According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the country is seeing an unusually high number of influenza B cases this season.
Type B flu causes more severe illness in children and has been linked to sudden cardiac death.
“I don’t think there is conclusive knowledge as to why, but we do [know] that children especially are effected by it much more than adults,” said Dr. Phillip van der Merwe, a Calgary family doctor.
So far this season, more than 3,200 cases of flu have been reported across Canada since the end of August.
Of those cases, 1,357 were classified as Type B, with 63 per cent of those patients under the age of 20.
Alberta sees spike in flu cases, including 3 deaths
The best protection against influenza is the flu vaccine, which protects against two strains of A and two strains of B.
“Because we have a circulating B strain, the vaccine does tend to work better against flu B, so it’s a good one to get,” said Dr. Jia Hu, medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services in Calgary.
H3N2 and H1N1, two strains of influenza A, are also circulating in Canada this year.
H3N2 is typically associated with more severe illness in older adults, while H1N1 typically impacts younger adults between 20 and 64.
The latest FluWatch surveillance report shows an increase in flu activity through most of Alberta, the B.C. Lower Mainland, southern Ontario and parts of Quebec.
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Flu season typically peaks after Christmas, because air travel, large family gatherings or trips to busy shopping malls allow the virus to easily spread.
“The problem with the virus, too, is that you’re most infectious before you have symptoms,” said Dr. Peter Nieman, a Calgary pediatrician.
“So for 24 hours before you know there’s trouble, that’s when you start infecting people.”
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canada adds 5,955 new COVID-19 infections as Pfizer vaccines get delayed further – Global News
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who oversees vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, broke the news Thursday that deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Canada in the first week of February would be 79,000 doses — only one-fifth of what was promised.
Canada won’t be the only country hit by the delay though, with longer waits expected for countries in Europe and Mexico bracing to not to get any doses at all for nearly three weeks — all due to a temporary slowdown in production after the vaccine companies announced an expansion to their plant in Belgium last week.
Deliveries from Moderna, the other company whose vaccine is approved for use in Canada, will not be affected.
In a tweet Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he was assured in a conversation with the CEO of Pfizer Global that Canada would receive four million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March.
In total, Canada is set to receive a combined six million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — an amount totaling to vaccinating three million Canadians should they follow their respective two-dose regimens.
News of the worsening delay also comes amid a stark warning from the country’s top doctor, who expects cases of severe illness from COVID-19 will continue to rise in the coming days — ultimately leading to more hospitalizations and deaths.
“Strong and sustained efforts are needed to reduce heavy demands on the health-care system,” wrote Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement Thursday.
“Without this, the ability to continue with the present level of elective procedures will become increasingly difficult in heavily impacted areas.”
The warning comes as Canada’s cases of COVID-19 tally at 731,450 following Thursday’s new infections. Another 160 deaths were added as well, pushing the country’s death toll from the virus to 18,622.
Of Canada’s total infections, over 645,720 patients have since recovered from the virus however while over 20,925,000 tests and 738,864 vaccine doses have been administered to date.
Ontario added another 2,632 cases on Thursday, as well as another 46 deaths. Total cases there now stand at 247,564, with Ontario set to overtake Quebec this week as the province with the highest number of confirmed cases.
Quebec recorded another 1,624 infections, as well as another 66 fatalities. The death toll in the province remains the highest in Canada, with over 9,270 Quebecers succumbing to the virus to date.
British Columbia added another 564 cases and 15 more deaths on Thursday. The province has also registered a total of 559 “epi-linked” cases, who are people that were in close contact with confirmed cases and display symptoms of the virus, but were never formally tested for it. A total of eight cases included in today’s count are considered “epi-linked.”
Alberta added 678 more infections on Thursday, pushing the provincial caseload to 119,114. The province marked a grim milestone on Thursday as well, with its death toll passing the 1,500 mark after another 16 deaths were announced.
