A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Canada has approved four vaccines to be administered to Canadians. However, continued public health measures, new emerging coronavirus variants and record case numbers in the second wave have some health experts warning that life won’t return to normal anytime soon.
But Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is hopeful that people in British Columbia could be living in a “post-pandemic world” by the summer.
The province’s top doctor says she is “optimistic” that the recent approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the first one-shot immunization from Johnson & Johnson will allow the government to revise its vaccination timeline and have every eligible B.C. resident vaccinated sooner than previously thought.
Henry spoke to CTV’s Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme from Victoria on Friday to discuss where Canada stands now in the fight against COVID-19, as well as her upcoming book, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe: Four Weeks that Shaped a Pandemic,” detailing the first four weeks of the pandemic in B.C.
Below is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity:
Lisa LaFlamme: I don’t know how you managed to write a book with your nonstop schedule, but it’s a very interesting read. Why now though, before the pandemic is over, before there is a conclusion?
Dr. Bonnie Henry: Oh, that’s a very good question. This book was actually written during the one week, the five days I had off in early August, and my sister was back out here with us and with me and she had put all this structure together and had this idea and she says she talked to me about it, but I don’t remember.
So she came out and basically sat me down and said, ‘OK these are the bits you need to write’, and it really was, in many ways, for me it was cathartic. It was putting some of the thoughts and feelings that we were going through that very challenging time a year ago now.
So we finished it in early August and it’s being released on the anniversary, but I don’t think any of us really knew that we’d be in the place that we are right now so it was one of those — it was just really about that really strange and challenging and difficult period of time that we all went through a year ago now.
LaFlamme: You’ve suggested we could still save the summer. Is it risky to raise people’s hopes after so many setbacks on the vaccine front?
Henry: I think we need hope. We need to know that there’s an end in sight and one of the things that we’ve been saying is this is like a triathlon and we’re in the marathon, but we don’t know where the finish line is or whether it’s an ultra-marathon or a regular 42.2 and those last miles are the hardest, so it is when we need that. We need to know that there’s an end in sight and there’s things that we can do that are going to get us there and I actually believe, from what we have learned about this virus and this year, we’ve seen that there’s a seasonality to it, we’ve seen that the vaccines — and this is the incredible thing that within a year we have now four safe and effective vaccines in Canada — and the thing that really has made it in my mind a possibility that we’re going to get there is the data that has shown how effective the vaccine is at protecting older people.
For those people who haven’t been in the vaccine world for a long time, that is something that is almost miraculous and I don’t use that word lightly. To be able to protect the individuals who are older, is something that makes our ability to get to that place where we can have those important connections together again a very real reality after just one dose of this vaccine.
LaFlamme: And I think everybody is encouraged by that. At the same time this big question — is a third wave inevitable?
Henry: Here in B.C. we’ve been seeing a steady increase in the last two weeks and we’re back to, in some ways, very much where we were at this point last year; relying on the important contact case management and contact tracing that public health does to try and stop those transmissions before they take off widely.
LaFlamme: When you reflect back it’s a little disconcerting to hear you say we’re right back where we were a year ago when you’re seeing numbers rise, when you think of the first wave and those earliest days, given the vast experience you’ve had with SARS and Ebola. Were you out there waving a red flag that there was danger ahead and people were reluctant to believe you or were you also blindsided at just how severe this coronavirus would actually become?
Henry: I was very, very concerned and worried and anxious, much more so than many of my colleagues in public health and in the health system because many of them had not been through this sort of thing, and our last pandemic of influenza, we managed fairly well. So there wasn’t the thought that quarantine was something that we would actually do, closing borders was something we would actually do, closing schools, closing workplaces — these measures that we had talked about in some sense and I have spent a lot of time looking into… There was a sense of disbelief that we would actually have to use them.
LaFlamme: What about accountability in this country for all the preparedness manuals that were clearly sitting on shelves somewhere? It felt for a lot of Canadians we were woefully unprepared — mixed messages, B.C. doing one thing, Alberta doing another, this patchwork across the country and I know that is the reality of a provincial-based health-care system, but for the collective good would you have preferred a more centralized response from the beginning?
Henry: I’ve been thinking a lot of about it for many years and I chair our Canadian Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Planning Task Force that actually had the plan that we used as a basis for this response. And yes, I do wish that we had had a much stronger co-ordinated federal, provincial response. Some of the things that we need to really move and change are having a national information system that allows us to rapidly share information on these critical communicable diseases with us across the country and with the federal government. We don’t have that. We needed that after SARS, we knew that, we spent years building something and then some provinces backed out, the federal government decided they weren’t going to use it and once again we’re here with a patchwork system.
There are so many things that could have been easier had we followed the advice that we’d had, and it is very challenging in times of non pandemics to spend the critical money that’s needed to develop information systems to have a stockpile. One of the things that I’ve been advocating for, as have many of my public health colleagues for many, many years is an onshore vaccination production capacity in Canada, but those things are hard to put forward when you have such urgent issues in our health system on a day-to-day basis. And of course, the tragedy of the reality of how we have neglected our long-term care homes across the country, that is something that we need to change.
