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Pfizer-BioNTech to get EU 200 million more COVID-19 shots – Weyburn Review

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BERLIN — As worries about vaccine delays swept across Europe, Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they have finalized an agreement to supply the European Union with another 200 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. and German companies said in a statement that the doses come on top of the 300 million vaccine doses the bloc has initially ordered. The EU’s executive Commission has an option to request a further 100 million doses.

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They said the 200 million doses are expected to be delivered this year, with an estimated 75 million of them in the second quarter.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first of three so far to be approved for use in the EU, which has faced strong criticism for a slow start to its vaccination campaign compared with countries such as Israel, Britain and the United States. The other two EU-approved vaccines are from Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Delays to planned deliveries from all those vaccine manufacturers have helped fuel dissatisfaction among European governments.

Last month, Pfizer said it was temporarily reducing deliveries to Europe and Canada while it upgraded production capacity at its plant in Belgium. The EU also had a public spat with AstraZeneca over getting fewer of its vaccine shots than anticipated. AstraZeneca’s chief blamed the lag on new factories needing to work out vaccine production issues.

“We are working relentlessly to support the further roll-out of vaccination campaigns in Europe and worldwide by expanding manufacturing capacity,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Wednesday.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin noted that his company will initiate production at its new plant in Marburg, Germany, this month and has strengthened its manufacturing network with further partners.

“We are continuing to evaluate, together with governments, authorities and partners at all levels, how we might address an even higher future supply requirement for our vaccines,” he said.

Wednesday’s statement didn’t give financial details of the latest EU-Pfizer deal.

On Tuesday, the European Medicines Agency said it had received a request from Johnson & Johnson for its coronavirus vaccine to be authorized. The EU medicine regulator said it could issue an opinion by mid-March. The J&J vaccine is given in one shot, while the three other vaccines required two shots spaced weeks apart.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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Alberta's vaccination booking system overwhelmed on 1st day that all seniors born in 1946 and older eligible – CBC.ca

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Alberta Health Services’ phone lines are jammed and the government website has crashed on the first day that Albertans born in 1946 or earlier can book COVID-19 vaccinations.

An additional 230,000 seniors age 75 and older are now eligible for the vaccine, along with all those in Phase 1A who are still receiving theirs, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Alberta Health Services said Wednesday morning that it is experiencing “very high volumes” and that if users are having trouble accessing the website, to try again soon. 

Multiple people who called Health Link at 811 reported not being able to get through on the phone lines at all or being partially through the booking process only to be disconnected.

Others reported the same on the Alberta Health Services online booking tool, with the site either being down entirely or crashing as they were mid-way through booking an appointment.

Hinshaw urged people to be patient on Wednesday.

Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the pandemic response committee of the Edmonton Zone medical staff association, said the website crashing was to be expected based on the experience of other jurisdictions. 

“In the early hours of the open time, the systems have often crashed and so I would basically ask people to give it some time,” he said. “I’m sure that later today it will be open.”

More to come.

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Optimism, relief as Alberta's long-term care centres see significant drop in COVID-19 cases – CBC.ca

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After months of worrying about the risk of COVID-19 in long-term care homes, Nicole Bugeaud is finally feeling some relief.

Bugeaud’s sister, Dominique, has Down Syndrome and lives at Centre de Santé Saint-Thomas, a supportive living facility in Edmonton.

The past year has been a rollercoaster for Nicole and her family, but now that her sister has received both doses of the vaccine, she says things are getting better.

“It was a difficult year in the sense that things were evolving very quickly, cases were erupting everywhere, protocols were put in place limiting visitations,” Bugeaud said.

“Trying to explain to her that what was going on wasn’t easy. But in the last couple of months, things have gone better. Cases have gone down, two-shot vaccinations were completed for all residents and things seem to be calming down a lot more.”

Nicole Bugeaud is feeling a sense of relief now that her sister, Dominique, who lives in Centre de Santé Saint-Thomas, has received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Francois Joly/CBC News)

This relief is being felt by many long-term care residents, their families and staff, as Alberta is reporting a steep decline in active COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities.

According to the province, active cases have fallen 92 per cent in long-term care since hitting a peak of 776 on Dec. 27. The decline coincides with the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, all long-term care and designated supportive living facility residents have been vaccinated.

On Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said two of every three deaths linked to COVID-19 in the province came from long-term care or supportive living facilities.

Hinshaw said the decline in cases shows strict public health measures to reduce community spread have worked, and exemplifies the protective effect of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Every one of us should take pride in this turnaround, as it is the result of not only our immunization campaign, but also of our collective efforts to bring our new case numbers down,” Hinshaw said on Monday.

Hinshaw added that the number of active long-term care outbreaks had dropped from 74 on Dec. 20 to five as of Feb. 16.

In designated supportive-living facilities, a peak of 1,300 active cases on Christmas Day has since fallen by 88 per cent.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, said it’s been remarkable to see the high rates of infection and deaths in long-term care centres decline. She said the decline is affirming as proof of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“I think that everyone can look at this example and say that they’re reassured that even in this frail population, the vaccines are safe and effective,” Saxinger said. “That’s just a great message for everybody to focus on.”

Now that there’s more protection for long-term care residents, Saxinger said she wouldn’t be surprised to see some restrictions eased to make it easier for visitors to see loved ones, while still protecting people who haven’t been vaccinated.

But she added she hopes current restrictions hold steady while until the province better understands the risk of COVID-19 variants. If variant transmission takes off, it could necessitate much longer and more severe restrictions, Saxinger said.

