(Bloomberg) — The World Health Organization said it sees no evidence that Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine contributed to the deaths of elderly people and urged that the shot still be used.
Reports of deaths “are in line with the expected, all-cause mortality rates and causes of death in the sub-population of frail, elderly individuals, and the available information does not confirm a contributory role for the vaccine in the reported fatal events,” the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said in a statement on Friday. The risk-benefit balance of the vaccine “remains favorable in the elderly.”
The panel met on Tuesday to review reports that some very sick older people had died after getting the vaccine. Initial cases reported last week in Norway had raised alarm, with authorities saying it was possible that vaccine side-effects could aggravate underlying illnesses even as they expected some nursing-home residents to die shortly after being vaccinated due to their frail underlying health.
Norway moved to calm that anxiety on Monday, with the Norwegian Medicines Agency saying that Covid-19 is more dangerous to most patients than vaccination.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
BC Speeds Up Its COVID Vaccination Plan – TheTyee.ca
Public health officials in British Columbia say all eligible adults over 18 will receive their first COVID vaccine dose by the end of July, two months sooner than initially projected.
The arrival of two new vaccines and a decision to delay the administration of second doses will mean faster first vaccinations for both priority and general populations.
B.C. plans to receive 60,000 doses of the recently approved AstraZeneca vaccine as early as next week and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, already approved in the U.S., is currently awaiting Health Canada approval. B.C. has been using the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
“This is exciting news,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today. “That means that we will be able to move everyone up in the queue.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine will allow a “parallel track” of vaccinations for first responders and essential workers alongside the age-based rollout for the general population, as soon as the province determines the best way to deploy it.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the third vaccine to gain approval in Canada. It still requires two doses for maximum effectiveness, but is stable at fridge temperatures, making it easier to use than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require special freezers.
Henry said the province has considered promising data out of the United Kingdom and extended the time between first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from six to 16 weeks. That will free up as many as 70,000 more first doses in the next month alone.
Significant immunity appears to last at least four months from the date of the first dose, she said, and B.C.’s own data shows the vaccine has dramatically reduced cases and outbreaks in long-term and acute care settings.
Penny Ballem, head of B.C.’s vaccination program, said extending the delay in second doses means “we will reach much more of our population very quickly.”
The province also announced details of the second phase of B.C.’s age-based rollout of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which is set to begin March 15 with seniors 80 and older and Indigenous adults 65 and over living in their own communities.
Each health authority will begin publishing its vaccination booking phone line this week. Fraser Health will also have an online booking platform due to the high number of seniors living in the region.
Seniors over 90 and Indigenous seniors over 75 will be able to call a central phone line in their health authority on Monday to book a vaccine appointment starting the week of March 15.
Those over 85 and Indigenous adults over 70 will be able to call starting March 15 to book appointments beginning March 22, the day those 80 and over or Indigenous and older than 65 will be eligible to phone and book appointments starting March 29.
Seniors’ support people may also book appointments over the phone when the senior is eligible, as long as they have their date of birth, postal code and personal health number.
By April 11, the province expects all 175,000 seniors over 80 will be vaccinated, as well as Indigenous seniors aged 65 and over, due to their higher risk of serious illness and death.
And in mid-April the province’s third vaccination phase will begin, covering the general population descending from aged 79 and adults 16 to 65 who are clinically vulnerable.
The province had planned to complete the process by providing access for 18-to-24-year-olds before the end of September in phase four. Henry says that will now happen by the end of July.
Work is still under way to determine the priority groups like essential workers who will be vaccinated as part of the changes to the plan.
Henry and Ballem noted they will likely include police, paramedics, firefighters, mail carriers and workers in poultry and food processing facilities that have seen high numbers of cases and outbreaks.
“Vaccines are a remarkable tool to help control outbreaks and we have used those around the province to do that successfully,” said Ballem.
The availability of new vaccines and extended second doses will mean that B.C. can likely return to more pre-pandemic activities sooner than expected.
And Henry noted that restrictions in long-term care visits, which have devastated residents’ physical and mental health, are being reviewed in light of the evidence vaccines have brought down the vast majority of cases and outbreaks.
But Henry and Premier John Horgan stressed that the schedule all depends on vaccine supply, which is out of the province’s hands, and easing pandemic restrictions depends on the rate of vaccination.
“We’re hopeful as we go into April that a decrease in transmissibility will enable us to go back to the things we were doing as late as October,” said Henry, noting B.C. doesn’t “yet have enough vaccine or enough people in the community who are protected to let our guard down.”
Guidance to wear a mask, physically distance, and stay home when ill issued nearly one year ago at the outset of the pandemic still applies, and will be critical to ensuring variants of concern don’t take hold as the vaccine rolls out.
“More people will be protected sooner than we had originally planned for, and that is the good news,” said Henry. “But we need to hold on a little longer. We are in the final miles of this marathon, and it is weeks and months.”
