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Vaccine priority list must be refined to match available doses: Tam – CBC.ca

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Canada’s chief public health officer says the priority list of people who will get vaccinated first against COVID-19 has to be refined because the initial six million doses set to arrive in the first batch will not be enough to cover them all.

Health Canada is in the final stages of reviewing the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. The regulator anticipates decisions on approving both before the end of December.

Vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are also being studied, with no suggestion yet of when those reviews might be done. Canada has contracts for three more vaccines in late-stage clinical trials but has not starting rolling reviews on any of them yet.

Dr. Theresa Tam said the variety of vaccines on Canada’s docket and the expectation that several will eventually be approved “means we will have more flexibility as time goes on, and more and more vaccines come on board.”

“We’re expecting that in the second quarter, depending on the approvals of the vaccines, we will have different amounts, but that is when the supply will become more and more plentiful,” she said Wednesday in a virtual speech at the 2020 Canadian Immunization Conference.

Most vaccine makers are just starting to ramp up production now. Initial production lots are much smaller, and are in high demand everywhere in the world.

At the moment, Canada is on track to get four million doses from Pfizer and two million from Moderna between January and March. With both vaccines needing two doses to be effective, that’s only enough to vaccinate three million people.

“So we have to do further refinements to these priority groups in order to know exactly how we’re going to sequence the delivery of the vaccines,” Tam said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said having to pare down the list is a massive Liberal government failure.

“There is no clear plan who is going to receive the vaccine,” he said Wednesday.

“The government has not provided these details.”

Provinces will ultimately decide

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization issued a preliminary priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine last month, with four subsets of people based on risk of serious illness or death, and risk of exposure or outbreaks.

The list included older Canadians, those with pre-existing conditions like liver and heart disease or diabetes, and people who live in the same household as those people. Long-term care workers, people who live in Indigenous communities, and front-line essential workers such as first responders or grocery store employees are also included.

But that list of people is far longer than three million. There are nearly seven million Canadians over the age of 65 alone.

Provincial governments will ultimately decide their own priorities but the national list is intended to guide those decisions.

Long-term care homes are widely expected to be the highest priority for both workers and residents. In the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Canada, more than eight in 10 people who died from COVID-19 were associated with long-term care.

The tragedy has continued in the second wave, with outbreaks in hundreds of facilities countrywide, and more residents dying every day. Ontario reported 35 deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday and 22 of them were residents in long-term care.

More than 400,000 Canadians live in a long-term care setting or a retirement residence, according to the 2016 Census by Statistics Canada.

Approving the vaccines is only the first step in what Tam called one of “the most complex operations ever taken in public health.” Getting it to provinces to administer and convincing Canadians to take it could prove to be even more difficult.

Tam appealed to the medical experts in the audience to help combat growing rhetoric that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t safe.

From a petition sponsored by Conservative MP Derek Sloan that warns these vaccines are “effectively human experimentation,” to a van driving around Ottawa with a digital display claiming the vaccine “will destroy your DNA” there is evidence of some campaigns to convince Canadians not to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it comes.

Tam said disinformation campaigns are not new but “because of the social media and its internet age, we’ve got even more of a challenge on our hands than anyone else in tackling pandemics of the past.”

“So it is a significant aspect of the response that we have to deal with,” she said.

She said the Public Health Agency of Canada is developing a series of webinars about the vaccines, how the regulatory and approval process works, and how the different types of vaccines work, so medical professionals can become influencers in their communities.

WATCH |  Vaccine won’t be available for children at first

Health Canada Chief Medical Adviser Supriya Sharma says current trials don’t include children under 12 and the first vaccinations will focus on adults. 1:01

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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