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Variant first detected in Brazil concerning in Canada: here’s what we know about P.1 – Sylvan Lake News

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From an outbreak on a Canadian NHL team to clusters of cases detected in Alberta, parts of Canada have been seeing skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers that are possibly linked to variants of concern over the last several weeks.

While most variant cases in the country have stemmed from the B.1.1.7 variety first detected in the United Kingdom, troubling outbreaks of the P.1 variant, which was first identified in Brazil, are starting to emerge with more frequency.

As of April 1, there have been 483 cases of the P.1 variant across the country, with the majority of them — 379 — in B.C., Health Canada says. There have been 10,856 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and 313 of the variant first detected in South Africa.

Public Health Ontario’s latest epidemiological report shows a total of 103 P.1 cases in the province, including one new case identified over the weekend.

Maria Sundaram, an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, says the growing number of variant cases is concerning. And while P.1 has gained more prevalence in the west recently, that’s not to say the rest of the country shouldn’t be on guard.

“All of the identified variants of concern seem to have (qualities) that are very bad news for us in terms of pandemic control,” she said.

“The numbers are a little bit higher in B.C., but … things can turn on a dime.”

READ MORE: Canada’s total COVID-19 case count surpasses one million

Here’s what we know about the P1 variant:

WHAT IS IT, AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM OTHER VARIANTS OF CONCERN?

The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the P.1 variant has 17 unique mutations, including three on the part of the spike protein that binds to cells when we become infected.

Those mutations, on what’s called the spike protein’s “receptor binding domain,” are causing the most concern, says infectious disease doctor Ilan Schwartz.

Schwartz, a researcher at the University of Alberta, says the mutations allow the virus to bind more efficiently to cells when it enters the body, and may also interfere with the ability of antibodies — produced from prior infection or from vaccines — to recognize the variant form.

HOW MUCH MORE TRANSMISSIBLE IS IT?

Experts say the variants first detected in the U.K. and South Africa are roughly 50 per cent more transmissible than the earlier form of the virus, which is known as the “wild type.” But they still aren’t sure how contagious P.1 is compared to the others.

The data on P.1 is still new, Sundaram says, but what’s more concerning is the idea that this variant could reinfect those who have already had COVID-19.

A study from Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon region, found that the P.1 variant was identified in 42 per cent of cases sequenced there from late December, even though approximately 75 per cent of the region’s population had previously been infected.

“We’re talking about people who should have been protected by their own immune system with a response from the actual pathogen itself,” Sundaram said.

The latest weekly global epidemiological report from the World Health Organization (WHO) listed Brazil as the biggest hot spot for new cases with 533,024 for the week ending March 28. The country, which has the P.1 variant as the dominant strain, reported 508,000 cases the week before.

WHERE IS THE VARIANT CIRCULATING IN CANADA?

The P.1 variant has been detected across Canada, but the most recent clusters have appeared out west in B.C. and Alberta.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Twitter Monday that an outbreak involving P.1 cases in the province appears to be linked to a large employer with multiple sites across Western Canada.

Hinshaw said three of the 26 cases linked to those sites are confirmed to be the P.1 variant, but she added that number is likely to increase as more results come in.

A separate P.1 case was identified in a five-case outbreak at a Calgary zone workplace, Hinshaw said.

In B.C., meanwhile, top doctor Bonnie Henry said last week a large cluster of P.1 cases in the Whistler region had been contained. Though a small number had spread beyond Whistler, Henry said those cases were being watched closely.

An outbreak among the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks has also reportedly involved the P.1 variant, though the team and league have not confirmed that.

Sixteen of the Canucks’ 22 players were on the NHL’s COVID protocol list as of Monday afternoon.

Not all players on that list have necessarily tested positive. The list also includes players who must self-isolate after being a close contact with a confirmed case or for travel reasons.

DOES THE VARIANT CAUSE MORE SEVERE DISEASE?

Schwartz says it’s likely that P.1 may result in more serious disease, and that younger people could be more susceptible to a severe outcome with that variant compared to the “wild type” of the virus Canada has mostly been dealing with up until now.

He adds, however, that data on P.1 is “quite preliminary” compared to B.1.1.7, which is also showing an increased chance of more severe infections.

