Despite the temporary shutdown of a Pfizer plant in Belgium and threats from the European Union to limit export of COVID-19 vaccines, Canada should still have enough doses by the fall to inoculate every Canadian who wants the vaccine, several experts say.
However, the bigger challenge will likely be the logistics of ensuring that more than 35 million Canadians will have received shots by that time — a target set out by the Liberal government.
“Is it feasible? Yes, but certainly it’s going to take a monumental effort,” said Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at Winnipeg’s University of Manitoba.
“Vaccines don’t necessarily equal vaccinations,” he said. “Getting vaccine into the country is one [thing].
“But it’s getting it out of essentially storage areas and freezers and getting those vaccines into the arms of people where we’ve certainly had some questions.”
‘Very confident’ despite setback
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was “very confident” that it would meet its end-of-September goal of vaccinating every Canadian who wants to be inoculated.
He made those comments to reporters as the European Union has threatened to impose export controls on vaccines leaving the 27-member bloc to ensure supply on the continent. The proposal would require companies to seek approval before shipping vaccines to countries outside the EU, including Canada.
WATCH | Trudeau says vaccine shots will continue to arrive:
How that could impact Canada’s vaccination plans will depend on how stringently the EU will appy these new dictates, said Ross Upshur, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“If they’re serious, they’re going to be vetting what sorts of exports are carried out by Pfizer and other vaccine makers, then this could be a real impediment to the rollout of the planned vaccinations.”
Meanwhile vaccine deliveries to Canada are grinding to a halt this week due to a temporary shutdown at Pfizer’s plant in Belgium. That matters, because while Ottawa has signed deals for millions of doses of vaccines from several groups of developers, only two vaccines are currently approved for use in Canada: one produced jointly by Pfizer-BioNTech and another from Moderna.
Canada was expecting 366,000 doses of the Pfizer product to be delivered next week. Just 79,000 are now slated to arrive as the company retools its Belgium plant to improve productivity and pump out more shots than originally planned.
The temporary shut down raises questions as to whether there will be any additional or unforeseen delays that arise with shipments and supply, considering the vaccine is being shipped around the globe, Kindrachuk said
Potential new vaccines on horizon
Those kinds of setbacks are to be expected, said Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor of health law and policy at the University of Calgary. As well, she said, there can be issues with production or obtaining raw materials.
“I think it’s certainly not impossible that we could run into stumbling blocks that would set us back. But it does still seem to be a reasonable forecast at this point that that [the government target] will happen by the fall.”
Still, the temporary nature of the plant closure, combined with the potential for new vaccines to become available is cause for optimism, she said.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already in use in the UK, could be approved in Canada in the near future. And Johnson & Johnson is set to release its COVID-19 vaccine data next week.
“We have contracts with them and if Health Canada gives the green light, it’ll just make it even that much easier to achieve those goals and we’ll be able to achieve those goals faster,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of the Ont. government’s vaccine distribution task force.
However, even with just the two vaccines approved in Canada so far, he said it’s very realistic that we meet the Liberal government’s target.
Of course, if Pfizer or Moderna stopped shipping their vaccines to Canada for whatever reason, and it’s more than just a temporary slowdown, then “that certainly could jeopardize those deadlines,” Bogoch said.
“If the companies make good on their contracts, we will still be OK.”
Even with the delay, Pfizer is still expected to fulfill its first-quarter contract, “which means we would still get the same amount of vaccines,” he said.
Logistics of delivery
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University, said just between the two vaccines expected to ship to Canada, there will be enough for every individual by fall.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said.
But Chagla agreed with Kindrachuk that the stumbling block could be getting that supply into the arms of Canadians by the government’s target date.
“Getting 30 million Canadians vaccinated in a six month span is unheard of,” he said.
“I think that’s probably the bigger liability in terms of that September deadline, is the implementation sides of all of it rather than necessarily the actual supply chain.”
