Janet Lang had two doses of coronavirus vaccine, but she still double-masks every time she leaves her house.
That’s because Lang, 73, takes oral chemotherapy to control a rare blood cancer. Although the drugs have helped to keep the cancer at bay, they also suppress her immune system, leaving her with the constant worry that although she’s fully immunized, it’s not enough to protect her against COVID-19.
“I’m feeling quite fragile,” Lang told CBC News in an interview near her home in Waterloo, Ont.
A booster shot, she said, would help ease her fears, especially when it comes to the delta variant, she said.
“I’d like to see it put on the agenda [in Canada],” Lang said.
Booster shots will be one of the next big decisions for Canadian officials, with the rise of the more transmissible delta variant, a lack of clarity over when boosters might be needed, and calls from the World Health Organization to get the planet vaccinated before rich countries worry about third doses.
In general, booster shots are used to increase the body’s antibody response to a virus after the immune system has been “primed” by the initial vaccination (for example, tetanus shots). Additional vaccine doses can also help the body fight off different variants of a virus (like the yearly flu shot).
Vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, are working on developing and testing the safety and efficacy of booster shots against Sars-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — and potential new variants.
At this point, Canadian experts say, the existing COVID-19 vaccine schedule is offering excellent protection, including against the delta variant. But it’s not yet known, they say, how long that protection lasts in various populations — and therefore when or whether a booster shot will be needed.
Still, Lang may get her wish in the coming months if Canada follows the lead of the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which is already issuing guidance on potentially starting a booster shot campaign in about two months.
“The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third COVID-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS [National Health Service] ahead of winter,” said Prof. Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chair for JCVI, in a news release.
The British committee recommends that those who are immunosuppressed, living in long-term care or retirement homes, people aged 70 years and older, and front-line health workers should be the first to get a third dose of COVID vaccine, or booster shot.
The U.K.’s targeted approach to booster shots is “spot on,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
“People who live in long-term care facilities, people who are immunocompromised, do generate lower antibody levels and they decline faster over time,” McGeer said.
“There are likely to be some of those people who will not be well-protected come October or November and who might be better protected if they get an extra dose of vaccine.”
WATCH | COVID-19 vaccine booster being considered for the most vulnerable
Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute and member of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, said that although vaccines are doing an excellent job at controlling COVID-19 in Canada right now, he thinks it would be wise to offer booster shots to vulnerable populations in the fall.
“[In] light of the fact that we’re probably going to get in Canada more and more of this delta variant, I think it’s reasonable to start thinking that we’re going to need also a booster or a third dose,” Veillette said.
Both McGeer and Veillette agree that booster shots should go to people in long-term care, those who are elderly and people with suppressed immune systems first.
WHO chief slams booster shots
But some experts, including the World Health Organization, say that policymakers need to look at the broader picture when they’re considering whether to offer booster shots — including the fact that many people in the world have not yet been able to get even their first dose of a COVID vaccine.
“Some countries with high vaccination coverage are now planning to roll out booster shots in the coming months,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, in a news briefing on Wednesday.
“Vaccine nationalism, where a handful of nations have taken the lion’s share, is morally indefensible and an ineffective public health strategy against a respiratory virus that is mutating quickly and becoming increasingly effective at moving from human-to-human,” he said.
Some Canadian physicians, including Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at Chu Ste. Justine in Montreal, share that concern — and argue that one of the best ways to protect vulnerable people against COVID-19 is to vaccinate as many people as possible to build herd immunity.
“If you give those [third] doses here, it means that you’re not giving them elsewhere, you know, worldwide. And at this point in time, what is absolutely needed is for the entire planet to be vaccinated, because if we want to stop the emergence of all those variants of concern that we’re seeing like day in, day out, we absolutely need to have everyone vaccinated,” Quach-Thanh said.
