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York Region in 'race against time' to administer first doses of COVID-19 vaccine –



With the COVID-19 variants of concern continuing to increase in our communities, vaccinating as many residents as possible has become “a race against time,” according to York Region’s associate medical officer of health.

“The quicker we can get the most number of our residents vaccinated in the short term with even one dose, the better it is for everybody,” said Dr. Fareen Karachiwalla in the public health unit’s weekly video update on March 15.

“More lives can be saved, and we can have a better shot at revitalizing and healing our communities before more COVID-19 takes hold,” she added. 

While some residents are concerned about York Region’s move to align itself with the Ministry of Health’s decision to increase the time between the first and second doses of all vaccines available in Canada up to 16 weeks, or four months, it’s crucial to allow more people to get their first doses while the rate of COVID-19 remains “unpredictable” and vaccine supplies are limited, she said. 

“Without an unlimited supply of vaccines for every single person to have two doses right away on schedule, it is a race against time,” she added.

York Region is working to reschedule all second dose appointments that were previously booked according to the shorter timeline between doses.

To date, more than 60 per cent of York Region residents aged 80 and older have received their first dose, and nearly 70 per cent of health-care workers in the highest and very high priority groups have been vaccinated under the province’s phase one vaccination distribution plan. 

“These are incredible milestones to celebrate. The more we protect the most vulnerable and those at highest risk for COVID-19, the more lives we can save, and sickness and grief we can prevent,” Karachiwalla said.

The first doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown to provide a “very high rate of effectiveness” of about 92 per cent of protection two weeks after being administered, she said.

“After the second dose, the protection is pushed up further, to 94 to 95 per cent, and that protection is expected to last for many more months

“So, the whole point of the second dose is to boost and lengthen how long you are protected for. But remember, in the short term, people do get excellent protection with the first dose.”

Today, a sixth vaccination clinic has opened in York Region, in Maple, and an additional 19,000 appointments were made available for the phase one priority groups beginning today, March 15.

As vaccine supplies continue to increase in the coming weeks, more clinics will open, she added. 

York Region has chosen to continue using its existing booking system at five of six current clinic locations, including the one at Newmarket’s Ray Twinney Recreation Complex, rather than transition to the provincial booking system that launched today, Karachiwalla said.

The Cornell Community Centre clinic in Markham will transition to the provincial booking system as of today, however, it can be accessed the from region’s site,, or directly from the provincial system at

York Region will move to the phase two age and priority groups as quickly as possible, Karachiwalla said.

It’s expected that phase two will begin in April, including adults aged 60 to 79 years of age, individuals with specific health conditions, people who live in hotspots with high rates of death, hospitalizations and transmission, and certain workers who can’t work from home, York Region medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji said.

Residents of long-term care facilities, retirement homes, and congregate care settings, as well as the Chippewas of Georgina Island, have been immunized, Kurji said.

“We have not forgotten about anyone. We continue to follow the prioritization guidance from the province and work with our partners to reach all our residents as soon as we can,” he said. 

The very strict cold storage and transportation requirements of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have limited the public health unit’s ability to provide the vaccine to homebound seniors. 

“Please know we are working very hard on finding ways to reach York Region residents who are homebound and cannot travel to a clinic,” Kurji added.

There has been no confirmation of delivery of the AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson vaccines in York Region, he said. 

According to the neighbouring Simcoe Muskoka public health unit, residents there have been experiencing error messages and unsuccessful attempts to book vaccine appointments on the province’s new online booking system. 

Apparently, the province hasn’t included all of the region’s clinic locations or appointments in its system, so residents attempting to book appointments are being told there are none close to home. 

A resolution is expected by the end of the day, and the health unit is recommending residents try again later.  

— With files from Ericka Engel

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Australians living with disability have been 'abandoned' in vaccine rollout: Butler – Sky News Australia



Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler has highlighted “shocking evidence” which came to light at the Senate Inquiry into COVID on Tuesday which indicates the majority of vulnerable Australians are not fully vaccinated.

“You’ll remember that phase 1a, the vaccination of our most vulnerable members of the community, aged care residents, disability facility residents and their staff were supposed to be completed by Easter, that is what Scott Morrison promised,” he said.

Mr Butler said the evidence showed two-thirds of aged care residents still have not been fully vaccinated and “shockingly” more than 99 per cent of residents in disability facilities have not been fully vaccinated.

“Australians living with disability have been abandoned by Scott Morrison in this vaccine rollout.”

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Specified front-line workers in Manitoba a little more at ease after prioritization for COVID-19 vaccine –



Foodfare employee Jackie Sandul is looking forward to some peace of mind as Manitoba’s COVID-19 immunization strategy is slated to expand Friday.

On Wednesday, Manitoba officials released new details for expanding vaccination eligibility to adults living in certain geographic areas with high rates of COVID-19 spread or more severe outcomes.

Certain front-line workers, including grocery store workers like Sandul, will be part of the prioritization.

“It makes me safer. My employees and everybody in general around this area,” said Sandul, who is a cashier, supervisor and stockperson at the Foodfare on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.

“Germs are passed by touch. If you’re touching someone’s money, what do we do? Touching their cards, touching their groceries. When you’re scanning it through the till, you don’t know what they’ve touched or where they’ve been.”

Sandul, a 45-year-old with diabetes, is already eligible for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. But knowing she’ll be prioritized through the province’s immunization plan adds a level of comfort because she won’t have to worry much longer about picking up the novel coronavirus at work, she said.

Geographic areas are deemed hot spots based on previous COVID-19 transmission rates, population density and socio-economics such as race, average income and housing, said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine task force. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba’s vaccine task force has been reviewing public health data from the second wave and so far into Wave 3 to determine which parts of the province have seen high levels of coronavirus transmission and where residents have had more severe outcomes after contracting COVID-19.