Michael Dempsey, a vice-president with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said there’s a lot of relief among long-term care staff that case numbers have dropped. He said he’s heard many workers worked double-shifts and as long as 16-hour days.

“There was a lot of angst and anxiety as well as fatigue, because of course if a member has to book off sick then they’re off for a couple of weeks,” Dempsey said.

He added that there’s still some residual anger among AUPE members about the province not implementing stricter health measures sooner as the province entered its second wave of COVID-19.

Bugeaud said it’s been difficult for her sister at Saint-Thomas dealing with isolation in the past year. Her sister often doesn’t recognize family members when they’re wearing masks and video calls are difficult because she isn’t very verbal, Bugeaud said.

She hopes that with the recent decline, her family will be able to visit her sister more often.

“COVID has made us all think of what we want in our lives, how we want to live our lives,” Bugeaud said.

“My brothers and sisters are most or all retired. Certainly, they have the time to come and spend with her, but the limitations were holding them back.”

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South African variant of COVID-19 detected in North Central zone – Yahoo News Canada

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The province reported on Tuesday that a resident of the North Central zone, which includes Prince Albert, has had the B1.351 SA (South Africa) COVID-19 variant detected in their test, the individual was tested at the end of January and Public Health’s investigation is ongoing.

According to Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab in a press conference on Tuesday the experience with the variants is not different from what other provinces have seen.

“What it means for us is basically the variants of concern respond exactly the same as the previous COVID-19 strains,” Shahab said.

He reminded people to take all of the common steps such as social distancing and other steps to reduce transmission as well as minimizing interprovincial and international travel.

He explained that six per cent of all samples are screened for all variants by referring them to the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg including travel related cases, outbreaks, cases of people under 50-years-old in ICY and random samples.

“That will also help us increase the portion that we can screen, it will also shorten the time it takes to get the results from one to two weeks to a few days,” Shahab said.

“All of that must start once the initial test comes back positive. We shouldn’t wait for it to be diagnosed for the variants of concern for us to take further action,” he added.

According to Premier Scott Moe work in under way to receive certification for the Roy Romanow Laboratory in Regina to expand to testing for variants of COVID-19.

“That process does take a period of time, working with the lab in Winnipeg. That process is underway and I would expect that we would be able to identify the variants at the Roy Romanow Lab within the province of Saskatchewan sometime in early March,” Moe said.

Shahab and Moe both said that the province expected to see the variant in the province.

The B1.1.7 UK (United Kingdom) variant has been detected in two residents in the Regina zone. These individuals were tested at the end of January. Based on the contact investigation to date, there is no link to travel at this time but public health’s investigation is ongoing.

There is also a presumptive case of B1.1.7 UK in one individual in the Saskatoon zone. The individual was transferred from out of province to Saskatoon for acute care.

Whole genome sequencing will need to be completed to confirm the results and health’s contact investigation is ongoing.

“All residents with a confirmed COVID-19 test are required to isolate to reduce the risk of transmission. If required, public health will issue a public service announcement to alert the general public to any risk due to any confirmed case of a variant of concern. The Government of Saskatchewan continues to plan for the impact of variants on COVID-19 including any required increase to public health measures and surge capacity planning,” the province’s release explained.

This brings the provincial total of confirmed variant of concern cases to seven.

Meanwhile, there were four deaths related to COVID-19 reported in the province on Tuesday.

There were three deaths reported in the Regina zone with two in the 80 plus age group and one in the 70 to 79 age group. There was also a death reported in the 80 plus age group in the Saskatoon zone.

The number of deaths in the province currently sits at 376.

There were 122 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the province on Tuesday.

The North Central zone, which includes Prince Albert, reported four new cases.

One additional case was added to North Central that had tested positive out of province.

North Central 2, which is Prince Albert, has 36 active cases.

According to Shahab the province is in the 12th consecutive week of a consistent slow decline in numbers with a slight uptick last weekend. The overall seven day average has dropped from 16.6 on Feb. 9 to 12.7 on Feb. 23.

“And our test positivity is also gradually trending down to around seven per cent right now. Similar to many other provinces we are seeing a decline but some provinces are also seeing a bit of a plateauing,” he said.

North Central 1, which includes communities such as Christopher Lake, Candle Lake and Meath Park, has 47 active cases and North Central 3 has 19 active cases. There are currently 174 people in hospital overall in the province. Of the 158 reported as receiving in patient care there are 17 in North Central. Of the 16 people reported as being in intensive care there is one in North Central.

The current seven-day average 156, or 12.7 cases per 100,000 population.

Of the 27,923 reported COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, 1,530 are considered active.

The recovered number now sits at 26,017 after 244 more recoveries were reported.

The total numbers of cases since the beginning of the pandemic is 27,923 of those 77,238 cases are from the North area (2,917 North West, 3,192 North Central and1,129 North East).

There were 549 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered yesterday in Saskatchewan bringing the total number of vaccines administered in the province to 62,342.

There were no doses administered in the North Central yesterday. Doses were administered in the adjacent North East zone, North West, Far North Central, Central East, Regina and Saskatoon zones.

An additional 21 doses were administered in the Central East zone on Feb.17 and an additional 52 doses were administered in the South Central zone on Feb. 19.

There were 1,872 COVID-19 tests processed in Saskatchewan on Feb. 21.

As of today there have been 563,055 COVID-19 tests performed in Saskatchewan.

Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald

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