Kindrachuk said the size of Canada, including the northern regions and under-served communities still present logistical vaccination challenges.
“When we think about distribution, it’s not necessarily easy to do that. We have a massive area to try to cover,” he said.
He said it’s still unclear what structure and protocols will be used from region to region that will allow the vaccines to be distributed. Some provinces have been very forthcoming, others not.
“We really have to have things completely aligning for us to get this done by the fall,” he said.
Parliamentary committee to start report on expanding eligibility for assisted dying
OTTAWA — A special joint parliamentary committee will now consider its report on current legislation on assisted death and whether to expand who is eligible to opt for it.
The committee of MPs and senators is considering whether medically assisted dying should be expanded to people solely suffering from mental illness and mature minors.
It is also considering whether it should let people opt in to assisted dying in advance before they lose the mental capacity to do so.
The committee was also tasked with studying a host of associated issues, such as the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities.
It will begin drafting its report based on its findings.
The government already agreed in Bill C-7 passed last March to lift the current ban on assisted dying for those suffering solely from mental illness in 2023.
It set up a separate panel of experts to advise on the rules that should apply in those cases and the panel made 19 recommendations in a report tabled earlier this month.
The government’s work on the legislation is under scrutiny as critics say the law has unforeseen effects, amid reports of people opting for a medically assisted death because of inadequate care or resources.
The Liberals faced criticism last year for proceeding with amendments to the law — in response to a Quebec court ruling, which struck down the requirement that a person’s death be “reasonably foreseeable” — without having even launched the promised review.
Meanwhile, the Quebec government is removing a section of its end-of-life care bill that would have allowed quadriplegics and people with cerebral palsy to receive an assisted death.
Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters that opposition parties expressed concern with the bill, which was tabled Wednesday, because the question of extending medical aid in dying to people with neuromuscular disorders was never debated in the province.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press
Monkeypox: 26 cases now confirmed in Canada – CTV News
There are now 26 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Canada, and the virus has been detected in a new province, according to an update from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
In Thursday’s update, PHAC stated that over the past week, it had confirmed 25 cases of monkeypox in Quebec.
Now, it has confirmed a case of monkeypox in Ontario as well, the first case in a province outside of Quebec.
“Our understanding of the virus is still evolving, but I want to emphasize this is a global response,” Dr. Howard Njoo, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, said in the update.
Toronto Public Health stated Thursday that they have confirmed one case in Toronto, and are also investigating several suspected and probable cases.
“It is likely that additional cases will be reported in the coming days as the [National Microbiology Laboratory] is continuing to receive samples for confirmatory testing from multiple jurisdictions,” PHAC said in a written statement Thursday evening.
Monkeypox is a rare virus from the same family as smallpox, with symptoms including fever, muscle aches, skin rashes, swollen lymph nodes and headache, among others.
Canadians should be aware of the symptoms, Njoo said, and limit contact with others and seek medical attention particularly if they have an unexplained rash, one of the more recognizable symptoms.
The incubation period — the span of time between initial infection and seeing symptoms — for monkeypox is generally 6-13 days, but can range to as many as 21 days, according to PHAC.
Spread occurs through close contact with an infected individual, usually through contact with an infected person’s fluids, open sores or large “respiratory droplets”, Njoo said, as well as through shared contaminated objects.
He emphasized that although the risk to Canadians is currently low, anyone is capable of contracting this virus.
Because smallpox was eradicated in 1980, many people do not already have the smallpox vaccine, which provides some protection, which means the “whole Canadian population is susceptible to [monkeypox].”
“Contrary to recent media reports, this virus does not discriminate and is not limited to spread from sexual activity,” he said.
Because the virus spreads through close contact, this obviously includes sexual activity, Njoo said, but it’s important to note that sexual contact is far from the only way the disease is spread, and it can infect anyone — it’s not limited to one specific demographic.
“Anyone who is engaged in close contact with someone who is infected with monkeypox is certainly susceptible to infection,” Njoo said.
