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Pandemic-induced declines in routine vaccination rates worry experts –



When Bill Rodger and his family moved to Bridgewater, N.S., prior to his daughter’s first birthday, everything seemed in line for her to receive her first routine vaccines, including her mumps and measles shots.

But when the third wave of COVID-19 struck, the shots were put on hold.

“What they told me at that point was that they were pausing vaccines for children that were not assigned to doctors,” he told The Current. “A lot of nurses that I spoke to were very, extremely helpful people, but had their hands tied with COVID.”

“They kind of prioritized [the] COVID response.”

In the end, Rodger managed to get his daughter inoculated in the right time frame, but not every parent has been as lucky. 

According to a 2021 report by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 22 million infants worldwide missed their first dose of the measles vaccine in 2020. It’s an increase of three million from 2019 — the largest increase in two decades.

CanAge CEO Laura Tamblyn Watts says there’s an overwhelming number of people who don’t know what routine vaccines they’re supposed to be taking. (Laura Tamblyn Watts/CanAge)

Things aren’t much better in Canada, where one in four children have missed their scheduled shots during the pandemic, according to 19 to Zero, a group that promotes safe vaccination behaviour.

“With the drops that we’re talking about … these kids [are] at risk of all sorts of illnesses that we don’t see a lot of anymore, and we haven’t seen a lot of during the pandemic because we’ve sort of been on these lockdown situations,” said 19 to Zero CEO and public health physician Dr. Jia Hu in Calgary.

By the time we get back to normal, I think it’s very easy to see a resurgence of whooping cough, or measles, or one of the things that’s sort of gone the wayside.-Dr. Jia Hu

And it’s not just Canadian kids who are missing their routine inoculations. According to a report card released by CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization, Canada received a D minus for how well it’s protecting older Canadians against the flu, pneumonia and shingles. 

“We know about one in seven older people — and that number really needs an asterisk next to it because it’s probably much more than that — have missed some form of routine vaccination because of COVID-19,” said CanAge founder and CEO Laura Tamblyn Watts.

These numbers have some doctors worried about a potential resurgence of various diseases post-pandemic.

“By the time we get back to normal, I think it’s very easy to see a resurgence of whooping cough or measles or one of the things that’s sort of gone [by] the wayside,” Hu said.

A pre-pandemic problem

Alhough the numbers are concerning, Tamblyn Watts said these problems, particularly around senior vaccinations, existed prior to the pandemic.

“We’re actually extremely bad at vaccinating older people with routine vaccinations to begin with.” 

Dr. Jia Hu says because the pandemic has closed doctors’ offices in parts of Canada, some parents who rely on their doctor to remind them of their children’s routine vaccinations are forgetting. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Part of it has to do with the cost of some vaccines — such as shingles, which if not covered, Tamblyn Watts said could cost around $300 per dose.

“It’s over the course of two shots, so for a family living on a fixed income, $600 is just a barrier that most people can’t afford.” 

But a bigger reason why some senior Canadians miss their routine vaccinations could be a lack of information.

“On the whole, older people, if they know about adult vaccines, typically want to get them,” Tamblyn Watts said. “But it is hard to get them; either the right ones aren’t covered or they don’t know where to get them.

“What we see overwhelmingly is that people don’t know what vaccines they’re supposed to have.”

This is a similar case for parents of infants and children who should be taking routine vaccinations.

“I don’t think this is really anybody’s fault per se. But in places where family doctors provide vaccinations … you know, family doctors’ offices have often been closed,” Hu said. “So it’s hard to get your vaccine, and public health have been sort of redeployed to do other things.”

Hu said this is the main driving factor behind the decrease in child routine inoculations in the pandemic — but he doesn’t blame parents of medical staff for it.

“It’s quite a complex schedule … and if you’re seeing your pediatrician or family doctor probably every two months to kind of remind you … it’s easy to kind of forget.”

Routine vaccine awareness

If there is good news to come out of the pandemic, experts say it’s the greater population’s heightened awareness of the importance of vaccines. 

“I think we faced some challenges, namely that the health system and public health … was very, very burnt out,” Hu said. “But the good news is we’ve mobilized much of society who now cares and is aware of the importance of these things.”

Hu said by optimizing vaccine access through pharmacies and community-based clinics, numbers like school-based vaccination rates have been pushed to higher than 70 per cent.

“So we really want to restore access to at least what it was before the pandemic — and through the pandemic, we’ve learnt a lot about how better to provide vaccinations and deploy those tactics to hopefully get those rates higher than they were before,” he said.

