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Overseas Canadians doubling up on COVID-19 vaccines despite health unknowns – CBC.ca

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While most Canadians are celebrating after their second COVID-19 vaccine doses, many expatriate Canadians living and working overseas are opting for third and fourth jabs. 

They say they’ve been left with little choice but to re-vaccinate if they want to return to Canada in future and avoid Canada’s 14-day hotel and quarantine provisions. 

“I don’t want to hotel quarantine again,” said Monique Horvath, a 49-year-old Canadian teacher from Nanaimo, B.C., who has lived and worked in Moscow for the last 14 years. 

She and her husband Brendan each got two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the spring — but they were the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the only shot available to them, which is not approved for use in Canada. That means they would still have to quarantine if coming home.

“If there’s an emergency and we need to come back to Canada … that’s a big thing in my mind when you’re overseas and away from family,” Horvath said of their decision to undergo another two doses of vaccines each.

WATCH | Canada’s prime minister on how the Canada-U.S. border will reopen:

As of today, fully vaccinated Canadians entering the country can forgo the 14 day quarantine. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by a scaled approach to easing border restrictions — and non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada remains restricted until July 21. 1:32

After making the trip back to B.C. in June, Horvath said she and Brendan rolled up their sleeves for Moderna once they were done with their two weeks of isolation.

They expect to get the second shot of Moderna before they return to Moscow. 

The rules

Earlier this week, the Canadian government dropped its controversial hotel quarantine and 14 days in isolation for “fully vaccinated” Canadians entering the country.

But that means having a vaccine approved by Health Canada — and the list is limited to Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford, COVISHIELD, or Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine.

Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm, and India’s Covaxin are not on the list — even though hundreds of millions of people around the world have either taken them already or are in the process of doing so.

Horvath said more than 20 of her co-workers now on their breaks in the United States, Canada and Europe posted photos of themselves on Facebook getting their additional vaccinations — opting to re-vaccinate even though there is virtually no research on the implications of doing so.

“People I know checked with their doctors and they said it’s fine,” she said.

‘It’s probably ok’

Several Canadian vaccine experts agreed taking extra vaccine doses probably is “fine” — but with caveats.

“From a health standpoint it’s hard to know what the benefit or drawback is — it’s probably OK, but I can’t look you in the eye and tell you with any degree of confidence that it is,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General hospital. 

Bogoch, who’s a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said so far, there is no official guidance from any of the key international health bodies on the implications of taking additional COVID-19 vaccines. The issue is only beginning to emerge.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said this is an important issue that is going to grow exponentially as more expatriates travel and repatriate.

“I think there’s a real need to straighten this out because it’s creating a condition where people are embarking on completely untested doubling up regimens to fill regulatory requirements,” she said.

Members of Welbes family, expatriates who live in Moscow, opted to get two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the United States after they initially got the Sputnik V vaccine in Russia. This way, they can enter Canada without quarantining for 14 days. (Submitted by Kirsten Welbes)

Saxinger said she was recently asked for advice on getting re-vaccinated by a Canadian living in the Middle East after he had already taken two doses of a vaccine not approved in Canada.

The topic is widely discussed on expat social media sites, including a Facebook page where Canadians share stories about trying to navigate the border restrictions.

The latest census taken in 2009 shows 2.8 million Candians live and work outside of Canada and many — if not most — do not have access to COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada.

Thousands of international students headed for Canada could face challenges if they have received vaccines that aren’t approved here.

“The people [Canadians abroad] who took these vaccines did the right thing at the time,” said Bogoch.

“COVID was running rampant and you’ve got to take whatever vaccine is available in a time of crisis. That was at that time — what do you do now?”

An experiment

Kirsten and Todd Welbes faced a similar dilemma.

They too received both doses of Russia’s Sputnik V at home in Moscow, where they are teachers.

But faced with the Canadian border restrictions and other travel restrictions in Europe, the dual Canadian-U.S. family designed their summer around getting two doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the United States, which would allow them to travel to Canada later.

Dr. Lynora M. Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said taking two different vaccine regimens may create a stronger immune response as the second course acts as a booster. (John Ulan/Ulan Photography)

“New situations are put in our path and then we have to figure it out,” said Welbes, 45. 

“Would I have chosen to get two different vaccines in two different countries? Probably not.”

Like Horvath, Welbes said getting re-vaccinated means they will hopefully now be able to visit family in Canada and Europe without restrictions, especially in emergencies. 

It also means they will be able to take their 16-year-old daughter to visit a prospective university in British Columbia on a short Christmas break.

But while they are comfortable with the health implications of their decision, Todd Welbes said he does feel a little like a human lab experiment. 

“There’s a very real possibility that I’m completely wrong and that this is a terrible idea and I’ve jeopardized our health.” 

Risks

Health Canada has yet to weigh in on the re-vaccination question. 

In an emailed statement, the department said “it has not issued any recommendations on this matter at this time.” 

Saxinger, the University of Alberta infectious diseases expert, said taking two different vaccine regimens may create a stronger immune response as the second course acts as a booster.