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In Saskatchewan, another 226 cases were reported Thursday. The province also recorded its highest ever daily death toll from the virus after 13 more deaths were announced by public health officials there. A total of 239 COVID-19 related deaths have occurred in Saskatchewan since the beginning of the pandemic.
Officials in Manitoba Thursday announced an easing in COVID-19 restrictions, with most in the province now able to get haircuts and buy non-essential items in stores come Saturday.
Health officials there also recorded another five COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, as well as 198 new cases of COVID-19.
In Atlantic Canada, both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador added a single case each, while New Brunswick reported another 32 infections. Prince Edward Island did not add any new cases on Thursday.
Both the Yukon and Nunavut did not report any cases on Thursday. Global News’ tally also recorded a single new case in the Northwest Territories, though the infection was originally identified on Wednesday. N.W.T.’s total caseload stands at 31 confirmed infections.
Worldwide cases of the novel coronavirus continue to spread, with global total infections now standing at 97,425,000 according to Johns Hopkins University. A total of 2,087,820 people have also succumbed to the virus, with the U.S., India and Brazil continuing to lead in both cases and deaths.
— With files from the Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Don’t downplay mRNA: Experts say new technology could change the vaccine landscape – Westerly News
When drug companies like Pfizer and Moderna learned to successfully incorporate messenger RNA technology into a COVID-19 vaccine, experts say they likely opened the door to a significant shift in the future of immunization.
The milestone in vaccine development was met with enthusiasm from most, but the seemingly swift pace and novel approach is causing hesitancy in others.
Experts say the new technique shouldn’t dissuade people from getting the vaccine. While the mRNA method is new to inoculations, the actual technology has been around for decades.
The difference now, they say, is scientists have ironed out the kinks to make a useful product.
“It sounds fancy, mRNA, but there’s nothing outlandish about it,” said Dr. Earl Brown, a virology and microbiology specialist with the University of Ottawa. “This is the way our cells operate — we live by mRNA.”
Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were the first inoculations approved for humans to use mRNA, which provides our cells with instructions to make proteins. In the case of COVID vaccines, the injected material shows cells how to make a harmless piece of the coronavirus spike protein, which then teaches our immune system to recognize the virus and fight off a future infection.
Scientists made the vaccine by programming genetic material from the spike protein into mRNA, a process that theoretically could work for other viruses.
“As long as you know how to create those instructions — that genetic code you need to convince your body to create that target — you can design an mRNA vaccine against any antigen,” said Nicole Basta, an associate professor of epidemiology at McGill.
“But the question is whether it will be effective, and whether it will be safe.”
The development of future mRNA vaccines might be quick, Basta says, but they would need to go through the usual evaluation process and clinical trials to ensure safety and efficacy. So vaccines for other viruses won’t be popping up overnight.
Still, Basta adds, there’s potential for using mRNA to either improve upon existing vaccines or to develop new ones against other pathogens.
Dr. Scott Halperin, a professor at Dalhousie University and the director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, sees mRNA vaccines as “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”
Part of the reason COVID vaccines came together so quickly was the technology had been developing for years, Halperin said. The global pandemic offered scientists a pressing opportunity — and unprecedented funding and collaboration — to try again for a viable injection.
Previous research had been done on creating mRNA vaccines against Zika and other viruses, Halperin added, and there were earlier efforts focused on cancer treatments. Coronavirus-specific research was further sped up by spike protein analysis from SARS and MERS.
While the mRNA technology itself is impressive, Halperin says improvements need to be made to create a more temperature-stable product before these types of vaccines and treatments “truly take over.”
“The logistics of delivering mRNA vaccines right now, we wouldn’t want to have to do that for every vaccine we produce,” he said, referencing the ultra-cold storage temperature that’s currently needed. “But I do think it’s an important milestone.”
Scientists are expected to continue advancing the technology, just as they did recently in solving two confounding problems with mRNA — its fragility and instability.