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That heightened awareness can be seen in some pockets of progress when it comes to senior vaccines, according to Tamblyn Watts. 

She said some provinces and territories, such as Prince Edward Island and Yukon, have expanded their coverage and done specific outreach for vulnerable populations.

Nonetheless, there’s more work to be done — hopefully, for Tambyln Watts, on the federal end.

“It really should be the federal government that funds, like COVID-19, all of these [routine] vaccines under its public health mandate and gives it to the provinces,” she said.

“We learned that that way of doing vaccine purchasing and distribution works, and we should do it because right now, we have serious vaccine inequity.”

Hu suggested vaccine outreach groups that targeted demographics that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 should continue to operate post-pandemic.

“I think that a lot of these groups now know a lot about vaccines and have the trust of the populations they serve, and I think engaging them to help address the issues around routine vaccination is also critical,” he said. 

It’s part of educating the greater population about routine vaccinations, which Hu believes is key coming out of the pandemic. 

“Get educated, talk to your family doctor, talk to your pharmacist, give public health the call and find out what you need, and go get it.”

Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Alison Masemann and Joana Draghici.

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Kingston, Ont., area health officials examining future of local vaccination efforts – Global News



More than 455,000 people in the Kingston region have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Now health officials say they’re using the summer months, with low infection rates, to look ahead to what fall might bring, urging those who are still eligible to get vaccinated do so.

Read more:

Kingston Health Sciences Centre to decommission COVID-19 field site

“Large, mass immunization clinics, mobile clinics, drive-thru clinics and small primary care clinics doing their own vaccine,” said Brian Larkin with KFL&A Public Health.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Gerald Evans says those who are still eligible for a third and fourth dose should take advantage and roll up their sleeves during the low-infection summer months.

“Now in 2022, although you still might get COVID, you’re probably not going to be very sick. You are less likely to transmit and ultimately that’s one of the ways we’re going to control the pandemic,” added Evans.

He expects another wave of COVID-19 to hit in late October to early November and that a booster may be made available for those younger than 60 who still aren’t eligible for a fourth dose.

Read more:

Kingston, Ont. COVID assessment centre cuts hours for the summer

“The best case scenario is a few more years of watching rises in cases, getting boosters to control things and ultimately getting out of it with this being just another coronavirus that just tends to cause a respiratory infection and worst-case scenario is a new variant where all the potential possibilities exist to have a big surge in cases and hopefully not a lot more serious illness,” said Evans.

Public Health says they’re still waiting for direction from the province on what’s to come this fall.

“We’re expecting that we would see more age groups and younger age groups be eligible for more doses or boosters but about when those ages start, we have yet to have that confirmed,” said Larkin.

The last 18 months of vaccines paving the way for the new normal could mean a yearly COVID booster alongside the annual flu shot.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Monkeypox detected in Norfolk County | – Hamilton Spectator



The monkeypox virus has found its way to Norfolk County.

The health unit announced on Friday that a Norfolk resident has tested positive and is currently isolating at home.

Contacts of the infected resident have been notified, according to a media release from the health unit.

“There is no increased risk of monkeypox to the general public stemming from this case,” acting medical officer of health Dr. Matt Strauss said in the release.

“Outside of an emergency situation, if you have symptoms of monkeypox, it is important to stay home and call your doctor to be assessed. When seeking medical care, you should wear a high-quality medical mask and cover up all lesions and open sores.”

Monkeypox is spread by direct physical contact, most often by touching a rash on an infected person’s skin but sometimes through “respiratory secretions” if in close proximity for a prolonged period, the health unit said.

“Most people infected with monkeypox will have mild symptoms and recover on their own without treatment,” said the release.

Symptoms lasting between two and four weeks can include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, low energy, muscle aches, skin rash or lesions, sometimes starting on the face or genitals and spreading elsewhere.

The health unit says symptoms usually start between six and 13 days of exposure to the virus.

The Halton region recorded its first confirmed case of monkeypox earlier this month.

Close contacts of monkeypox patients are eligible to receive the smallpox vaccine, which also provides protection against monkeypox.

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Mass vaccination campaign against Monkeypox needed, experts say – Global News



As the World Health Organization calculates whether to declare monkeypox a global health emergency, infectious disease experts are urging health officials to be more proactive and start ramping up vaccinations and surveillance — especially in African nations where the virus is most prevalent.

The WHO convened its emergency committee Thursday to consider whether the spiralling outbreak of monkeypox should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” the WHO’s highest level of alert.

