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With variants, current health measures not enough to stop pandemic resurgence: modelling – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
With COVID-19 variants of concern continuing to spread across Canada, new national modelling shows that even the current level of public health measures will not be enough to prevent a resurgence of the virus nationwide.

The dire warning comes as part of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) new pandemic projections. The modelling shows that, while the COVID-19 epidemic is coming under control, the trajectory changes considerably when the new variants are factored in.

Looking at only non-variant COVID-19 spread, if Canadians maintain their current number of contacts the epidemic will continue to come under control. Factoring in the more contagious variants, however, cases will spike again under Canadians’ current level of precautions and restrictions.

The presentation made by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo notes that, with variants of concern now detected in all provinces with “increasing prevalence and spread,” if Canada wants to keep flattening the pandemic curve, more stringent public health measures and individual precautions are needed.

Based on the current projections, the current pandemic controls may not be enough to fully control the variants. The long-range forecast predicts a “strong resurgence” in March and April in all provinces.

Accordingly, if people let their guards down and if public health measures are lifted the variants are forecasted to send infection rates spiking to levels far past what was seen in either the first or second waves.

The modelling is focused on three variants of concern: the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in U.K. the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, and P.1 the variant first identified in Brazil.

As of Feb. 18, PHAC data indicates that there have been 664 confirmed B.1.1.7 variant cases, 39 B.1.351 variant cases, and one case of the P.1 variant.

The modelling does not explicitly factor in the increasing rates of vaccination in Canada. However, it shows that international experience with these variants have been that while vaccine programs expand, stringent adherence to mask wearing, physical distancing and other precautions have helped control the spread.

Based on the current pandemic situation, daily case counts, deaths and hospitalizations are currently declining in most of Canada and fewer health regions are reporting high rates of infection across all age groups.

The short-term forecast predicts Canada will see up to 878,850 total cases by Feb. 28 and total deaths could reach up to 22,420 people by the end of the month.

As of when the modelling was issued on Friday morning, there have been a total of nearly 837,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases Canada-wide, and nearly 21,500 deaths.

More details to come.

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Coronavirus: Health Canada approves two AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Health Canada has approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and a related shot by the Serum Institute of India for use in this country with the first doses expected to arrive soon.

Canada joins more than a dozen other countries that have given the green light to ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the shot from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which was among the first buzzed-about vaccine candidates in 2020.

A version of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the Indian pharmaceutical company Serum Institute of India and sponsored by Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Canada has also been approved for use and is considered a separate vaccine by Health Canada.

The two-dose vaccines have been approved for use in people 18 years of age and older, including seniors, with the recommendation that the second dose be administered between four and 12 weeks after the first, officials said Friday.

“This is very encouraging news. It means more people vaccinated and sooner,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a press conference on Friday.

“We’re ready to get doses rolling… With Pfizer, Moderna and now AstraZeneca, Canada will get to more than 6.5 million doses by the end of March.”​

AstraZeneca has promised 20 million doses to Canada, with the federal government saying it’s been in talks with AstraZeneca about locking in shipments as soon as the regulatory green light was given.

As well, up to 500,000 doses could be sent to Canada by the end of March as part of the global vaccine-sharing program known as COVAX.

The inoculants, which are the third and fourth approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, is considered to be relatively cheap and easy-to-store, a factor that sets it apart from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines already in circulation. AstraZeneca has reached agreements with international health bodies and governments to price each dose at about US$2.50. Doses of the AstraZeneca shot can be stored at temperatures between 2 C to 8 C, while the other two require ultra-cold freezers.

“The big, big thing that makes this different than other vaccines, which is a huge, huge advantage, is that it can be stored at refrigeration temperature,” Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at McMaster University, told CTV News Channel on Friday. 

“For a vaccine rollout to go to remote areas, to go to homeless shelters, to go to places that can’t tolerate even a -20 C fridge, this is going to be an incredible tool.”

The newly approved vaccines are the first “viral vector-based vaccines” for COVID-19 to be approved in Canada. This type of vaccine, which uses a modified cold virus commonly found in chimpanzees, has been in use for decades, said Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, on Friday.

Viral vector vaccines use a “harmless modified version of a different virus — the vector — to deliver instructions to our cells,” she said. “The cells begin to mark proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19, which then prompts the body to develop an immune response.”

The Pfizer and Moderna shots are both messenger RNA technology, which provide a kind of “instruction booklet” for cells to make antigens.

EFFICACY CONCERNS

The AstraZeneca vaccine has already faced efficacy concerns as variants of the novel coronavirus pop up around the world. In South Africa, officials suspended plans to use the shot on health-care workers after a clinical trial indicated it is less effective against the B.1.351 variant predominant in that country.

