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Nearly 300,000 doses of influenza vaccine administered in Alberta, 3 cases confirmed so far – Global News



Nearly two weeks into the province’s annual flu shot campaign, 289,990 doses of vaccine have been administered to Albertans.

The 2021-2022 Alberta influenza immunization program began on Monday, Oct. 18. All Albertans six months of age and older are eligible to be immunized, free of charge.

Read more:
Flu vaccine available in Alberta starting Monday

Information released by Alberta Health Services Thursday afternoon shows three lab-confirmed cases of influenza so far this flu season, all of which are influenza A.

Two of the cases are in the Edmonton zone and one is in the Calgary zone.

At approximately the same time in the season last year, about 597,110 doses of influenza vaccine had been administered, according to AHS.

Shivali Sharma is a pharmacist owner at an Edmonton Shoppers Drug Mart. She said while this year has been steady, the demand is not as high for flu shots as it was last year.

“Since the season started we’ve done about 1,000 shots to date. So it’s pretty good. Definitely not as high as the demand we saw last year, but there is a steady stream of people that are coming in everyday,” she explained.

“The demand was much higher last year for getting the shot, getting the flu shot. This year, because many people feel they have had protection against COVID-19 with the vaccine, unfortunately, that’s reduced the demand for the flu shot even though they’re entirely different viruses and getting protection from one is not going to protect you from the other.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s top doctor outlines importance of getting flu shot amid COVID-19 4th wave'

Alberta’s top doctor outlines importance of getting flu shot amid COVID-19 4th wave

Alberta’s top doctor outlines importance of getting flu shot amid COVID-19 4th wave – Oct 14, 2021

During last year’s flu season, not a single lab-confirmed case of influenza was detected in the province. There were also no hospitalizations and no reported deaths.

Health officials credited higher-than-usual influenza vaccine uptake and public health measures in place to keep COVID-19 at bay for keeping the flu away.

This year, it’s hard to predict what the flu season will look like, according to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

“We’ll have to watch closely as the season unfolds and we know that having had no influenza last year, if there are significant transmission events, there could be significant consequences and cases that have an additional impact on the acute-care system,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.

“If we all continue to follow these preventative measures, we can continue to protect each other, not just from COVID, but also from influenza.”

More than 1.6 million doses of influenza vaccine were administered in Alberta last flu season. That translates to about 37 per cent of Albertans receiving a flu shot. This was the highest uptake for flu shots in Alberta in more than 10 years.

Read more:
Alberta flu season wraps up with zero reported cases

Sharma stressed last year’s flu situation is no reason to be complacent this year.

“It’s still important that we are getting our flu shots,” she said.

“The big thing right now is protecting our health-care system, right? Because they obviously are having a really tough time battling the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. So we really want to make sure we’re still encouraging people to come in and get their flu shots.

“If you haven’t yet received your flu shot, please do so as soon as you can,” Hinshaw said.

During the 2019-20 flu season, about 1.4 million doses of vaccine were administered. There were 8,470 total lab-confirmed cases of the flu that year, 1,534 people were hospitalized with influenza and 39 people died of the illness.

Sharma said historically across Canada, upwards of 12,000 people are hospitalized every year with the flu and over 3,000 deaths occur every year.

“It is a severe infection if you were to get sick with a flu. There are chances, and especially in those that are vulnerable — so anyone with advanced age, with immunocompromising conditions, pregnant women or anyone with chronic medical conditions — these people are at risk of experiencing sever outcomes.”

Read more:
Hardly any Canadians caught the flu last year. What can we expect this fall?

This year, a high-dose flu vaccine is available to those 65 and older. The province said it has ordered and received 400,000 of the high-dose vaccine.

This is enough to immunize every Albertan 65 and older living in congregate care settings, according to Alberta Health. It is also enough to immunize 68 per cent of Alberta’s entire population 65 and older, which is five per cent more doses than the province’s highest immunization rate achieved in that age group.

Alberta Health encourages people 65 and older to call their pharmacy in advance to ensure they have the high-dose vaccine available.

“The doses are dispersed in small amounts across the province,” Alberta Health said Thursday. “This is to ensure access for as many Albertans as possible.”

Read more:
Doctors warn flu season could return with a vengeance

Sharma said she’s heard some pharmacies across Alberta have had low supplies of the high-dose vaccine.

“We do know that that high-dose vaccine does trigger a stronger immune response in those 65 and older. So if there is some available right now, which we do still have at our locations, please do come in and get that done.”

Albertans can book an appointment to receive their flu shot through the AHS website.

Appointments can also be booked through Health Link by calling 811 and participating pharmacies also offer drop-in appointments.

– With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Merck’s COVID-19 pill significantly less effective in new analysis



Merck & Co said on Friday updated data from its study of its experimental COVID-19 pill showed the drug was significantly less effective in cutting hospitalizations and deaths than previously reported.

The drugmaker said its pill showed a 30% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, based on data from 1,433 patients. In October, its data nL1N2QX0QJ showed a roughly 50% efficacy, based on data from 775 patients. The drug, molnupiravir, was developed with partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

The lower efficacy of Merck’s drug could have big implications in terms of whether countries continue to buy the pill. Interim data from 1,200 participants in Pfizer Inc’s trial for its experimental pill, Paxlovid, showed an 89% reduction in hopsitalizations and deaths.

Merck’s shares fell 3.5% to $79.39 in morning trading.