“We do not want to see variant infections taking off and undermining our ability to provide protection to people,” she added.
Vaccination sites busy in Ontario regions offering COVID shots to seniors – KitchenerToday.com
TORONTO — Some Ontario seniors braved frigid temperatures Monday to get a COVID-19 vaccine as several regions in the province moved ahead with their plans to vaccinate the general public.
With the broad launch of a provincial booking portal still two weeks away, some local public health units used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments.
In York Region, where bookings opened Monday morning for shots that could be administered as early as the afternoon, dozens of seniors and their caregivers lined up outside a sports centre to get the vaccine.
Some huddled together for warmth – a winter weather advisory was in effect for the region – as the line to enter the centre in Richmond Hill moved slowly.
Hassan Abbas Kara was saving a place in line while his grandmother waited in a car.
“I don’t want her to wait in the cold, so it’s a little thing I can do right now to help her,” he said.
Atta Hussain, 82, said the process was “beautiful” and well organized, and expressed relief after receiving his shot.
“We thank everybody who is participating,” he said.
York Region said its vaccination clinics were fully booked just two hours after they started taking appointments. A spokesman said approximately 20,000 appointments were made Monday across five locations in the region.
Clinics were also offering shots to those 80 and older in Windsor-Essex County, and to those 85 and older at a hospital in Hamilton, where officials warned of long wait times amid high call volumes to its COVID-19 hotline.
Hamilton’s top doctor apologized for backlog on the phone line and asked people who don’t live in the city to not call about appointments.
The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal.
It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units.
When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that’s why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally.
“Some of them are already vaccinating the over-80-year-old people that are living within their regions,” Elliott said Monday. “I think that’s something that we should be celebrating not denigrating.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he’s happy some public health units are offering shots already, but argued it could cause issues later when health units that have already started making appointments on their own systems have to switch over to the provincial one.
The province also said Monday that it has asked the federal government for guidance on possibly extending the intervals between the first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses to four months.
It pointed to British Columbia’s decision to do so and said there’s growing evidence suggesting intervals between the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses can be safely extended.
Monday also saw two Ontario regions – Thunder Bay and Simcoe Muskoka – return to lockdowns as a result of rising COVID-19 cases.
Restrictions on businesses and gatherings were loosened in seven other health units: Niagara Region, Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce.
Municipal officials in Simcoe Muskoka raised concerns about pressure on small businesses and the effects of yet another lockdown on the public during a public meeting with the health unit on Monday.
The region’s top doctor said he’s heard concerns about the strict measures from people in areas with fewer cases. Dr. Charles Gardner said he’ll be in touch with the province’s chief medical officer about whether a full lockdown is required for the region.
In Thunder Bay, which entered a lockdown after reporting more COVID-19 cases in February than all of 2020, a local hospital reported it was expanding its COVID-19 and intensive care units to meet the needs of the community.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the Public Health Agency of Canada was reviewing a funding application for an isolation site in Thunder Bay after the city said it could no longer afford to keep it running.
Ontario reported 1,023 new cases of COVID-19 and six more deaths from the virus on Monday.
– With files from Cole Burston
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
B.C. extends wait between COVID-19 vaccine doses to four months – News 1130
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. has decided to extend the time between first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the interval between the two shots will now be four months.
Citing data from around the world, as well as in B.C., Henry says we are seeing immunity last at least four months after a person is given a first dose of the vaccines. The extension will apply to all three vaccines currently approved in Canada, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
The decision to extend duration between first – second doses to 4 months DBH says came looking at data from around the world (UK, Israel) & here seeing the immunity lasts at least 4 months. Extension is for all three types of vaccine.#bcpoli @NEWS1130
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) March 1, 2021
“The important thing that we have learned is that these vaccines work, they give a very high level of protection, and that protection lasts for many months,” Henry said on Monday.
“In combination with the new vaccines that we have available, this gives us a very important and very real benefit to everybody here in B.C. That means we can move everybody up the list and more people will be protected sooner,” B.C.’s top doctor added, noting delaying the second shot “provides very high, real-world protection to more people sooner.”
Henry says health officials will be monitoring vaccine effectiveness going forward.
Word of the extension comes as the province unveiled dates for when the most senior British Columbians will begin to have access to the vaccines.
A call-in system to book vaccination appointments for Indigenous peoples aged 65 and up and other British Columbians aged 90 and up will open March 8, with clinics starting to run March 15.
Seniors aged 85 to 90 can start booking on March 15, for vaccinations starting a week later. Booking opens for those aged 80 to 85 open on March 22.
Admitting the challenges restrictions at long-term care homes have had on residents and their families, Henry says the province will be revisiting when restrictions can be decreased “given what we know now about how effective these vaccines are.”
-With files from Frances Yap
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