The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for May 5
- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
- Albertans encouraged to help relieve strain on hospitals.
- More than 200 Manitoba doctors call on premier to enact restrictions to limit virus spread.
- Find out the potential impact of the coronavirus in the U.S. this summer, according to projections.
Read more: The Canadian government has detailed the aid it is giving as India grapples with devastating virus toll; healthy demand for pop-up clinic seen in Montreal neighbourhood with lower vaccine uptake.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine now authorized for those as young as 12
Calling it a "significant milestone in Canada's fight against the pandemic," Canada's health regulator on Wednesday cleared the way for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in individuals as young as 12 years old.
Health Canada made its decision after reviewing clinical trial data from Pfizer, which enrolled 2,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 in its U.S.-based trial, giving half that group a placebo and the other cohort the same vaccine that is used in adults.
In the trial, the 18 cases of COVID-19 that were noted were all recipients of the placebo.
"While younger people are less likely to experience serious cases of COVID-19, having access to a safe and effective vaccine will help to control the disease's spread to their families and friends — some of whom may be at a higher risk of complications," said Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada. "It will also support the return to a more normal life for our children, who have had such a hard time over the past year."
Dr. Zain Chagla, associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the 12-15 age group is at "higher risk for transmission" than younger children.
"The more people that are safely vaccinated, it allows for more places to be opened up."
The Pfizer vaccine is the first product to be authorized for use in this younger age category. Moderna and AstraZeneca are conducting trials into the effects of their vaccines with respect to children.
There have been reports in recent days that the United States will soon also authorize the use of the Pfizer vaccine in the 12-to-15 cohort.
From The National
Alberta's government speaks to recently enacted restrictions, strain on hospitals
Alberta's premier on Wednesday quickly seized on the Health Canada authorization detailed above in this newsletter by announcing an expanded vaccine rollout extending to individuals as young as 12.
The rollout will be implemented in two steps. Starting Thursday, vaccination appointments will be opened to Albertans aged 30 and up, then on Monday it will expand to include people aged 12 and older.
"When we were earlier in the pandemic, we were kind of on a tightrope without a net. The vaccine is our net now," said Premier Jason Kenney, indicating that the developments make 1.3 million more Albertans eligible for the vaccine.
The vaccination uptake could take several weeks to progress, however. In the meantime, Kenney noted that the province's caseload is growing at 1.8 per cent a day, which would see 30,000 active cases in the province by the middle of May and perhaps 40,000 active cases by the end of the month.
"When you take that number and apply the ratio of cases-to-hospitalizations, you end up moving into the red zone in terms of ICU capacity, of well over 300 ICU patients with COVID in early June," said Kenney.
Currently, Alberta hospitals are treating about 670 COVID-19 patients, including 150 in ICU beds.
On Tuesday, Kenney's UCP government announced sweeping new public health measures, but Wednesday's briefing involved several cabinet ministers communicating in detail to the public and reporters.
"I know that Albertans are tired, including everyone who's followed the rules and worked to stop the spread," said Health Minister Tyler Shandro. "But if we all work together to embrace these restrictions, we will get this final wave of COVID under control."
The restrictions announced this week include a move to online learning for all Alberta students, closures of restaurants and bars to in-person dining and outdoor gatherings limited to five people.
Manitoba physicians press premier to act as COVID-19 hospitalizations increase
Manitoba doctors are expressing concerns about the current trend line in the province with respect to COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba intensive care wards has doubled in eight weeks and could eventually exceed the peak of the second wave, some of them say.
Dr. Dan Roberts, an intensive care physician at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and one of 212 signatories on a letter sent to Premier Brian Pallister on Tuesday, said more restrictions are needed in order to prevent "deep, deep circumstances" within two to three weeks.
Roberts said he is not certain Manitoba hospitals will have enough staff to care for their most acutely ill patients in the coming weeks.
"You can ask Ontario what they're going through now, asking for ICU physicians and nurses from outside the province," said Roberts. "So I don't doubt that this progression could be even worse than what we saw in December and January, and the possibility that we won't be able to cope is definitely there."
Glen Drobot, an internal medicine doctor based at St. Boniface Hospital, said he is concerned about burnout for intensive care staff.
"My colleagues will do the best that they can, but we're worried that that may not be enough for what we think is going to happen in the next couple of weeks," said Drobot.
There are 47 patients receiving ICU care, per the province's Wednesday report, with 184 hospitalizations attributable to the coronavirus.
