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Signs if a COVID-19 vaccine works possible

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ZURICH — First indications of the effectiveness of a potential vaccine against coronavirus may be available in the autumn, the head of the GAVI vaccine alliance told a Swiss newspaper, forecasting a long road from there to broad availability.

“Unfortunately, we really do not know which vaccine will work and whether there will be one at all. If we’re lucky, we’ll receive indications in autumn as to (a potential vaccine’s) effectiveness,” GAVI head Seth Berkley told NZZ am Sonntag in an interview published on Sunday.

“But there will still be a long way to go from there until an approved active substance becomes available in large quantities for the global population.”

Calling for globally coordinated efforts both to produce and share an eventual vaccine, Berkley said international agreement was needed to build up manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce a vaccine once one is found.

“(Countries) should work together in order to share in each other’s vaccines in case one’s own are not good,” he said, adding it was possible some vaccines would work better for younger people and others for older age groups.

He urged the World Health Organization to issue clear guidelines on a vaccine’s use and distribution to prevent a vaccine first being made available to the rich at the expense of the people most in need.

Should an effective vaccine become available in an initially limited supply, it should first be used to immunize health personnel, he said. (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Mark Potter)

Source:National Post

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B.C. gets 1 million calls within 1st hour of opening phone lines to vaccine appointments for elderly – CBC.ca

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Call centres in British Columbia received a million calls in the first hour after they opened to receive COVID-19 vaccine appointments for some of the province’s oldest residents, according to the doctor in charge of the province’s rollout plan.

Dr. Penny Ballem, who is also chair of Vancouver Coastal Health, spoke on CBC’s The Early Edition just after 8 a.m. Monday morning and said while call agents were hit with a “massive onslaught” the minute the lines opened, it was not unexpected and should not worry eligible residents who have not yet secured an appointment.

“Everyone’s going to get their vaccine,” said Ballem, adding it’s a big job, but the province is prepared.

The call centres opened at 7 a.m. at the Fraser, Island, Interior, Northern and Vancouver Coastal health authorities to allow appointments for people 90 years and older and Indigenous people who are 65 and older or identify as elders.

In less than three hours after they opened, 1.7 million calls came in.

Karen Bloemink, vice-president of pandemic response with Interior Health, asks people not to phone the call centre ahead of their eligibility dates that are based on their birth years.

“Call volumes will be closely monitored and if there are some delays initially, we will be working in the background to adjust and respond quickly,” she said. “Once an individual becomes eligible to receive their vaccine, they can book their appointment at any time.”

Plenty of spots remain

Health Minister Adrian Dix says there are about 47,000 people in the province who are 90 and older and 35,000 who are Indigenous people over 65, so he urged anyone who is not calling on behalf of someone in those categories to hang up the phone.

“I very much appreciate the enthusiasm of everybody calling in. But I would ask that people allow those who are eligible this week to book appointments,” he said. “That is a massive number of phone calls. If that were to continue, obviously no phone system would respond to that.”

Dix says health authorities are booking thousands of appointments and plenty of time slots remain.

There are still five days left to book for people in those age groups, so if callers don’t get through today, he says there is still time.

“This is not first-come, first-serve,” said Dix. “There are going to be lots of opportunities.”

Dix says the phone lines are the focus right now because of the age of those who are eligible.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking system on the first day. Web-based platforms across health regions will become a larger component of booking as younger age categories get their turn, Dix said.

Dix says the “enormous” response on Monday reflects the significant support for vaccination in the province. 

Caller frustration

Some residents calling on behalf of their elderly parents spent all morning trying to get through on the phone lines.

Elaine Husdon, whose father is 95, said she called the Fraser Health number when the line opened at 7 a.m., “exactly on the dot,” and received a busy signal.

She said she has been redialing constantly and can’t even get on hold — she either gets a busy signal or a recording that says there is a high call volume that instructs her to hang up and try again.

A nurse takes a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination dose at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Husdon said her father lives with her family and she decided to take a leave of absence from her job at a school because of the risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to him.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, also said she only received a busy signal every time she has called.

She said she spent two hours between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. constantly pressing redial.

Tapley said she wishes that the health authority had set up an online booking system from the beginning, as Fraser Health did.

“I feel a bit frustrated because I know it’s very important to my dad to get (the vaccine),” she said, adding her parents have had a lonely year during the pandemic.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that they can return to their normal lives,” said Tapley.

Who is eligible now

Seniors are being asked to phone during the following weeks, based on their age:

  • For the week of March 8: seniors born in 1931 or earlier (aged 90 and above) or Indigenous seniors born in 1956 or earlier (aged 65 and above).
  • For the week of March 15: seniors born in 1936 or earlier (aged 85 and above).
  • For the week of March 22: seniors born in 1941 or earlier (aged 80 and above).

Once someone becomes eligible, they are able to book at any time — meaning no one will miss their window for booking an appointment. 

