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The pros and cons of online booking portals for COVID-19 vaccines once mass immunization begins – CBC.ca

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Most provinces and territories will be using online portals to sign Canadians up for COVID-19 vaccinations as they become more widely available next month, according to a survey by CBC News.

Every province that has shared their plans will use some online sign-up, as will Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The option to book by phone will be available across Canada, and Nunavut is scheduling vaccination appointments strictly by phone.

While vaccinations started back in December 2020, what’s soon changing is the pace and distribution list — from targetted high-risk groups like seniors in long-term care, to the general population, starting with the oldest first in many jurisdictions.

“That is absolutely what we need to be doing,” said epidemiologist Kirsten Fiest, the Director of Research & Innovation in Critical Care Medicine and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary. 

“I think the efficiency piece is really the most critical.”

But, while health officials and independent experts agree online appointment booking sites will be essential to managing a mass vaccination campaign, they’ve also raised problematic questions of equity in parts of the U.S.

WATCH | Some say online vaccine portals could shut out most vulnerable:

As vaccinations ramp up in Canada, many provinces are talking about using online portals to help organize and register people for their shots. But some people worry that the Canadians who are most vulnerable and have the greatest need for the vaccine could end up getting lower priority. 2:01

Stories in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post have documented how online booking has prevented senior citizens, racialized individuals and poor people from getting fair access to vaccination. In some cases activists have stepped in to book shots for those who lack tech savviness, struggle with communication or cannot afford the devices, data plans or internet service.     

The problems seen south of the border concern Fiest.

“You have to worry that something similar could happen here.”  

Kirsten Fiest, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary beliieves online portals to sign up for COVID-19 vaccination will be an essential part of the mass immunization effort, because they’re efficient — but not without problems. (Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary)

 

Cross-country picture for online portals  

While neither Newfoundland and Labrador nor New Brunswick would confirm plans for online booking options, slots for coronavirus immunizations can already be reserved through web sites in PEI, and the Northwest Territories.   

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta told CBC News they intend to offer web-based sign ups, without providing a timeline.

Quebec, Ontario, and B.C all say they’ll launch online sites for booking vaccination relatively soon.  

Quebec said its site could be online before the end of the month. 

Ontario said it has successfully tested a scheduling site it developed with three American companies in January, but the province’s Ministry of Health would only say it expected to launch it “in the coming weeks.”   

B.C. said its booking site will be launched to the public in March, and has released sample images of the COVID-19 immunization record card citizens will receive.  

British Columbia says it will have an online portal open in March for COVID-19 vaccinations for the general population. People will have the option to receive a paper record of their vaccination, like the one above, and a digital record. (Government of B.C.)

Online booking portals currently running in Yukon and Nova Scotia were built by CANImmunize, the Ottawa based tech firm co-founded by Dr. Kumanan Wilson, an internal medicine physician and senior scientist at Ottawa Hospital.

CANImmunize started out as an app for tracking vaccine records a decade ago, and was supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The company has expanded its scope offering more services to help fight the pandemic because “this will be the largest mass healthcare intervention in our lifetime,” said Wilson, “and probably the most important.” 

Wilson says CANImmunize is in talks with other provinces interested in its tech, but declined to name them.

Dr. Kumanan Wilson, an internal medicine physician at Ottawa Hospital is also co-Founder of CANImmunize, the company that created online vaccine sign-up portals for Nova Scotia and Yukon. Wilson says vaccinating people for COVID-19 ‘will be the largest mass healthcare intervention in our lifetime.’ (Kim Barnhadt/CANImmunize)

 

Perpetuating the ‘digital divide’  

With millions of Canadians clamouring for COVID-19 vaccines, using technology to help facilitate booking shots will make the process more convenient for many Canadians and more efficient for health departments.  

“I think that we have a mass vaccination strategy that will work for a lot of people,” said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a physician and the CEO of the Wellesley Institute, a non-profit group in Toronto that works in research and policy issues to improve health equity.  

“The problem is that there are some people who are at highest risk that it won’t work for at all.”

Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist and CEO of the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based think-tank that advises on policy for more equitable health care in urban communities. He’s concerned the process to sign-up for vaccines might make existing inequities worse. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

 

McKenzie is concerned the mass vaccination campaigns across Canada built on the power of online booking portals will perpetuate the country’s “digital divide.”  