Both Veillette and McGeer, however, said that by the fall, everyone who wants to be vaccinated in Canada will likely have received their doses, and there should be plenty of supply to allow for boosters, especially if it’s limited solely to those who are elderly and those who are immunocompromised.
NACI watching to see if boosters needed
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is watching the scientific data develop as they consider whether booster shots will be needed — or when, said Anna Maddison, spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, in a statement emailed to CBC News.
“Based on previous evidence, booster vaccines may be required when immunity decreases below levels of protection and if there is an increase in breakthrough disease,” Maddison said.
“Booster vaccines may also be required if the evolution of the virus, due to variants of concern, is no longer efficiently recognized by the natural immune system or the vaccine.”
Even if all the data on boosters isn’t in yet, Canada should be ready to use them as a proactive measure, Veillette said.
“I think the science may not be there [yet] to prove that elders need a third dose, but at the same time, do we need to go through what we went through before? Meaning, you know, outbreaks in elders’ homes and then people getting very sick, people dying?”
B.C. kicks off COVID campaign to boost vaccination – Powell River Peak
VANCOUVER — British Columbia has kicked off a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign to encourage as many people as possible over the next two weeks to get immunized at places that are convenient, like beaches and summer camps.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new strategy, called Vax for BC, gives residents who aren’t vaccinated, and those who’ve waited at least seven weeks since their first shot a chance to visit walk-in clinics.
A campaign on Aug. 4 dubbed Walk-in Wednesday will make 20,000 doses available at clinics before a push later in the month and in September to target young people returning to school.
“People in B.C. will be able to get vaccinated on your way to work, during your lunch break, or even when cooling off at the lake,” Henry said Tuesday.
The campaign aims to increase immunization by switching the focus from mass clinics to mobile clinics where advance booking is not required but is encouraged.
“These next two weeks are crucial to our immunization campaign and most importantly, protecting our province and putting the pandemic in our rear-view mirror,” she said, adding two doses of a vaccine provide the best protection against infection.
British Columbia’s seven-day average of COVID-19 cases dipped to 36 in early July, but recently climbed to 86 cases.
The province reported 150 new cases on Tuesday, with more than 60 per cent of them in the Interior Health region. There were 783 active infections in B.C., up from 695 on Monday, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Recent statistics show that most new cases of COVID-19 have been among unvaccinated people in the province, where 62.3 per cent of eligible residents are fully immunized and 80.7 per cent have received at least one dose.
Data from the BC Centre of Disease Control show that less than five per cent of COVID-19 cases from June 15 to July 15 were among fully vaccinated people. During the same time period, 78 per cent of people hospitalized in B.C. with COVID-19 were unvaccinated.
Henry said infections are spreading among clusters of people in communities where vaccination rates are lower so they will be a focus of the immunization plan, including in regions covered by Northern and Interior Health.
Between one and two per cent of people in B.C. are against being immunized, but that number could be as high as five per cent for COVID-19 vaccines among organized groups that are particularly vocal, especially on social media, she said.
People who are unvaccinated could be barred from establishments, Henry said, adding she supports that move by any business because outbreaks could sicken staff and shut down operations.
“We absolutely can say ‘To come in here you have to be immunized.’ And that gives people a level of comfort that they’re in a safer environment,” she said, adding outbreaks have occurred at crowded indoor events like weddings and funerals as well as at nightclubs where unvaccinated people introduced the virus.
While immunization is not mandatory, it’s particularly important for health-care workers, Henry said, noting unvaccinated staff at long-term care homes must wear masks and be regularly tested at work.
“I have very little patience for people who aren’t immunized in health care. We’ve had a vaccination policy for influenza. We will have a very similar policy that if people choose not to be immunized and you work in health care, then you will not be able to work in certain settings without taking additional measures. There will be consequences for that decision.”