But she said there have been very rare situations where taking a particular booster vaccine in too short a timeframe can actually “blunt” the immune response. 

Some of the re-vaccinated Canadians who gave interviews for this story also complained of intense reactions after their first dose of the second round of vaccines.

“I had more side effects with Moderna than my second Sputnik shot,” said Horvath.

“Headache, nausea, chills, fever, muscle aches, just feeling horrible. Brendan was exactly the same.”

Saxinger said that type of reaction is not surprising.

“It’s entirely possible you might be having a more vigorous immune response because of antibodies in your system,” she said.

Another immunology expert, Rod Russell, said the vaccines are “safe by themselves.” But the professor of virology at Newfoundland’s Memorial University said it might be better to mix mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, with viral vector vaccines such as Sputnik V.

Issac Bogoch, the Toronto General hospital expert, said it’s understandable people would want to get re-vaccinated to avoid “being on the losing end of vaccine passports.”

But he said it’s likely countries will — and should — eventually accept World Health Organization-approved vaccines so the need to re-vaccinate may eventually become unnecessary.

Too slow 

Canada’s government has been shipping out vaccines to its embassies around the world where Health Canada approved vaccines aren’t available, which helps diplomats and other staff avoid this dilemma. But not for other Canadians working abroad. 

Kirsten Welbes, the Moscow teacher, said the world isn’t moving fast enough to find a global solution. So she had to find one in the meantime.

“I just have to be pragmatic,” she said. “What is coming at me and what is the best decision I can make based on that small amount of information? You just do your best.”

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Coronavirus: Canada extends pandemic benefits through to Oct. 23 – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The federal government is tapping the brakes on its plans to phase out pandemic aid programs this summer, deciding instead to freeze benefits at current levels and extend help by an extra month beyond the previously planned end date.

The decision means that wage and rent subsidies for businesses, and income support for workers out of a job or who need to take time off to care for family or stay home sick, will last until Oct. 23.

Rates for the wage and rent subsidies will hold at current levels until September, holding off on the previously planned decline.

Similarly, the three “recovery” benefits for workers will keep paying out at $300 per week, and four more weeks of eligibility will be added to a maximum of 54 weeks.

The same extra weeks will be available to workers who have exhausted their employment insurance benefits.

The government estimates the revamped aid package will cost an additional $3.3 billion, with two-thirds of that for the recovery benefits, and one-third for the business supports.

As of July 18, the government had paid out $87.1 billion through the wage subsidies and $5.24 billion more in rent relief since the programs launched. As of July 25, the three “recovery” benefits had combined to pay out $26.9 billion.

The Liberals had planned to phase out the pandemic aid, foreseeing enough of a recovery by the fall that many of the measures would no longer be needed.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that there were still too many businesses and workers who are not fully back on their feet yet, noting that it took the country a little longer to stamp out the third wave of the pandemic than the government expected.

“And I know all of us are watching carefully the Delta variant and are concerned about that,” she said at an event in Hamilton, Ont.

“From the government’s perspective, it is essential to do everything we can to be sure the country’s economic recovery is fast and robust, and that no one is left behind.”

Statistics Canada said Friday its preliminary estimate was that the economy grew by 0.7 per cent in June following two months of declines, and that real gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 2.5 per cent in the second quarter.

Total economic activity at the end of June was still about one per cent below pre-pandemic levels, and the labour market was about 340,000 jobs, or almost two per cent, below the levels seen in February 2020.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the government’s announcement provides some additional runway for many small businesses still trying to get back to normal sales levels.

The group, which represents 95,000 small businesses nationwide, is also asking for the government to extend the aid until the recovery is more advanced.

“Small firms are keen to replace subsidies with sales, but many firms continue to face a significant lack of demand due to capacity restrictions, border closures and customers hesitant to return to normal activities,” president Dan Kelly said in a statement.

By extending the benefits now until October, and holding the wage and rent subsidies at current rates until September, the Liberals have locked in changes before an expected election call next month that would largely put a pause on policy-making.

They could yet be extended further: Budget measures approved by Parliament in June give the government the ability to extend the aid by one more month, if necessary, to the end of November.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said an extra month of aid, while welcome in the face of the threat of a fourth wave, isn’t enough for people in hard-hit sectors like tourism that may not see a rebound until next year.

“The Liberals are more focused on plunging the country into an election in a pandemic,” he said in a statement. “Canadian families and small businesses don’t need an election now. They need help for as long as we are in a pandemic.”

On Friday, Freeland also made a plea for people to get vaccinated if they are eligible and have not already done so.

“The single most important economic policy in Canada today is for everyone who can get vaccinated to go out and get vaccinated,” she said. “We have done tremendously well, but there’s still that last mile to go.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.

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Canada’s wildfires could cost billions, kill thousands if nothing is done: report – Global News

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Western Canada must urgently address the threats posed by highly destructive wildfires or face deadly and costly consequences, says a group of forest and environmental experts from British Columbia and the United States.

