Health officials in Ontario said on Saturday that two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom have appeared in the province — the first confirmed instances in Canada.
The new variant is believed to spread easier and faster than the original version of the virus, but it is not believed to be more deadly.
Scientists say there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines currently being deployed — including those approved for use in Canada — will not protect against this variant.
Here is what Canadians should know about the new variant.
What makes this variant different?
This variant is not the first new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to emerge since the pandemic began. The main worry is that the variant seems to be more transmissible than the original. It has 23 mutations in its genetic code — a relatively high number of changes — and some of these could be affecting its ability to spread.
“While early data suggests that these new variants may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that they cause more severe disease or have any impact on antibody response or vaccine effectiveness,” the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in a statement Saturday.
The agency said more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Where were the Canadian cases found?
The Canadian cases, identified in a couple in southern Ontario, came as the province went into a lockdown on Saturday.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the couple from Durham Region, just east of Toronto, had no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.
WATCH | Coronavirus variant identified in Ontario:
“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today,” Yaffe said in a statement issued Saturday.
According to the statement, both individuals have been informed of the diagnosis and are now in self-isolation as per public health protocols. It noted the discovery of the variant was “not unexpected” due to inbound international travel.
How should Canadians approach this new variant?
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, told CBC News Network’s Natalie Kalata on Saturday that people should take the same precautions with this variant that they would for the original virus.
“It’s important that everyone adheres to the public health rules now a hundred times better than they were before, given that it is more transmissible,” Chagla said.
Those include physical distancing, wearing masks, practising good hand hygiene, avoiding going out when feeling unwell and seeking a COVID-19 test when appropriate, he said.
WATCH | What is known about the new coronavirus variant:
Although the Canadians with the variant had no known travel history, Chagla said it was likely brought into Canada from somewhere else — particularly as the mutations in the U.K. variant match the Canadian cases.
Last week, Canada extended to Jan. 6 a ban on passenger flights arriving from Britain and expanded enhanced screening and monitoring measures for travelers arriving from South Africa, citing the rise of the more infectious variant.
“It just is another reinforcement that we do have quarantine and border controls, but they’re not perfect. And we’ve seen in many countries around the world, we can still see transmission from international travel,” Chagla said.
Will COVID-19 vaccines be effective against the variant?
Several drugmakers expect their COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against the new fast-spreading variant of the virus, including those whose vaccines are currently approved for use in Canada.
Ugur Sahin, chief executive of Germany’s BioNTech — which partnered with Pfizer to create a vaccine — said on Tuesday he expects its messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine to still work well.
“Scientifically it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine can also deal with this virus variant,” Sahin said. He added that it will take another two weeks or so of study and data collection to get a definitive answer.
“The vaccine contains more than 1,270 amino acids, and only nine of them are changed (in the mutated virus). That means that 99 per cent of the protein is still the same.”
WATCH | Comparing the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines:
Moderna said on Wednesday it expects the immunity induced by its COVID-19 vaccine would be protective against the variants reported in the U.K. The U.S.-based company said it plans to run tests to confirm its mRNA vaccine’s effectiveness against any strain.
“We have already tested sera from animals and humans vaccinated with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine against a number of previous variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that have emerged since the first outbreak of the pandemic and found our vaccine to remain equally effective,” the company said in a statement.
In the event that the variant presents vaccine developers with an unexpected challenge, an advantage of mRNA is that scientists can quickly re-engineer genetic material in the shot to match that of the mutated protein, whereas modifying traditional vaccines would require extra steps.
“In principle, the beauty of the mRNA technology is we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation,” Sahin said. “We could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks. Of course, this is not only a technical question. We have to deal with how regulators… would see that.”
Canada began rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this month and started distributing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine across the country last Thursday.
Online sign-ups complicate vaccine rollout for older people – Burnaby Now
DENVER — Howard Jones, who’s 83, was on the phone for three to four hours every day trying to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine.
Jones, who lives alone in Colorado Springs, doesn’t have the internet, and that’s made it much more difficult for him to make an appointment. It took him about a week. He said the confusion has added to his anxiety about catching what could be a life-threatening disease at his age.
“It has been hell,” Jones said. “I’m 83 and to not have the use of a computer is just terrible.”
As states across the U.S. roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to people 65 and older, senior citizens are scrambling to figure out how to sign up to get their shots. Many states and counties ask people to make appointments online, but glitchy websites, overwhelmed phone lines and a patchwork of fast-changing rules are bedeviling older people who are often less tech-savvy, may live far from vaccination sites and are more likely to not have internet access at all, especially people of colour and those who are poor.
Nearly 9.5 million seniors, or 16.5% of U.S. adults 65 and older, lack internet access, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Access is worse for seniors of colour: more than 25% of Black people, about 21% of Hispanic people and over 28% of Native Americans 65 and older have no way to get online. That’s compared with 15.5% of white seniors.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Dr. Rebecca Parish has been dismayed by the bureaucratic process and continued calls for help from seniors. One of her patients, who’s 83, called her in tears, unable to navigate the online appointment system at Rite Aid. A 92-year-old woman called her before dawn this week after reading about her in a newspaper, telling her, “I’ll do anything to get this vaccine.”
So Parish took things into her own hands. She reached out to Contra Costa County and acquired 500 doses to vaccinate people this weekend at a middle school in Lafayette, California. She’s working with nonprofits to identify seniors who don’t live in nursing homes and risk falling through the cracks. All her appointments have been claimed, but she’ll start taking them again once more doses are available.