He says the seniors, racialized groups, low income groups, and people with disabilities who have been at higher risk of getting COVID-19, are exactly the same groups who are less likely to have computers, broadband, and be “digitally savvy.”

Having call centres for phone bookings isn’t a fix-all, he said, if people using pay-as-you-go credits end up on hold for hours.  

“That could be all your credits for a week,” he said, “and the most likely scenario is that you’d use your credits before you got through. And that’s your opportunity gone.”

He also points to Statistics Canada data that shows about 20 per cent of Canadians have a mother tongue other than English or French. 

Bookings in Canada’s official languages, said McKenzie, could present challenges not just for younger  people new to Canada from places like South Asia or Africa, but also for some older Canadians from places like Italy, Portugal or Ukraine, who still function primarily in their first languages. 

Alternatives for access

McKenzie wants to see vaccination slots proactively held back for those who will struggle to book online or by phone. 

He believes community outreach for at-risk groups should be coupled with no-appointment-necessary walk-up vaccination sites in targeted areas.

In Canada, we say diversity is our strength … that means that we need a diverse vaccine roll out strategy to meet the needs of that diverse population.– Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO The Wellesley Institute

He also said on-the-job immunization clinics for essential workers should be part of vaccine access.        

“In Canada, we say diversity is our strength. And that’s something I believe, but that means that we need a diverse vaccine roll out strategy to meet the needs of that diverse population.”  

Several provinces have announced plans for mobile vaccination clinics, “focused immunizations teams” and community clinics set up by local public health units to reach vulnerable groups. 

Fiest believes provinces will have to be careful that “whatever system is going to be rolled out is not making health inequities worse.”  

A long process and public patience running low  

A number of questions have poured into the CBC News COVID@cbc.ca email address in recent days from Canadians anxious for specifics about when and how they can sign up for vaccination. 

Linda O’Neil of Barrie, Ont., is one of them. 

Linda O’Neil of Barrie, Ont., is concerned about when and how she’ll be able to get a COVID-19 vaccination booking for her mother, who is in her late 80s. (Submitted by Linda O’Neil)

 

She’s worried about getting a booking for her mother, who’s in her late 80s. 

“It’s just really frustrating, because my feeling is they’ve had quite a few weeks to be able to prepare this plan,” said O’Neil. 

“So I’m just looking to have it publicized now that the vaccine is starting to come in.”

While O’Neil and millions more wait for details from their provinces, Wilson sees a silver lining in COVID-19 accelerating what he sees as overdue technological change in Canada’s medical system. He acknowledges that older Canadians and others may need help figuring out how online registration works.

“In my mind for immunization, an individual, the health care provider, and the government would have the same immunization information in real time,” he said “that’s probably true for immunization, but also for all of our health care.” 

 

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Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more

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The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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Vaccines donated by the United States and China

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Both the United States and China have pledged large donations of COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. Washington has promised 80 million doses, three-quarters of which will be delivered via the international vaccine initiative COVAX, in what has been seen as an effort to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy. It began deliveries last week.

China had shipped vaccines to 66 countries in the form of aid, according to state news agency Xinhua. Beijing has not disclosed an overall figure for its donations but Reuters calculations based on publicly available data show at least 16.57 million doses have been delivered. China has also pledged to supply 10 million doses to COVAX.

VACCINES DONATED BY U.S. (plan for the first 25 mln):

Regional partners and priority recipients

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Including Canada, Mexico, 1 mln to S.Korea in June

South Korea, West Bank and

Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo,

Haiti, Georgia, Egypt,

Jordan, India, Iraq, Yemen,

United Nations

TOTAL 6 mln 1 mln

Allocations through COVAX

South and Central America

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Brazil, Argentina, Colombia,

Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador,

Paraguay, Bolivia,

Guatemala, El Salvador,

Honduras, Panama, Haiti,

Dominican Republic and other

Caribbean Community

(CARICOM) countries

TOTAL 6 mln

Asia

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

India, Nepal, Bangladesh,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka,

Afghanistan, Maldives,

Malaysia, Philippines,

Vietnam, Indonesia,

Thailand, Laos, Papua New

Guinea, Taiwan, and the

Pacific Islands

TOTAL 7 mln

Africa

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

To be selected in

coordination with the

African Union

TOTAL 5 mln

VACCINES DONATED BY CHINA (source – Reuters calculations and official data):

