Canadians should be able to receive their vaccinations against COVID-19 sooner now that deliveries of vaccine doses ordered by the federal government are speeding up.
Ottawa announced today that millions of additional vaccine doses are expected to arrive from three approved vaccine makers over the spring.
Pfizer-BioNTech agreed to move up delivery of five million vaccine doses to Canada from late summer to June following negotiations with the federal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference in Ottawa today.
The accelerated timeline means the pharmaceutical giant now plans to ship 17.8 million doses between April and June — more than a million doses each week in April and May and another two million per week in June.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand also said the first doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine will arrive at the end of April. While the exact amounts and dates for the Johnson & Johnson product remain in flux, it’s the first indication of a delivery schedule since that vaccine was approved by Health Canada over three weeks ago.
Canada also will receive an additional 4.4 million additional doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine by the end of June, Anand said. Those doses will come from the manufacturer itself, the Serum Institute of India and the COVAX global vaccine initiative.
“As we’ve been saying for months, and as we’ve been planning with provinces and territories since last year, the end of March will be followed by an increase in vaccine supply,” Trudeau said.
“We now have handily exceeded our promised target of six million doses delivered before April. And this week, we begin our ramp-up phase.”
WATCH: Procurement minister says Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive in Canada at end of April
More than 3.2 million doses are expected to arrive this week alone, bringing the total number of doses delivered to Canada since vaccinations began in December to 9.5 million.
Almost half of the doses arriving this week come from a shipment of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine that landed today from the United States — one day after provinces suspended its use in people under the age of 55.
Without counting the Johnson & Johnson doses, Anand said Canada is on track to receive 44 million doses of vaccine by Canada Day.
That amount is more than enough to provide one dose to the 31 million Canadians over the age of 16.
But Trudeau also issued a warning that Canadians need to “stay strong a little longer” as case counts and hospitalizations rise across the country, driven by more transmissible variants of the coronavirus. He asked Canadians not to gather or have parties over the Easter/Passover weekend.
“We’re entering the final stretch of this crisis,” Trudeau said. “I know it’s not easy but, together, we will get through this.”
Provinces limit use of AstraZeneca-Oxford
The promise of more doses this spring comes as some warn that people may be hesitant to take the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine because of the confusion caused by changing advice about its safety.
The panel of scientific experts that advises the federal government on immunization policy recommended pausing the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine among people under the age of 55 yesterday. It’s a precautionary measure in response to possible links between the vaccine and rare but severe instances of blood clots in some immunized patients — notably younger women.
Dr. Shelley Deeks, the vice-chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), said the recommendation came after new data from Europe suggested the risk of severe blood clots could be up to one in 100,000 — much higher than the one in one million risk reported before.
Health Canada has ordered AstraZeneca to conduct a study of the risks and benefits of its COVID-19 vaccine across multiple age groups and by sex. NACI’s recommendation will remain in place while that study is completed.
The recommendation marked the third time NACI altered its guidance on the vaccine in the past month. It prompted provinces and territories to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford in the under-55 age group.
WATCH: AstraZeneca guidance change ‘precautionary,’ says federal government adviser
Today, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the changing recommendations are the result of evolving science.
“The advice on any medication or vaccine can evolve over time and I think Canadians should be reassured that we have systems in place to detect safety [issues] and then analyze them,” said Tam.
Tam said some rare events following vaccination only become apparent after millions of vaccines are administered in the real world. She added that all decisions and guidance from public health officials have been shaped by the “data at hand” and that Canadians can be confident in the vaccines that have been approved.
“This is a rapidly moving pandemic and the vaccines are being put in place after very good clinical trials, but we will obviously continue to see data evolve,” said Tam.
“That’s only to make sure that we have the best, most safe and effective vaccines.”
No blood clots linked to the vaccine have been reported in Canada. About 309,000 doses have been given in Canada to date from the initial shipment of 500,000 two weeks ago. Many provinces initially reserved those doses for people in their 50s and early 60s.
WATCH: Trudeau discusses impact AstraZeneca restrictions could have on overall vaccine rollout
Trudeau urged Canadians to accept the first vaccine that becomes available to them.
“The bottom line for Canadians is the right vaccine for you to take is the very first vaccine that you are offered,” he said.
Supply of vaccines unreliable, Ontario’s Premier Ford says
Despite today’s announcement of doses to come, some provinces say they are experiencing a short-term supply crunch.
In an email on Tuesday afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office said the province is still waiting for a shipment of 225,400 Moderna doses that has been delayed until Apr. 7.
The province also expects to receive 583,400 of the AstraZeneca-Oxford doses that arrived today. But the U.S. manufacturing facilities where they were produced still require Health Canada approval and the doses cannot be used until that approval is granted.
“Our ability to get needles into arms grows by the day, but the supply of vaccines isn’t keeping up with our ability to deliver them,” Ford said today. “We simply don’t have enough vaccines or a guarantee when we will get them.”
In an interview airing on CBC’s Power & Politics this evening, Anand pushed back.
“The claim that we don’t have a steady supply coming into the country is completely false,” said Anand.
