Quebec’s public health authorities are preparing now to avoid a potential catastrophe later when flu season hits particularly if there is no COVID-19 vaccine available.
Quebec’s Health Ministry has ordered 400 thousand more influenza vaccines for this fall’s public vaccination program than it did last year to try and increase vaccination rates among people at risk of complications and hospitalizations, according to a ministry spokesperson.
A total of two million doses will be available for those who meet the Quebec Immunization Committee’s criteria (see below for complete list).
That’s still a far cry from the universal coverage some had hoped for- especially during a pandemic.
Montreal infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton says offering a free vaccine to all Quebecers who want one would could help prevent the worst in Quebec if influenza season collides with COVID-19 outbreaks.
“If we can do anything that we can to reduce influenza disease that helps put us in a better position to deal with a subsequent second wave of COVID-19 that may come around the same time and we don’t want to get swamped by two waves.”
All provinces and territories offer a universal influenza vaccine with the exception of British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec.
Healthy people who catch influenza are not at increased risk of serious illness requiring hospitalization. However, the chief of infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital points out that every time we have a major outbreak of influenza in Quebec, the emergency rooms become overcrowded.
“So, imagine if we have the regular influenza season and on top of it we have a wave of Covid-19. It’s going to be a nightmare,” says Dr. Karl Weiss.
“The flu vaccine is not a great vaccine and won’t protect you one hundred percent,” Weiss adds, “but if you have everybody with the flu vaccine then you will lower the impact of the flu and you probably have a better handle on Covid-19.
An added benefit of offering the flu vaccine to everyone according to Dr. Oughton, who also works at the Jewish General, is that it would “maximize the accessibility of that very important and cost effective means of preventing vaccine preventable diseases…rather than having to work your way through the list of all indications and exceptions.”
For the last few years flu vaccines are also available and administered at many pharmacies across the province, at a cost of between $20 and $40 per visit, depending on the store.
Last year interested Quebec pharmacies purchased 200,000 doses of flu vaccine to sell to customers ineligible for the public plan from the Quebec Association of Pharmacy Distributors, according to its spokesperson, Hughes Mousseau,
Mousseau doesn’t know yet if pharmacies ordered more vaccines for the upcoming flu season than last year because the orders were still coming in, but he says if any want to up their stock afterwards he may not be able to fulfill the order, with such a limited supply.
The distributors, just like the provinces, have to order the vaccine from the manufacturers a year in advance because producing the vaccine takes months.
“We did factor in an increase because we saw there was a 10 per cent to 40 per cent increased demand for the vaccine in Australia and New Zealand,” Mousseau explained.
The flu season in Australia is underway right now and is being closely monitored to get a sense of what’s to come in North America.
On a positive note, Dr. Gaston De Serre from Quebec’s National Public Health Institute told CTV, the “current surveillance data show influenza and influenza-like illness indicators are all lower than usual. The speculation is that COVID-19 related distancing measures and mask wearing may be helping prevent influenza as well as the coronavirus.
De Serre said that’s a good incentive for Quebecers to stick with public health practices here, throughout fall and winter.
The following are covered for a flu vaccine in Quebec in 2020-2021:
- children aged 6 months – 17 months with certain chronic illnesses
- adults with certain chronic illnesses (including pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy)
- pregnant women in their 2nd and 3rd trimester
- seniors aged 75 years and older
- those who live with a baby under 6 months of age, or with a person who has an increased risk of hospitalization or death, or who are caregivers
- health care workers
Facebook's dilemma: How to police claims about unproven virus vaccines – The Japan Times
LONDON/NEW YORK – Since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus an international health emergency in January, Facebook Inc. has removed more than 7 million pieces of content with false claims about the virus that could pose an immediate health risk to people who believe them.
The social media giant, which has long been under fire from lawmakers over how it handles misinformation on its platforms, said it had in recent months banned such claims as “social distancing does not work” because they pose a risk of “imminent” harm. Under these rules, Facebook took down a video post on Wednesday by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he claimed that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.
But in most instances, Facebook does not remove misinformation about the new COVID-19 vaccines that are still under development, according to the company’s vaccine policy lead Jason Hirsch, on the grounds that such claims do not meet its imminent harm threshold. Hirsch said the company is “grappling” with the dilemma of how to police claims about new vaccines that are as yet unproven.
