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Hong Kong government enhances efforts against Wuhan-linked pneumonia

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Hong Kong government

The Hong Kong government is boosting efforts to counter a pneumonia phenomenon that is suspected to originate from Wuhan city in central China.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Monday convened a steering committee meeting, involving officials from relevant policy bureaus and government departments, to discuss the latest situation as well as prevention and control measures in a bid to safeguard public health.

During the meeting, authorities decided to step up surveillance and risk communication, including amendment to the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance to include severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent as a statutorily notifiable infectious disease, with the rule expected to be gazetted this week, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The government said on Monday that port health measures will be further strengthened as additional thermal imaging systems have been put in place at the Hong Kong International Airport and the West Kowloon Station of the Express Rail Link for checking body temperature of travelers with increased frequency of random checking.

Fever patients with acute respiratory symptoms who had visited Wuhan within 14 days prior to the onset of the illness will be immediately referred to public hospitals for isolation, treatment and follow-up, according to a government press release.

“Currently, no serious pneumonia case related to Wuhan has been detected in Hong Kong, but the cluster of viral pneumonia cases in Wuhan can be regarded as a ‘Novel Infectious Disease of Public Health Significance’,” Chan said on Monday.

“Upon risk assessment, the Government officially activated the Serious Response Level, the second tier of the three-tier response level system, on January 4 and implemented the corresponding measures under this response level,” she said.

According to the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health, since Dec. 31 last year, the CHP has received reports of a total of 21 cases under the enhanced surveillance system with recent travel history to Wuhan, Hubei, as of noon on Monday, including five added on the day.

The newly added patients, including a two-year-old boy, had been to Wuhan in the past 14 days. They were being treated under isolation in public hospitals as they were presented with fever, respiratory infection or pneumonia symptoms, the Hospital Authority said, adding they were all in stable condition.

Meanwhile, HKEJ has learnt that a male student of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) allegedly did not feel well and showed fever symptoms during a rehearsal before he was sent to hospital by ambulance.

While he was said to have recently returned to Hong Kong from Wuhan, it was understood that he was not listed in the new cases reported on Monday.

Responding to a query, the HKAPA said a student who returned from Wuhan to Hong Kong did not feel well and was hospitalized on Monday, and that the person was discharged after treatment.

In another case, a mainland student of the Chinese University of Hong Kong who returned from Wuhan last week and was sent to Prince of Wales Hospital on Sunday night tested negative for pneumonia.

The CHP said 16 of the 21 local cases have been confirmed to result from common respiratory virus or influenza virus, while the rest are still awaiting confirmation.

Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki, who is a urologist by profession, on Monday criticized the government for lacking concrete actions, such as making special arrangements for high-speed trains arriving in Hong Kong via Wuhan or sending staff to conduct body temperature checks on board.

He had sought permission to raise an urgent question on this at the Legislative Council’s full chamber meeting this Wednesday, RTHK quoted Kwok as saying.

Kwok said in a radio program on Tuesday morning that the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance the government decided to amend has very large power, and that he hopes the administration would exercise caution when pushing the amendment.

The World Health Organization is not recommending imposition of any travel or trade restrictions on China, as well as any concrete measure on travelers, as of now.

Dr Ho Pak-leung, president of the Carol Yu Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong, noted the possibility that the mysterious pneumonia has fit the definition of “super spread”, that is, it may see human-to-human transmission in a specific environment, based on a surface analysis.

Ho urged the Chinese health authorities to publicize the genome mapping of the virus in relation to the unidentified pneumonia so that Hong Kong can develop a fast genetic test.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday told reporters before a weekly Executive Council meeting that the administration will raise its alertness over the Wuhan outbreak of viral pneumonia cases with unknown cause.

Lam pointed out that the government has adopted appropriate, comprehensive and strict measures to cope with the cluster of viral pneumonia cases with unknown cause detected in Wuhan, and that it maintains the three principles of rapid response, high alertness, and openness and transparency.

The administration will amend the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance by means of negative vetting, with the Food and Health Bureau looking to gazette the amendment within this week, the chief executive said.

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Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot '95 per cent effective' – The National

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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.

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

Prof David Taylor, University College London

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

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Toronto police officers who ignore COVID-19 vaccinate mandate policy will be put on unpaid leave – CBC.ca

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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.

So far, 90 per cent of the service’s members have disclosed their status, with 97 per cent of those having received one dose and 94 per cent fully vaccinated. 

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Consistent communication needed for kids COVID-19 vaccine rollout: experts – Delta-Optimist

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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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