Pfizer said Thursday it is seeing waning immunity from its coronavirus vaccine and says it is picking up its efforts to develop a booster dose that will protect people from variants. However, some scientists and regulatory agencies have questioned the need for a booster shot. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint statement that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster COVID-19 shot at this time, Reuters reports. And the European Medicines Agency said it was too early to determine whether more than the two shots that are currently required would be called for, saying it was confident for now that the established regimen was sufficient.
Lifting the remaining pandemic restrictions on July 19 in Britain is “dangerous and premature,” according to international scientists and doctors, who have called on the U.K. government to pause reopening until more people are vaccinated.
Writing in the Lancet, more than 100 global experts warn that removing restrictions this month will cause millions of infections and risk creating a generation with chronic health problems and disability from COVID, the impact of which may be felt for decades. Government scientists expect cases of COVID-19 to soar in the summer months — even without the further easing of restrictions. On Wednesday, the U.K. reported more than 30,000 new cases for the first time since January, and an increase of more than 40 per cent in hospital admissions and deaths.
However, the Guardian reports that government sources have said further delay or U-turn is not on the cards, but they expect to come under increasing pressure in the coming days to change course. “I think we’d only be looking at further delay if there was an emergence of a particularly nasty new variant,” one said. Another source said it was unlikely that the plan could be knocked off course, whatever the numbers.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, was also cautious about drawing conclusions. “Best data still suggest mRNA vaccines offer high degree of protection against infection and superb protection against severe illness. Let’s await more data but as of now … If you’re vaccinated, I wouldn’t worry,” he tweeted.
Also, reports CNN, a study by Public Health England found this month that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were each highly effective — at 96 per cent and 92 per cent respectively — against hospitalizations from the Delta variant after two doses.
The news comes after the duchess made a public appearance at Wimbledon on Friday. During the visit, she met with staff in the All England Club kitchens and toured the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. As a patron of the club and keen tennis fan, Kate attends the tournament every year, but will now miss the men’s and women’s final. She will also miss a service of thanksgiving and hosting a “Big Tea” with Prince William to mark the 73rd anniversary of the National Health Service. William and his father both contracted coronavirus last year. Both Kate and William received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in May.
Yesterday, Los Angeles County Public Health “strongly” recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places. In the week ending on June 12, Delta variants accounted for nearly half of all variants sequenced in the county. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that Delta variants are now responsible for about one in every five new infections across the country, up from approximately one in every 10 the week before.
In Canada, there have been more than 4,100 cumulative cases of the Delta variant, with Ontario accounting for 42 per cent of the cases in the country and British Columbia accounting for 31 per cent. Because of Delta, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, warned yesterday that it will be at least another three weeks before it is safe to reopen indoor restaurant dining and gyms.
The more contagious Delta variant, he said at a press conference Tuesday, “is a difficult adversary. It is aggressive. It wants to spread rapidly. It’s virulent and it can have an increased risk of admission to hospital.”
An in-depth analysis by the RSC of all deaths reported across Canada between Feb. 1 and Nov. 28, 2020 revealed that at least two-thirds of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in communities outside of the long-term care sector may have been missed. “This suggests that if Canada has continued to miss these fatalities at the same rate since last November, the pandemic mortality burden may be two times higher than reported.”
As well, the RSC finding casts doubt on the estimate that 80 per cent of Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19 occurred among older adult residents of long-term care homes, a proportion double the 40 per cent average of peer countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “The number of possible missed deaths in the country’s communities suggests that COVID-19 fatalities in long-term care actually account for 45 per cent of Canada’s total COVID-19 death toll, a figure more in line with the OECD average.”
The RSC study presents “a very different picture as to how the pandemic has unfolded in Canada. It strongly suggests that while the novel coronavirus was devastating the long-term care sector in two successive waves in 2020, it was also devastating communities outside long- term care.”
About 25 per cent of the likely missed community deaths occurred in people between the ages of 45 and 64, likely front-line and essential workers, recent immigrants and people living in multigenerational households. “The failure to recognize the heightened COVID-19 risk faced by community-dwelling elders and economically precarious, racialized workers likely delayed the implementation of public health interventions that may well have saved lives. “
The National Institute on Aging has issued a new online tool called ‘My COVID-19 Visit Risk,’ in partnership with Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), to help assess the risk of exposure in this phase of the pandemic.“Within the first 72 hours we had over 32,000 users from across the country,” Toronto geriatician Dr. Samir Sinha, a member of the National Institute on Aging, told CTV News. “I think with vaccination, we now have newfound freedoms ahead of us, but I think people are really nervous about how to actually negotiate that,” said Sinha, who helped develop the interactive tool.
Nor is a mask or distancing necessary for fully vaccinated people when outdoors with others from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or their vaccination status is unknown. Examples are playing a close contact sport, gathering with a group of friends, child’s outdoor birthday party, outdoor wedding.
More than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and yesterday also saw the release of a study showing that, during the pandemic, life expectancy in the country dropped by roughly 1.9 years — the largest decline seen since the Second World War. In comparison, estimates from the study put decline in 16 peer countries (including the U.K., New Zealand and France) at 0.22 of a year (less than three months). Canada’s figures were not included in the study, but a report from Statistics Canada on June 1 estimates that COVID-19 decreased life expectancy by 0.41 years, or a little less than five months.