Brown says fragility was resolved by packaging the mRNA in a fat coating, giving it something to help bind onto cells so it wouldn’t disintegrate upon injection. The instability was conquered by modifying the uracil component of RNA, one of the four units of its genetic code.
“The technology application is new, but the science is mature,” Brown said. “We’ve just reached the point at which we can apply it.”
Traditional vaccines typically contain a killed or weakened virus, Brown said. Those methods are still being used in COVID vaccine development, including by AstraZeneca-Oxford, whose product has not yet been approved in Canada.
A benefit to using mRNA is the speed at which a vaccine can be developed or updated once scientists know what to target, Brown says.
While experts believe current vaccines will work against recent variants of the COVID virus — including one originating in the U.K. that’s more transmissible — Brown says mRNA’s adaptability could theoretically come in handy if new strains emerged that necessitated an update.
“In six weeks they could produce something,” he said. “It would still have to go through Phase 3 trials, but it does give you more flexibility and a big leg up.”
Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
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Delays to Canada's deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses keep getting worse – Winnipeg Free Press
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla by phone Thursday, the same day the company informed Canada delays to its shipments of COVID-19 vaccines are going to be even worse than previously thought.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander now overseeing the vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said last week a factory expansion at Pfizer’s Belgium plant was going to slow production, cutting Canada’s deliveries over four weeks in half.
In exchange, Pfizer expects to be able to ship hundreds of millions more doses worldwide over the rest of 2021.
Tuesday, Fortin said Canada would receive 80 per cent of the previously expected doses this week, nothing at all next week, and about half the promised deliveries in the first two weeks of February.
Thursday, he said the doses delivered in the first week of February will only be 79,000, one one-fifth of what was once expected. Fortin doesn’t know yet what will come the week after, but overall, Canada’s doses over three weeks are going to be just one-third of what had been planned.
Trudeau has been under pressure to call Bourla, as the delayed doses force provinces to cancel vaccination appointments and reconsider timing for second doses.
Fortin said some provinces may be hit even harder than others because of limits on the way the Pfizer doses can be split up for shipping. The vaccine is delicate and must be kept ultra frozen until shortly before injecting it. The company packs and ships specialized coolers, with GPS thermal trackers, directly to provincial vaccine sites.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week he doesn’t blame the federal government for the dose delays but wanted Trudeau to do more to push back about it.
“If I was in (Trudeau’s) shoes … I’d be on that phone call every single day. I’d be up that guy’s yin-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” he said of Pfizer’s executives.
Trudeau informed Ford and other premiers of the call with Bourla during a regular teleconference to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Until Thursday, all calls between the federal cabinet and Pfizer had been handled by Procurement Minister Anita Anand.
Ford also spoke to Pfizer Canada CEO Cole Pinnow Wednesday.
Trudeau didn’t suggest the call with Bourla made any difference to the delays, and noted Canada is not the only country affected.
Europe, which on the weekend thought its delayed doses would only be for one week after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke to Bourla, now seems poised to be affected longer. Italy is so angry it is threatening to sue the U.S.-based drugmaker for the delays.
Mexico said this week it is only getting half its expected shipment this week and nothing at all for the next three weeks. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also reported delays getting doses. Pfizer Canada spokeswoman Christina Antoniou said more countries were affected but wouldn’t say which ones.
Fortin said Pfizer has promised to deliver four million doses to Canada by the end of March and that is not going to change with the delay. With the current known delivery schedule, the company will have to ship more than 3.1 million doses over 7 1/2 weeks to meet that commitment.
Deliveries from Moderna, the other company that has a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada, are not affected. Canada has received about 176,000 doses from Moderna to date, with deliveries arriving every three weeks.
Moderna has promised two million doses by the end of March.
Both vaccines require first doses and then boosters several weeks later for full effectiveness. Together Pfizer and Moderna intend to ship 20 million doses to Canada in the spring, and 46 million between July and September. With no other vaccines approved, that means Canada will get enough doses to vaccinate the entire population with two doses by the end of September.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.
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