“At the present time, it appears to be circulating in specific communities.”
Many of the current individuals who are infected with the virus are men who have sex with other men, who are believed to have contracted the virus through sexual contact with an infected individual.
Officials are working with community organizations to spread awareness to those who may be at an elevated risk currently, Njoo said.
He added that incorrectly viewing this virus as purely sexually transmitted, or a disease only affecting a certain group, can lead to stigmatization and “misunderstanding of risks, and negative health outcomes.”
PHAC stated that they are focusing on a “targeted approach to vaccination and treatment”, and do not believe a mass vaccination campaign is necessary.
They have already supplied Quebec with 1,000 doses of the smallpox vaccine Imvamune from Canada’s National Emergency Strategic Stockpile. Due to the similarity between the viruses, the smallpox vaccine can provide around 85 per cent efficacy in protecting recipients from monkeypox as well, according to the World Health Organization.
They’re also looking at the use of the antiviral Tecovirimat (TPOXX), an oral capsule designed to treat smallpox, which was approved by Health Canada last fall.
Monkeypox is endemic in animals in regions in Western Africa, and can sometimes transmit from animals to humans, often through a bite from an infected animal, with the first human case recorded in 1970.
While monkeypox has popped up in countries where it is not endemic before, the cases typically involved people who recently travelled from a country in Africa where the virus is endemic.
What is unusual right now is that officials in numerous countries that don’t usually deal with monkeypox are seeing cases where the patient has no travel history, Njoo said.
Prior to this month, monkeypox had never been detected in Canada.
He added that clinicians on the ground are seeing variety between cases — some patients have not presented with a rash on their face, the common location for this symptom, and instead have just had rashes around their genitals.
“They’re not all similar in how they’re presenting,” he said.
Co-operating with international partners will help Canadian officials keep track of the virus and whether it is evolving, he said.
Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory is continuing to do testing on samples to track the spread and keep Canadians updated on risk level if the virus continues to progress.
“We will provide updates to the public as new emerging information becomes available,” Njoo said.
More guidance on case identification and contact tracing, along with infection prevention, will be released shortly, PHAC stated.
Guilbeault ‘optimistic’ G7 climate ministers will agree to gradually phase out coal
MONTREAL — Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday he’s “very optimistic” this week’s meeting of G7 climate and energy ministers will produce a consensus to gradually phase out the use of coal.
Ministers and senior officials from the G7 countries are holding a three-day meeting in Berlin during which they will seek to agree on common targets for the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, which scientists say is urgently needed to curb climate change.
Guilbeault told The Canadian Press from the German capital that he is insisting “on the importance of strong international action to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and ensure that the 1.5°C warming target remains achievable.”
Guilbeault said he thinks his counterparts in the Group of Seven countries — the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Japan — agree with him that “we need to reduce, even eliminate the use of coal.”
But, he said, “it remains to be seen where we will land precisely.” The ministers need to publish a communiqué on Friday, at the conclusion of the meeting. And there have been reports that Japan and the United States are pushing back against having anything firm about reducing coal in the wording of the document.
Robert Habeck, German minister for economic affairs and climate action, said on Thursday that G7 countries “can perhaps take on a certain pioneering role to push forward ending the use of coal for electricity and in decarbonizing the transport system.”
G7 members Britain, France and Italy have set deadlines to stop burning coal for electricity in the next few years, while Germany and Canada are aiming for 2030. Japan wants more time, and the Biden administration has set a target of ending fossil fuel use for electricity generation in the United States by 2035.
Guilbeault, meanwhile, said the G7 doesn’t intend to sacrifice climate goals to fill the gap in fossil fuels entering Europe caused by sanctions levied on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. He said the the climate ministers recognize they “cannot sacrifice the fight against climate change in the name of energy security, and the members of the G7 are unanimous and unequivocal on this.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Stéphane Blais, The Canadian Press
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