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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 24

The first big real-world study of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is 94 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies.

Pfizer jabs 94% effective in real-world conditions. Manitoba reports lowest daily case increase since October

Ontario plans for thousands of new personal support worker positions

Canada

2 months ago
1:15
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province will offer free tuition to train 6,000 new PSWs for positions in long-term and community care as part of its strategy to fix 'decades of neglect' in long-term care. 1:15

The latest:

The first big real-world study of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing COVID-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies.

Up until now, most data on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines has come under controlled conditions in clinical trials, leaving an element of uncertainty over how results would translate into the real world with its unpredictable variables.

The research in Israel — two months into one of the world's fastest rollouts, providing a rich source of data — showed two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases by 94 per cent across all age groups, and severe illnesses by nearly as much.

The study of about 1.2 million people also showed a single shot was 57 per cent effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks, according to the data published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

This latest study comes as Ontarians aged 80 and older are set to start receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the third week of March as the province expands its immunization campaign.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault watches a man get his COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Montreal's Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Retired general Rick Hillier, the head of the province's vaccine task force, announced a specific timeline for distributing the shots on Wednesday, noting the schedule depends on vaccine supply.

Hillier's announcement comes as members of the general public in both Alberta and Quebec will be able to start booking appointments this week. Ontario has been running behind the schedule it initially set out. 

Hillier said the delay in launching Ontario's version is because the focus until that point will be on populations that don't require an appointment, such as patient-facing health-care workers and essential caregivers for long-term care residents.

"I would have liked to have it earlier, quite frankly," Hillier told reporters, adding that health authorities are working "furiously" to test the system.

Ontario then aims to vaccinate adults aged 75 and older starting April 15. Shots will go to those 70 and older beginning May 1, he said.

WATCH | Confusion remains around vaccine rollout in Ontario, family doctor says:

Confusion remains around vaccine rollout in Ontario, family doctor says

Canada

2 months ago
8:02
The Ontario government needs family physicians to play a larger role in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines because they can help find and innoculate patients who may not be able to make it to mass vaccination centres, says Dr. Nadia Alam. 8:02

People aged 65 and older will be vaccinated starting June 1 and those 60 and older the following month.

Vaccinations for populations considered high-risk, including Indigenous adults, will be ongoing as the province targets those age groups.

Essential workers will likely begin getting their shots in May if supply allows, Hillier said.

Some private-sector companies with large operations have offered to vaccinate their essential workers, their families and communities when the time comes, and Hillier said the province intends to take them up on the offer.

"We will take advantage of all of it," Hillier said.

Shots will be administered at pharmacies, mass vaccination sites, mobile units and smaller sites depending on the public health unit.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Institute for Cancer Research Genomics Director Trevor Pugh discuss COVID-19 research in Toronto on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The transition to vaccinate the broader population will ramp up as the province completes its high-priority vaccinations over the next week — staff, residents and essential caregivers in long-term care homes, Hillier said. Second doses have also begun in some fly-in First Nations communities.

Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Wednesday that Moderna will meet its contractual obligation to deliver two million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March.

Trudeau said that the Massachusetts-based firm will send 460,000 doses during the week of March 8 and 840,000 doses starting on March 22 — 1.3 million doses.

In announcing the new Moderna numbers, Trudeau said Canada will receive "even more than promised in the first quarter." But the government has always maintained that two million shots will arrive in the period of January through March. 

Pfizer, Canada's other current supplier of vaccines, has confirmed already it is on target to ship four million shots by the end of March.

WATCH | Geriatricians take questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, seniors and safety:

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective for seniors?

The National

2 months ago
7:02
Two geriatricians answer viewer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and seniors including improving access to doses and the safety of the vaccines. 7:02

Canada trails much of the Western world in the number of doses deployed so far.

The United States expects to roll out three to four million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine next week, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the White House COVID-19 response co-ordinator said Wednesday.

A Johnson & Johnson executive on Tuesday said the company expected to ship nearly four million doses of the vaccine once it gained authorization.

The additional vaccine will help President Joe Biden's administration in its goal of ramping up vaccination across the country as it seeks to control the pandemic that has cost more than 500,000 lives in the U.S. and pummeled the economy.

The U.S. FDA said Wednesday the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine appeared safe and effective in trials, paving the way for its approval for emergency use as soon as this week.

The company has a contract to deliver 100 million doses to the United States by the end of June. 

Separately, the sister of Washington Mayor Muriel E. Bowser died from the virus on Wednesday. The Washington Post reported on the death of Mercia Bowser, 64. 


What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario sets timelines for COVID-19 vaccination priority groups:

Ontario sets timelines for COVID-19 vaccination priority groups

Canada

2 months ago
1:07
Ontarians aged 80 and over will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in the third week of March, said retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario's vaccine task force as he outlined a series of dates for the vaccine rollout. 1:07

As of 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 855,132 cases of COVID-19, with 30,395 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,807.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 1,054 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 675, with 287 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

The update came as the head of the province's vaccination task force, retired general Rick Hillier, gave an update on Ontario's vaccine rollout. He offered timing around when people in different age groups — beginning with people over 80 in late March — will be able to access vaccines. Also in Ontario, several international travellers arriving at Toronto's Pearson airport have refused to comply with a new rule requiring a hotel quarantine of up to three days, and were fined $880 under provincial regulations. 

In Quebec, health officials reported 806 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 17 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 655, with 130 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported eight new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Wednesday. The province had 345 active cases, and six COVID-19 patients in hospital.

Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. 

P.E.I. confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 and one public exposure site — a Toys R Us store in Charlottetown.