“We’ve been aware of this variant for a shorter amount of time, and because the data that’s been generated hasn’t been quite as robust, we still don’t know for sure,” he said. “But this is certainly our concern.

“In a lot of ways, (P.1) sort of has a full house of weaponry.”

WHAT IMPLICATIONS DOES THIS VARIANT HAVE FOR THE VACCINES?

Sundaram says research suggests the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna lose some effectiveness against the P.1 variant, though that’s not to say they won’t work at all.

She noted those results were based on lab studies.

But the higher the prevalence of variant cases, the more worried she becomes.

“When we start to see this uptick, and we look at this concurrent potential reduction in vaccine protectiveness … it really becomes a very concerning scenario,” she said. “We need more information to identify exactly to what per cent vaccine efficacy (drops) in real-world scenarios, but it seems quite likely that it will.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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Australians living with disability have been 'abandoned' in vaccine rollout: Butler – Sky News Australia

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Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler has highlighted “shocking evidence” which came to light at the Senate Inquiry into COVID on Tuesday which indicates the majority of vulnerable Australians are not fully vaccinated.

“You’ll remember that phase 1a, the vaccination of our most vulnerable members of the community, aged care residents, disability facility residents and their staff were supposed to be completed by Easter, that is what Scott Morrison promised,” he said.

Mr Butler said the evidence showed two-thirds of aged care residents still have not been fully vaccinated and “shockingly” more than 99 per cent of residents in disability facilities have not been fully vaccinated.

“Australians living with disability have been abandoned by Scott Morrison in this vaccine rollout.”

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Specified front-line workers in Manitoba a little more at ease after prioritization for COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca

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Foodfare employee Jackie Sandul is looking forward to some peace of mind as Manitoba’s COVID-19 immunization strategy is slated to expand Friday.

On Wednesday, Manitoba officials released new details for expanding vaccination eligibility to adults living in certain geographic areas with high rates of COVID-19 spread or more severe outcomes.

Certain front-line workers, including grocery store workers like Sandul, will be part of the prioritization.

“It makes me safer. My employees and everybody in general around this area,” said Sandul, who is a cashier, supervisor and stockperson at the Foodfare on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.

“Germs are passed by touch. If you’re touching someone’s money, what do we do? Touching their cards, touching their groceries. When you’re scanning it through the till, you don’t know what they’ve touched or where they’ve been.”

Sandul, a 45-year-old with diabetes, is already eligible for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. But knowing she’ll be prioritized through the province’s immunization plan adds a level of comfort because she won’t have to worry much longer about picking up the novel coronavirus at work, she said.

Geographic areas are deemed hot spots based on previous COVID-19 transmission rates, population density and socio-economics such as race, average income and housing, said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine task force. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba’s vaccine task force has been reviewing public health data from the second wave and so far into Wave 3 to determine which parts of the province have seen high levels of coronavirus transmission and where residents have had more severe outcomes after contracting COVID-19.

They have also been reviewing which professions put people at greatest risk of picking up SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Front-line workers serving hot spot communities at a school, food processing facility, food establishment such as a restaurant and grocery or convenience store will be prioritized.

People working as child-care or daycare providers, food or public health inspectors, or workplace safety and health officers will be prioritized too.

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832 has been pushing for such a shift for grocery store employees for a while now, said president Jeff Traeger.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to these people that have been doing this work, because we all have to eat and we all have to shop to get our food. They’ve gone to work each and every day throughout the pandemic to make sure that our community keeps running,” he said.

“If there’s any way that we can reduce the risk, like putting them higher on the vaccine priority list, we should be doing that.”

Traeger would have liked to have seen security guards, who often work in places like grocery stores, be added to the priority list too.

The upcoming changes to vaccine eligibility will be a huge boost for morale for school staff, said Chris Goring, principal of Isaac Brock School, a nursery to Grade 9 school in Winnipeg’s West End.

“It’s going to validate the hard work that staff have been doing in the school, not just teachers — educational assistants, custodians, administrators, clerical staff,” said Goring.

“It’s going to be peace of mind for them when they go home to their families.… It’s going to help us carry through the remainder of the school year and keep our schools safe.” 

A teacher with students at Isaac Brock School, where principal Chris Goring hopes the upcoming changes to the vaccine may also soon lead to a bit of normalcy for students. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Shaun Jeffrey, CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, appreciated public health officials recognized restaurant employees were at greater risk, he said.