In France, the vaccine is only being administered to people under the age of 65, as officials cited a lack of data about its efficacy for older people. While Health Canada acknowledged Friday that the clinical trial data was limited for seniors, officials said blood tests showed people over 65 still produced COVID-19 antibodies after vaccination. Plus, the “real world evidence and post-market experience” in countries that have been using the AstraZeneca vaccine showed “a potential benefit and no safety concerns” in seniors.

CTV News Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said people concerned about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccines should look to a regular flu season for some “perspective.”

“A great match between a circulating flu strain and the vaccine in a given year might not exceed 60 per cent. If the flu vaccine is delivered widely in the community, we see dramatic reduction in every bad outcome,” he told CTV News Channel on Friday.

“This [AstraZeneca trial] was a multinational trial in five countries and there wasn’t a single death or a single episode of really severe disease really attributable to the vaccine, [which] did a great job in reducing both of those very important metrics. 

While federal health regulators received the application for authorization from Verity and Serum Institute on Jan. 23, they were reviewing the AstraZeneca vaccine for nearly five months in collaboration with the European Medicines Agency. In early February, health officials said they were going back and forth with AstraZeneca about what information the vaccine label will include and cited ongoing trials in the U.S. as one of the reasons the review process for the jab had been “complicated.”

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV’s Rachel Aiello 

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Health Canada approves use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca

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Health Canada has approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, clearing the way for millions of more inoculations in Canada.

Canada’s regulatory experts had been assessing the submission from AstraZeneca and Oxford University for safety and efficacy since October, and announced their approval Friday morning.

“AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is indicated for active immunization of individuals 18 years of age and older for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019,” reads their website.

“The efficacy of the vaccine was estimated to be 62.1 per cent. Overall, there are no important safety concerns and the vaccine was well tolerated by participants.”

Canada has secured access to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some jurisdictions, notably France, have restricted the vaccine to people under the age of 65 despite the World Health Organization’s insistence that the product is safe and effective for all age groups. Health Canada said it has no immediate safety concerns for those 65 and older.

‘Potential benefit’

The regulator said the clinical trial results “were too limited to allow a reliable estimate of vaccine efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older.”

“Efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older is supported by immunogenicity data, emerging real world evidence and post-market experience in regions where the vaccine has been deployed, which suggest at this point in time a potential benefit and no safety concerns,” said the approval.

“Efficacy in this age group will be updated as additional data becomes available from currently ongoing trials.”

Health officials are expected to give a technical briefing on the approval at 10 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet along with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her deputy Dr. Howard Njoo will give an update at 11:30 a.m. ET. CBC News will carry it live.

Regulator still reviewing 2 other vaccine candidates 

Earlier this week, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, told the House of Commons health committee that the regulator has received all the necessary scientific information from the company but was still looking into questions about labelling and the product monograph — the information disseminated by Health Canada to medical professionals about how and when a vaccine should be administered and in what groups.

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are already being rolled out in Canada.

Unlike those two shots, which are based on mRNA technology, the AstraZeneca uses more conventional viral vector technology.

Health Canada is reviewing two other vaccines: one from Johnson & Johnson and another from Novavax.

Other countries — notably Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom —  have already authorized AstraZeneca for use in their jurisdictions.

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U.S. ticketing company's box office bust costing grassroots Canadian artists – CBC.ca

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Community theatre director Nicole Jennissen believed she did everything right staging her original play, Love in the Time of COVID, in September 2020.

It was written as a series of vignettes, keeping actors in two-or-three-person bubbles. It was performed outside obeying health guidelines. And it was completed inexpensively for non-profit Tumbleweed Theatre of Brooks, Alta.

“In fact, the only two lines on the budget were masks and hand sanitizer,” Jennissen said. 

But the romantic comedy became a tragedy.

Nicole Jennissen, left, acts in a scene from Love in the Time of COVID with fellow performer Cassandra Socchia. (Nicole Jennissen)

Tumbleweed used Seattle-based Brown Paper Tickets to handle ticketing online to avoid cash but Brown Paper is facing complaints and legal action over allegations of not paying collected ticket proceeds.

Jennissen alleged Brown Paper owes $2,030 for Love in the Time of COVID. Despite repeatedly contacting the company, she has no idea when or if Tumbleweed will be paid.

“It’s absolutely defeating,” she said. “We put all of this effort in and the money that our patrons expected to come to us is not sitting with us.”

