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Health experts urging quicker vaccine rollout as COVID-19 cases surge, doses sit in freezers – CTV News



Health experts and seniors advocacy groups are urging provinces to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations as coronavirus infections surge following the holiday season.

Since the first vaccine was administered three weeks ago, on Dec. 14, slightly more than 121,000 people have received Pfizer or Moderna shots. That’s 0.319 per cent of the Canadian population. As of Monday afternoon, only Prince Edward Island had administered doses to more than 1 per cent of its population, according to the vaccine tracker. In Ontario, more than 110,000 doses — or more than 70 per cent of the province’s supply — sit in freezers, with approximately 42,000 administered in three weeks.

“Vaccine helps nobody if it’s in the closet,” Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization, told CTV News Channel on Monday.

“This needs to be a 24-7 initiative as we have seen in other countries. Vaccine spread is what we need to do. We need to make sure that it gets into the arms of people who need it because the virus does not stop for holidays.”

The calls for a speedier rollout come following weeks of an intensified second wave of COVID-19 infections around the country that has included new outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes where much of Canada’s most vulnerable people live. Since mid-December, Canadian health officials have recorded more than 130,000 new infections. The majority of those infections have been in Ontario and Quebec, two provinces that have differing immunizations strategies. In Quebec, health officials have suggested they may forego second doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in favour of immunizing more people with available shipments.


It’s a strategy that has faced a range of reactions from health experts, some of whom say the idea could help speed up immunity and others who say it’s too risky.

Quebec’s plan to speed up vaccination by delaying or even eliminating the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines could backfire, said Dr. Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, who said that strategy uses people as “experimental subjects” without their consent.

“We also think that giving people partial immunity might actually provide an excellent opportunity for COVID-19 to mutate around the vaccine,” he told CTV News Channel on Monday. “I think that we need to proceed with what’s been proven.”

Other experts have said that using up all current shipments, rather than holding back some doses for later, is a more appropriate strategy. Infectious disease expert Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti said everyone should get both, but the one-dose strategy could work in the meantime to speed things up.

“Having many people that are partially protected, I think, is better on the whole than having a few people that are fully protected and still a lot of people who are vulnerable,” he told CTV News Channel.


One of the major slow-downs with the initial shipments of COVID-19 vaccines was the complicated storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech product, which needs to be kept at temperatures between -60 C and -80 C until injection. Ontario has been particularly cautious with this guidance compared to Quebec, British Columbia and other jurisdictions around the world, said Dr. Samir Sinha, the Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network in Toronto.

While much has been made about the difficulty of transporting the Pfizer vaccine, Dr. Sinha says that might not have been necessary.

“When you actually read the product monograph, you can actually transport these vaccines with dry ice and other things,” he said, adding that West Virginia vaccinated all 214 of its long-term care facilities by Dec. 30.

“If West Virginia can get it done, why can’t we get this done in Ontario?” he said on CTV News Channel on Monday.

“We’ve got health professionals who’ve been raising their hands saying ‘If it’s just a matter of you need more people, we’re willing to do this 24-7.’” 


Long-term care and retirement homes have facilitated mass immunizations before, as recently as last fall, noted Sinha. In October, there was concern that those facilities would bear the brunt of what some called a “twindemic” of influenza and COVID-19. Instead, provinces mobilized long-term care and retirement homes quickly.

“These homes, without a whimper, got all their residents and staff vaccinated within a week or two,” he said. “We have tens of thousands of dose[s] of just the Moderna vaccine that are still sitting in fridges and freezers that have been here long enough.”

Sinha’s is the same message that CanAge CEO Tamblyn Watts has for federal and provincial officials: use the systems that have long been in place.

“This is a vaccine problem, not really a logistics problems,” said Tamblyn Watts. “We have existing systems to put vaccine into people … Get public health involved, get doctors involved, get pharmacists involved. Don’t keep it so off to the side that people can’t get vaccinated.”


Though much red tape was cut to expedite the development of COVID-19 vaccines in 2020, the distribution of those vaccines in Canada may be facing official procedures contributing to the slow rollout. “There is something to be said about the bureaucracy of what’s been going on recently,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at McMaster University in a phone interview with on Monday, noting public health protocols, the implementation of registration systems, and the development of teams to go into a variety of health facilities, to name a few procedures.

Compared to other countries, Canada has procured the most vaccine doses per citizen, but is falling behind in the rollout. Israel has vaccinated more than 14 per cent of its population, according to Our World in Data. The U.S. has vaccinated millions, or more than 1.2 per cent of its population. Health officials in Canada could consider looking at global models for the future rollout, particularly models that are “good enough” and not based on “perfection.”

“They don’t necessarily deal with models where there’s perfection around tracking, there’s perfection around registration and all that stuff,” he said. “It gives us a good scope to start looking at how [we can] minimize the bureaucracy in rollout.”


The irony of the vaccine rollout is that putting needles into arms is not difficult, added Chagla. While there are certainly human resource and training issues related to staffing and proper care at nursing homes and other facilities, injecting needles is not one of them. 