“There’s a ceiling to how much we can do until the facts on the ground become more concrete,” Hirsch said, talking publicly for the first time about how the company is trying to approach the coronavirus vaccine issue.
Tom Phillips, editor at one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners Full Fact, sees the conundrum this way: “How do you fact check about a vaccine that does not exist yet?”
For now, misinformation ranging from unfounded claims to complex conspiracy theories about the developmental vaccines is proliferating on a platform with more than 2.6 billion monthly active users, a review of posts by Reuters, Facebook fact-checkers and other researchers found.
The worry, public health experts said, is that the spread of misinformation on social media could discourage people from eventually taking the vaccine, seen as the best chance to stem a pandemic that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands worldwide, including 158,000 people in the United States alone.
At the same time, free speech advocates fret about increased censorship during a time of uncertainty and the lasting repercussions long after the virus is tamed.
Drawing the line between true and false is also more complex for the new COVID-19 vaccines, fact-checkers said, than with content about vaccines with an established safety record.
Facebook representatives said the company has been consulting with about 50 experts in public health, vaccines, and free expression on how to shape its response to claims about the new COVID-19 vaccines.
Even though the first vaccines aren’t expected to go to market for months, polls show that many Americans are already concerned about taking a new COVID-19 vaccine, which is being developed at a record pace. Some 28 percent of Americans say they are not interested in getting the vaccine, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between July 15-21. Among them, more than 50 percent said they were nervous about the speed of development. More than a third said they did not trust the people behind the vaccine’s development.
The U.K.-based nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate reported in July that anti-vaccination content is flourishing on social media sites. Facebook groups and pages accounted for more than half of the total anti-vaccine following across all the social media platforms studied by the CCDH.
One public Facebook group called “REFUSE CORONA V@X AND SCREW BILL GATES,” referring to the billionaire whose foundation is helping to fund the development of vaccines, was started in April by Michael Schneider, a 42-year-old city contractor in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The group grew to 14,000 members in under four months. It was one of more than a dozen created in the last few months which were dedicated to opposing the COVID-19 vaccine and the idea that it might be mandated by governments, Reuters found.
Schneider said he is suspicious of the COVID-19 vaccine because he thinks it is being developed too fast to be safe. “I think a lot of people are freaking out,” he said.
Posts about the COVID-19 vaccine that have been labeled on Facebook as containing “false information” but not removed include one by Schneider linking to a YouTube video that claimed the COVID-19 vaccine will alter people’s DNA, and a post that claimed the vaccine would give people coronavirus.
Facebook said that these posts did not violate its policies related to imminent harm. “If we simply removed all conspiracy theories and hoaxes, they would exist elsewhere on the internet and broader social media ecosystem. This helps give more context when these hoaxes appear elsewhere,” a spokeswoman said.
Facebook does not label or remove posts or ads that express opposition to vaccines if they do not contain false claims. Hirsch said Facebook believes users should be able to express such personal views and that more aggressive censorship of anti-vaccine views could also push people hesitant about vaccines towards the anti-vaccine camp.
At the crux of Facebook’s decisions over what it removes are two considerations, Hirsch said. If a post is identified as containing simply false information, it will be labeled and Facebook can reduce its reach by limiting how many people will be shown the post. For example, it took this approach with the video Schneider posted suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine could alter people’s DNA.
If the false information is likely to cause imminent harm, then it will be removed altogether. Last month, under these rules, the company removed a video touting hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus cure — though only after it racked up millions of views.
In March 2019, Facebook said it would start reducing the rankings and search recommendations of groups and pages spreading misinformation about any vaccines. Facebook’s algorithms also lift up links to organizations like the WHO when people search for vaccine information on the platform.
Some public health experts want Facebook to lower their removal standards when considering false claims about the future COVID-19 vaccines. “I think there is a duty (by) platforms like that to ensure that they are removing anything that could lead to harm,” said Rupali Limaye, a social scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has been in talks with Facebook. “Because it is such a deadly virus, I think it shouldn’t just have to be ‘imminent.’”