But the United Nations agency is facing criticism over its treatment of monkeypox — jumping into action only after the disease started to spread in rich western nations.

Read more:

WHO to discuss declaring monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency

The viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions is endemic in parts of Africa, which means it is consistently present in certain regions. The continent has registered just over 1,500 suspected cases since the start of 2022, of which 70 have been fatal, according to the WHO.

By comparison, Canada has confirmed over 200 cases, the majority of which are in Quebec, and has had no deaths.

“There are more cases that occur in Africa on a yearly basis than have already been reported outside of Africa right now. And there are more deaths that have occurred in Africa from monkeypox than have occurred in the rest of the world,” said Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious disease physician and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University.

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Monkeypox in Canada: 211 confirmed cases reported across the country

That’s why he believes Africa should be getting the lion’s share of resources to deal with monkeypox — and that should include mass vaccinations, he says.

“I think Africa needs to be looked at with high, high priority,” he said.

“It needs to be a mass vaccination campaign for monkeypox with the newer vaccines for people in the African continent, especially in the high endemic areas.”

He’s not alone.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a physician and infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, says she also believes more people living in regions where monkeypox is more prevalent should be vaccinated.

“That will actually stop it in endemic regions in this non-endemic outbreak.”

That the WHO is only now taking monkeypox seriously is “profoundly problematic,” Gandhi says, given that the disease has been spreading and killing people in Central and West Africa for years.

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Monkeypox has about half of Canadians worried, but most confident with health response: poll

Monkeypox has about half of Canadians worried, but most confident with health response: poll – Jun 17, 2022

“It’s been circulating since 1958. There are increasing outbreaks — a severe one in Nigeria, for example in 2017 — and it’s only really essentially when this has affected high-income countries that the WHO is jumping on it.”

Experts who have worked on monkeypox in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo have long taken note of rising cases while population immunity to pox viruses has been decreasing, due to lack of vaccination. This is why the world shouldn’t be surprised at the current outbreaks, said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California, who has studied monkeypox for two decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how quickly a deadly virus can spread across the globe when the right conditions are present, so health officials ought to learn from this and start being more proactive, she said.

“When it comes to infectious diseases, in particular those viruses that have the potential for global spread, it’s much easier to stay out of trouble than it is to have to get out of trouble.”

In addition to providing vaccines, health officials should also be ramping up resources to study this disease and do more surveillance to get a better understanding of monkeypox and learn why it is spreading in new and unusual ways, Rimoin said.

Read more:

Monkeypox outbreak: Case count rises to more than 3,200 globally, says WHO

“We’ve given this virus a lot of runway to be able to spread. We have not been looking for it as vigilantly as we should be,” she said.

“I think we have to learn the lessons that we’ve learned with COVID-19 and that it is much better to invest ahead of time to get in front of these viruses, to do the kind of surveillance it’s necessary to be regularly updating our knowledge about viruses.”

Good disease surveillance is just as important in poorer countries as it is in “high-resource settings,” she added.

Like many countries around the world, Canada and the United States stopped vaccinating the general population against smallpox by around 1972, which means many on this continent are highly susceptible to pox viruses like monkeypox.

Given that scientists expect to see more emerging infectious diseases due to factors such as climate change, deforestation and globalization, the world should start getting better prepared for new outbreaks, Elsayed said.

Read more:

Monkeypox has Canadian researchers scrambling. Why, and how contagious is it?

This is why, in addition to calling for vaccinations and more resources to fight monkeypox in Africa, Elsayed believes governments in developed nations should also consider more options to protect citizens from pox viruses, including possibly re-introducing mass smallpox vaccinations.

“I believe that these vaccines should come on board again for the general population … but not (just) for monkeypox, but also to protect the world against perhaps a smallpox pandemic that can happen in the future, or even another virus that’s closely related to monkeypox but hasn’t reached humans,” Elsayed said.

He stressed this should only be considered after addressing the more pressing needs in Africa first.

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WHO looks into reports of traces of monkeypox found in semen

WHO looks into reports of traces of monkeypox found in semen – Jun 15, 2022

Rimoin noted that when the world stopped vaccinating against smallpox, it opened a “gap of immunity” for populations to once again be vulnerable to it. And with the emergence of a number of new pox viruses in different parts of the globe, including mousepox, cowpox and camelpox, the world is not immune to new outbreaks, she said.

“We now have to really think about, How important is it for us to be able to keep pox viruses out of the population?” she said. “What are the stakes of allowing this virus to spread? And then acting accordingly.”

-With files from Global News reporter Reggie Checcini and Reuters.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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