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What Canadians can expect from COVID-19 this fall and winter – CBC.ca

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With the beginning of fall and a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus than last year’s taking hold, Canadians may wonder about the outlook of the pandemic over the next few months.

Some epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists are expressing cautious optimism, hoping that greater immunity levels just may be able to contain the delta variant that causes COVID-19, and that many jurisdictions could see hospitalization rates coming down.

“I’m always optimistic, and here’s why,” said epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Pandemics have a beginning, middle and end. And where are we right now? Locally, I think we’re near the end.”

Others, however, like B.C. epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, suspect Canada is still heading into a “challenging fall” despite considerable progress, particularly with vaccinations.

“The delta variant is much more infectious than the COVID that we had around last fall and even last spring,” she said.

As well, provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan are currently in crisis mode, as a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations among the unvaccinated has overloaded their health-care systems.

WATCH | Hospitals in Sask. and Alta. cope with spiking COVID cases:

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Dr. Aisha Mirza, an ER physician in Edmonton, and Dr. Hassan Masri, an ICU and critical care physician in Saskatoon, share how the provinces’ hospitals and medical professionals are struggling amid a fourth wave of COVID-19. 16:41

“I have no idea how long the crisis will last,” said Craig Jenne, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Calgary.

“We may see the flattening of the curve in the coming days, but the real question is, when does that curve start to decline?” 

Colder weather means people spending more time indoors, and the potential for an increase of viral transmission. Meanwhile, another delta surge or a new variant could emerge that drastically changes the outlook, some experts say.

Here is a look at the factors at play.

Where we are now

By many measures, the country is in a much stronger position facing COVID-19 than it was this time last year.

Last fall, Canadians were still without vaccines, which wouldn’t be approved until December, when Health Canada gave the green light to Pfizer-BioNTech and, weeks later, Moderna. Approval for Astra-Zeneca would follow a couple months later.  

Now, according to the CBC’s vaccine tracker, Canada has reached 70 per cent of its total population and 80 per cent of its eligible population with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Look how far we have come,” Deonandan said. “We have extraordinary vaccines at supply levels that all of us here in the rich world can access…. We have a rapid test. We know so much about this disease. We have all the tools needed to control this.”

University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan says he is optimistic about the outlook for the COVID-19 pandemic. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

All the accumulated knowledge about the virus over the past year and a half makes it slightly less unpredictable, Jenne said.

“We know what works to slow it. We know who’s at risk of hospitalization. We know the impact of our public health measures.”

Yet, even though there are successful vaccines and successful vaccination programs, the infectiousness of the virus means they are not quite successful enough, Colijn said. 

“It’s so infectious that you really need almost everybody to be immunized,” she said.So where does that leave us for the outlook? What may happen is that most people who are not vaccinated will get COVID.”

Hospitalizations, waning immunity and the delta variant

Deonandan said he expects greater immunity levels will result in a drop in the hospitalization rate — the proportion of infected people who become hospitalized. 

Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, also offered hope that where vaccination rates are higher, and where most restrictions — mask wearing and vaccine passports — are in place, it’s going to be possible to contain the delta variant.

“And, at the very least, even if we do see cases, maybe we won’t see as many people ending up in hospital,” he said

Nurses suit up with personal protective equipment before tending to a patient in the emergency department at Scarborough General Hospital, in northeast Toronto, back on Apr. 8, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

One of the big unknowns, however, is the potential waning of immunity over time. Though Deonandan said he expects the ability of vaccines to protect against initial infection will gradually weaken, he predicts their protection against hospitalization and death “will remain extraordinarily good.”

Based on when most Canadians received their shots, waning immunity could start to be an issue around late October, said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network.

And the question, he said, is whether provinces will anticipate this and offer people booster shots to try to head off the potential problem.

“If all the governments in Canada say they’re going to wait to boost until we sort of see the vaccines aren’t working any longer, it could kind of be a little bit too late,” he said. 

