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Top doctor ‘dreading’ possibility that COVID variants will take off in B.C. – Pentiction Western News

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Although B.C. has only had 40 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 variants first discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is “dreading” if those variants begin to spread like wildfire.

“It does change the game in some ways if starts to take off and become dominant in the community,” Henry said. “I think all of us are dreading that.”

She said that the variants’ appearances in B.C. has taken the public health sector back to January and February of last year, where every single cases was being tracked and managed closely to attempt to stop the virus from gaining a foothold in the province. Henry noted that in some parts of Ontario the variants are “spreading quite widely and it’s having impacts that we saw are quite devastating..” That province announced plans to begin loosening stay-at-home orders on Wednesday.

“We’re doing all we can to stop it from taking off again,” she said. “We need to get a handle on it… this is one of the main reasons we’re extending the restrictions here in B.C.”

Henry said that if those variants become prevalent in B.C., “we need to put in place measures that would restrict our contacts again.” She said that genome sequencing is ongoing to catch as many variant cases as possible, but that it is slower than simple testing.

“It can lead us to a brand new charge of increased numbers of cases if we don’t keep doing what we’re doing,” Henry said.

There have been a total of 40 cases of the U.K. (B117) and South African (B1351) variants of the novel coronavirus, both of which are considered to be more transmissible. Of those, 25 are have been the U.K. variant, broken down by region: 15 in Fraser Health, five in Vancouver Coastal Health, four in Island Health and one in Interior Health. Of the 15 cases of the South African variant, there have been 13 in Vancouver Coastal Health and two in Fraser Health.

Henry said four cases of the South African cases are “particularly concerning,” because it’s unclear how those individuals got infected with that variant. Only three cases of the 40 total confirmed variant cases are still active.

Overall, the provincial health officer said that most of the variant cases are among younger people who are more likely to travel.

“We aren’t seeing seeing severe illness in the number that we’ve identified so far, nobody has been hospitalized,” she added. “There has been some transmission between close contacts, particularly within households.”

In terms of whether or not the current crop of mRNA vaccines will work on the new variants, Henry said officials are watching studies closely. The AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine, which does not use mRNA technology, has been suspended in South Africa after officials there began to believe it’s not effected for that variant.

Henry said it looks like the mRNA vaccines might have to be adjusted for the South African variant, but likely not for the U.K. one.

READ MORE: Henry says COVID vaccine supply to increase in February; total cases top 70,000


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'We need this:' Getting COVID-19 vaccine to remote and urban Indigenous populations – Kamloops This Week

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Chief Chris Moonias looked into a web camera as he prepared to get a COVID-19 vaccine just after precious doses arrived in his northern Ontario community.

“I’m coming to you live from Neskantaga First Nation community centre where our vaccines will be administered,” a jovial Moonias, wearing a blue disposable mask, said during a Facebook live video at the start of February.

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Moonias was first to get the vaccine in the fly-in Oji-Cree First Nation on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake north of Thunder Bay.

The vaccine had arrived by plane earlier in the day after weeks of planning, and the chief’s video was part of a campaign to get community members on board.

Moonias said in an interview that he had done his own research, had spoken with medical professionals and wasn’t concerned about getting the shot.

About 88 per cent of eligible on-reserve members have since received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Second doses are to arrive Monday.

However, earlier this week, the reserve declared a state of emergency due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with some cases linked to the Thunder Bay District Jail.

Moonias said four off-reserve members in Thunder Bay, all under the age of 40 — including his nephew — have died. And he’s worried about the 200 other members who live off the reserve — almost the same number as those on the reserve — and when they’ll get inoculated.

“I even thought about flying my peopleup… to get the vaccine,” said Moonias, who added it’s unlikely to be an option because of cost.

Canada is in the midst of the largest vaccine rollout in its history. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Indigenous populations much harder and Ottawa says they are a priority for vaccinations.

The actual distribution remains complex and varied across the country.

Neskantaga is one of 31 fly-in First Nations included in Operation Remote Immunity, part of the first phase of Ontario’s vaccination rollout. The operation was developed with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ornge, the province’s air ambulance service. The goal is to provide mass vaccinations by April 30 and it is having early successes.

There are challenges getting the vaccine to remote First Nations and questions about distribution for urban Indigenous populations.

