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Ontario's COVID-19 task force head asks Health Canada to 'look into' single-dose Moderna vaccine – CBC.ca

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At 3 p.m. ET, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, is set to provide a briefing on the COVID-19 situation. You can watch that live in this story.


The head of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force is calling on Health Canada to “look into” the possibility of providing Moderna’s vaccine as a single dose, rather than two, in a bid to quickly expand capacity as cases of the illness surge in the province.

Retired general Rick Hillier said Tuesday that the first shipment of the Moderna vaccine is expected to arrive in Ontario within 24 hours. It will be distributed to four sites in hotspots throughout southern Ontario before they are sent to long-term care and retirement facilities.

“I know it’s late to ask for a Christmas gift. But if I could ask for one, I would ask Health Canada to re-look at the Moderna vaccine and see if we can make that a one-shot vaccine to give us that greater capacity to go out and vaccinate people even faster than we plan on doing it now,” Hillier told reporters.

As it stands currently, the Moderna vaccine requires two doses administered about 28 days apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only other COVID-19 vaccine currently approved for use by Health Canada, also involves two doses, taken some three weeks apart.

WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier asks if the Moderna vaccine could be a single dose:

The head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, retired general Rick Hillier, wants Health Canada to see if a single dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine offers enough protection to avoid a second shot. 1:14

Hillier said that if the Moderna vaccine were to be made a single dose, “that would allow us to get literally hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps even several million” vaccinated more efficiently.

Hillier’s request comes as Ontario this morning reported a record-high 2,553 new cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of 78 people with the illness over the last two days.

During a briefing last week, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada said that while the first dose of Moderna’s vaccine imparts about 80 per cent immunity, it is uncertain how long that immunity would last.

“So we would recommend that the second dose be given,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, adding that provinces would also need to factor in the reliability of the supply chain when deciding how doses should be administered in the coming months.

And speaking to CBC News on Dec. 23, the general manager of Moderna Canada rejected the idea.

“The two doses are necessary and very important to achieve full immunity and maintain that,” said Patricia Gauthier. 

“It’s really important that everybody gets the two doses, four weeks apart.”

As of this morning, Ontario has used more than 14,000 of the 90,000 doses included in the initial shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The pace is considerably behind those of other provinces.

Some health experts have also criticized the province for scaling back its vaccination program over the holidays.

Hillier said today that it was a “mistake” to do so, and that doses will be administered seven days a week moving forward.

“We can’t do it any faster,” he said. “We want to make sure that we get it right, and not at the expense of time, but we want to make sure we get it right.”

WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier apologizes for pause in vaccination program:

Retired general Rick Hillier addressed reporter questions about temporarily ramping down vaccinations over the holiday season. 1:25

Positivity rate climbs to 9.7% 

Meanwhile, the record 2,553 cases reported this morning include 895 in Toronto, 496 in Peel Region, 147 in Windsor-Essex, 144 in Hamilton and 142 in York Region.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Niagara: 115. 
  • Durham: 108.
  • Middlesex-London: 86.
  • Halton: 78. 
  • Ottawa: 65. 
  • Waterloo: 57. 
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 57. 
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 34.
  • Southwestern: 25. 
  • Chatham-Kent: 19.
  • Eastern Ontario: 16.
  • Lambton: 16.
  • Brant County: 11. 
  • Haldimand-Norfolk: 10.

[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, because local units report figures at different times.]  

Combined, the new cases bring the seven-day average to 2,236. 

The province said this morning it conducted 34,112 tests in the last 24 hours, while Ontario’s network of labs reported a positivity rate of 9.7 per cent.

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Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.

Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.

“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.

Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”

In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.

Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.

“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.

Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis

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More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.

The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.

But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”

At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.

Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.

“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.

In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.

($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)

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Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants

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Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.

Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.

“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.

Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.

Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.

“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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