However, some health officials suggest another possibility — that the delta variant may have peaked. That’s the analysis of the U.S.-based COVID-19 Scenario Modelling Hub, which consists of a team of professors from across the country who provide projections about the virus. 

Its modelling predicts a steady decline in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with no significant winter surge, NPR reported. 

Justin Lessler, a professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina who helps run the hub, told NPR that while there is wide-ranging uncertainty in the models, deaths could drop to 100 a day by March. That, he said, is dependant upon children getting vaccinated and that a more contagious variant doesn’t emerge.

Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network, wonders whether provinces will offer people COVID vaccine booster shots in anticipation of potential waning immunity that could start developing later this fall. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Deonandan said it’s certainly possible that some parts of the world, such as the U.K. and some U.S. states, have seen the peak of the delta wave.

“I anticipate that the northern hemisphere should see a decline in the delta wave by the end of this year,” he said.

But both Deonandan and the COVID-19 Scenario Modelling Hub also offered a somewhat grim prediction — that a decline in infection rates would be due in part to the fast-spreading delta variant just running out of people to infect.

With so many delta infections among people who are unvaccinated, those who survive might have sufficient immunity, which “starts us on that herd immunity conversation again,” Deonandan said.

“A combination of sufficient coverage plus unbelievably high vaccination uptake, which we are experiencing in Canada, might mean by January we will see no more waves,” he said.

New variants?

Having said that, variants will likely continue to emerge, but whether any will become a dominant strain remains to be seen, Labos said. Much will depend on how vaccination efforts ramp up around the world.

“New variants emerge because the virus keeps spreading,” he said. “It keeps copying itself. It keeps mutating. And so the more chances you give it to copy itself, the more chances you give it to have a mutation that can turn it into a different strain that’s more aggressive.”

Deonandan said he is a “tad concerned” that a new variant could emerge that changes factors such as the transmissibility of the virus, the profile of symptoms, and the ability to detect the virus.

WATCH | U.S. moving ahead on COVID vaccine boosters for some people:

U.S. CDC recommends 3rd COVID-19 vaccine doses for millions of Americans

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An advisory panel at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for Americans aged 65 and older, as well as for some adults with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of severe disease. 4:29

But he also pointed out that the COVID-19 vaccines have proven effective against all the coronovirus variants that have emerged so far.

“Therefore, there’s no reason to expect any new variants not to be at least a little bit preventable by our vaccines, and probably preventable by a high amount,” he said. “So I’m not overly concerned about it.”

Morris views things a bit differently.

“I know that there are some experts who feel that the likelihood of a more virulent strain that’s vaccine resistant is extremely unlikely to happen. But, you know, I’m willing to wait and see.”

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EOHU recommending flu shots for area residents, as winter approaches – The Review Newspaper

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As the fall and cooler weather arrive, they bring with them the start of flu season. According to the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, the flu shot is the best protection against the flu, and with the presence of COVID-19 in the community, getting your flu shot is more important now than ever. The flu shot has been approved for use alongside COVID-19 vaccines and is a key step in keeping healthy this season.

“It’s especially important that people get their flu shot this year,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). “Both COVID and the flu share symptoms and, despite their similarities, being fully vaccinated for COVID won’t protect you from the flu.”

“Getting the flu shot can help you stay healthy and reduce the pressure on health care centres.”

Getting the flu shot could also help reduce the demand on COVID-19 assessment centres. The fewer number of people who develop flu symptoms, the fewer who will need to get tested for COVID-19.

The flu shot is available at various locations throughout the five Eastern Counties and Cornwall, including through some healthcare providers, community health centres, participating pharmacies and by appointment at the EOHU for children ages 6 months to under 5 years, and their immediate family.

Appointments for children at the EOHU will be available as of November 1. Call to book your child’s appointment starting on October 25. Residents must bring a piece of identification to their appointment. To find out more about where you can get the flu shot, visit EOHU.ca.

