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No evidence to suggest AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine causing adverse events: Tam – CBC.ca

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Canada’s chief public health officer said today there is no evidence to suggest the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is causing adverse events — and the vaccine’s benefits outweigh any risks.

Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters at a media briefing that federal, provincial and territorial authorities are “continuously monitoring” vaccine safety after nearly a dozen European countries suspended the vaccine’s use in response to concerns about blood clots.

“Health Canada is aware of reports of serious adverse events in Europe following immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but wants to reassure Canadians that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks,” she said. 

“There is currently no indication that the vaccine caused the observed event.”

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the is no indication at the moment that the Astrazeneca vaccine caused adverse events as reported in Europe. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

To date, she added, “no unexpected vaccine safety issues have been identified in Canada.”

Speaking in French, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the data show the rate of adverse events among those who have received the AstraZeneca product is not markedly different than the rate for the general population. He also pointed out that the AstraZeneca doses deployed in Canada were made in India and come from a different batch than those sent to Europe.

Njoo said he would take any vaccine that was offered to him.

The Canadian doctors’ sentiments were echoed today by Europe’s medicines watchdog, which also cited the benefits of the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency said it was carrying out a case-by-case evaluation of the reported blood clot incidents and is expected to complete a review by Thursday.

NACI expands age recommendations for AstraZeneca

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) today changed its guidelines on the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine and is now recommending it be given to those over the age of 65.

Earlier this month, the committee, which makes recommendations on the use of newly approved vaccines in Canada, recommended that Canadians over 65 not receive an AstraZeneca-Oxford shot, while Health Canada, the regulator, had authorized its use in adults of all ages.

NACI’s initial recommendations were based largely on AstraZeneca-Oxford’s clinical trial data and didn’t examine real-world evidence past Dec. 7 — months before the effectiveness of the vaccine was fully realized in other countries for older age groups.

Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, chair of the committee, said the team updated its guidance based on recent real-world effectiveness studies — including new evidence from the United Kingdom, which has been administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 65 years of age and older.

“I think that people have to realize that if we’re flip-flopping, it’s just that we try to monitor the evidence,” she told a news conference.

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University and a global expert on vaccine hesitancy, said Canadians need to understand that science changes.

“The major point we need to keep making is advice will be adjusted as science evolves. This is what happened here — more evidence from real-world studies showed Oxford-AstraZeneca to be very effective in those over 65 years in decreasing hospitalization and deaths due to COVID-19,” she said.

“We recognize changing advice can cause anxiety but [it needs] to change as science evolves — that is a good thing.”

Quach-Thanh said the reasons behind the discrepancy between NACI and Health Canada could have been communicated better.

“I think the only thing that I would say would have been done differently is the communications support, so that we would have been able to explain all this exactly as we’re doing today,” she said.

“I think the Public Health Agency of Canada has now recognized that this support was absolutely necessary and this is now put in place, could have been done earlier. But, you know, it’s the first pandemic of this size.”

mRNA vaccines should still be ‘prioritized:’ NACI

While NACI has expanded the age group for the AstraZeneca-Oxford dose, which is a viral vector vaccine, it is also recommending that mRNA vaccines, like those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, be prioritized for at-risk groups. 

“While all available vaccines in Canada are safe and effective, NACI still recommends that in the context of limited vaccine supply, initial doses of mRNA vaccines should be prioritized for those at highest risk of severe illness and death and highest risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said a statement from the committee.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, said he’s worried that recommendation could also cause confusion and hesitancy.

“The recommendation basically suggests that people over the age of 65 should preferentially get an mRNA vaccine over this vaccine and I think it’s premature to compare vaccines head-to-head at this point in time for a variety of reasons,” he said.

“When we also put this in the context of Canada being in the midst of a public health emergency where we know all available vaccines will significantly reduce the risk of getting the infection … we wouldn’t certainly want anyone to delay getting a potentially lifesaving vaccine while waiting for another vaccine, and there’s some concern that that could happen. And in fact, we’re already hearing about stories of people delaying getting vaccine A for vaccine B.”

The provincial governments will now have to decide how to weave the new recommendations on AstraZeneca into their vaccine rollouts.

Tam said there is some early evidence to suggest vaccines are preventing deaths already. She said her department is monitoring the rate of COVID-19-related deaths to see if it’s decreasing due to the vaccines or public health measures. 