The highest number of unvaccinated residents, at 32.5 per cent, are in the North Health region, while that percentage is at 18.1 per cent in Vancouver Coastal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2021.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
The science didn't change, the virus did, Fauci says as U.S. CDC updates mask guidance – CTV News
The change in CDC guidance recommending all Americans wear a mask indoors in areas with high COVID-19 transmission is a sign of the change the Delta variant has carved into the pandemic landscape, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.
“We’re not changing the science,” the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “The virus changed, and the science evolved with the changing virus.”
Before Tuesday, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention advised only unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors. But with the spread of the Delta variant — believed to be at least twice as transmissible as the Alpha variant, which was dominate in the U.S. in the spring — and vaccination rates remaining low while infection rates on the rise, the CDC updated its guidance to advise that everyone in high transmission areas wear a mask when indoors.
Currently, only 49.2% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Some experts point to unvaccinated Americans as an important factor in the mask guidance change, saying the measure had to be implemented to get them to mask up.
“Eighty million American adults have made a choice. They made a choice not to get the vaccine, and those same people are not masking and that is the force that is propagating this virus around this country,” CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN.
But others, including the CDC, said the decision had more to do with new data showing that, unlike with other strains, vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant can still get high viral loads, making it more likely they could spread the virus.
“Unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with a Delta variant,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, citing information investigators found when looking at outbreak clusters.
With nearly all 50 states undergoing a surge of new cases averaging at least 10% more than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the U.S. is seeing just how dangerous the variant is in real time.
“This is actually what you want to happen with science. You want science to be dynamic, you want recommendations to reflect the latest science, and that’s what you see in the recommendations that were issued today,” Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday.
But one thing hasn’t changed, Murthy added, saying data is still showing current vaccines are highly protective against infection, severe illness and death from the Delta variant.
Vaccinations are still the ‘bedrock’ of ending the pandemic
While masking up will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., getting vaccinated is still “the bedrock” to ending the pandemic, Murthy said.
“Vaccines still work. They still save lives. They still prevent hospitalizations at a remarkably high rate,” he added.
Vaccination rates are still not where they need to be to get enough of the U.S. inoculated against the virus to slow or stop its spread, experts have said. Many experts have advocated for vaccine requirements as one way to increase vaccination rates in the U.S.
Los Angeles officials announced Tuesday that the city will require all of its employees to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
“The fourth wave is here, and the choice for Angelenos couldn’t be clearer — get vaccinated or get COVID-19,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement. “We’re committed to pursuing a full vaccine mandate. I urge employers across Los Angeles to follow this example,” he added.
The move comes after the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Los Angeles County nearly doubled in the past two weeks. There are currently 745 people hospitalized with the virus, compared to 372 people two weeks ago, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Such requirements by local entities are “very reasonable,” Murthy said Tuesday.
Some U.S. hospitals and federal agencies are mandating that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. Murthy noted that many private institutions are considering following suit.
“Those are decisions the federal government is not going to make,” Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “It’s going to be institutions that make them, but I do think that they are very reasonable, because this is a time when we’ve got to take all steps possible to protect not just ourselves, but the people around us, from COVID-19.”
Officials call for more vaccinations as hospitals are overwhelmed
The impact of the Delta variant and increasing cases can be seen in the data and in the strain on hospitals.
After decreases over the past couple of months, cases of COVID-19 among children and teens are on the rise again, with more than 38,600 infected last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday.
More than 4.13 million kids have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Kids represent more than 14% of the weekly reported cases.
In Springfield-Greene County in Missouri, the CoxHealth hospital system is having to expand its morgue capacity due to an increase in COVID-19 related deaths, President and CEO Steve Edwards said Tuesday.
“Last year we did expand it and we are expanding it further. We’ve actually brought in a portable piece of technology that allows bodies to be cooled and placed outside the morgue. We have had to expand that because the mortality has gone up so much lately,” Edwards said during an update in the county on behalf of CoxHealth.
In explaining what he called the “severity of the disease”, Edwards said, “We’ve had over 4,000 admissions for COVID. And with 549 deaths that means thirteen and a half percent of our admissions have died. And when we look in our ICUs, about 40% of patients that are in the ICU don’t make it out of the ICU.”
