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Montreal offers monkeypox vaccines to tourists as WHO declares emergency – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


Published Saturday, July 23, 2022 6:10PM EDT


Last Updated Saturday, July 23, 2022 6:10PM EDT

MONTREAL — Tourists were among those lining up to get monkeypox vaccines in Montreal on Saturday, as the World Health Organization declared the virus a global health emergency.

Brian Maci was one of several New Yorkers who was waiting to get the shot at an outdoor walk-in clinic in the city’s Gay Village.

Maci, who was already in Montreal on vacation, said he was prompted to get the vaccine in Canada after trying unsuccessfully to book an appointment back home.

“It’s like concert tickets,” he said of the process in New York.

He said he went online right when appointments opened up at 6 p.m., only to have to constantly refresh a stalled app and eventually be told no appointments were available.

Later, at a drag show, he heard an announcement that vaccines were available in Montreal, including for tourists.

“They mentioned that this was here and it’s the best thing ever because the community is reaching out, and I can get it without having to deal with the U.S,” he said.

Another vacationing couple from New York told a similar story about trying to book a vaccine appointment back home.

“I was kicked out of the system maybe five or six times and eventually there were no more appointments, and no telling when more appointments would be released,” said Brad, a 36-year-old who did not want to give his last name.

“We were able to come here and get a walk-in vaccine and it’s amazing, an incredible service,” he said.

Montreal is offering vaccination against the disease to all men who have sex with men, as well as to people who have been exposed to monkeypox.

On Saturday, about a dozen health care workers sat under pink and blue tents on Ste-Catherine street, providing information to people who stopped by to inquire about the vaccine.

Men were asked for their health cards or, in the case of tourists, for a piece of ID, and sat under the tents or perched on a nearby wall waiting for their turn.

McGill University infectious diseases specialist Michael Libman said opening up the vaccine to tourists makes “perfect sense” and is the right thing to do to stop the disease from spreading.

“The big problem is not local spread, but people moving the disease from place to place,” he said in a phone interview.

The World Health Organization announced Saturday that monkeypox now qualifies as a global emergency, noting it has spread to more than 70 countries.

A global emergency is the organization’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal. Similar declarations were made for the Zika virus in 2016 in Latin America and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the decision on calling monkeypox a global emergency despite a lack of consensus among experts on the U.N. health agency’s emergency committee, saying he acted as “a tiebreaker.” It was the first time a U.N. health agency chief has unilaterally made such a decision without an expert recommendation.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little,” he said. “I know this has not been an easy or straightforward process and that there are divergent views.”

Although monkeypox has been established in parts of central and west Africa for decades, it was not known to spark large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until May, when authorities detected dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

There were 681 confirmed cases of monkeypox across five provinces in Canada as of Saturday, including 331 in Quebec, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Case numbers have doubled since July 1, the agency said, noting it’s also logged the first diagnosis involving a female and the first infections in the province of Saskatchewan during the same time period.

“Since the beginning of the outbreak, the Government of Canada’s top priority has been protecting the health of all Canadians,” read a statement issued after the WHO’s declaration. “The Government acknowledges the WHO’s determination and will continue its work with provinces and territories as it has since the start of the monkeypox outbreak.” ***

The Quebec government said Friday in an email that monkeypox in the province is “relatively contained” despite numbers that continue to creep upward.

The province said it did not keep numbers on how many of the 13,000 vaccines administered so far went to tourists from outside the province.

“In general, we recommend that people get vaccinated in their province or region of origin so that the vaccine has time to be effective before their visit to Quebec or Montreal,” the Health Department wrote.

Libman said the WHO’s declaration of a global emergency constitutes a “call to action” that countries need to contain it.

He says that for now, the disease is mainly being transmitted among a small segment of the population – men who report intimate contact with men – which makes it controllable as long as health officials act quickly.

But he notes anyone can get monkeypox, which is spread through prolonged close contact via respiratory droplets, direct contact with skin lesions or bodily fluids, or through contaminated clothes or bedding.

That means if it isn’t brought under control, it will “inevitably” spread to other groups, including households, he said.

Most of the men lining up in Montreal said they weren’t overly worried about getting monkeypox, or about the WHO announcement.

“For me it’s more about prevention, but you never know,” said Mario Thouin, a resident of Drummondville, Que.

Twenty-three year old Isaiah Hagerman, on the other hand, said he’d already been mulling getting vaccinated, but the WHO announcement gave him the push he needed.

