The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for August 27
- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
- There are now 2 approved COVID-19 vaccines for the youngest Canadians eligible to be vaccinated.
- Expert reaction, analysis on the latest COVID-19 research involving the delta variant.
- World roundup: COVID-19 developments in U.S., Britain, Africa.
- Explore: Liberals promise money for provinces that roll out vaccine passports.… Conservatives angered that federal public health briefings on COVID-19 have stopped during the election campaign.… Quebec could make changes to vaccination passport after flaws are exposed.… U.S. Fed Chair signals potential shift in economic approach in coming months, though delta still a wildcard.
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine approved for 12- to 17-year-olds in Canada
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday that Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is now approved for use in Canadians aged 12 to 17.
It's the second approved vaccine for adolescents, although there's a slight age discrepancy with the putative competitor brand. The Pfizer Bio-NTech vaccine was approved in early May for those aged 12 to 15, after already getting the regulatory go-ahead for those 16 and over in December 2020.
Moderna applied for authorization for administering its vaccine to adolescents in early June, citing a clinical trial of 3,700 youth in which none of the teens who got two doses developed a COVID-19 infection. For comparison, European regulators approved the Moderna vaccine for children more than a month ago, while the United States has not yet authorized it for teenagers.
Health Canada earlier this summer added labels to both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines advising of rare and usually mild reports of myocarditis and pericarditis, heart inflammation conditions. The incidence has predominantly been in males under the age of 30, but experts have said that COVID-19 is much more likely statistically to lead to those types of inflammation than either vaccine.
In Canada, 557 cases of the two conditions have now been diagnosed in people who had received one or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, 96 per cent of whom had received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Half of the people who developed the conditions were between 12 and 29 years old.
Overall, the conditions occurred in less than one in 100,000 people who received the vaccine.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting trials testing the effectiveness of their COVID-19 vaccines in kids under the age of 12. Pfizer has said that it expected to send its trial data to U.S. regulators in September for emergency use authorization. Moderna also hopes to produce data on its trials with the youngest eligible recipients sometime in the fall, though it may not occur until early 2022.
While Canada and the U.S. haven't necessarily moved in lock-step when it comes to giving the go-ahead to COVID-19 vaccines, the top official from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington said in the past week that any vaccine approval for the youngest of children — a decision ultimately made by the Food and Drug Administration — might be a few months away.
Health Canada estimates that as of Aug. 21, nearly 77 per cent of Canadians aged 12 to 17 had received at least one dose of vaccine, with 63.6 per cent were fully vaccinated. Some provinces have allowed for the inoculation of kids who are in their 12th year but have yet to celebrate their birthdays; some 7,350 Canadians under 12 have been fully vaccinated.
The fully vaccinated rate in the 12-to-17 group was actually higher than the 18 to 29 rate (60.45 per cent) and only a few percentage points off the pace of those 30-to-39 (66.7 per cent), as provinces and regional public health units have tried to persuade young, healthy adults to take up the shots.
From The National
Does delta cause more severe COVID-19? What we know and don't know
A small-but-growing body of research suggests the highly contagious delta variant raises your risk of serious illness, but it's tough to know for sure if it's the root cause of more severe COVID-19, both researchers and outside experts say.
The latest findings out of Singapore involve a comparison between 829 hospitalized patients infected with one of three variants of concern — including delta — and 846 patients admitted to hospitals with the original coronavirus strain in early 2020.
"After adjusting for age and sex, [delta] was associated with higher odds of oxygen requirement, ICU admission, or death," the research team wrote.
The findings of the study are similar to what was seen in both a broad analysis of Singapore's national-level data and a detailed study of patients with severe outcomes, the paper continued. The conclusions also echo other international studies, including one out of Scotland and another from a team in Ontario.
But while these studies all link delta to cases of severe disease, determining whether the variant itself is causing more serious illness — and if so, what mechanism is at play — is hard to confirm in real-world research. While more research is needed, Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease fellow in Stanford University's division of infectious diseases and geographic medicine, said any signals that delta might cause more severe infections are concerning, given how many people remain unvaccinated and susceptible to this virus.
Older populations are still high-risk, but Karan said he's also worried about younger adults who typically have some of the lowest vaccination rates despite being eligible for their shots.
"I'm concerned about those people transmitting it onwards to elderly folks or to immunocompromised folks," he said. "I'm concerned about some of those younger people who have some comorbidities like obesity."
Other research has also hinted at why delta spread so swiftly, with high viral loads potentially playing a role. How much higher isn't entirely clear, with studies suggesting the delta variant could result in anywhere from 300 to 1,000 times more virus inside someone's body.
With all the uncertainty, the reassuring constant is that getting vaccinated still offers significant protection against the worst outcomes from coronavirus even if you're infected with delta.
"Vaccination status was associated with decreased severity," the Singapore research team wrote.
According to Health Canada tracking, 72.5 per cent of the Canadian population and 82.7 per cent of the eligible population (Canadians 12 and up, generally) is fully vaccinated. Each category increased less than two percentage points from the previous week, reflecting the fact that the rate of inoculation is slowing, with only hard-to-reach, hesitant or resistant Canadians left among those eligible.
World roundup: British festivals set to rock despite high case rates, intensive care units in U.S. filling up
The latest surge in American coronavirus cases is overwhelming many intensive care units, causing hospitals and states to run out of ICU beds in some locations.
Kentucky and Texas broke records this week for COVID-19 hospitalizations, joining a handful of other states that had already reached the same milestone in recent weeks. Arkansas said it ran out of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients for the first time since the pandemic began.
Nearly 80 per cent of the country's ICU beds — or about 68,000 — were in use Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And about 30 per cent of those beds, or nearly 25,000, were filled by someone with COVID-19.
In Britain, tens of thousands of revellers will descend on late summer music festivals this weekend, armed with a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination in an effort to curb rising infections.
Reading and Leeds, twin events that are a rite of passage for post-exam teenagers, will be two of the biggest since the government removed restrictions in July following a rapid vaccine rollout. Reading had a capacity of 105,000 in 2019.
With Monday a public holiday in England, other large gatherings are being staged across the country, including the 70,000-strong Creamfields event in northwest England. For the past week, the seven-day average of cases has been hovering at just over 26,000 cases per day in England.
While signs of pre-pandemic life are increasing in the West, Italian Premier Mario Draghi on Friday bemoaned the uneven global economic recovery and said the "grossly unequal" access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially in Africa, are making it harder to end the pandemic.
Draghi on Friday remotely addressed a meeting of the G-20 Compact with Africa. He noted that close to 60 per cent of the population of high-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in low-income nations, only 1.4 per cent have.
"The global economy is just as uneven," said Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief. He pointed out that emerging market and low-income countries have spent a far lower percentage of their GDP to boost growth after the pandemic's economic shock.
"We must do more — much more — to help the countries that are most in need."
The European Union, meanwhile, moved to reinstate COVID-19 travel restrictions like quarantine and testing requirements for unvaccinated citizens of the United States and five other countries, two diplomats told Reuters on Friday. The 27-nation bloc maintains a list of countries whose citizens can travel to the EU without additional COVID restrictions, a list that includes Canada.
One diplomat said that in addition the U.S., other countries that would be removed from the safe travel list would be Kosovo, Israel, Montenegro, Lebanon and North Macedonia.
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With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press