“Some of the most high risk groups are being vaccinated as a priority. The good news is, based on reporting from the provinces, the rates in the over-80 year olds has come down below the rate for the other age groups now. That suggests the vaccines might have a good effect,” she said.

“That kind of drop is really encouraging.”

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Cargill to build new Canadian canola plant

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Cargill Inc will build a $350-million canola plant in Regina, Saskatchewan, the U.S. agribusiness said on Thursday, in the latest project that aims to profit from booming demand for oilseeds.

Canola futures hit record highs this week and soybeans have hit multi-year tops as demand for canola to process into vegetable oil and animal feed exceeds supply.

Refiners are also planning to produce renewable diesel from canola and soybeans to comply with government mandates in Canada and several U.S. states to make cleaner-burning fuels.

“There’s going to continue to be strong pull, we believe, into countries like China, from a food perspective,” Jeff Vassart, President of Cargill’s Canadian unit, said in an interview. “We do see increasing demand for renewable diesel too and we want to make sure that we’re positioned for it.”

The plant will have capacity to crush 1 million tonnes of canola annually.

Privately held Cargill expects the plant to start operating by early 2024, creating 50 full-time jobs.

Cargill said it would also modernize its two canola crush facilities in Camrose, Alberta, and Clavet, Saskatchewan to increase volume.

In March, rival Richardson International said it would double its canola-crushing capacity at Yorkton, Saskatchewan, making it Canada‘s largest such plant. Cargill also said last month it would expand its U.S. soybean-crushing capacity.

Vassart said the company is confident that Canada will produce enough canola to match demand, as farmers boost yields and, to a lesser extent, expand plantings. If production does not increase enough, Canada may export less canola seed, he said.

Canadian canola stocks are expected to dwindle to an eight-year low by midsummer, but Cargill expects to be able to continue crushing at a strong pace, Vassart said.

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; editing by Grant McCool)

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U.S., other countries deepen climate goals at Earth Day summit

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By Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and other countries hiked their targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions at a global climate summit hosted by President Joe Biden, an event meant to resurrect U.S. leadership in the fight against global warming.

Biden unveiled the goal to cut emissions by 50%-52% from 2005 levels at the start of a two-day climate summit kicked off on Earth Day and attended virtually by leaders of 40 countries including big emitters China, India and Russia.

The United States, the world’s second-leading emitter after China, seeks to reclaim global leadership in the fight against global warming after former President Donald Trump withdrew the country from international efforts to cut emissions.

“This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” Biden, a Democrat, said at the White House.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the new U.S. goal “game changing” as two other countries made new pledges.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who visited Biden at the White House this month, raised Japan’s target for cutting emissions to 46% by 2030, up from 26%. Environmentalists wanted a pledge of at least 50% while Japan’s powerful business lobby has pushed for national policies that favor coal.

Canada‘s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, raised his country’s goal to a cut of 40%-45% by 2030 below 2005 levels, up from 30%.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced his most ambitious environmental goal yet, saying the country would reach emissions neutrality by 2050, 10 years earlier than the previous goal.

Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic, said the summit had more targets than an archery competition.

“Targets, on their own, won’t lead to emissions cuts,” she said. “That takes real policy and money. And that’s where the whole world is still way off course.”

PUTIN SAYS PROBLEMS GO WAY BACK

Most of the countries did not offer new emissions goals. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China expects its carbon emissions to peak before 2030 and the country will achieve net zero emissions by 2060.

Xi said China will gradually reduce its coal use from 2025 to 2030. China, a leader in producing technology for renewable energy like solar panels, burns large amounts of coal for electricity generation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed giving preferential treatment for foreign investment in clean energy projects, but also made an apparent reference to the United States being historically the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter. “It is no secret that the conditions that facilitated global warming and associated problems go way back,” Putin said.

The U.S. climate goal marks a milestone in Biden’s broader plan to decarbonize the U.S. economy entirely by 2050 – an agenda he says can create millions of good-paying jobs but which many Republicans say will damage the economy.

The U.S. emissions cuts are expected to come from power plants, automobiles, and other sectors across the economy. Sector-specific goals will be laid out later this year.

