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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 12,656

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Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 12,656 to 3,520,329, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday.

The reported death toll rose by 127 to 84,775, the tally showed.

 

(Reporting by Berlin Newsroom; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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Canada ready to discuss COVID-19 vaccine IP waiver, ‘not interfering or blocking’ -Trudeau

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By David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is ready to discuss an intellectual property rights (IP) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and will not block one even though it stresses the importance of protecting patents, officials said on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines. Any such waiver would have to be negotiated through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We’ve been working with partners at the WTO to find a consensus-based solution and are ready to discuss proposals, in particular for COVID-19 vaccines,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

Biden’s proposal angered pharmaceutical companies. Firms working on vaccines have reported sharp revenue and profit gains during the crisis.

Canadian International Trade Minister Mary Ng earlier said that Ottawa firmly believed in the importance of protecting IP.

“I can assure you Canada is not interfering or blocking. Canada is very much working to find a solution,” said Trudeau, who did not give details of the Canadian negotiating stance.

Ng said Ottawa recognized how much the pharmaceutical industry had done to innovate COVID-19 vaccines, adding that many barriers to access were unrelated to IP, such as supply-chain constraints.

Canada is trying to quell a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic that is pushing some healthcare systems to breaking points, particularly in the western provinces of Alberta and Manitoba.

Manitoba officials said they were postponing some non-urgent surgeries to open space for COVID-19 patients and planned to announce tougher public health restrictions as daily cases soared to a near-record high.

The U.S. state of Montana will offer vaccines to around 2,000 Alberta truckers who regularly cross the border, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said.

Truckers will get vaccinated at a post being set up just south of the border, using Montana’s surplus Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The scheme mirrors an agreement that Saskatchewan and Manitoba reached with North Dakota.

 

(Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Goodman/Mark Heinrich, Grant McCool and Marguerita Choy)

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Moderna says waiving IP rights won’t help increase vaccine supply

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Moderna Inc said on Thursday that waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines will not help boost supply in 2021 or 2022, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden backed a proposed waiver that is aimed at giving poorer companies access.

 

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