“The reality is that supply of vaccine outpaces the administration that the provinces are undertaking, and so as these vaccine deliveries ramp up … we’re going to need the provinces and territories to really ramp up as well.”
Nigerian separatist leader Kanu denies terrorism charges in court hearing
Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu pleaded not guilty to charges including terrorism in an Abuja court on Thursday, three months after his trial was delayed when authorities failed to produce him in court.
The charges against Kanu, a British citizen, also included calling for secession, knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari, and membership of an outlawed group.
The military considers Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) a terrorist organization.
IPOB wants a swathe of the southeast, homeland of the Igbo ethnic group, to split from Nigeria. An attempt to secede in 1967 as the Republic of Biafra triggered a three-year civil war that killed more than 1 million people.
Security services barred journalists from entering the court and forcibly dispersed crowds of supporters who gathered nearby.
In selfies with his lawyer circulating in local media, Kanu looked healthy and in good spirits.
Kanu was first arrested in 2015, but disappeared while on bail in April 2017. His social media posts during his absence, and his Radio Biafra broadcasts, outraged the government, which they said encouraged attacks on security forces.
Security agents produced him in court in Abuja on June 29 after detaining him in an undisclosed country. His lawyer alleged he was detained and mistreated in Kenya, though Kenya has denied involvement.
Kanu has filed charges alleging that he was illegally taken from Kenya and asking that he be repatriated to Britain.
On Thursday, his lawyers also asked, unsuccessfully, for Kanu to be transferred to the Nigerian Correctional Centre instead of the state security custody for easier access to his lawyers.
Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said they have an application challenging the competence of the underlying charges, most of which reference Radio Biafra broadcasts made out of London.
“I can’t see how someone would make a statement in London and it becomes a triable offence in this country,” Ejiofor told reporters.
The trial was adjourned until Nov. 10.
(Additional reporting by Abraham Achirga and Afolabi Sotunde in Abuja, writing by Libby George, editing by Angus MacSwan)
U.S. FAA seeks new minimum rest periods for flight attendants between shifts
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing to require flight attendants receive at least 10 hours of rest time between shifts after Congress had directed the action in 2018, according to a document released on Thursday.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing major carriers including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others, had previously estimated the rule would cost its members $786 million over 10 years for the 66% of U.S. flight attendants its members employ, resulting from things like unpaid idle time away from home and schedule disruptions.
Aviation unions told the FAA the majority of U.S. flight attendants typically do receive 10 hours of rest from airlines but urged the rule’s quick adoption for safety and security reasons.
Under existing rules, flight attendants get at least 9 hours of rest time but it can be as little as 8 hours in certain circumstances.
“Flight attendants serve hundreds of millions of passengers on close to 10 million flights annually in the United States,” the FAA said, adding that they “perform safety and security functions while on duty in addition to serving customers.”
It cited reports about the “potential for fatigue to be associated with poor performance of safety and security related tasks,” including in 2017, when a flight attendant reported almost causing the gate agent to deploy an emergency exit slide, which was attributed to fatigue and other issues.
The FAA estimated the regulation could prompt the industry to hire another 1,042 flight attendants and cost $118 million annually. If hiring assumptions were cut in half, it said, that would cut estimated costs by over 30%.
After the FAA published an advance notice of the planned rules in 2019, Delta announce it would mandate the 10-hour rest requirement by February 2020.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is testifying at a U.S. House Transportation subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
House Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio said on Wednesday that it was “unacceptable” to delay the FAA adopting the flight attendant rest rule and mandating secondary flight deck barriers to better protect the cockpits on all newly manufactured airliners.
Attorneys at the FAA “need a little poke” to move faster on rules when ordered by Congress, DeFazio said on Thursday at the hearing. “Do not screw around with it for three years… you just do it.”
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants representing 50,000 workers at 17 airlines, said the rule was critical.
“Flight attendant fatigue is real. COVID has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short night, and combative conditions on planes,” she said. “Congress mandated 10 hours irreducible rest in October 2018, but the prior administration put the rule on a process to kill it.”
During the pandemic, flight attendants have dealt with records numbers of disruptive, occasionally violent passenger incidents, with the FAA citing 4,837 unruly passenger reports, including 3,511 for refusing to wear a mask since Jan. 1.
The FAA proposes to make the new flight attendant rest rules final 30 days after it publishes its final rules.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jason Neely and Bill Berkrot)
Canada government, provinces agree COVID-19 vaccine travel passport – officials
Canada’s federal government and the 10 provinces have agreed on a standard COVID-19 electronic vaccination passport allowing domestic and foreign travel, government officials told reporters on Thursday.
The deal prevents possible confusion that could be caused if each of the provinces – which have primary responsibility for health care – issued their own unique certificates. The officials spoke on the condition they not be identified.
The document will have a federal Canadian identifying mark and meets major international smart health card standards.
“Many (countries) have said they want to see a digital … verifiable proof of vaccination, which is what we’re delivering,” said one official.
In addition, federal officials are talking to nations that are popular with Canadian travelers to brief them about the document.
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this month that from Oct 30, people wishing to travel domestically by plane, train or ship would have to show proof of full vaccination.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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