But Jacob Mchangama, the executive director of Copenhagen-based think tank Justitia who was consulted by Facebook about its vaccine approach, fears the fallout from mass deletions: “This may have long-term consequences for free speech when this virus is hopefully contained,” he said.
Misinformation about other vaccines has rarely met Facebook’s threshold for risking imminent harm.
However, in Pakistan last year, the company intervened to take down false claims about the polio vaccine drive that were leading to violence against health workers. In the Pacific island state of Samoa, Facebook deleted vaccine misinformation because the low vaccination rate was exacerbating a dangerous measles outbreak.
“With regard to vaccines, it’s not a theoretical line … we do try to determine when there is likely going to be imminent harm resulting from misinformation and we try to act in those situations,” Hirsch said.
To combat misinformation that doesn’t meet its removal criteria, Facebook pays outside fact-checkers — including a Reuters unit — who can rate posts as false and attach an explanation. The company has said that 95 percent of the time, people who saw fact-checkers’ warning labels did not click through to the content.
Still, the fact-checking program has been criticized by some researchers as an inadequate response to the amount and speed of viral misinformation on the platforms. Fact-checkers also do not rate politicians’ posts and they do not judge posts that are exclusively in private or hidden groups.
Determining what constitutes a false claim regarding the COVID-19 shot is much harder than fact-checking a claim about an established vaccine with a proven safety record, Facebook fact-checkers said.
“There is a lot of content that we see and we don’t even know what to do with it,” echoed Emmanuel Vincent, founder of Science Feedback, another Facebook fact-checking partner, who said the number of vaccines in development made it difficult to debunk claims about how a shot would work.
In a study published in May in the journal Nature, physicist Neil Johnson’s research group found that there were nearly three times as many active anti-vaccination groups on Facebook as pro-vaccination groups during a global measles outbreak from February to October 2019, and they were faster growing.
Since the study was published, anti-vaccine views and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies have flourished on the platform, Johnson said, adding, “It’s kind of on steroids.”
Manitoba processing plant with COVID-19 should learn from Alberta facilities and shut down, union leaders urge – CBC.ca
Union leaders who witnessed a devastating COVID-19 outbreak at meat-packing facilities in Alberta are calling on a Brandon, Man., plant to shut down before its four cases of the novel coronavirus become many more.
There’s no time to waste, said Alexander Shevalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council.
He’s speaking from experience: In Alberta, 900 plus employees at a Cargill meat-packing plant tested positive for the virus and two died, while 600 employees were infected at a JBS plant.
“How many infections before the company takes it seriously? How many infections before the Manitoba government takes this seriously? Is it 10? Is it 100? Is it 1,000?” Shevalier asked.
“I would suggest that at four [cases] they can get a handle on it quite easily, and I would suggest at four it should prompt some sort of trigger testing to make sure that this is dealt with.”
In Brandon, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents 2,000 employees at the processor, are calling on the company to temporarily cease production until at least Aug. 10, after four employees contracted the virus.
Outbreak rampant at Alberta meat processors
The union is asking to suspend operations until more information is known about the 60 outstanding tests among workers.
Their concerns are heightened by what happened at slaughterhouses to the west of them.
It took weeks for Cargill to succumb to pressure and close its plant near High River, Alta., but it was already well on its way to becoming the largest outbreak tied to a single facility in North America.
Only days before the plant was temporarily shuttered on Apr. 20, a provincial inspection by video concluded the plant could keep operating, while politicians held a telephone town hall to assure staff that their workplace was safe.
Several workers accused their employer of disregarding physical distancing rules and trying to lure people back to work from self-isolation.
But meat-packing outbreaks aren’t exclusive to Alberta. Across the continent, these businesses have emerged as dangerous hot spots for COVID-19, linked partially to employees’ inability to stay apart while standing shoulder to shoulder on the processing line.
Shevalier urged officials in Manitoba to act before it’s too late.
“It’s better if you get a handle on the outbreak early, so that you don’t have to close a plant for two weeks and create a lot of anxiety in the community.”
Although four employees at the Brandon plant are confirmed COVID-19 cases, Manitoba’s top doctor said Thursday there’s no evidence the virus has spread within the plant.
“If we see evidence of transmission within a facility, [that] would be concerning to us,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.