The first appointments will be available on March 15. 

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B.C. looking at easing restrictions for sports, religious services in the ‘coming weeks’ – Oak Bay News

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Restrictions that have seen British Columbians heavily limit their interactions for months could be loosened in the coming weeks, according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

In a press conference Monday (March 8) where she announced more than 1,400 new cases over the weekend, Henry said that with more and more vaccine approved and the immunization program ramping up, restrictions could be reconsidered in the spring.

“In the weeks ahead we can start to look at this modified return of some of the activities that have been on pause for the last months of winter,” she said.

“In the coming weeks we hope to see the return of sports and religious ceremonies.”

Henry said health provincials are working with religious leaders to bring back in-person worship, but warned that it will be a phased approach.

There are several religious holidays coming up, including Easter, Passover, Vaisakhi and Ramadan.

“How do we make sure that people can celebrate those things safely? And yes that’s our plan,” she said, but noted that B.C. is still in the middle of a pandemic.

“It may not be what Easter celebrations have been in the past, but they will be celebrations. Unless things go off the rails we are planning for them to be in person.”

Henry said that as the weather gets warmer, and people can spend more time outside, gatherings could return.

“What we are looking at, as we head into March break, spring break, at the end of this week and into this week is seeing the return of things like gatherings outside, where it’s safer, activities outside that we can do in groups with precautions in place,” Henry said.

“Small groups that we can do for games, summer camps, spring camps and safe small groups with masks and safety precautions in place.”

However, she warned that it is not yet time for large-scale events and gatherings.

“We will be in a much different place by the time we head into summer,” she said.

“[But] we’re not yet in a place where we can go back to our pre pandemic gatherings.”

Henry also said the province was looking at how safe travel within B.C. could return.

“The risk is different in different communities in this province and we need to be mindful of that.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday


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B.C. gets 1.7 million calls as lines open to book vaccine appointments for elderly – Alaska Highway News

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister promised to “do better” on Monday after call centres to schedule vaccine appointments were overwhelmed on the first day of booking.

Adrian Dix said there were 1.7 million calls in less than three hours after the phone lines opened for people over 90 and Indigenous elders over 65 to book their appointments.

Dix said he believed that people who were not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine were flooding the lines, but he also acknowledged that more staffing was needed.

“It’s really important in order to allow those over 90 to get their appointments that we only call when our age group becomes open for calling,” he told the province’s COVID-19 briefing.

“It’s also important that we do better. I know that people have called in and have waited a long time today.” 

Dix said that more resources would be added in the coming weeks, as more age groups become eligible to call to book their vaccines.

People born in 1936 or earlier can start calling for appointments on March 15 and those born in 1941 or earlier can start to schedule their immunizations March 22.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking platform on Monday, but Dix said a web-based system would become widely available on April 12.

Some residents with elderly parents said they spent hours redialing their health authority’s number and only got a busy signal or a recorded message telling them to call back later.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, said she was frustrated that the authority had not yet established an online booking system.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that (my parents) can return to their normal lives.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said creating an online booking system is “quite a large project” and Fraser Health was the only authority with an existing platform.

Of about 80,000 people eligible to book appointments this week, roughly 26,000 have already received a shot, so a relatively small number of people should be calling, Dix said.

He said about 10,000 appointments were booked as of Monday afternoon and a “significant number” of those were scheduled through the Fraser Health online site.

Dix urged eligible residents and their families to keep calling in the coming days. There are plenty of appointments available and it is not a “first-come, first-serve” system, he said.

Although B.C.’s case numbers have been on the rise, Henry said some restrictions would be eased in the coming weeks as the weather warms and immunizations ramp up.

Outdoor gatherings, larger meeting places and layers of protection such as masks will still be recommended, she said.

“I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch,” she said. 

She also said she hopes to see the return of sports and in-person religious ceremonies within weeks.

Officials have been developing a plan with faith leaders to enable the gradual return of in-person services, as there are important dates in many religions coming up, Henry said.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge reserved his decision on Friday on a petition filed by three Fraser Valley churches who argued that a ban on in-person services violates charter rights.

Henry reported on Monday 1,462 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths over three days, pushing the death toll to 1,391 in the province.

She said there was one new outbreak in a long-term care home, the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, where a high number of residents and staff had already been vaccinated.

The flare-up serves as a reminder that while vaccines are effective and prevent severe illness and death, they don’t necessarily mean that all transmission will be stopped, she said.

There have been 144 new cases that are variants of concern, bringing the total to 394 confirmed cases. Officials still do not know how about a quarter of the cases were acquired.

Henry became emotional when quoting Chief Robert Joseph, a knowledge-keeper with the Assembly of First Nations.

“We will celebrate our lives again, dream our dreams again and watch our children regain their hope,” Henry quoted him as saying, with tears in her eyes.

“That’s what we can look forward to in the coming months.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021. 

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press

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