Some health officials have been trying to find other solutions to ease the confusion and help senior citizens sign up, just as the Trump administration urged states this week to make the nation’s 57.6 million seniors eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Some places have found simple ideas work. In Morgantown, West Virginia, county health officials used a large road construction sign to list the phone number for seniors to call for an appointment. Others are considering partnering with community groups or setting up mobile clinics for harder-to-reach populations.
Some seniors may be waiting to hear from their doctor. But there are limits to using health care systems, pharmacies or primary care providers to reach underserved people who don’t have the internet, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
She said the two coronavirus vaccines available in the U.S. and their low-temperature requirements “don’t lend themselves to being sent out to rural areas.”
In McComb, Mississippi, where 77.5% of residents are Black and almost half the population lives below the poverty line, 71-year-old Mary Christian made an appointment online with her son’s help. But the only available sites are at least an hour away from she lives.
“I’m 71 years old, and my kids are not going to be happy for me driving 1 to 200 miles away to get a vaccine,” said Christian, who has diabetes.
Some medical systems, like UCHealth in Colorado, are trying to partner with community groups to get vaccines to underserved populations, like seniors.
Dr. Jean Kutner, chief medical officer of UCHealth University at Colorado Hospital, said she’s volunteering at a clinic hosted by a church that brings in the vaccine and helps build trust between health care workers and residents.
For now, UCHealth schedules appointments online, but Kutner said a COVID-19 hotline is in the works because of the volume of calls from seniors.
“Seniors are comfortable with the phone side of things, so that that’s not really a technological barrier for them,” said Gretchen Garofoli, an associate professor at West Virginia University’s School of Pharmacy.
But even a Colorado health provider setting up vaccine clinics for underserved communities, Salud Family Health Centers, said their phone lines can’t handle the volume of calls they’re receiving and encouraged people to go online.
When calling for an appointment is an option, finding a number is often only possible online.
That was the problem for Jones, the 83-year-old in Colorado. A retired service member, he considered reaching out to Veterans Affairs but couldn’t find a phone number.
He asked for help from a friend, who gave him several numbers. One led to Angela Cortez, head of communications for AARP in Colorado.
AARP has been flooded with calls from seniors like Jones who don’t have the internet and need help navigating the websites of health departments, care providers and vaccine sign-up forms, Cortez said.
“It’s not like you can show up somewhere and get vaccinated,” Cortez said. “And if you don’t have access to a computer, you’re at a disadvantage.”
Even Cortez had trouble as she tried to help Jones. She called numbers listed on the Colorado health department website and several Safeway stores after Jones heard friends were vaccinated there.
Eventually, Cortez was told to sign up online.
“I’m an employee of AARP, one; and two, I’m the communications director — I’m a trained journalist — and I have a computer, three, and I can’t even get through to anybody,” she said.
A friend was finally able to get Jones an appointment for Saturday. But he’s frustrated that he had “to go through side channels” instead of doing it himself.
Naishadham reported from Phoenix. Associated Press reporter Janie Har in San Francisco and data journalist Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report. Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
This story has been corrected to show that there are 57.6 million seniors in the U.S., not 54 million, according to Census Bureau data.
Patty Nieberg And Suman Naishadham, The Associated Press
Number of positive COVID-19 tests exceeds 60000 in British Columbia – Straight.com
It was another day with more than 500 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C.
That has brought the provincial total to 60,117 since the virus was first detected in B.C. nearly a year ago.
The good news is the number of hospitalizations from the disease fell to 349 today, down from 362 on January 14.
The number of those in intensive care is also down, falling from 74 to 68 in a single day.
Tragically, there have been another nine deaths from COVID-19, lifting B.C.’s total to 1,047 since the virus first arrived in the province.
“We have had one new health-care facility outbreak at Hilltop House,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement. “The outbreaks at Villa Cathay and Wingtat Game Bird Packers are now over.
“People throughout British Columbia are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”
Henry and Dix reported that 260 of the 509 new cases were in the Fraser Health region. Another 101 were in Vancouver Coastal Health and 86 in the Interior Health regions.
The lowest daily totals were again reported in Northern Health (49) and Island Health (13).
So far, 75,914 people in B.C. have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We must never forget how far we have come by working together,” Henry and Dix said. “Over the past months, we have all made sacrifices for the health of our families and communities, and now more than ever we need to hold the line and stop transmission of COVID-19 as our vaccination program ramps up.”
One of Canada's oldest seniors, at 110 years old, gets COVID-19 vaccine at Surrey care home – Surrey Now-Leader
JaHyung Lee, a resident at a Newton care home, received his COVID-19 vaccine at the age of 110.
Amenida Seniors Community said in a news release that residents at the facility received the first dose of their vaccines on Thursday (Jan. 14). JaHyung Lee is one of “Canada’s oldest senior” to be inoculated.
The second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be administered “in the coming weeks.”
“We are extremely lucky that we have received enough supplies to vaccinate all of our residents in care,” said Rosa Park, general manager at Amenida.
“As many of our seniors are elderly and require complex care, we can feel safer knowing that the virus won’t be spreading within our community.”
A reporter with the Now-Leader attended Lee’s 109th birthday in 2019. He was born on Aug. 27, 1910.
Meantime, Fraser Health says it has completed 151 vaccine clinics for long-term care and assisted living in the health region.
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