“Most nursing students and medical students as well as other health professionals — it’s a core competency off the bat,” said Chagla.

Provinces will have to find a way to register individuals quickly and on a mass scale who can help with administering vaccines, but also other health professionals like pharmacy technicians to handle medications appropriately, non-clinical professionals to work through clerical procedures like registration and consent.

“Realistically, there’s a huge human resource potential to tap into to optimize all of that, such that every community has access to vaccine,” he said. 

“Honestly, the way forward is not with hospitals,” he added, though the finicky Pfizer vaccine may be best for hospital use considering it must be stored at extreme cold temperatures. Instead, the rollout of more COVID-19 vaccines, first with Moderna, will depend on more than hospital systems but also public health and primary care, said Chagla.

“Realistically, that Moderna campaign really does need to be taken to communities and engaged at all levels,” he said.

“There is certainly a big lesson to be learned here in that, and a lesson to be learned in cutting down bureaucracy and how to recruit the community appropriately, because there are resources out there.” 

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Alta. COVID-19 numbers back to early-Dec. levels, health-care system still under strain: Hinshaw – CTV News Edmonton



Although more than 11,000 Albertans have been fully immunized for COVID-19 and infection and hospitalization rates are falling, officials are warning the province’s health-care system is still stressed.

In total, the province has administered more than 101,000 shots since December, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday.  

That afternoon, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 459 new cases of COVID-19. On Tuesday, labs conducted some 12,800 tests, leaving Alberta with a positivity rate of 3.6 per cent.

Hospitalizations, too, have dropped – but, Hinshaw said, not enough to significantly reduce the strain on Alberta’s health care system or justify easing restrictions.

Of news that several more businesses were defying public health orders with support of their local community and leadership, Hinshaw said the action could jeopardize Alberta’s recent progress.

“What I would say to those leaders is to think about not just what they see in front of them in their own town but to look at the province, and to recognize that every action that we take as individuals has repercussions and connections to our own communities and to the communities around us. And unfortunately, what we saw in the fall is that when we did take early targeted steps to try to minimize risk but not have businesses close, we continued to see our cases climb,” Hinshaw said.

She reminded the public that on Dec. 30, Alberta’s COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked at 943 people. Of those, 155 were in ICUs.

On Wednesday, Hinshaw said, 604 Albertans were in hospitals with the disease, 110 of whom were in intensive care units.

But the numbers are only on par with those seen on Dec. 4.

“This is encouraging news, and a signal that we are making meaningful progress,” Hinshaw said.

“We saw our health-care system come very close to a tipping point. We want to avoid that and we need to make sure that we are taking slow measured steps.”

She added Alberta Health was working on a “framework” that would help Albertans keep track of the metrics that would trigger more reopenings.


There are 8,203 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.

To date, more than 112,500 Albertans have recovered from the disease.

With the addition of 12 more deaths on Wednesday, the province’s death tally rose to 1,599.

Hinshaw had no update on Alberta’s so far single, unsourced B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant case, for which officials have found no transmission outside the person’s household.

“The knowledge that this particular variant of concern has been showing up in some other provinces and other countries around the world as a part of community transmission is concerning, and it does need to be factored into our decisions about timing of reopening,” Hinshaw told reporters. “Because if we do enable more activities, more opportunities for people to be in close contact with one another, we could potentially see quicker spreads if the variant is here in more locations than we currently are aware of.”

According to the latest data, reported at the beginning of the week, Alberta labs have confirmed 25 cases of the B.1.1.7 and 501Y-V2 strains first identified in the U.K. and South Africa. All but the one case have been linked to international travel.

Officials are calling immunization a key component of Alberta’s ability to prepare for any spread of two new strains, but say the work is hampered by vaccine supply delays.

Hinshaw said some Albertans who are eligible for a second dose may not yet have been given an appointment because the province is waiting to confirm its supplies arriving in two weeks.

However, she said the goal was to still administer all second shots within the maximum interval tested.

“While I can’t say with certainty at this point, what I can say is that everything possible will be done to provide that second dose to all who have had the first dose within that 42-day period.”

The top doctor asked for all those waiting to remain patient with the system and province. 

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'That’s about as un-Canadian as you can get': B.C. premier 'disappointed' at people travelling to jump the line for COVID-19 vaccine – Yahoo News Canada



