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Vaccine task force prepares for almost 100000 doses this week – Winnipeg Free Press

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Manitoba’s vaccine task force has promised to do better after a week of glitches and setbacks.

The Manitoba government has said all eligible Manitobans who want the COVID-19 vaccine will get a single dose by the end of June — or as early as May 21 if there is a robust supply — as shipments from the federal government are set to increase substantially over the next 90 days.

Province taps WRHA employee to serve as new director of COVID-19 immunization clinics

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Two months after being hired as the provincial director of COVID-19 immunization clinics, Kurt Janzen is no longer overseeing clinic operations.

Janzen, a long time employee of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, was hired for the job in late January for a six to nine month term.

The role primarily involved overseeing the workforce hired for the immunization campaign, scheduling, payroll management and co-ordinating services, a government spokesman previously told the Free Press.

Premier Brian Pallister was asked about Janzen’s status with the COVID-19 immunization campaign at a press conference on Wednesday but declined to comment, saying it was a human resources issue.

“We can confirm that no one was removed from any role,” a government spokesman said in a statement to the Free Press.

Following Janzen’s departure, the director position was immediately backfilled temporarily, and an employee with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has since been seconded to the role full-time, the spokesman said.

The provincial director of COVID-19 immunization clinics reports to the operations lead for the COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force.

This week, Manitoba will receive 95,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including the largest single shipment to date: 54,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United States.

Despite persistent delays at the mass vaccination clinic at the convention centre over the past week, Johanu Botha, co-lead for the task force, said everyone who went to the site and put up with lengthy lineups, received a shot on the day of their appointment.

“It’s a complex machine and we will make it hum, but I’d like to note that the RBC site is a part of a much larger system,” Botha said. “We had supersites across this province administering doses, pop-ups reaching more remote Manitobans and focused immunization teams deploying to vulnerable Manitobans in congregate living facilities.”

“While issues may arise in one part of our system, and we’ll keep monitoring for them and address them, more and more Manitobans are being immunized every day,” he said.

As of Wednesday, 199,322 doses had been given to people in Manitoba (including on First Nations), which accounts for about 80 per cent of the supply received from Ottawa. Over the next month, the province’s immunization network will have days where as many as 10,000 doses are administered, Botha said.

However, due to data entry backlogs at the Winnipeg vaccination clinic, the number of administered doses reported each day will be delayed 48 to 72 hours. Botha said his team is working to eliminate the backlog by adding data entry clerks.

The next shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine will again be administered at pharmacies and physicians’ offices. This time around, 400 to 500 locations will receive doses.

Provincial officials did not specify Wednesday whether any doses would be allocated to homecare providers or prioritized for people who cannot easily leave their home.

“We are ramping up and planning to preposition all of the necessary supplies with our partners like we did last time, so we can hit the ground running,” Botha said.

In the wake of safety concerns related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, following reports of a rare vaccine-induced blood clotting condition in Europe, the province’s medical lead for the COVID-19 task force again encouraged people who can receive the vaccine based on provincial eligibility criteria, to sign up for the shot.

“These vaccines are safe and effective and that particularly for people who are over 55, the risk of COVID, even the risk of blood clots due to COVID, is much greater than the risk of this very rare of blood clot with low platelets is from the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Dr. Joss Reimer said.

“We wouldn’t be offering this vaccine if we didn’t believe that we were actually providing them with more benefit than we were risk,” Reimer said.

Reimer said the current eligibility criteria for AstraZeneca which prioritized people under 65 years old with select medical conditions, but stops at anyone younger than 55 years old, in accordance with federal recommendations, ensures that those at highest risk of severe outcomes can access a vaccine.

“We don’t expect to see this rare side-effect in Manitoba. But we certainly have already seen severe long lasting outcomes, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID and we want to provide people with a way to protect themselves as quickly as possible,” Reimer said.

She said the province is taking a second look at its AstraZeneca eligibility criteria before releasing more doses to doctors and pharmacists, but will not offer the shot to people younger than 55.

Meanwhile, Botha said the task force is preparing for delays in receiving Moderna vaccines from the federal government.

A confirmed shipment of 28,000 doses of Moderna set to arrive next week has been delayed to at least April 12. Botha said the shipment could arrive as late as April 16. The province may be forced to reschedule pop-up clinics in rural and remote areas.

The province also intends to open a new mass vaccination clinic in each of the five health regions between mid-April and end of May, Botha said. The next supersite will be located in Winnipeg.

“The supply that we have confirmed coming in across Pfizer and Moderna… is 40,000 a week,” Botha said. “But it’s not enough to fill the capacity of our existing supersites so we have a bit of time to get the other ones up.”

Planning is also underway to stage vaccination clinics in Winnipeg on a smaller, community level, over the next three months, he said.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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