New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, affecting two zones of the province.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported its lowest daily jump in new COVID-19 cases since mid-October on Wednesday, with 45 new infections. More than half the new cases — 23 — are in the Winnipeg health region, the province said.  All Manitobans 95 and older and First Nations people 75 and over can now book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Neighbouring Saskatchewan reported its lowest new daily case number since November on Wednesday, with 56 new cases.  

As of Wednesday, anyone born in 1946 and earlier in Alberta was supposed to be able to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, but the booking system quickly became overwhelmed. Alberta reported 430 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 13 more deaths.

B.C. health officials announced 456 new cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths on Wednesday. The latest numbers mean that the seven-day rolling average of new cases has been rising for a week straight.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut or Yukon on Tuesday. Health officials in the Northwest Territories reported two more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, saying one was an "out-of-territory worker related to the Gahcho Kué Mine outbreak" and the other was an "out-of-territory seasonal worker in Yellowknife."

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer said she expects the territory to have full herd immunity — meaning, 75 per cent of the eligible adult population having received two doses of the Moderna vaccine — by the end of the April.

Here's a look at what's happening across Canada:

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET


What's happening around the world

WATCH | The benefits of bringing families together during COVID-19 treatment:

The benefits of bringing families together during COVID-19 treatment

The National

2 months ago
3:32
COVID-19 restrictions are keeping many patients apart from loved ones in the hospital, but doctors, patients and families are speaking out about the benefits of bringing families physically together during treatment. 3:32

As of Wednesday night, more than 112.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 63.3 million cases listed as recovered on a tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at nearly 2.5 million.

In the Americas, the presidents of Mexico and Argentina pressed the United Nations and the world's richest countries to improve poorer nations' access to vaccines.

Mexico's Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell, who has spearheaded the country's response to the pandemic, has begun receiving supplemental oxygen as part of his treatment for COVID-19, a government official said Wednesday evening. 

Brazil has fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine, though a dispute over a supply deal means it has none to start an immunization program with.

Colombia has approved the emergency use of AstraZeneca's vaccine.

In Africa, South Africa's government advisers had organized vaccines into three groups and those considered for "immediate use" were the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna shots.

People line up to get tested at a COVID-19 clinic on Wednesday in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Ghana has become the first country in the world to receive vaccines acquired through the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative with a delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. The vaccines, delivered by UNICEF, arrived at Accra's international airport early Wednesday and are part of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines being sent by COVAX, an international co-operative program formed to make sure low- and middle-income countries have fair access to COVID-19 vaccines.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea's top infectious disease experts warned that vaccines will not bring the disease to a quick end and called for continued vigilance in physical distancing and mask wearing as the country prepares to give its first shots on Friday.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said Wednesday it would take a "considerably long time" before the mass vaccination campaign brings the virus under control.

The country aims to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the population by November. But a safe return to a life without masks is highly unlikely this year, considering various factors including the growing spread of virus variants, said Choi Won Suk, an infectious disease professor at the Korea University Ansan Hospital.

"We are concerned that people might drop their guard as vaccination begins, triggering another massive wave of the virus," Jeong said.

RN Suzette MacLeod, right, administers the COVID-19 vaccine shot to Patsy Paul-Martin at the first Mi'kmaw COVID-19 clinic at Millbrook First Nation in Truro, N.S., on Wednesday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Jeong spoke as South Korea began transporting the first vaccines rolled off a production line in the southern city of Andong, where local pharmaceutical company SK Bioscience is manufacturing the shots developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

The country will kick off the vaccination on Friday starting with residents and employees at long-term care facilities.

Separately, some 55,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals treating COVID-19 patients will begin receiving the shots developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Saturday.

Thailand, meanwhile, received its first batch of vaccines, with inoculations set to begin in a few days.

India will start inoculating people above 60, and those with underlying health problems above age 45 in the second phase of its massive vaccination drive from March 1.

India's Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar says the vaccinations will be done in 10,000 public and 20,000 private hospitals. Javadekar told reporters on Wednesday that vaccine shots in government hospitals will be free, but did not say how much it will cost in private hospitals.

India started inoculating health workers beginning on Jan. 16. The country is home to the world's largest vaccine makers. The government has authorized emergency use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and a homegrown vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech.

Elsie Saint-Louis receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination centre at the Gateway World Christian Center in Valley Stream, New York, on Feb. 23. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Cases of COVID-19 are increasing in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. In many cities, markets are bustling, roads are crowded and restaurants are nearly full. The country is reporting about 11,000 to 13,000 new cases a day, compared to a peak of nearly 100,000. in September.

In the Middle East, the World Bank threatened to suspend its multimillion-dollar financing for Lebanon's vaccinations over politicians jumping the line.

In Israel, an open-air concert in Tel Aviv on Wednesday was one of the first in a program to restart cultural events by restricting attendance to people who have been vaccinated or those with immunity after contracting the disease. Attendees were required to show a "Green Pass," a government-validated certificate showing they had received both doses of the vaccine more than a week prior to the event or that they had recovered from COVID-19 and were presumed immune.

Ghana received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations, as the world races to contain the pandemic. (Nipah Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

In Europe, the Czech prime minister said the pandemic situation in his country, one of the hardest-hit in the European Union, is "extremely serious" and his government will have to impose more restrictions to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the measures are needed to prevent "a total catastrophe" in hospitals that have been coming close to their limits.

The government will decide those measures later Wednesday. Babis says they will be similar to those in place last spring, when the borders and schools were completely closed. He also mentioned possible restrictions to limit the movement of people.

Sweden is preparing new measures to try to curb a resurgence in cases.

European Union government leaders will agree to maintain curbs on non-essential travel within the EU despite the bloc's executive asking six countries to ease border restrictions.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9 p.m. ET

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and CBC News

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