Most U.S. projections regarding COVID-19 forecast significant drop in cases, hospitalizations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States on Wednesday released projections from six research groups as to the potential trajectory of the virus over the next several months.
The reality will depend on human behaviour and mitigation efforts, the agency said.
"Each of these differences [in models] are people's lives," said Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Even under scenarios involving disappointing vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are forecast to drop dramatically by the end of July and continue to fall afterward.
The CDC is now reporting an average of about 350,000 new cases each week, 35,000 hospitalizations and more than 4,000 deaths. Under the most optimistic scenarios considered, by the end of July new weekly national cases could drop below 50,000, hospitalizations to fewer than 1,000, and deaths to between 200 and 300.
The U.S. death toll stands at more than 578,000. A closely watched projection from the University of Washington shows the curve largely flattening out in the coming months, with the toll reaching about 599,000 by Aug. 1.
The worst-case scenario foretells a potential rise to 900,000 cases per week, with 50,000 hospitalization and 10,000 deaths every seven days.
"We're still in a tenuous situation," said one of the study's co-authors, CDC biologist Michael Johansson.
Signs of increased societal activity have sprouted across the country.
New York announced a target date of Sept. 14 for Broadway shows to reopen, with New York City planning to restore all-night subway service later this month. Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised, and the Transportation Security Administration reported the highest level of airport traffic on May 2 since March 2020.
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.
Herd immunity thinking has evolved, but so have vaccines and human behaviour
The concept of herd immunity was tackled in this article by CBC's Robson Fletcher and shared earlier Wednesday in the CBC Morning Brief newsletter, which you can subscribe to here. But given how widely discussed the concept has been since early in the pandemic, we think it's worth revisiting in this space in more detail.
The herd immunity threshold is calculated using an equation with two main variables: the transmissibility of a virus and the effectiveness of our immune response — which, at a population level, comes from a combination of vaccination and natural infection.
The exact percentage of the population that needs to be fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 in order to reach herd immunity is uncertain and can change. Earlier in the pandemic, the threshold was estimated at about 70 per cent. But more recent estimates range as high as 80 or even close to 90 per cent.
Transmissible variants can develop anywhere in the world, especially where the vaccine uptake lags, plus it appears neither vaccination nor natural infection confers perfect immunity.
But it's not reason to fret, according to University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan. He says we can achieve the same benefits of herd immunity by maintaining some degree of public health measures along with growing levels of vaccination.
"If we're willing to have mitigation tools in place for a long time, we can achieve effective herd immunity," Deonandan said. "It's just not what people think about when they think about herd immunity. They think about a free-for-all."
Erin Strumpf, an associate professor in the department of economics and the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University in Montreal, said she believes the end of the pandemic looks more like a drawn-out affair, rather than a hard stop.
"We're going to have to live with potentially fewer people in stores and retail spaces," she said. "We're going to keep wearing masks. We're going to still continue to work from home and maybe some in the office.
The decision Wednesday to open up vaccine eligibility to those as young as 12 should be of benefit, according to work done by Caroline Colijn, a mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
Recent modelling that Colijn helped devise shows an enormous reduction in viral spread in a scenario where kids as young as 10 can be vaccinated.
Cross-border shopping is taking on a new meaning in a time of mass vaccination
In Manitoba, a recent deal was struck allowing some essential workers to get vaccines from North Dakota.
Brian Masse, NDP MP for Windsor West in Ontario, said he wants to see that sort of model between the province and New York and Michigan, starting with essential workers and then potentially expanding.
"What we're calling for, quite specifically, is the excess vaccinations to be used for essential workers going into the United States from Canada," he said.
The idea has been pitched by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. According to the mayor's office, Windsor pharmacists who work in the U.S. have told Dilkens that vaccines are being wasted in Detroit, since there are multiple doses in a vial and a limited time frame in which to use the product once opened.
Windsor officials say they've contacted provincial and federal levels of government and hope to have an answer in the coming weeks, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.
State statistics show Michigan's vaccination rate stands at 50 per cent, although just 30.8 per cent of Detroit residents have received at least one dose.
While the links between Windsor and Detroit are historically strong, there may be other considerations from the American side.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for states to make vaccines available on a walk-in basis, including at neighbourhood pharmacies. His administration is also for the first time planning to shift allocation formulas to address imbalances between U.S. states with consistently lower uptake and those that have strong demand for the shots. Until now, the distribution has been proportional based on population.
Find out more about COVID-19
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With files from The Associated Press