Merck released the data before the U.S Food and Drug Administration published a set of documents on Friday intended to brief a panel of outside experts who will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to recommend authorizing the pill.

The agency’s staff did not make their own recommendation as to whether the pill should be authorized.

FDA staff asked the panel to discuss whether the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks and whether the population for whom the drug should be authorized should be limited.

They also asked the committee to weigh in on concerns over whether the drug could encourage the virus to mutate, and how those concerns could be mitigated.

Pills like molnupiravir and Paxlovid could be promising new weapons in the fight against the pandemic, as they can be taken as early at-home treatments to help prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. They could also become important tools in countries and areas with limited access to vaccines or low inoculation rates.


The Merck and Pfizer pills are cheaper to produce and easier to administer than existing treatment options such as antibody therapies from Regeneron and Eli Lilly, which are mostly administered as intravenous infusions.

The two experimental drugs have different mechanisms of action. Merck’s is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus. Pfizer’s drug, part of a class known as protease inhibitors, is designed to block an enzyme the coronavirus needs in order to multiply.

Merck filed for a U.S. authorization of molnupiravir on Oct. 11, following the interim data, and submitted the updated data to the FDA this week.

The molnupiravir arm of the study had a hospitalization and death rate of 6.8%, according to the updated data. The placebo group had a hospitalization and death rate of 9.7%.

One patient in the molnupiravir arm died, versus nine in the placebo group.

The United Kingdom conditionally approved molnupiravir, branded as Lagevrio, earlier this month.

Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of this year, with at least 20 million set to be manufactured in 2022. It has a contract with the U.S. government to supply as many as 5 million courses at a price of $700 per course. Several other countries have already secured millions of courses of the pill.

Merck has said data shows molnupiravir is not capable of inducing genetic changes in human cells, but men enrolled in its trials had to abstain from heterosexual intercourse or agree to use contraception. Women of child-bearing age also had to use birth control.

Still, the FDA said in its briefing document that there are safety concerns about potential birth defects from the drug and asked the panel to discuss whether the drug should be available to pregnant women.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New JerseyEditing by Shounak Dasgupta, Frances Kerry and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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Brazil health regulator calls for Africa travel restrictions, Bolsonaro noncommittal



Brazilian health regulator Anvisa recommended on Friday that travel be restricted from some African countries due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, though it was unclear if President Jair Bolsonaro would adopt any measures.

Anvisa said its recommendation, which would need government approval to be implemented, was to immediately suspend flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The EU and Britain are already tightening border controls as researchers look into whether the new mutation is vaccine-resistant.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said in a separate note that the new B.1.1.529 variant named Omicron poses a potential future threat, but that its epidemiological impact was unclear.

After the Anvisa statement, Bolsonaro told journalists he was considering taking measures related to the variant but continued to emphasize that he was against severe coronavirus-related restrictions.

“Brazil can’t handle another lockdown. There’s no use getting terrified,” he said after a military event in Rio de Janeiro. “I’m going to take rational measures.”

Bolsonaro has been widely criticized by public health experts for his management of the pandemic, railing against lockdowns, often refusing to wear a mask in public and choosing not to get vaccinated. Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the virus, behind only the United States.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions due to the variant, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach.”

In its technical note, Anvisa said that foreigners who have been to at least one of the six African countries cited in the prior 14 days should not be allowed to land in Brazil, while Brazilians arriving from those nations should be required to quarantine.

The health agency said, “The new variant appears to have a higher transmissibility.”

Anvisa President Antonio Barra Torres told news channel GloboNews that travel restrictions are a necessary preventive measure and he expected the government to make a decision as soon as possible.

The news of the variant hammered travel stocks in Brazil.

(Reporting by Gabriel Araujo in Sao Paulo and Lisandra Paraguassu in BrasiliaAdditional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro and Eduardo Simoes in Sao PauloWriting by Stephen Eisenhammer and Gram SlatteryEditing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)

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Novavax developing vaccine that targets new COVID-19 variant



Novavax Inc said on Friday it had started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine to target the variant detected in South Africa and would have the shot ready for testing and manufacturing in the next few weeks.

The company’s COVID-19 shot contains an actual version of the virus’ spike protein that cannot cause disease but can trigger the immune system. The vaccine developer said it had started developing a spike protein specifically based on the known genetic sequence of the variant, B.1.1.529.

“The initial work will take a few weeks,” a company spokesperson said. Shares of the company closed up nearly 9% on Friday.

Novavax’s vaccine received its first emergency use approval earlier this month in Indonesia followed by the Philippines.

The company has said it is on track to file for U.S. approval by the end of the year. It has also filed for approvals with the European Medicines Agency as well as in Canada.

Other vaccine developers, including Germany’s BioNTech SE and Johnson & Johnson, have said they are testing the effectiveness of their shots against the new variant, which is named Omicron by the World Health Organisation.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc said it had begun testing its vaccine candidate, INO-4800, to evaluate its effectiveness against the new variant. The company expects the testing to take about two weeks.

Inovio also said it was simultaneously designing a new vaccine candidate that specifically targeted Omicron.

“Best case scenario, INO-4800 … will be completely resilient against omicron, but if that’s not the case then we will have a newly designed vaccine ready to go if need be,” said Kate Broderick, senior vice president of Inovio’s R&D division.

Earlier this month, Inovio resumed a late-stage trial of its vaccine in the United States after 14 months on clinical hold.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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