With the highest fully vaccinated rate in Canada, 62 per cent, Yukon is facing a surge of COVID-19 that has seen total cases, now at 224, more than double in the past two weeks. Of the 144 cases in the latest outbreak, the territory’s top doctor said that 122 were among unvaccinated people ranging in age from one to 90. “For many months, almost as on a pedestal, with our zero active cases and high vaccination rates, all eyes in Canada were on us,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, after reporting four new cases and one death at a news conference Wednesday. “And now the same eyes are on us for a much different reason. A highly vaccinated territory is undergoing the most significant outbreak since COVID-19 began.” More than 72 per cent of residents have at least one dose, but Hanley said 80 per cent should receive their shots to prevent spread of the virus. The Gamma variant first identified in Brazil has been identified in the outbreak, which has been linked to graduation events at a high school, two classes at an elementary school, several parties as well as gatherings at bars.
Delta Variant Causing Worry in U.S., Sydney Locks Down Over Cluster
Meanwhile, residents in Australia’s biggest city are being told not to travel outside Sydney unless it’s essential as restrictions have been tightened under a growing cluster of the Delta variant. Masks are mandatory outside the home, patrons must be seated while drinking in bars and household visits are limited to five people. “Please abandon non-essential activities, please don’t attend social gatherings unless you absolutely must,” said New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “I’m not going to rule out further action.” The cluster has been traced back to an unvaccinated airport limousine driver who is suspected of being infected while transporting a foreign aircrew. There have been 31 identified cases since he tested positive last week. “I just urge the New South Wales government to get this under control because it’s a threat and a risk to the rest of the country. If that means a lockdown, well, then that’s what should happen,” said Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia, which has banned travellers from anywhere in New South Wales.
Unfortunately, the study did not reveal whether mixing two vaccines affects the body’s immune response in fighting the virus. The answer to this hugely important concern will have to wait a few weeks. “The full picture will be clearer when we see the antibody picture and see whether this [adverse reaction] has led to an improved immune response,” says Dr. Matthew Snape, professor at the Oxford Vaccine Group who led the study.
AstraZeneca officials have so far not responded to the latest developments. In a March 18 press release, the pharmaceutical company that makes the vaccine responded to VITT concerns, calling it “very rare” and noting that “this has been reported in fewer than one in a million people vaccinated so far in the U.K., and can also occur naturally — a causal association with the vaccine has not been established.” In a March 14 release, AstraZeneca claimed that “the company is keeping this issue under close review but available evidence does not confirm that the vaccine is the cause.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout has been a public relations disaster since it was approved for use here in late February. At first, public health officials indicated that it should not be given to those over 65. In mid-March, these guidelines changed, and health officials suggested that it was safe for all age groups. In late March, however, public health officials again changed their message, advising that it should only be made available to those younger than 55. In mid-April, many provincial health officials switched course yet again and began offering the dose to anyone over 18. And now, in mid-May, Ontario and Alberta have both paused its use.
According to the Toronto Star, 900,000 doses of AstraZeneca were administered in Ontario before the pause, creating an aura of anxiety among recipients about mixing vaccines in order to get their second shot. Last week, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam spoke about the advisability of mixing vaccines, saying researchers are currently studying the question and that “there will be further advice forthcoming.”
The chaos surrounding the AstraZeneca pause hasn’t been helped by the mixed messages Canadians are getting from politicians. Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will continue to import AstraZeneca vaccines. And last week Trudeau urged Canadians to take the first dose offered to them, claiming that “every vaccine administered in Canada is safe and effective, as evaluated by Health Canada.”
The poll suggests that Canadians have confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, despite continually changing recommendations for their use and safety concerns over blood clot risk from the viral vector shots — it was reported today that Alberta will stop giving first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and will use remaining supply for second doses only. More than eight in 10 people surveyed said they are either already vaccinated or plan to be when it’s their turn. That’s up from six in 10 people last October, and seven in 10 in January. “Pretty much every government in the Western Hemisphere would be happy if 82 per cent of adults did get vaccinated,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque. And it seems those with confidence may help move the needle further, with 44 per cent of respondents saying that they’ve attempted to change the mind of a friend or family member refusing to get vaccinated.
The poll also suggests that the majority of Canadians are open to the idea of vaccine passports; 61 per cent agreed that the government should implement proof of vaccination for public events/gatherings. Consensus grew to 82 per cent when people were asked if non-Canadians entering the country should have to provide a vaccine passport, and almost as many respondents, 79 per cent, believe that should extend to Canadians who wish to travel by plane within or outside the country. However, only just over half of those surveyed believe the government should have the right to limit employees in health-care settings — including long-term care homes — to people with proof of vaccination.
And although only 54 per cent of people said they were somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19, nearly eight in 10 people said “no,” when asked if governments should lift all restrictions. But are Canadians happy with restrictions put in place to help fight the coronavirus? Only about half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with measures by federal (50 per cent), provincial (52 per cent) or municipal (58 per cent) governments. Provincially, satisfaction was lowest in Alberta, 29 per cent, where restrictions have recently ratcheted back up under a third-wave surge — and in Ontario, 37 per cent, where hot spots have been under North America’s longest lockdown, which is expected to continue into June.
The Canadian government, however, is still weighing its options, said Foreign Affairs minister Marc Garneau. Discussion on whether to lift patents, as was done in the AIDS crisis, was “very active,” he said in an interview on CTV.
“Canada’s position is that we need to obtain more vaccines, we need to all put more money into the COVAX program, and by the way, Canada is the fourth largest contributor to the COVAX program, and we need to discuss with manufacturers whether they’re prepared to make licensing arrangements to allow greater production of the vaccine,” he said.
The WTO operates on consensus and cannot approve a new policy if key countries are opposing it. The U.S. had previously refused to support a patent waiver, which the pharmaceutical industry has vocally opposed. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
This content was originally published here.