The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 7
- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
- Manitoba so far spared brunt of virus waves seen elsewhere, but vaccination pace is lagging.
- Early, but limited research emerges on vaccinations and long-haul COVID-19 patients.
- Teachers warn some students missing from school amid switches between in-person and virtual learning, rollercoaster school year.
Read more: Follow the latest here as Ontario was expected to expand its closure list amid a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations; Montreal hospital reports what is believed to be the youngest coronavirus fatality in Quebec.
Canada's vaccine advisory commitee says extending dose intervals is the best approach for essential workers
The rising coronavirus caseloads in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have led to some calls to target front-line workers as soon as possible in Canada's COVID-19 inoculation campaign.
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) published updated guidelines on vaccinations Wednesday, advising that in the context of supply that is still not overflowing, provinces and regional public health units should "maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine up to four months after the first."
"Second doses should be offered as soon as possible after all eligible populations have been offered first doses, with priority given to those at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 disease," NACI said.
NACI officials elaborated that, based on the expected supply of mRNA vaccines alone, extending dose intervals up to four months will allow 90 per cent of adults over 50 years of age and 75 per cent of adults aged 16 to 49 to receive a first dose of vaccine by the middle of June 2021.
Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of the vaccine panel, said Wednesday that when NACI issued its vaccine priority list in December it recommended that essential workers — including teachers, grocery store staff and food production and manufacturing workers — be vaccinated soon after long-term care home residents and front-line workers.
"The extended dose interval enables those workers to get vaccinated sooner than they would have, at least with the first dose, than using the authorized interval," Deeks said during a virtual news conference. "We've actually prioritized those workers."
B.C. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, speaking at the news conference as chair of Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health, said it's up to provinces to consider the recommendations closely.
There are many approaches that could be taken in the latest stage of vaccinations beyond age cohorts, including via hard-hit postal codes, prioritizing adults who work in schools or through mobile units proactively targeting the unvaccinated.
Said Henry: "It is a balancing act and it's a challenging one."
From The National
Manitoba not yet in another COVID-19 wave, but vaccination pace may make that a formality
At this moment, Manitoba is an island of relative calm among Canadian provinces west of the Maritimes in the COVID-19, writes CBC's Bartley Kives.
On Tuesday, the seven-day average COVID infection rate in Manitoba was 37 cases per 100,000 people. In neighbouring Saskatchewan and Ontario, the same rate was 3.5 times higher at 130 cases per 100,000 over seven days.
Manitoba reinstated a mandatory interprovincial quarantine in an effort to slow the spread of variants of concern and held firm on indoor socialization and dining restrictions, Kives writes.
"There is a third wave coming our way," provincial health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday. The severity of that wave "will depend on how many Manitobans we can get vaccinated prior to it arriving here."
On that score, the numbers look foreboding.
The province has said it has the capacity to administer about 20,000 vaccines per day if supply wasn't an issue. It has been an issue, but the province has also fallen short of readjusted vaccine goals a fraction of that pace, according to tracking by CBC Winnipeg.
Health Minister Heather Stefanson on Tuesday said she thought the government was "doing quite well" in terms of vaccination.
"Obviously there's challenges, and we'll address those as they come forward."
Stefanson described 60,000 Pfizer doses that have yet to be administered, but said they are all accounted for in terms of appointments planned for the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, according to CBC News tracking, Manitoba had administered 216,718 doses overall, with over 62,500 of that total representing people who had received both doses of a two-shot regimen.
Study published on how vaccination may affect those with long-haul symptoms of COVID-19
More than a year into the pandemic, it's not clear how many people are experiencing long-term health issues after contracting COVID-19, but their numbers are growing.
Researchers generally have estimated around 10 per cent of people who get sick with COVID-19 continue to live with lasting symptoms, though some experts believe the figure could be higher.
A new preprint study out of the U.K., which is still awaiting the peer review process, looked at a small group of such "long COVID" patients. It found those who had received at least one dose of the vaccine had "a small overall improvement" in long COVID symptoms and a "decrease in worsening symptoms" when compared to unvaccinated patients.
The researchers followed 66 hospitalized patients whose symptoms persisted. A little over 23 per cent of the vaccinated patients saw some resolution of their symptoms, the researchers noted, compared to around 15 per cent of those who weren't vaccinated — with no difference in response identified between the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines used among the participants.
The team also found another "reassuring result" — fewer vaccinated patients reported any worsening symptoms during the time period studied than the unvaccinated group, though they cautioned that there was a large potential for bias given patients self-reported their symptoms.
Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases physician at Columbia University in New York, said around 40 per cent of the patients he is treating for lingering health issues from COVID-19 are reporting either complete or significant improvement in their symptoms after being fully vaccinated. But Griffin acknowledged the mechanics behind why vaccination might clear up lingering COVID-19 symptoms isn't yet clear.
"I think the most persuasive theory for me is that the virus was never completely cleared, or whatever remnants might still be ... are now able to be cleared because of the robust response that's triggered by the vaccines," Griffin said.