Local Journalism Initiative

Three more weeks of COVID-19 public health restrictions in Saskatchewan

Regina– Three more weeks. That’s the length of the most recent extension of public health orders in Saskatchewan meant to limit the spread of COVID-19. Premier Scott Moe made the announcement from the Legislature in Regina on Jan. 26 with chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. The announcement came on a day when Saskatchewan posted yet another record for COVID-19 related deaths, 14, but has seen a slow drop in new case counts. There are now 2,665 cases are considered active, and on that day, 607 recoveries were reported. Moe said. “The number of new cases in Saskatchewan continues to gradually decline. Today we are reporting 232 new cases, and our seven-day average for new cases is now 254. This is down about 20 per cent from its peak of 321 on Jan. 12. Our active cases are now down to 2,665, the lowest level since Nov. 21, and down over 40 per cent from a peak of 4,763 on Dec. 7. “This gradual decline means that our current public health orders and restrictions are working, but we need to leave them in place a little longer. Therefore, all the current public health orders are being extended for three weeks until Feb. 19.” “These measures are working, when we follow them, as the vast majority of Saskatchewan people and businesses are doing. There have been a small number of mainly bars and restaurants who may not have been following those putting their staff putting their customers and essentially putting their communities at risk. So, I have asked that we increase enforcement on those who choose to break the rules, and in recent days there has been three significant tickets.” Moe also said that two bars in Saskatoon and one in Regina had been issued $14,000 fines. He held out the hope that three weeks from now, Saskatchewan may be able to look at reducing the number of restrictions in place. He pointed out that the province has made a lot of progress in vaccinations. To date, 34,080 doses have been delivered, and those administering it are quite literally getting the most out of every bottle, getting 104 per cent of expected dosages. Moe said, “But we continue to be limited by the slow pace of vaccine deliveries, from to and from the federal government. Saskatchewan now has the highest percentage of vaccines administered, and we have the second-highest per capita rate of vaccinations completed among any of the provinces. “Unfortunately, today we are virtually out of vaccines. And with no new shipments coming this week, our vaccination program will be stalled for the next number of days.” Next week, the province is expecting 12,000 additional doses, of which 5,850 will be Pfizer doses heading to Saskatoon, Regina, North Battleford, Yorkton and Swift Current to allow continued vaccination of long-term care residents and staff, as well as those over 70. A further 6,500 Moderna doses will be going to the far northeast, far northwest, and northeast regions of the province for a second doses. In the central-west region, first shots will be administered, Moe said. The province will continue to push the federal government for more vaccines, and to also look at approving additional types of vaccines for use. He referenced the vaccines that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been working on. Shahab said, “I think it’s really important that we are seeing a steady decline in our case numbers; all the indicators are moving in the right direction is slow and steady.” Daily case numbers have come down from 24 per 100,000 population to 20 per 100,000. Test positivity is down under 10 per cent, and is doing so throughout the province. When vaccination starts picking up in March and April, “then we hope to see significant impact on hospitalization and deaths,” he said. Until then, we really have to stay the course. “The other thing is that, with our public health measures, some people say it’s too little, some people say it’s too much. But, you know, they try to strike a fine balance between minimizing cases, as long as the guidelines are followed, and letting people work, (and) enjoy other amenities as much as possible.” He added, “But the downward trend does show, that if all of us abide by public health principles, it has a significant impact on our case numbers.” On the same day, Manitoba implemented 14-day quarantines for nearly all travellers to that province. Asked about doing something similar for Saskatchewan, Shahab said it have been looked at, but found to be impractical, given our long borders, and people in border communities who work and shop across the border. But he did recommend minimizing travel. Regarding variants of the COVID-19 virus, Shahab said sampling is done with relation to travel, and some sampling with age groups and geography as well. “I would not be surprised if we saw a variant in Saskatchewan, but again, what we’re doing, is exactly the same. We really have to follow all these public health measures.” Asked about adverse reactions to the vaccines in Saskatchewan, Shahab said there have been around 10 to 15 allergic reactions, some tingling on the face, and one anaphylaxis that was managed safely. They were well-described in the product monograph and have been managed, he said. “Most of them have presented in individuals who may have had a history of allergies, and they have managed well, so at this point the signal is not of any concern, compared to what is known about these vaccines what we were expecting, with what’s know about other vaccines.” He noted the importance of watching those vaccinated for 15 minutes after the shot, and if you have any allergies, make it known and you will be monitored some more. Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury

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Vaughn Palmer: Henry reduced to pleading for people to 'do more' in face of COVID-19 – Vancouver Sun



Article content continued

There were. But not a lot more answers.

Was he in contact with anyone else on his return? “There’s a small number of family contacts … they’re being monitored for symptoms.”

Where had he travelled? “We don’t have a map of where he went.”

Was he Chinese Canadian? “The person is resident here in Vancouver.”

After a few more questions along those lines, Henry put a stop to it: “So I’m not going to talk anymore about that person. I’ve told you what we know. Anything else is rumour.”

Rumours being one of her main concerns of the day.

“I think we need to be very careful about listening to rumours and third- and fourth-hand information,” she cautioned reporters. “What’s concerning to me, having been in the city of Toronto during the SARS outbreak, is how easily those rumours can lead to discrimination, inappropriate discrimination, against people.”

She expressed the hope that “the fact that we’re being open about this, that you know the details that you need to know, that we are on top of this, that people can be reassured the risk still is extremely low here.”

But as would prove to be the case throughout the year, the provincial health officer would be the judge of “the details that you need to know.”

Far from B.C. being unprepared, B.C. was ready for the arrival of the first case from China, according to Henry.

“This first case is not unexpected to us. We know that we have quite a lot of travel between areas in China and particularly Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, but other parts of B.C. as well. We have been on high alert for a number of weeks now.”

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