Certain groups of people are at higher risk of complications from the flu and are strongly encouraged to get immunized. These include:

  • children 6 months to less than 5 years of age
  • people aged 65 and older
  • people with chronic medical conditions

If you live with or provide care to someone who falls under one of the groups listed above, or care for newborn infants and children under 6 months of age, it is also highly recommended that you get immunized. This simple step will help protect you and those around you.

For more information about the flu shot, visit EOHU.ca or call  613-933-1375 or 800-267-7120.

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Facebook, YouTube take down Bolsonaro video over false vaccine claim

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Facebook and YouTube have removed from their platforms a video by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in which the far-right leader made a false claim that COVID-19 vaccines were linked with developing AIDS.

Both Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said the video, which was recorded on Thursday, violated their policies.

“Our policies don’t allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.

YouTube confirmed that it had taken the same step later in the day.

“We removed a video from Jair Bolsonaro’s channel for violating our medical disinformation policy regarding COVID-19 for alleging that vaccines don’t reduce the risk of contracting the disease and that they cause other infectious diseases,” YouTube said in a statement.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), COVID-19 vaccines approved by health regulators are safe for most people, including those living with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, known as AIDS.

Bolsonaro’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment outside normal hours.

In July, YouTube removed videos from Bolsonaro’s official channel in which he recommended using hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin against COVID-19, despite scientific proof that these drugs are not effective in treating the disease.

Since then, Bolsonaro has avoided naming both drugs on his live broadcasts, saying the videos could be removed and advocating “early treatment” in general for COVID-19.

Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. While Bolsonaro himself last January said that he wouldn’t take any COVID-19 vaccine, he did vow to quickly inoculate all Brazilians.

In addition to removing the video, YouTube has suspended Bolsonaro for seven days, national newspapers O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo reported, citing a source familiar with the matter.

YouTube did not respond to a separate Reuters request for comment regarding the suspension on Monday night.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Exclusive: African Union to buy up to 110 million Moderna COVID-19 vaccines – officials

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The African Union (AU) intends to buy up to 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Inc in an arrangement brokered in part by the White House, which will defer delivery of some doses intended for the United States to facilitate the deal, officials told Reuters.

The AU’s doses will be delivered over the coming months, with 15 million arriving before the end of 2021, 35 million in the first quarter of next year and up to 60 million in the second quarter.

“This is important as it allows us to increase the number of vaccines available immediately,” AU coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa said in an email. “We urge other vaccine producing countries to follow the lead of the (U.S. government) and give us similar access to buy this and other vaccines.”

Masiyiwa said the Moderna purchase represented the first time the 55-member AU had secured vaccines that were not fully produced in Africa.

The new shipments of vaccine are well below what Africa needs to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people, who have had far less access to the life-saving vaccines than more prosperous parts of the world. Getting access to Moderna vaccines adds diversity to the AU’s vaccine supply with different storage requirements.

The Biden administration is deferring delivery of 33 million doses it had bought from Moderna to give the AU its “spot in line” to make a purchase, according to Natalie Quillian, the White House’s deputy coordinator for COVID-19 response.

“We are grateful to have helped negotiate this encouraging step forward between Moderna and the African Union that will significantly expand access to vaccines on the continent in the near-term,” Quillian said.

The United States, which has seen more than 700,000 people die from COVID-19, is flush with vaccines. The delayed Moderna deliveries will not have an impact on efforts to provide booster shots to already inoculated Americans, Quillian said.

Moderna said it was working to make it possible to fill doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Africa by 2023 and has plans to build a manufacturing plant on the continent.

“This is the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement, referring to a Memorandum of Understanding to make up to 110 million doses for the AU.

Last month, the AU accused https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-who/update-1-african-union-slams-vaccine-manufacturers-for-restricting-access-idINL8N2QG4CK COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers of denying African countries a fair chance to buy vaccines and urged manufacturing countries, in particular India, to lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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