Alberta, said 88 per cent of the 48 patients in intensive care in that province are under age 65. Hinshaw said people need to continue to make good decisions to keep the spread of the virus down.
“Now is not the time to abandon the practices that have protected our communities and health care system over the past year,” said Hinshaw on Twitter. “Once we hit a growth phase of this virus, our #s will not stand still.”
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.
Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.
“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.
The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.
Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.
Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.
“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”
Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.
($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)
Good morning. Here is the latest news on COVID-19 and its impact on Ottawa.
Ottawa’s top doctor warns schools could remain closed after the April break next week
Ottawa sets new record for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on Friday
The city of Ottawa admits it doesn’t have enough supply to vaccinate residents 50 and older in high-priority neighbourhoods
Kingston closes popular waterfront park to prevent COVID-19 spread
COVID-19 by the numbers in Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health data):
New COVID-19 cases: 242 new cases on Friday
Total COVID-19 cases: 19,030
COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (previous seven days): 146.0
Positivity rate in Ottawa: 9.2 per cent (April 2 to April 8)
Reproduction Number: 1.05 (seven day average)
Who should get a test?
Ottawa Public Health says you can get a COVID-19 test at an assessment centre, care clinic, or community testing site if any of the following apply to you:
You are showing COVID-19 symptoms;
You have been exposed to a confirmed case of the virus, as informed by Ottawa Public Health or exposure notification through the COVID Alert app;
You are a resident or work in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak, as identified and informed by Ottawa Public Health;
You are a resident, a worker or a visitor to long-term care, retirement homes, homeless shelters or other congregate settings (for example: group homes, community supported living, disability-specific communities or congregate settings, short-term rehab, hospices and other shelters);
You are a person who identifies as First Nations, Inuit or Métis;
You are a person travelling to work in a remote First Nations, Inuit or Métis community;
You received a preliminary positive result through rapid testing;
You require testing 72 hours before a scheduled (non-urgent or emergent) surgery (as recommended by your health care provider);
You are a patient and/or their 1 accompanying escort travelling out of country for medical treatment;
You are an international student that has passed their 14-day quarantine period;
You are a farm worker;
You are an educator who cannot access pharmacy-testing; or
You are in a targeted testing group as outlined in guidance from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The Brewer Ottawa Hospital/CHEO Assessment Centre: Open Monday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The Moodie Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Open Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (testing only)
The Heron Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Ray Friel Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (testing only)
COVID-19 Assessment Centre at Howard Darwin Centennial Arena: Open daily 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Centretown Community Health Centre: Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 pm.
Somerset West Community Health Centre: Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Wednesday.
COVID-19 Drive-Thru Assessment Centre at 300 Coventry Road: Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Vaccine eligibility screening tool:
To check and see if you are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Ottawa, click here.
COVID-19 screening tool:
The COVID-19 screening tool for students heading back to in-person classes can be found here.
Classic Symptoms: fever, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath
Other symptoms: sore throat, difficulty swallowing, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, pneumonia, new or unexplained runny nose or nasal congestion
Less common symptoms: unexplained fatigue, muscle aches, headache, delirium, chills, red/inflamed eyes, croup
Ottawa’s top doctor warns it’s “more likely than not” that all elementary and secondary schools in Ottawa will be closed for in-person learning after the April break.
“I am now thinking the probability that schools will close to in-person learning after the spring break is higher than the probability the COVID-19 situation will improve in time to keep schools open,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health.
“My heart is heavy because I know how important schools are to the health of our community.”
Etches says Ottawa Public Health will make a decision by next Wednesday on whether schools will reopen or close after the April Break.
Ottawa Public Health reported 242 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Friday, the highest one-day case count in the capital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The surging numbers prompted the city’s medical officer of health to issue a rallying cry to Ottawa residents, saying the city has reached a key point in the COVID-19 “marathon.”
“We are tired. We’re fatigued. We want this to be over. And this is the point in our COVID marathon where we’re hitting the wall,” Dr. Vera Etches told reporters Friday. “This is our defining moment. It’s a moment where we’ve got to break through that wall.”
Ottawa’s positivity rate increased to 9.2 per cent for the period of April 2 to 8 from 8.8 per cent. Ottawa’s weekly incidence rate is now 146 cases per 100,000 people.
Residents aged 50 and over in three hot spot postal code areas in Ottawa can now book an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but the city warns it doesn’t have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate everyone.
On Friday, Ontario opened vaccine appointments at community clinics to residents born in 1971 or earlier who live in certain “hot spots.” In Ottawa, the hot spots have been identified as postal codes K1T, K1V, K2V.