“If somebody gave me a pamphlet maybe a week ago, I probably would have walked past this,” he said.

Maci, for his part, said he felt uplifted by the warm welcome he received in Montreal as well as the community effort to protect people.

“(Monkeypox) doesn’t scare me because of this,” he said, gesturing at the pink and blue tents. “New York is stressful.”

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Hunting for Pi – the next variant after Omicron – in the toilet – Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

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Disease detectives are on the lookout for the next variant of COVID-19 and since the virus is still in such high circulation worldwide the virus is constantly mutating. This means it could be evolving to better evade vaccines and attack our immune systems. Although Omicron was milder than the variants came before it, scientists have warned the next variant – which will probably be called Pi – could be far more deadly.

“A lot of the lineages we are finding make Omicron look pedestrian.”

Sifting through sewage

As SARS-CoV-2 can be shed in faecal matter for weeks after the respiratory symptoms clear, wastewater is an obvious place to look for new variants.

Tracking circulating pathogens has long been an important way of finding early signals of the presence of a disease in a community – it was critical in the eradication of polio in India, for example. Researchers are also using these techniques to track the spread of monkeypox.

An initiative to look for SARS-CoV-2 in Bangalore, India, has provided early warnings of COVID-19 infection spikes, with the researchers able to identify which variants of SARS-CoV-2 are circulating, and in roughly what proportions.

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Major mutations

For much of this year, virologist Dr Dave O’Connor and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been tracking a heavily mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 that they narrowed down to one particular area of Wisconsin.

Scientists are starting to believe that chronic COVID-19 infections lingering for months in people who may have compromised immune systems are a hotbed of new variants, as the virus has a long time to mutate.

The variant Dr O’Connor’s team is tracking first appeared in sewage collected in January 2022, and though it shares numerous mutations with Omicron, it came from an entirely different part of the SARS-CoV-2 family tree. The team have tracked the lineage to a company of 30 employees and are now trying to determine their next move.

The next Omicron?

Dr Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, is working with O’Connor to trace wastewater lineages in Wisconsin. With their colleagues, they are hunting so-called ‘cryptic lineages’, which are viral lineages in wastewater that didn’t match anything in global databases of millions of sequences.

These cryptic lineages were significant in that they often had several mutations in the spike protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter our cells – and which our immune system targets. Dr O’Connor told Nature that such lineages could help forecast macro trends in SARS-CoV-2 evolution, which could in turn help the development of variant-proof vaccines and treatments.

For these virologists, a lot is riding on early detection of the next major COVID-19 variant. “A lot of the lineages we are finding make Omicron look pedestrian,” said Dr Johnson.

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Canada has now ended its COVID-19 travel restrictions, mask mandates

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OTTAWA — As of this morning, travellers to Canada do not need to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 — and wearing a mask on planes and trains is now optional, though it is still recommended.

People entering the country are no longer subject to random mandatory tests for the virus, and those who are unvaccinated will not need to isolate upon arrival.

Anyone who entered Canada in the last two weeks and was subject to quarantine or testing is off the hook as of today.

And inbound travellers do not need to fill out the controversial ArriveCan app anymore, although they can still use it to fill out their customs declarations at certain airports.

Federal ministers announced the end of the COVID-19 public health restrictions earlier this week, saying the latest wave of the disease has largely passed and travel-related cases aren’t having a major impact.

But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos warned restrictions could be brought back again if they are needed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

 

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What do I need to know about this year's flu shot? – CBC.ca

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Experts say it’s almost time to roll up your sleeve for the annual flu shot. 

But this year, some pharmacists say people have questions about the influenza vaccine rollout, which will coincide with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines that target Omicron strains — also known as bivalent vaccines.

Ashley Davidson, a pharmacist and associate owner of Shoppers Drug Mart in St. Albert, Alta., has fielded a lot of questions.

“So many people are asking about flu shots and I think a lot of that conversation comes around how do they time their vaccines and what does that look like?” she told Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC’s podcast The Dose

Here’s what experts have to say about this year’s flu vaccines. 

What do we know about the upcoming flu season?

The number of flu cases this year could look a little different than what we’ve seen over the last few years.

“What has changed in the last two years is we had historical lows throughout the pandemic and we’ve now been in the time of uncertainty about when is it going to come back, what is it going to look like,” said Dr. Robyn Harrison, vice-chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and infectious disease specialist, on Wednesday during a webinar on seasonal influenza.

An example of what could come is Australia’s recent flu season, which happens before Canada’s because it is in the southern hemisphere.