The experts, including Mathieu Bourbonnais, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of B.C. Okanagan, predict devastating wildfires like those currently burning in B.C. will be “commonplace” by 2050.

The group has released a paper predicting billions of dollars spent on suppression and indirect costs from the fires _ as well as hundreds or thousands of premature deaths each year due to smoke exposure _ ifaction isn’t taken to address climate change and the “daunting” scale of fuel, such as fallen trees and dead vegetation, that’s built up.

“If you look at record-breaking seasons, we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on fire suppression,” said Bourbonnais, a former wildland firefighter from Alberta.


Click to play video: 'Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution'



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Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution


Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution

“You can think about, if you spread that out over a couple of seasons, how may communities we could be engaged with on protecting watersheds, protecting drinking water sources, the communities themselves, high-value infrastructure, the ecosystems,” he said in an interview. “By doing that, we’re investing in a future that hopefully we don’t need to spend those kind of dollars on fire suppression.”

The group’s paper suggests creating patches of space in the forest that contain less flammable material, a strategy that can also boost the efficacy of fire suppression efforts, said Bourbonnais.

“Rather than crews responding to a fire with nothing but fuel in front of them, there are natural fire breaks, there’s old prescribed burns that help slow the fire down.”

Read more:
B.C. wildfire update: A pause in rapid fire growth but forecast remains hot and dry

Asked about the paper, the director of fire centre operations for the BC Wildfire Service said there was recognition of the work that needed to be done with communities as well as reducing fuel in the forests following historic wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018.

“I’m part of many different planning tables and discussions within this province and within this ministry on how do we do this better,” Rob Schweitzer told a news conference on Thursday.

“Through prescribed fire, through utilization of Indigenous traditional knowledge in use of fire, as well as amending our forest harvesting practices and the woody debris left behind, are all pieces that we continue to discuss and actually start to change policy and implement new strategies to help reduce that amount of fuel.”


Click to play video: 'South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire'



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South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire


South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire

About 1,250 wildfires have charred 4,560 square kilometres of bush since the start of B.C.’s fire season in April, compared with the 10-year average of 658 fires and about 1,060 square kilometres burned over the same time period, Schweitzer said.

Three dozen of the 245 wildfires that were burning in B.C on Thursday were considered either extremely threatening or highly visible, including a 655-square-kilometre fire north of Kamloops Lake that prompted an evacuation order for nearly 300 properties.

There were 28 states of local emergency and more than 60 evacuation orders covering 3,443 properties on Thursday. Nearly 90 evacuation alerts covered 17,679 properties, where residents were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, said Pader Brach, executive director of regional operations for Emergency Management BC.

The number of daily new fires has subsided this week, Schweitzer said.


Click to play video: 'Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires'



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Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires


Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires

But higher temperatures are expected to contribute to “severe burning conditions” in B.C.’s southern half, he added. The forecast should bring more fresh air to the Interior, he said, fuelling a “short-lived increase in fire growth” but also aiding firefighting efforts by air, which have been hampered by smoky skies.

The service also anticipates some lighting this weekend, Schweitzer said, and crews are standing ready if new fires start.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings stretching across B.C.’s southern Interior, inland sections of the north and central coasts, as well as the south coast and parts of Vancouver Island. The wildfire service warns the combination of high temperatures and low relative humidity will make fires even more intense.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Northern Canada may be a popular destination at the end of the world – CTV News

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TORONTO —
In the event of societal collapse, researchers suggest northern Canada may be “habitable” and could act as a lifeboat, but that other countries are better suited for survival.

The researchers found that Earth is in a “perilous state” due to rapid population growth and an energy consuming society that has altered the Earth’s system and biosphere. They say that societal collapse could happen in various forms, including economic collapse, worsening climate catastrophe, a pandemic worse than COVID-19, or another mass extinction event, which the researchers say is already underway.

The goal of the study, published in the journal Sustainability on July 21, was to create a shortlist of nations that could host survivors in the event of a societal collapse, where civilization could start over. The researchers evaluated the land, how much was available and its quality, how easy or difficult it is to travel to the country, available renewable resources, climate and agriculture, to determine where it would be best to survive the end of the world.

Islands with low population density, particularly those with distinct seasonal changes, fared the best with New Zealand topping the list. Iceland, U.K., Australia (specifically Tasmania) and Ireland made up the rest of the shortlist where it would be best for society to restart after a collapse.

Northern Canada, while not on the shortlist, could act as a “lifeboat” in the event of societal collapse due to climate change and extreme temperatures, but survival would rely on maintaining agriculture and renewable energy sources to keep the population alive.

The researchers showed that the shortlisted countries had strong renewable energy sources, were in temperate climates, and have plenty of agricultural land and space for growth. In the case of Iceland, where suitable land for livestock is not in abundance, this downside is offset by fisheries and the island’s wealth of renewable resources, of which geothermal resources have already been widely developed.

While this may give Canadians living in northern regions a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, there are still zombie fires to contend with as climate change warms the north and shortens winters.

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