A memo from Dr. Vera Etches and Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services Anthony Di Monte said residents 50 years of age and older living in the provincially identified “hot spots” of K1T, K1V and K2V are eligible for vaccine appointments at community clinics.
Residents living in the high-priority neighbourhoods of Emerald Woods – Sawmill Creek and Greenboro East and Ledbury – Heron Gate and Ridgemont will have the option to book at either a community clinic or at a pop-up clinic.
One day after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in Kingston’s University District, the city is closing the popular Breakwater Park until the end of the university school year to prevent large gatherings.
Mayor Bryan Paterson has issued an emergency order to close Breakwater Park for the next 10 days.
“This timeline coincides with students move-out, but can be extended if needed. As one of our most popular community parks, closing it is a last resort,” said Paterson in a statement
“Yesterday, however, we saw troubling instances of overcrowding, which is especially concerning given the current outbreak in the nearby University District.”
Pictures on social media showed dozens of people in the popular park along the waterfront on Thursday. During the provincewide shutdown, outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of five people.
MONTREAL — Over the past two to three weeks, Dr. Francois Marquis, head of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital, says he started noticing the average age of COVID-19 patients dropping.People arriving at the hospital are on average, about 10 to 15 years younger than earlier patients in need of medical care after contracting COVID-19, he said in an interview Wednesday.
“We are starting to see what was very unlikely during the first wave: 30 or 40-year-olds without any previous medical history, people in good health,” Marquis said.
“They’re not seeing a doctor, they’re not taking any kind of medication, they don’t have diabetes, they don’t have high blood pressure — they just get sick.”
Marquis’s observations echo a warning earlier this week from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, who said health officials across the country are reporting rising numbers of younger patients in hospitals who soon need intensive care.
“Many of them deteriorate quite quickly and have to be admitted to the ICU,” she said.
Dr. Gaston De Serres, an epidemiologist with Quebec’s public health institute, said the proportion of Quebecers over 80 in hospital with COVID-19 has been declining since mid-March — largely due to vaccination.
He said it’s not just the proportion of hospital patients who are younger that’s increasing, the overall number of younger patients is rising as well. De Serres said there were 40 people between 50 and 59 years old who were hospitalized the week of March 7. During the week of March 28, there were 54.But hospitalizations are still not rising significantly among people under 30. “It’s younger,” he said of the average age of patients. “It’s not young.”
Ten people between 20 and 29 years old were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Quebec the week of March 28, up from five two weeks earlier, De Serres said.
“If you have more cases, you will clearly have more hospitalizations, but the proportion of all hospitalized cases will remain small because these younger age groups are very low risk of being hospitalized.”
De Serres said he thinks more younger people are getting sick because the coronavirus variants of concern are more transmissible and they lead to more severe illness more frequently.
Mike Benigeri, director of the data bureau at the Institut national d’excellence en sante et services sociaux, a Quebec government health-care research institute, said that over the past two weeks, there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of people aged 40 to 69 who have been infected with COVID-19. He said the percentage is even higher among people aged 18 to 30.
Marquis said older people and those with other medical conditions may notice a COVID-19 infection sooner. People who are healthier may not seek medical attention until they’re very ill, he added.
“They will push the limits of endurance up to the point when they say, OK, it’s enough, I really need to go to the hospital,” he said.
Despite the odds of dying being low among younger people, that doesn’t mean the consequences among the small group who do get severely ill are any smaller, he said.
“If you’re that unlucky guy, well, you’re going to die — and you’re not going die 1.5 per cent, you’re going be fully dead.”
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has repeatedly said that with vaccination protecting older people, the province will be able to tolerate more COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Quoc Nguyen, a gerontologist at the Universite de Montreal hospital centre, said while that may be true when it comes to deaths, it may not be the case for ICU capacity.
“When we look at one case in December versus one case in March, it seems that for a single case we have more intensive care than we used to before, but we don’t necessarily have more hospitalization,” he said.
It’s ICU capacity that worries Marquis. His ICU is supposed to have 24 beds, but because staff members have left the health-care system — particularly nurses — it now has a capacity of 14: seven beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients and seven for everyone else.
“I am really afraid that in two weeks we’re going to be in the same place as Ontario is right now and I don’t think that we can deal with that many patients,” he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has imposed a four-week stay-at-home order after a third wave of COVID-19 started to overwhelm the health system.
“They’re going to saturate the ICU availability very, very quickly for a very long time,” Marquis said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2021.
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