The country recently had its worst season in years, with data from Australia’s Department of Health and Aged Care showing influenza infections were higher than the five-year average and infections notably spiked, then dropped, earlier than usual. 

Canadians also haven’t had much exposure to flu over the last couple of years because of mask mandates and other public health measures introduced during the pandemic, Davidson said.

“One thing that stands out to me this year is that we won’t have masks in schools. So that is going to increase the potential exposure for flu virus for children as well,” she said. 

According to experts, influenza is a serious illness. Up until 2019, it is estimated that there are on average 12,000 hospital stays in Canada due to influenza every year, and about 3,500 deaths each year are caused by the flu, Harrison said.

Influenza is very contagious and spreads by respiratory droplets which cause an infection. Symptoms can vary but commonly include fever, sore throat, runny nose, cough, fatigue and muscle aches.

Who is eligible for a flu shot?

Experts say it’s important to get a flu shot each year as vaccine-induced immunity does wane over time. 

There are three types of influenza vaccines approved in Canada, according to NACI:

  • Inactivated influenza vaccine
  • Recombinant influenza vaccines
  • Live attenuated influenza vaccine

Anyone six months of age or older who does not have a known negative reaction to the vaccine should get a flu shot every year. 

“The reason why children under six months of age are not included in that is because we know that they don’t mount a good immune response to influenza vaccines,” said Dr. Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease and medical microbiology specialist, during Wednesday’s webinar. He is also the chair of the NACI influenza working group. 

A health-care worker prepares a flu shot in Calgary. According to experts, it’s important to get a flu shot each year as vaccine-induced immunity does wane over time. (Leah Hennel)

He said the suggested flu shot schedule for children nine and older and adults is one dose of the influenza vaccine at the beginning of flu season. 

For kids aged six months to eight years who have yet to receive a flu shot, NACI recommends two doses given at least four weeks apart. 

Who shouldn’t get a flu shot?

Papenburg said NACI recommendations for those who shouldn’t get any of the flu shots include:

  • People who have had an anaphylactic reaction to any of the vaccine’s components, except for eggs.
  • People who have developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of a previous flu vaccine (unless another cause has been found).
  • Infants under six months of age.

NACI’s recommendations on who shouldn’t get the live attenuated influenza vaccine can be found here

When should I get a flu shot?

Davidson recommends that people get the influenza vaccine as soon as it’s available.

Canada’s flu season typically lasts from mid-October to April or early May, Davidson said. 

“I will often remind patients that although you can get your flu shot right away, it does take about two weeks to develop an immune response to that vaccination,” she said. 

“It is important to get your shot as soon as you can to ensure that you have coverage through the flu season.”

Can I get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

For most people, the short answer is yes.

For people age five and older, all seasonal influenza vaccines, including the live-attenuated influenza vaccine, may be given at the same time or before or after other vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, according to the most recent recommendations from NACI. 

“It is important that you’re protected from both viruses throughout the winter,” said Davidson. 

WATCH | Experts break down what to expect from flu season this year: 

Daybreak Kamloops7:15Flu season expected to be more intense this year

If there is a year to get the flu shot, this one would be one of them. Experts say we could be in for a severe flu season this fall

However, kids aged six months to five years shouldn’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine and an influenza shot at the same time, according to NACI, which instead recommends those in this age group wait 14 days between COVID-19 shots and other vaccines.

It’s a precautionary approach “to prevent erroneous attribution of adverse events following immunization to one particular vaccine or the other,” reads the committee’s advice. 

How effective are flu vaccines this year?

Experts say influenza vaccines have been proven to help prevent influenza, transmission, complications and hospitalizations. 

The effectiveness of flu vaccines can vary year-to-year because it all depends on the strains circulating, Davidson and Harrison said. 

For the 2004-2005 flu season to 2019-20, Harrison said the effectiveness of influenza vaccines in Canada has varied between around 40 to 70 per cent. 

Every year, World Health Organization (WHO) experts make recommendations on which strains of the influenza virus should be targeted by the vaccines. 

This year, WHO recommended three influenza strains — one influenza A (H1N1); one influenza A (H3N2) and one influenza B — for inclusion in the trivalent flu shot. 

Although the flu vaccine’s effectiveness can vary, both Harrison and Davidson agree that it does offer protection. 

“The effectiveness of the vaccine may not be 100 per cent and may not persist beyond a year, but has impact and that’s why it’s recommended,” Harrison said.


Written and produced by Stephanie Dubois

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