A screenshot from Jennisson’s Brown Paper Tickets account shows the $2,030 earned from Love in the Time of Covid. (Nicole Jennissen)

Other Canadian artists and organizations alleged they too are owed money from Brown Paper or their audiences are owed refunds for events cancelled by the pandemic.

Washington State is suing, claiming it has received 583 complaints and the company owes more than $6.75 million US  across the United States. 

The state’s attorney general said 80,000 people in the U.S. may be affected by the company’s conduct.

Artists and organizations in Canada, having spent up to 11 months trying to get answers from the company, are wondering when or if they or their audiences will ever see the money they say Brown Paper collected on their behalf. 

A scene from Love in the Time of Covid, staged in a city park in Brooks, Alta. (Nicole Jennissen)

Popular with grassroots artists

CBC News called and emailed Brown Paper several times to comment on this story but received no reply.

In a September statement, the company promised better communication.

“While we can’t offer an estimated timeline for your specific refund at this moment, our team has been and continues to initiate full refunds to ticket holders… and pay event organizers,” the statement read.

“Like many businesses, we were unprepared for a crisis of this scale but we are making headway.”

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, seen here in 2017, alleged in a statement that 80,000 people in the U.S. have been impacted by Brown Paper Tickets’ conduct. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Brown Paper is popular with smaller arts organizations for its low fees. 

Audience members purchase their ticket from Brown Paper online, then, after the event, Brown Paper passes collected money to event organizers, minus a service charge.

Jennissen said $2,030 might not seem like a lot but Tumbleweed relies solely on ticket sales for funding.

“When we can’t do a lot of shows… that’s a huge cut for us,” she said. “This is going to affect the ability for us to do shows.”

Brown Paper Tickets has posted statements online apologizing for poor communication and is blaming the inability to pay out some events on a rash of pandemic-related cancellations. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Festival hurting

Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival artistic director Robert Remington said his festival sold $20,415 of advance tickets through Brown Paper for their June 2020 jamboree on Vancouver Island. 

In April 2020, the pandemic forced the festival to cancel. Organizers told Brown Paper to issue refunds, which should have taken two to six weeks.

Omie Wise performs at the 2019 Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival. Remington says money lost due to the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 festivals might impact the growing festival’s lineups going forward. (Robert Remington)

Almost 11 months later, no one has been paid back, Remington said, so the festival is reimbursing ticket holders from its own contingency fund.

“We just feel an obligation to our fans to take care of them,” Remington said. “For an all-volunteer, community-run festival… $20,000 is a lot of money.”

Refunding the tickets might mean a scaled-back festival going forward.

Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival artistic director Robert Remington says the festival will be back but might have to hire fewer headliners. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

‘It’s really frustrating’

Victoria-based roots rocker Stephen Fearing was to play a gig in March 2020. Brown Paper sold tickets online.

The show was cancelled over the pandemic. His promoter told Brown Paper to refund ticket buyers.

Some fans passed on a refund to donate $2,200 to Fearing but he still hasn’t seen a cent.

Musician Stephen Fearing said he is amazed by the generosity of his fans but angry he never received their donation. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“Their generosity never got to me,” Fearing said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Marc Jenkins, another Victoria-based musician, had two Bob Dylan tribute shows at Herman’s Jazz Club in May 2020.

The shows were cancelled with $700 of tickets sold through Brown Paper. No refunds have yet been given.

Musician Marc Jenkins said any donations from his cancelled shows in Victoria would be helpful. The band is made up of independent musicians who have struggled for work since the pandemic started. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“The most frustrating part is just being left in the dark and having to answer emails from folks,” Jenkins said. 

“I never got the money from them in the first place. I’m just standing in the middle getting yelled at.”

Jenkins said some of his audience members wanted to donate their money as well but he hasn’t been able to confirm how many and he hasn’t received any cash.

“It might not seem like a lot of money… but it is important,” Jenkins said. “It’s tough when there’s not many gigs coming in.”

Marc Jenkins said his cancelled shows at Hermann’s Jazz Club have led to numerous angry emails from would-be audience members unable to get a refund. (CHEK News)

Legal action

The lawsuit filed by Washington State is presently in the discovery stage, a spokesperson from the attorney general’s office said this week.

While individuals are not eligible to join in attorney general enforcement actions, the spokesperson said, the attorney general’s office “routinely” seeks court orders for financial restitution for all impacted consumers under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

At least two separate class action lawsuits have been filed in the U.S., but CBC hasn’t seen any that are certified.

Pittsburgh-based law firm Carlson Lynch is behind one.

“It’s sort of like musical chairs… when the music stopped, they were holding all this money,” said lawyer Jamisen Etzel.

“Where did the money go?”

CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

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