The new U.S. target nearly doubles former President Barack Obama’s pledge of an emissions cut of 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

CEMENTING CREDIBILITY

How Washington intends to reach its climate goals will be crucial to cementing U.S. credibility on global warming, amid international concerns that America’s commitment to a clean energy economy can shift drastically from one administration to the next.

Biden’s recently introduced $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan contains numerous measures that could deliver some of the emissions cuts needed this decade, including a clean energy standard to achieve net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and moves to electrify the vehicle fleet.

But the measures need to be passed by Congress before becoming reality.

The American Petroleum Institute, the top U.S. oil and gas lobbying group, cautiously welcomed Biden’s pledge but said it must come with policies including a price on carbon, which is a tough sell among some lawmakers.

‘THE U.S. IS BACK’

The summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders – including the G7 and G20 – ahead of annual UN climate talks in November in Scotland. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris agreement, an international accord set in 2015.

Leaders of small island nations vulnerable to rising seas, like Antigua and Barbuda and the Marshall Islands, also spoke at the summit.

World leaders aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists say can prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

A Biden administration official said with the new U.S. target, enhanced commitments from Japan and Canada, and prior targets from the European Union and Britain, countries accounting for more than half the world’s economy were now committed to reductions to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed delight that the United States was back in the climate fight.

“The importance of this day in my judgment is the world came together,” Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry told reporters at the White House.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcivici; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Elaine Lies and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo, David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Jake Spring and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia, David Stanway in Shanghai, writing by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Ontario third wave, blame piled on Doug Ford

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By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Ontario Premier Doug Ford, facing backlash over his government’s handling of the pandemic, resisted calls to resign on Thursday as Canada‘s most populous province grappled with a third wave of COVID-19 infections that critics said could have been prevented.

With pressure building on hospitals, Ottawa is sending federal healthcare workers to help. Ontario had 3,682 new infections on Thursday and 40 deaths, the highest of any province.

#Dougfordmustresign has trended on Twitter this week, while newspaper editorials and provincial opposition leaders also called on Ford, 56, to step down.

Some 46% of Ontario residents have a negative view of Ford, up nine percentage points from a week earlier, according to an Abacus Data poll on Wednesday. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives(PC) trailed the opposition provincial Liberals by one point in the same poll, ahead of a June 2022 provincial election.

“Mr. Ford’s real mistake has been repeatedly ignoring the deep bench of scientists who are there to advise him, impulsively imposing himself as the province’s Fearless Decider,” an editorial in the national Globe and Mail newspaper said this week.

The premier ruled out resigning on Thursday, almost a week after issuing unpopular orders to close playgrounds and allow police to randomly stop people, both of which were abandoned within 48 hours.

Multiple police departments refused to enforce Ford’s orders while Toronto-area health units unilaterally ordered businesses that experience outbreaks to close.

“I’m not one to walk away from anything,” an emotional Ford told reporters on Thursday. “I know we got it wrong and we made a mistake, and for that I’m sorry.”

Ford said he was apologizing for acting “too quick”. Critics said the problem was that he opened the economy up too fast after the second wave, and then moved too slowly when it was obvious that cases were spiking.

Had Ontario kept stay-at-home measures in place longer in February, the case-count “would not have been nearly as bad as what we’re seeing now,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital.

“We saw case numbers rising for a month … and they were never really acted on,” said Bogoch, who is a member of the Ontario government’s vaccination task force.

Ford extended stay-at-home measures until mid-May last week and on Thursday said his government would provide paid sick leave to workers who need to isolate, a measure many say would have helped prevent the third wave.

On Thursday, Ford said 40% of the province would have at least one vaccine shot by the end of the month.

But the political damage could be lasting.

“It’s going to be a pretty hard hole to climb out of,” said Frank Graves, president of polling company EKOS Research.

Ford, the brother of Toronto’s late mayor Rob Ford who once admitted to smoking crack, has been in power since 2018, sweeping to an unlikely victory after the PC’s former leader was forced to resign in the midst of the election campaign.

During the 2019 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau capitalized on Ford’s unpopular cost cuts, attacking him repeatedly while touring Ontario, a crucial battleground province that is home to almost 40% of Canada‘s population.

“This does remind me of 2019 where absolutely the best asset in Ontario for the federal Liberal Party was Doug Ford,” a well-placed Liberal source said.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Diane Craft)

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