In New Orleans, as cases have gone up, hospitals have become strapped for resources and started turning people away, Communications Director for the City of New Orleans Beau Tidwell said Tuesday.
“For God’s sake, get your vaccine,” he added.
The CDC called on doctors and public health officials to act urgently to get more Americans vaccinated.
“COVID-19 cases have increased over 300% nationally from June 19 to July 23, 2021, along with parallel increases in hospitalizations and deaths driven by the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant,” the CDC said in Tuesday’s health alert.
Without more vaccinations, the U.S. could see increased morbidity and mortality related to COVID-19, which could continue to overwhelm healthcare facilities, the CDC said.
Vaccinated should wear masks indoors in US COVID hotspots: CDC – Al Jazeera English
People in parts of the United States where COVID-19 infections are surging should wear masks indoors even if they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the country’s public health agency has advised.
Citing new information about the ability of the Delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and help protect others,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters during an afternoon news briefing.
The US is averaging more than 57,000 coronavirus cases a day and 24,000 hospitalisations, and public health officials for weeks have warned that COVID-19 infections are increasing, especially in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
Walensky said while vaccinated Americans represent “a very small amount of transmission” – and stressed that the vast majority of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths is occurring among unvaccinated individuals – vaccinated people still have the ability to pass the virus on to others.
“With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever,” she added.
The recent rise in cases comes after mask-wearing and other public health restrictions were loosened, and restaurants, bars and other venues reopened in many parts of the country amid a sharp increase in national vaccination rates.
The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in Republican-leaning states, may choose not to follow them.
“This is not a decision that we … have made lightly,” Walensky said about the new guidelines, acknowledging that many people are frustrated by the ongoing pandemic. “This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighs heavily on me.”
US President Joe Biden welcomed the agency’s recommendations on Tuesday as “another step on our journey to defeating this virus”.
“I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it,” Biden said in a statement, adding that masking students in schools “is inconvenient … but will allow them to learn and be with their classmates with the best available protection”.
“Most importantly, today’s announcement also makes clear that the most important protection we have against the Delta variant is to get vaccinated. Although most U.S. adults are vaccinated, too many are not. While we have seen an increase in vaccinations in recent days, we still need to do better,” Biden said.
The CDC had advised people to wear masks for much of the pandemic in settings where they could not maintain six feet (1.8 metres) of distance between themselves and others.
In April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers. In May, the guidance was eased further for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
The guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.
Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.
Coronavirus vaccines are widely available across the US, and 60 percent of adults are fully vaccinated while 69 percent have received at least one dose, according to CDC data. But millions of people remain unvaccinated – and the recent increase in cases is especially pronounced in US states with low vaccination rates, such as Florida.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, warned during the weekend that the US was moving “in the wrong direction” on the coronavirus – and he urged people to get jabs.
“If you look at the inflection of the curve of new infections,” Fauci said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday, stressing that most infections are among Americans who have not been vaccinated.
“It is among the unvaccinated and since we have 50 percent of the country is not fully vaccinated, that’s a problem – particularly when you have a variant like Delta which has this extraordinary characteristic of being able to spread very efficiently and very easily from person to person,” he said.
Some municipalities and states have re-imposed mask mandates amid the increase in cases.
In St Louis, Missouri, a county-wide mask mandate took effect on Monday, requiring most people, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors and on public transportation.
Los Angeles, California also recently reinstated its mask requirement, while the top public health official in King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, last week asked everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces – even if they are vaccinated.
Calls have also grown to require health workers, among others, to be vaccinated.
“Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” a group of more than 50 healthcare organisations, including the American Medical Association, said on Monday.
That same day, the US Department of Veterans Affairs said it would require its doctors and other medical staff to get COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the first federal agency to impose such a mandate.
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