LaFlamme: That is the true tragic legacy of this pandemic so far. Do you see that as a public health failure or where’s that responsibility?
Henry: I see it as a failure of multiple different levels. We have commoditized in some ways, we’ve got for-profit, we’ve got not-for-profit, we’ve got religious, but we have to look back on the history of long-term care. It really started as religious orders supporting older members as they aged and so it has been — it has grown up piecemeal. And then the way we’ve treated it as sort of partly in the health-care system and partly not has created a lot of barriers.
We had to take some drastic action very early on because normally, we wouldn’t be providing personal protective equipment and support to private care homes, but early on here in B.C. we said we have to do that because if those people get sick, it’s going to transmit into the community. So we needed to do things like that and overcoming that inertia to get those things done, but it was not easy.
Primary carers who work in our long-term care homes have been mistreated just to be frank for many, many years — underpaid, undervalued, many of them are people who are from racialized communities and that is something that we need to collectively address and change.
LaFlamme: And you were one of the first people in this country to actually be able to put a name and a face to the first Canadian victim of COVID-19. We still don’t know who patient zero is, but how did that experience shape your message so early on and in communicating hard information to Canadians on a daily basis?
Henry: It is really hard, and the backstory of it from the SARS outbreak in Toronto where …I got to know every single one of the families who had people who died in that outbreak. It really became an integral part of my approach to the many different outbreaks that we’ve been involved in; the importance of protecting people’s personal information and making sure that they can’t be linked and found by people who are trying to… It’s challenging, because everybody wants the story and wants to know all the details for families often need privacy, they need time to grieve, to understand what’s happening, and sadly with this virus as we have seen with many other communicable diseases, people can be mistreated, and treated badly.
Even now, we see instances of racism against community members who are COVID positive through no fault of their own, and it started very early on with anti-Asian sentiment that we’re still see. But the importance of getting people the information they needed to take the actions that we knew would protect each other without violating the intense personal privacy that people needed — very difficult balance and I know everybody wants more and more information, but it’s what you need to know as opposed to what people want to know. Finding that balance can be a very difficult challenge sometimes.
LaFlamme: I’m sure personally it was a great challenge too I mean, here you are presenting this message, but you’re also the target. There was a lot of love in the beginning for you, but we all saw that turn. What was that experience like for you and how do you sort of compartmentalize the trolls and the cruelty that is landing on your doorstep?
Henry: I was kind of prepared for that and I said it from the very beginning, I am the face and the voice unwittingly of a really strong, important team and they support me, I support them. That’s one of the things that gets you through the good times and the bad times my fellow chief medical officers of health from across the country, but also my team here in B.C. So that is really important for me.
I knew that over time the longer things go on the more challenging it becomes, the more likely people are to lash out and we know from human behaviour that in a time of crises and anxiety and particularly uncertainty and, I’ve come to learn, nuance creates this feeling of uncertainty that makes some people take it out with acting out and becoming angry. It’s hard, it’s really hard, but I try and balance that, and I can say that I am buoyed every day by positive messages that I get from people all the time from my neighbours, my mother of course…
LaFlamme: There’s so much confusion for Canadians on the role of [vaccine] manufacturers, laid out guidelines, 21 to 28 days between doses. Canadians are suddenly told no, the two doses will have a four month gap because an advisory committee has decided it’s safe. I know you’re a member of that, but do you understand or do you follow the fact that this is what is so confusing and perhaps leading to mistrust in public health in this country?
Henry: Yeah, I understand absolutely that people hear the different messages, but I think what we all need to recognize is that we are learning as we go. We learn more about the virus, we learn how it was transmitted, we learned that in certain conditions indoors, with poor ventilation with lots of people it spread more easily and maybe by aerosols, we learned the importance of masks in certain situations, these are all things that we learn. We get data, it’s a scientific way. You get data, you get more data, you get real-world data, you understand more, and you make changes depending on what you’re learning as you go. Same with these vaccines.
We have to remember that last summer, there was about 150 candidates for vaccines that were in the initial phases of trials. We didn’t know which ones of those were going to work or not. These amazing ones that we have, the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines, messenger RNA vaccines, brand new vaccine platform, nobody in the world has ever made a vaccine with these before, though there have been little bits of research that have gone back for decades saying that these might be a good idea and people are trying to find a new rabies vaccine, for example. So yeah, the companies wanted and needed to minimize the interval between doses, they needed to figure out if you needed one or two or more, and they needed to minimize the interval between doses so that they could get see if the vaccines worked and we’re safe as rapidly as possible. And that happened, and it happened even before we expected it because we had that surge of cases so the irony is you need more people to get sick to understand that the vaccines are actually protecting people. That is part of how the vaccines were developed and that’s what the manufacturer puts their information into the regulators like Health Canada, and the decision that Health Canada has to make is, does this vaccine work and is it safe? And with the protocols that were used in these clinical trials — so those are very rigid protocols, people are swabbed on a specific date, they’re get blood tests at a specific date, they get vaccines within a specific very narrow timeframe — those are the clinical protocols that help us understand does it work and is it safe.