Asia Pacific

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Afghanistan 400,000

Bangladesh Second batch of First batch of 500,000 delivered

600,000 on May 12

Brunei 52,000 in Feb

Cambodia 1.7 mln as of April 28

Kyrgyzstan 150,000 in March

Laos 300,000 in Feb

800,000 in late March

300,000 in late April

Maldives 200,000 in early March

Mongolia 300,000 in late February

Myanmar 500,000 in early May

Nepal 800,000 in late March

1 mln in early June

Pakistan 500,000 in early Feb

250,000 in Feb

500,000 in March

Philippines 600,000 in late Feb

400,000 in late March

Sri Lanka 600,000 at end March

500,000 in late May

Thailand 500,000 in May

500,000 in June

Timor-Leste 100,000 100,000 in early June

TOTAL 11.052 million

Africa

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Angola 200,000 in late March

Algeria 200,000 200,000 in Feb

Botswana 200,000 in April

Cameroon 200,000 in April

Congo 100,000 100,000 in March

Egypt 600,000 in March

Ethiopia 300,000 in late March

Equatorial Guinea 100,000 in Feb

Guinea 200,000 in early March

Mozambique 200,000 in late Feb

Namibia 100,000 by early April

Niger 400,000 in late March

Sierra Leone 240,000 by late May

Togo 200,000 in April

Uganda 300,000

Zimbabwe 200,000 in Feb

200,000 in March

100,000 in May

TOTAL 3.74 million

South America

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Bolivia 100,000 in late Feb

100,000 in late March

Venezuela 500,000 in early March

TOTAL 700,000

Europe & Middle East

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Belarus 100,000 in Feb

300,000 in May

Georgia 100,000 at end April

Iran 250,000 at end February

Iraq 50,000 in early March

Montenegro 30,000 in early March

North Macedonia 100,000 in May

Syria 150,000 in late April

TOTAL 1.08 million

 

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Cooper Inveen in Dakar; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Coronavirus Worldwide right now

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Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus now:

Australia’s Melbourne to exit lockdown

Australia’s second largest city Melbourne will exit a hard lockdown as planned on Thursday night, Victoria state authorities said, although some restrictions on travel and gatherings would likely remain for another week.

After two weeks in a strict lockdown that forced people to remain at home except for essential business, Melbourne’s five million residents will get more freedom to step outside from 11:59 p.m. local time (1359 GMT) on Thursday.

However, people must stay within 25 km (15 miles) of their homes, officials said, in an effort to stop transmission during an upcoming long weekend. There will also be a total ban on house gatherings and masks will be mandatory indoors.

Deliveries of Thai-made AstraZeneca vaccines delayed

Malaysia and Taiwan are expecting deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in Thailand to be delayed, officials said, the latest countries to report a holdup with orders from the Thai plant.

The delay comes amid concerns over AstraZeneca’s distribution plans in Southeast Asia, which depends on 200 million doses made by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand’s king that is making vaccines for the first time.

Any questions about Siam Bioscience meeting production targets are sensitive because King Maha Vajiralongkorn is its sole owner. Insulting Thailand’s monarchy is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Indonesia aims to speed up vaccinations

President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday he hoped Indonesia’s vaccination rollout will hit one million shots a day by July, as authorities opened up inoculations to anyone aged over 18 in Jakarta to contain increased transmission in the capital.

Health officials in the world’s fourth most populous country, which aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people by next year, are trying to speed up the rollout after facing some supply issues.

The president said he wanted vaccinations to hit a targeted 700,000 doses a day this month and then rise again.

Singapore finds Delta most prevalent among variants

Singapore has found the Delta variant of the coronavirus to be the most prevalent among local cases of variants of concern (VOCs), according to health ministry data, highlighting its level of infectiousness.

There were 449 local cases with VOCs as of May 31, of which 428 were the Delta variant first detected in India and nine of the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Singapore reported its 34th death due to COVID-19, taking its toll from the pandemic beyond the 33 casualties recorded during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

U.S. forming expert groups on lifting travel restrictions

The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Another U.S. official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work.

The groups will be led by the White House COVID Response Team and the National Security Council and include the Centers for Disease Control and other U.S. agencies.

 

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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