The Assembly of First Nations says most Indigenous communities haven’t received sufficient supply to extend doses to their off-reserve members. The National Association of Friendship Centres says there is no national vaccination plan for urban Indigenous people.

There’s also concern there is no national plan to tackle decades of mistrust created by systemic racism and experimentation on Indigenous people.

There are many examples throughout Canadian history of scientists sponsored by the federal government or the government itself doing medical experiments on Indigenous people, including children, who were the subject of a tuberculosis vaccine trial in Saskatchewan that began in the 1930s.

Ontario New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the electoral district of Kiiwetinoong, said some constituents tell him they are scared to take the vaccine. They don’t trust it.

He has been travelling to communities to help promote it and received his first dose alongside members of Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation.

Community engagement has been key in vaccine uptake, Mamakwa said. Promotion begins weeks before vaccine teams arrive and includes radio campaigns, social media posts and live online question-and-answer sessions.

It’s about giving people information, he said.

“One of the only ways out of this pandemic is the vaccine,” said Wade Durham, Ornge’s chief operating officer, who added it’s key to have Indigenous people involved in vaccine planning.

Each First Nation in Operation Remote Immunity has a community member responsible for answering questions and setting up a vaccination site. Immunization teams are required to take cultural training and, when possible, include Indigenous medical professionals and language speakers.

Indigenous Services Canada said it is aware that a history of colonization and systemic racism has caused mistrust, so campaigns are being developed specifically for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.

Michelle Driedger, a Metis professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, said experience has shown that stakes are high when it comes to Indigenous communities.

During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the Public Health Agency of Canada prioritized vaccines by geography. A main lesson learned was to increase Indigenous representation at decision-making tables, she said.

At the time, Indigenous people were over-represented in hospitalizations and intensive care stays, as well as in deaths. Those living in remote and isolated communities experienced worse outcomes.

Driedger said the vaccine response is better now, but there is “rational skepticism.” There needs to be a transparent vaccination plan for Indigenous communities — no matter where they are, she said.

The Matawa First Nations tribal council said its four communities reachable by road are not getting the same vaccine access as its five fly-in ones, and more needs to be done.

Provincial officials have said that remote First Nations received priority for the vaccine rollout because of less access to on-site health care and increased health risks. Chief Rick Allen from Constance Lake First Nation has said the vaccine needs to go where the outbreaks are.

Back in Neskantaga, Moonias said he’ll do anything he can to protect anyone he can.

He continues to give updates about his vaccination. In another Facebook video posted soon after he received his shot, the chief gave a thumbs-up and said he had no pain or discomfort.

“We need this. We need to beat this virus.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2021.

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This story was produced through the Journalists for Human Rights Indigenous Reporters Program under the mentorship of The Canadian Press, with funding from the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch.

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One-third of new virus cases in north of province – Winnipeg Free Press

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As case counts, hospitalizations and test positivity rates continue to trend downwards across the province, northern Manitoba continues to take on the brunt of the province’s COVID-19 cases, with more than a third of new cases identified in the region.

The province reported 90 new cases of COVID-19 and four new deaths as of Saturday morning.

Of the new cases 37 were identified in the Northern health region, with an additional 34 in Winnipeg, eight cases each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern Health regions, and three cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The number of confirmed B.1.1.7 variant of concern cases in the province remains at five.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate continues to dip closer to three per cent — the number health officials indicated could lead to looser restrictions — reaching 3.7 percent provincially and 3.2 per cent in Winnipeg.

Public health officials said Thursday loosened restrictions will be considered in two phases as early as March 5, with the second phase to come Mar. 26.

Manitoba completed 1,861 tests Friday, bringing the total number of lab tests since last February to 523,507.

The total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Manitoba is 31,809, with 1,208 cases listed as active and 29,708 individuals who have recovered from the virus.

The COVID-19 related deaths reported Saturday include two women in their 80s, and a man and woman in their 90s, all from the Winnipeg health region.

The total number of virus-related deaths in the province is now 893.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to improve, too. The province announced 69 people are currently in hospital with active cases of the virus, with an additional 120 people in hospital who are considered no longer infectious but still require care for a total 189 hospitalizations.

There are 11 people in intensive care units with active COVID-19 and 16 people who are no longer infectious but continue to require critical care for a total of 27 ICU patients, the province said.

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

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Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies – Arab News

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JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.

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