Once we start using them in the real world, we get what we call effectiveness data. So that’s efficacy, that’s the rigid trials. And then once we get them in the real world we start to understand, well who do they work better for, and there wasn’t so many people who were over 65 in this study so we better watch people who are getting it who are over 65 and see if it is what the studies show. And we’ve learned in real life that — and these are studies too, this is scientific method, it’s just a different type of study … So we’re getting great information about how these work in the real world and that’s what drives our decisions now. So the clinical trials are the basis to figure out if they worked, and then we use the real world data to develop where do they work best and how do we make the best use of the vaccines we have and that’s why we made the decision that not only is it good to extend, it is safe to extend the dose interval to four months, but it’s maybe better for people in the long run and that is from vaccine science, from immunology. We know it takes time for our immune system to build up, and for some of these vaccines it may turn out that a single dose is all we need. We don’t know that yet because we haven’t done those, we haven’t followed long enough, but it is likely that we’re going to change again as we get more information. We may need maybe six months, that’s the optimal time to get a second dose, that’s going to help us get through the next two years of COVID circulation with protecting people so those are things that we’re going to learn as we go. So that’s the way science works in the real world, that we take the studies and then we see how it works in reality.
LaFlamme: Well we are all experiencing a harsh dose of the real world over this past year and Dr. Bonnie Henry we thank you so much for your time and valued insight over this year and, again, congratulations on the book.
Henry: Thank you so much.
U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.
The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.
Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.
“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”
Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.
The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”
Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.
The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.
While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.
“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”
In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.
Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.
The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.
Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.
“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.
In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.
“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”
Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.
“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.
The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.
French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.
On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.
But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.
“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”
Source: – CTV News
Facebook downplays ‘old’ breach exposing info on 533 million users
Facebook is downplaying the significance of a data breach that saw the personal information of 533 million of its users accessed online, saying the information is old and the vulnerability that was exploited was closed almost two years ago.
Over the weekend, Business Insider reported that personal information of Facebook users in 106 countries was found on a low-level hacking forum, free of charge. Cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock calculated that almost 3.5 million Canadians were included.
Information included names, phone numbers, locations, birth dates, email addresses and other identifying details. No financial or payment information was accessed, Facebook said.
In a statement on its website Tuesday the social media giant said the information was gathered via a vulnerability the company fixed almost two years ago, and disputed that it was a hack.
Data scraped, not hacked: Facebook
“It is important to understand that malicious actors obtained this data not through hacking our systems but by scraping it from our platform prior to September 2019,” said product management director Mike Clark.
Scraping refers to the act of gathering information that is already out there but somewhat hidden on public databases.
The company said whoever collected and assembled the data did so by abusing the contact importing service, which allows users to find other people in their network on Facebook.
Facebook said whoever did it seems to have uploaded a large set of phone numbers to see which ones matched Facebook users.
David Masson, director of enterprise security at cybersecurity firm Darktrace, says the information has likely been out there and spread widely for a while, before being outed recently.
“It’s been on the Web for quite a while, probably for sale to people,” he said. “But now somebody’s just offered it up for free.”
Building a profile
Greg Wolfond, CEO of data security firm SecureKey, said that in a vacuum, much of the information taken can seem innocuous and harmless, but when taken together can be very dangerous.
“What the hackers do is they try and get little bits of data about you in this case something like your phone number,” he told CBC News in an interview. They can then combine that with other bits of information — an address, a full name — and start building a profile.
What’s most dangerous is once they have gathered enough to attempt to gain access to a cellphone account. With the right combination of information, a telecom company may allow someone walking in to port the account number to a new phone.
“They take over your phone, and within minutes of taking over your phone, they’re trying to get into your bank account, to get into your Facebook account, your Google account, whatever you use that phone as your recovery for,” he said.
Typically, consumers are urged to fight data theft by doing things like changing passwords frequently, and making the complex. But those things are of little use when companies claim the right to reams of data about their users, and promise to keep it safe.
“Empowering individuals to share their data and putting a responsibility on parties that have the data to keep it secure,
is super important,” he said.
Not Facebook’s first user-info incident
Although the company is downplayed in the incident, it is far from the company’s first misstep with user info.
In 2018, the social media giant disabled a feature that allowed users to search for one another via phone number following revelations that the political firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed information on up to 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.
In December 2019, a Ukrainian security researcher reported finding a database with the names, phone numbers and unique user IDs of more than 267 million Facebook users — nearly all U.S.-based — on the open internet.
Spark15:32Digital security expert shares tips on how to protect your data while working remotely
Facebook says it will “continue aggressively go after malicious actors who misuse our tools,” and touted its dedicated team focused on this work” but Masson says users shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that the company’s size and scope somehow make them better equipped to keep user data safe.
“It doesn’t matter how big or sophisticated you are, they can be attacked,” he said.
Like many breaches, this one was only discovered long after the fact, and that’s because the technology company’s use isn’t keeping up with the ones the hackers are using.
“There are better technologies that actually work on what happens once the bad guys get inside your network rather than when they’re banging on the door outside. So people [have] got to realize this will happen again.
Source: – CBC.ca
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