They have also been reviewing which professions put people at greatest risk of picking up SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Front-line workers serving hot spot communities at a school, food processing facility, food establishment such as a restaurant and grocery or convenience store will be prioritized.

People working as child-care or daycare providers, food or public health inspectors, or workplace safety and health officers will be prioritized too.

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832 has been pushing for such a shift for grocery store employees for a while now, said president Jeff Traeger.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to these people that have been doing this work, because we all have to eat and we all have to shop to get our food. They’ve gone to work each and every day throughout the pandemic to make sure that our community keeps running,” he said.

“If there’s any way that we can reduce the risk, like putting them higher on the vaccine priority list, we should be doing that.”

Traeger would have liked to have seen security guards, who often work in places like grocery stores, be added to the priority list too.

The upcoming changes to vaccine eligibility will be a huge boost for morale for school staff, said Chris Goring, principal of Isaac Brock School, a nursery to Grade 9 school in Winnipeg’s West End.

“It’s going to validate the hard work that staff have been doing in the school, not just teachers — educational assistants, custodians, administrators, clerical staff,” said Goring.

“It’s going to be peace of mind for them when they go home to their families.… It’s going to help us carry through the remainder of the school year and keep our schools safe.” 

A teacher with students at Isaac Brock School, where principal Chris Goring hopes the upcoming changes to the vaccine may also soon lead to a bit of normalcy for students. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Shaun Jeffrey, CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, appreciated public health officials recognized restaurant employees were at greater risk, he said.

The problem was Jeffrey learned about the changes the same time the general public did.

“Our industry looks to us for guidance and for feedback and education on what’s happening in Manitoba. We need to be brought up to speed on what the province’s plans are so that we can distribute that and communicate that in an effective manner,” he said.

People booking appointments will be asked for proof of employment, such as a workplace ID or letters from employers. In some cases, they may be asked to simply say they work in an eligible industry. They will be asked for proof of employment on the day of the vaccine appointment as well.

More essential workers may be added to the priority list as more vaccine doses become available, said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, during a Wednesday news conference.

The list of hot spots should be released Friday. Geographic areas are deemed hot spots based on previous COVID-19 transmission rates, population density and socio-economics such as race, average income and housing, said Reimer.

The people CBC News spoke with for this story agreed it makes sense to prioritize people working in communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

But Traeger believes all grocery store workers ought to be prioritized because of the amount of contact those employees have with the public, he said.

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Expert says Saskatchewan should consider more targeted vaccine plan as variants surge –



SASKATOON — Nazeem Muhajarine says he feels a sense of relief after receiving his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine last week at a centre in Saskatoon.

“It was just so well-organized and run. I felt completely safe,” Muhajarine said in an interview.

The professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan said the province is making great strides quickly getting shots into arms, but he’s concerned some people are being left behind.

Premier Scott Moe touted during question period Wednesday that Saskatchewan is leading the country when it comes to administering first vaccinations. 

“Our way through this pandemic, everyone’s plan to get through this pandemic, is to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Moe said. 

More than 365,000 doses of vaccine have been given in Saskatchewan. Health officials say 52 per cent of residents over the age of 40 have received their first shot. 

It puts Saskatchewan — with a population of just under 1.18 million — ahead of other provinces when it comes to doses delivered per capita. Data from a COVID-19 vaccination tracker, run by University of Saskatchewan students using federal and provincial data, suggests the province in outpacing Ontario and Quebec.

Moe credits his Saskatchewan Party’s “robust vaccination plan,” which he says will be augmented in the coming days. Eligibility for all vaccines is being lowered to 44 on Thursday, except for in the north where it will go down to 40. It’s expected to drop to 40 for the general population by Wednesday.

Muhajarine said there’s much to applaud about the vaccine rollout. The choice, initially, to use age-based eligibility meant it was easy to understand and targeted those who were more likely to experience severe outcomes if infected, he said. 

Drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinics have also been successful, said Muhajarine. One providing mass immunizations in Regina as the capital has became a hot spot for variants has expecially worked well.

Muhajarine said his own experience shows that organization at larger mass vaccination sites is also commendable. 

However, the professor said now that vulnerable senior populations are immunized and there are highly contagious new strains, the province may be missing the mark.

Getting the most vaccinations out fastest is just part of a good public health response, he said, but surging infections and hospitalizations mean the response should now be targeted to those most affected.

“Workplace spreads and outbreaks have been quite prevalent,” Muhajarine said. “That’s been a huge contributor in Regina and has been a contributor in Saskatoon as well.”

There were 231 new cases in Saskatchewan on Wednesday and four more deaths, including a person in their 30s another in their 40s. The others were over 70. There were 185 people in hospital and 49 in intensive care.

Provincial public health orders were tightened recently as officials warned the more transmissible variant strains were becoming dominant. 

Muhajarine said the recent deaths of influential Cree teacher Victor Thunderchild, 55, in Prince Albert and well-known chef Warren Montgomery, 42, in Regina are examples of people in high-risk work environments who weren’t able to get vaccinations under the age-eligibility plan. 

He said Saskatchewan should consider following Ontario and Manitoba, which are pivoting vaccination plans to target neighbourhoods where people have a higher risk of contracting the virus. 

It should also consider socio-economic factors, including how many residents are in a household and the type of jobs people have, he added.

One example would be neighbourhoods with multi-generational households and where many people work service jobs facing the public. Congregate living facilities such as shelters and correctional centres would be another, he said.

Muhajarine said teachers and other essential workers should also get priority.

Every region in the country is seeing benefits to targeting areas and occupations where the pandemic’s third wave has taken hold, he suggested

“That is not something to be trivialized in this kind of complex and mass undertaking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021. 

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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