Maple Leaf said it is reviewing the four cases while each of the employees recovers at home. The company does not plan to cease production in the meantime.
“We will continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working,” the statement says.
One worker, who wasn’t on the production line, tested positive late last week and the three cases from Wednesday aren’t involved in production, UFCW Local 832 said.
Though the case numbers are low, it doesn’t allay the fears of Thomas Hesse, the union head representing workers at the Cargill plant in southern Alberta.
“The Cargill circumstance also started with a handful of employees and early on, it was hard to sort out what the origin of the outbreak was and what its connection was to the community,” said the president of UFCW Local 401, which is embroiled in a legal fight stemming from the union’s efforts to prevent the plant from reopening.
From what he’s heard from his counterparts in Manitoba, Maple Leaf worked diligently to acquire personal protective equipment, stagger breaks for workers and mandate temperature checks.
The company’s efforts should be applauded, Hesse said, but now, “Maple Leaf is at an intersection.” The right call is to shut down the plant temporarily, he said.
Experts are studying how meat-packing facilities became virus incubators. It’s believed the proximity of employees have played a role, and maybe the ventilation systems designed to control odours and prevent meat from spoiling.
“We’re seeing outbreaks related to a very specific industry. We should look hard at those and learn from industries where we don’t see outbreaks,” said Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research Inc.
Hesse said he doesn’t want another community to go through what happened at Cargill.
He’s spoken to families who’ve lost a loved one because they went to work. He knows of workers, who didn’t exhibit symptoms, living with the guilt they spread the disease to someone else. He’s talked with a young mother who was forced to isolate in her garage, while her kids cried inside her house.
His message to Maple Leaf: “When you see a lot of [COVID-19 case] numbers, you’ve got to step back and you’ve got to do the right thing.”
Union wants production halt at Manitoba Maple Leaf plant over COVID-19 cases – Preeceville Progress
BRANDON, Man. — Manitoba’s largest increase in positive COVID-19 cases in months has prompted a union representing employees at Maple Leaf Food Inc.’s pork processing plant in Brandon to call for it to cease production.
Thirty new cases were announced Thursday in the province, 18 of which are connected to a cluster in Brandon.
The cluster includes four workers who tested positive at the pork plant.
There are 34 active cases in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, which includes the city about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
“Today’s case number is a reminder that COVID-19 is not done with us, that we still need to take those fundamental precautions,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer.
Roussin said there was no indication of workplace spread at Maple Leaf.
He said the Brandon cluster is linked to a person who travelled from Eastern Canada and didn’t self isolate “perfectly” upon arrival in Manitoba.
While Roussin would not confirm where the traveller came from the province cautioned about possible exposure on a Montreal to Winnipeg flight on July 29.
Until Thursday, there had not been a major single-day increase in the province since 40 cases were announced on April 2.
Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, said in a memo Thursday that the union wants the company to stop work at the Brandon plant until Aug. 10 at the earliest.
“Until we have more results from the outstanding tests among our members at Maple Leaf,” Traeger said.
One worker at the plant tested positive over the weekend and the union said three new cases Wednesday are non-production staff.
The union represents nearly 2,000 people at the pork plant.
Meat-processing plants were the epicentre of some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada outside of care homes. Hundreds of people tested positive during outbreaks at two southern Alberta beef-processing plants this spring.
There were three deaths linked to the Cargill plant in High River, Alta. It shut down for two weeks before reopening at reduced capacity. The JBS Canada plant in Brooks, Alta., operated with just a single shift each day for a full month.
Maple Leaf said in an email that a response plan was immediately implemented following the positive tests at the Brandon facility. The company said it appears likely the employees contracted COVID-19 in the community.
However, several employees were asked to self-quarantine.
All employees are given a daily health screening and have their temperatures monitored, the company said. Employees are also supplied personal protective equipment and are required to social distance.
“We will continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working,” the email from Maple Leaf said.
COVID-19 cases in Manitoba had remained relatively low, with a current total of 474, but there has recently been an increase in infections.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the union had sent him a letter requesting the government conduct a full health inspection of the Brandon plant. He said it will be left to public health experts to make determinations about safety.
“We are not there in this case yet.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
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