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Ontario unveils details of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine pharmacy pilot –



Eligible Ontarians aged 60 to 64 in three public health units will be able to book an appointment for the Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy starting on Friday.

The Ministry of Health says more than 325 pharmacies in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFLA) are participating in a pilot program to administer 194,500 doses of the vaccine.

You can find the full list at the bottom of this story.

Ontario gained access to the initial shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week. It was approved for use by Health Canada in late February, though the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) subsequently recommended that it be used only for adults aged 18 to 64. 

Members of the province’s vaccine task force said that due to the limited supply right now, the doses will be targeted toward residents aged 60 to 64 years old, which the province has defined by birth year as between 1957 and 1961.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading the province’s vaccine task force, said of the doses from the pilot project, 29,500 will be going to family doctors, while the rest are going to pharmacies.

Primary care physicians in six public health units (Hamilton, Toronto, Wellington-Dufferin Guelph, Peterborough, Simcoe Muskoka and Peel) will also start offering vaccines for eligible people age 60 to 64 starting on March 13. The province says they will not be taking appointments by request, but doctors will instead be contacting people directly to book appointments starting today.

Premier Doug Ford said the province should surpass one million overall vaccinations by the end of the day.

Soon, Ontario will have 120 new mass immunization clinics set up, Ford said, and will be in a place to offer up to 150,000 vaccines a day, depending on supply.

“This is an absolute game-changer,” Ford said.

“It appears that our vaccine supply is continuing to improve.”

WATCH | Premier Ford on Ontario’s vaccine pilot project:

Ontarians aged 60 to 64 in three public health units will be able to book an appointment for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy starting on Friday. Officials said that more than 325 pharmacies in Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFLA) will be participating in a pilot program to administer 194,500 doses of the vaccine. 1:27

Provincial officials also say that Ontario will launch an online booking system and a provincial customer service desk for vaccinations on March 15. Those supports are intended to help answer questions and book appointments at mass vaccination clinics, starting with people over the age of 80.

At the news conference, Ford pleaded with the public not to try to use those systems unless they are in that over-80 age bracket. Many locations have had problems with these sorts of initiatives at the outset because demand overpowered capacity.

“If you’re not booking for anyone from 80 plus, please do not go online, please do not call that number,” Ford said.

Long-term care resident deaths down as vaccines ramp up

Because the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in a regular fridge, health officials intend to distribute primarily through pharmacies and primary care providers once shipments ramp up.

Right now, time is critical, as about 114,000 of the doses are set to expire on April 1. Speaking yesterday, Health Minister Elliott said none of those shots will be wasted.

“We have been ready to receive the AstraZeneca vaccines and we will be able to deliver them before expiry,” she said during question period at Queen’s Park.

Elliott added that once shipments of vaccines ramp up in coming weeks, Ontario will be able to quadruple its capacity in “very short order.”

The province administered 35,264 shots of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday. A total of 279,204 people have received both shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The effort to immunize those living in long-term care has dramatically reduced COVID-19-linked deaths among residents, of which 3,876 have died during the pandemic. Today was the fifth straight day in Ontario without any additional resident deaths reported.


1,316 new COVID-19 cases

Meanwhile, this morning Ontario reported another 1,316 cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths of people with the illness.

The new cases include 428 in Toronto, 244 in Peel Region and 149 in York Region. 

Health units that saw a double-digit increase were:

  • Thunder Bay: 67
  • Hamilton: 59
  • Ottawa: 59
  • Durham Region: 48
  • Halton Region: 48
  • Simcoe-Muskoka: 31
  • Waterloo Region: 25
  • Windsor-Essex: 23
  • Niagara Region: 19
  • Peterborough: 16
  • Brant County: 14
  • Sudbury: 13
  • Eastern Ontario: 11
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 11

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)

The seven-day average climbed for a fifth straight day to 1,238, its highest point in about a month (though it is important to note that, due to a data error, the daily case count on March 8 was artificially inflated by a few hundred infections that should have been reported the previous Saturday).

According to the Ministry of Health, there were people with COVID-19 in hospitals, of which 281 were being treated in intensive care. 

Notably, however, an internal March 8 report from Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) put the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs at 344. The CCSO report, which is circulated among hospitals and health agencies, reflects a more accurate accounting of ICU admissions due to a difference in how cases are counted.

Hospitals continue to prepare for the possible implications of a rise in the transmission of variants of concern, which Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table has said could put a significant burden on ICUs.

Toronto sets up field hospital ahead of possible 3rd wave

Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto confirmed today that a mobile health unit is being built on its campus in preparation for a potential influx of patients in April. The field operation is a joint effort between the hospital and the provincial and federal governments.

A mobile health unit consisting of self-contained pods with eight to 10 beds each was erected on the Bayview campus of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto this morning. (Paul Smith/CBC)

A spokesperson for the hospital said the mobile unit will have 84 beds, though it can be expanded to accommodate 100 if need arises. 

“In the event of an increase in the demand for beds, we expect the facility will most likely be used to provide space for patients who are awaiting placement in other facilities, and low acuity recovering patients which will free up acute and critical care beds in the hospital,” the spokesperson said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in January that two mobile health units would be sent to help hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area. The federal government procured 10 mobile health units last year as the COVID-19 pandemic was worsening in Canada.

See the full list of pharmacies participating in the pilot here:

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28



* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets



By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.


The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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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

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