Elaine McCartney of Guelph, Ont., has been experiencing symptoms such as headaches, reduced appetite and dizziness long after contracting the virus.
McCartney, 65, received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month. It's not clear if there is causation, but she has noticed fewer symptoms.
"I was able to go to the store on my own, which I haven't done for eight months," McCartney said. "And my energy was up, and my pain was less."
Teachers warn some students missing from school in bumpy transition between in-person and virtual learning
Canada has been slow to recognize that a significant number of students are currently out of school and that unaccounted for-absences are a serious issue, some educators tell CBC News.
Enrolment figures have fluctuated this school year, with students who were expected to attend missing from in-person as well as virtual classes. There's growing concern about schools' ability to locate students absent from attendance rolls — and the need to quickly get them back into class.
"When we closed the schools here, we presumed that everyone elegantly went online because we ourselves were online. And we forgot that at least six per cent of the population in Canada has no access to online," said Irvin Studin, president of the Institute for 21st Century Questions, a Toronto-based think-tank.
Students who have dropped out may have done so for a variety of reasons, Studin said, from those in vulnerable homes to families whose finances have suffered amid COVID-19, preventing their kids from accessing the tools needed for online schooling.
Toronto-area high school teacher Kirby Mitchell is seeing this trend play out at his school.
"Students that I'm used to seeing wandering the halls, they're no longer there," said Mitchell. "Students I'm used to seeing acting out in class, they're no longer there."
With so much focus on school safety measures, students who have dropped off the grid haven't been a priority, said Mitchell, and that can lead some to feel they're not wanted by the school community and make it easier for them to withdraw.
Middle school teacher Jay Williams began seeing the attendance list at his Toronto school dwindle right from the start of September. It continued when some kids he knew would benefit more from in-person learning were switched to virtual school by their parents.
Like many teachers, Williams has been calling and emailing parents and families, and also said he's open to chatting with students via social media in hopes of maintaining connections and "making sure that every avenue has been exhausted before [they] simply just stop coming."
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.
Britain's regulator adjusts recommendation for AstraZeneca vaccine due to blood clot reports
The European Union's drug regulator said Wednesday it has found a "possible link" between the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine and a rare blood-clotting disorder that has been reported in Europe, but argued the benefits of the shot and the potential health consequences of suffering from COVID-19 still outweigh any risks.
The head of Britain's drug regulator echoed that sentiment, but said people under 30 will be offered another product due to a rare blood clot risk.
Dr. June Raine said the risk "remains extremely low" at "about four people in a million" who receive the shot.
Raine said that as of the end of March, there had been 79 reports, all after the first dose, out of approximately 20 million doses given within the U.K.
The EMA is particularly focused on two types of rare blood clots: one that appears in multiple blood vessels and another that occurs in a vein that drains blood from the brain. It also evaluated reports of people who had low levels of blood platelets, which puts them at risk of severe bleeding.
Raine said 14 of the 19 fatalities noted were cases where cerebral venous sinus thrombosis with low platelets was present, while the other cases were associated with other kinds of thrombosis in major veins. British officials said those outcomes did not constitute proof that the inoculation had caused the clots.
Jonathan Van Tam, Britain's deputy chief medical officer, said it emphasized that inoculations are being thoroughly tracked and that regulators are being transparent.
"You can't pick these kinds of things up until you've literally deployed tens of millions of vaccines," he said.
Canada, which started administering the vaccine in early March, has in effect already gone beyond the British recommendation as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended a pause in the use of that particular vaccine in Canadians under 55 in light of the blood clot reports seen in Europe.
In its tracking of potential adverse events following vaccination, Health Canada has received no reports of the rare blood clotting in this country.
Alberta health officials close church in strongest step yet in response to defiance of public health orders
A church west of Edmonton has been closed as of Wednesday morning over a breach of the Alberta Public Health Act.
In a media statement, Alberta Health Services said it has "physically closed" GraceLife Church in Parkland County and has prevented access to the building until the church "can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health's restrictions."
"With COVID-19 cases increasing and the more easily-transmitted and potentially more severe variants becoming dominant, there is urgent need to minimize spread to protect all Albertans," the statement read.
GraceLife has been at the centre of a prolonged battle over COVID-19 enforcement, defying public health orders and accommodating hundreds of people at its services. The services continued despite a closure order issued by AHS in January.
Alberta officials say they've taken a number of steps prior to resorting to the closure, including an invitation to discuss the issue with Pastor James Coates that has yet to be accepted.
Premier Jason Kenney bemoaned the "great deal of abuse" enforcement officials have sometimes been subjected to in an interview with CBC Radio on Wednesday.
"I do think our enforcement folks, whether it's arrests or bylaw officers, the police forces, they've been very patient during a difficult time trying to get compliance through education, through voluntary compliance and using sanctions as a last resort," said Kenney.
Coates has already been charged in the ongoing controversy and spent 35 days in custody before pleading guilty to a charge of breaching bail. He was fined $1,500.
At the time of this writing, the church had yet to respond to the latest AHS action.
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With files from The Associated Press