The problem was Jeffrey learned about the changes the same time the general public did.

“Our industry looks to us for guidance and for feedback and education on what’s happening in Manitoba. We need to be brought up to speed on what the province’s plans are so that we can distribute that and communicate that in an effective manner,” he said.

People booking appointments will be asked for proof of employment, such as a workplace ID or letters from employers. In some cases, they may be asked to simply say they work in an eligible industry. They will be asked for proof of employment on the day of the vaccine appointment as well.

More essential workers may be added to the priority list as more vaccine doses become available, said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, during a Wednesday news conference.

The list of hot spots should be released Friday. Geographic areas are deemed hot spots based on previous COVID-19 transmission rates, population density and socio-economics such as race, average income and housing, said Reimer.

The people CBC News spoke with for this story agreed it makes sense to prioritize people working in communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

But Traeger believes all grocery store workers ought to be prioritized because of the amount of contact those employees have with the public, he said.

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Expert says Saskatchewan should consider more targeted vaccine plan as variants surge – moosejawtoday.com

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SASKATOON — Nazeem Muhajarine says he feels a sense of relief after receiving his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine last week at a centre in Saskatoon.

“It was just so well-organized and run. I felt completely safe,” Muhajarine said in an interview.

The professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan said the province is making great strides quickly getting shots into arms, but he’s concerned some people are being left behind.

Premier Scott Moe touted during question period Wednesday that Saskatchewan is leading the country when it comes to administering first vaccinations. 

“Our way through this pandemic, everyone’s plan to get through this pandemic, is to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Moe said. 

More than 365,000 doses of vaccine have been given in Saskatchewan. Health officials say 52 per cent of residents over the age of 40 have received their first shot. 

It puts Saskatchewan — with a population of just under 1.18 million — ahead of other provinces when it comes to doses delivered per capita. Data from a COVID-19 vaccination tracker, run by University of Saskatchewan students using federal and provincial data, suggests the province in outpacing Ontario and Quebec.

Moe credits his Saskatchewan Party’s “robust vaccination plan,” which he says will be augmented in the coming days. Eligibility for all vaccines is being lowered to 44 on Thursday, except for in the north where it will go down to 40. It’s expected to drop to 40 for the general population by Wednesday.

Muhajarine said there’s much to applaud about the vaccine rollout. The choice, initially, to use age-based eligibility meant it was easy to understand and targeted those who were more likely to experience severe outcomes if infected, he said. 

Drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinics have also been successful, said Muhajarine. One providing mass immunizations in Regina as the capital has became a hot spot for variants has expecially worked well.

Muhajarine said his own experience shows that organization at larger mass vaccination sites is also commendable. 

However, the professor said now that vulnerable senior populations are immunized and there are highly contagious new strains, the province may be missing the mark.

Getting the most vaccinations out fastest is just part of a good public health response, he said, but surging infections and hospitalizations mean the response should now be targeted to those most affected.

“Workplace spreads and outbreaks have been quite prevalent,” Muhajarine said. “That’s been a huge contributor in Regina and has been a contributor in Saskatoon as well.”

There were 231 new cases in Saskatchewan on Wednesday and four more deaths, including a person in their 30s another in their 40s. The others were over 70. There were 185 people in hospital and 49 in intensive care.

Provincial public health orders were tightened recently as officials warned the more transmissible variant strains were becoming dominant. 

Muhajarine said the recent deaths of influential Cree teacher Victor Thunderchild, 55, in Prince Albert and well-known chef Warren Montgomery, 42, in Regina are examples of people in high-risk work environments who weren’t able to get vaccinations under the age-eligibility plan. 

He said Saskatchewan should consider following Ontario and Manitoba, which are pivoting vaccination plans to target neighbourhoods where people have a higher risk of contracting the virus. 

It should also consider socio-economic factors, including how many residents are in a household and the type of jobs people have, he added.

One example would be neighbourhoods with multi-generational households and where many people work service jobs facing the public. Congregate living facilities such as shelters and correctional centres would be another, he said.

Muhajarine said teachers and other essential workers should also get priority.

Every region in the country is seeing benefits to targeting areas and occupations where the pandemic’s third wave has taken hold, he suggested

“That is not something to be trivialized in this kind of complex and mass undertaking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021. 

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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