February 22, 2022

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Jan. 31 | CBC News

People walk during snow fall, one day before the start of compulsory vaccination in Austria during the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Salzburg, Austria, January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Lukas Barth (REUTERS)

Moderna or Pfizer? The differences may be negligible for many Canadians

U.S. health regulators on Monday granted full approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, a shot that’s already been given to tens of millions of Americans since its emergency authorization more than a year ago.

The full approval comes about five months after a similar go-ahead was given for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, in August 2021. About a month after that, Health Canada removed the “interim order” tag for both vaccines.

It wasn’t clear why there was such a time discrepancy between the Moderna and Pfizer full approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both mRNA vaccines offer significant protection against breakthrough infections and hospitalizations, but new research from data collected before Omicron hit shows Moderna’s vaccine may offer slightly better protection compared to Pfizer.

But reports of hesitancy over the Moderna vaccine in Canada have occurred, which haven’t quite been seen to the same degree with Pfizer.

“They walk away from it because they think it’s a lesser vaccine,” Kelly Grindrod, a pharmacist and associate professor at the University of Waterloo school of pharmacy said on the CBC podcast The Dose. “But the evidence doesn’t say Moderna is a lesser vaccine. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.”

According to vaccination data from Health Canada, it appears adults have received Pfizer at a rate of about 4 to 1 over Moderna. And so far, though both have developed vaccines for the five-to-11 age group, only Pfizer’s has received approval at this point by Canadian regulators.

Grindrod chalks part of the disparity in uptake due to a more inconsistent Moderna supply early in the inoculation drive, which was only about nine months ago for most Canadian adults. As well, Grindrod reckons the “brand recognition was huge” with Pfizer given their decades of existence, including developing widely used drugs for consumers for a range of maladies. Moderna, by contrast, is slightly more than a decade old, although its origin story does have a Canadian connection.

A study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last week shows adults who received two doses of the Moderna vaccine had a lower risk of hospitalization compared to those who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The research used data from March to August of last year when Delta was the dominant variant.

Another study looked at the effectiveness of the two vaccines among health-care workers between December 2020 and May 2021. It found that vaccine effectiveness after two doses was 88.8 per cent for Pfizer and 96.3 per cent for Moderna.

“There is some research, especially as you get into older populations — 65 and older, long-term care, people who may be more frail or have weaker immune systems — Moderna definitely seems to have a stronger benefit and more durable protection,” said Grindrod.

With respect to the Omicron variant, Grindrod said the accumulating evidence indicates a similar level of prevention of hospitalization and death when receiving a booster dose of either of the two vaccines.

When it comes to 18- to 29-year-olds, Grindrod said Pfizer is generally the recommended vaccine, given the rare reports of heart inflammation that have occurred, mostly in young males.

But, she said, few people over the age of 30 should be finding any medical reason to turn away from a Moderna shot.

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Trudeau condemns ‘hateful’ expressions during convoy protests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday expressed support for the freedom of expression and assembly, but forcefully condemned those who engaged in vandalism or displayed hateful signs and flags after a convoy of anti-vaccine-mandate protesters converged on Parliament Hill this weekend.

The prime minister and his family were moved from their residence, Rideau Cottage, over the weekend ahead of the demonstrations. The protest was initially focused on the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, but it has expanded into a movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Ottawa police described the protests as mainly peaceful but said Sunday they were investigating a number of incidents, including threatening behaviour, public mischief and dangerous operation of a vehicle.

Police said several incidents Saturday roundly condemned as disrespectful, including protesters jumping on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and adorning a statue of Terry Fox with anti-vaccine material and an upside-down Canadian flag, are also under review. At least one Confederate flag was spotted in the crowd, a holdover from the U.S. Civil War that is often associated with racist and far-right elements. Swastikas were also spotted on a few flags and signs.

“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked, and frankly, disgusted, by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” said Trudeau.

The sentiment more or less echoed a statement released Monday from the office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

“The right to peaceful protest is core to our Canadian identity. I was extremely disturbed, however, to see some individuals desecrate our most sacred monuments and wave swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance this weekend,” said Ford. “That has no place in Ontario or Canada. Not now. Not ever.”

Although the numbers appear to have dwindled considerably, some protesters have pledged to stay on in Ottawa. Trudeau rejected the idea of meeting with any protest leaders, saying he had no interest in going “anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric and violence towards their fellow citizens.”

He thanked the truck drivers who have been vaccinated and have been ensuring Canadians receive goods and groceries. The government announced a vaccine mandate for the industry effective Jan. 22.

Ottawa police, meanwhile, urged people to avoid travelling downtown on Monday.

“For those who choose to remain, we’ll make that assessment once we understand who is still here, what purposes and what public safety risks are associated to that,” said Chief Peter Sloly.

Several city facilities in the downtown will be closed Monday because of the protests, including Ottawa City Hall, the Rink of Dreams and the Ottawa Public Library’s Main and Rideau branches.

Downtown workers who spoke to CBC News said most protesters were verbally polite when heading indoors to frequent businesses, but usually not masked. 

“They’re disrespecting everybody around them because they don’t care about anybody else’s safety,” said Sarah Mahmoud, who works at a coffee shop inside a hotel.

For Mayor Jim Watson, a weekend of protests appeared to be enough.

“They should go back and talk to their MPs about the federal issue of a mandate and allow our city to regroup and start to open up again for the residents and for the tourists and visitors and the people that work here in the nation’s capital,” said Watson.

Canadian provinces hope to avoid past pandemic mistakes in reopening plans 

British Columbia and Ontario will begin easing limits on indoor gatherings, gyms, bars, restaurants and other venues on Monday, with Quebec announcing last week it will soon plot a wider reopening.

If the last two years of the pandemic have taught us anything, writes CBC’s Adam Miller, it’s that the virus doesn’t work on our schedule. And while we may feel like we’re done with COVID-19, it’s not necessarily done with us.

A subvariant of Omicron known as BA.2 is showing early signs of spread in Canada, with more than 100 cases detected to date. Denmark’s leading public health institute found it could be 1.5 times more infectious — highlighting the threat of the rapidly mutating virus.

“The greatest opportunity for mutations and variants to arise is when you get lots of transmission events and the virus has got opportunities to replicate itself more,” said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network in Toronto.

“So it’s kind of this awful cycle that you get stuck in, where you have these massive surges of, say, Omicron this time around that hit so many people, and that allows for further mutations to happen and then from that may arise additional variants in the future.”

Omicron’s exponential growth has limited the ability of lab-based PCR testing to keep up with case counts, so officials must now look at leading indicators, like wastewater surveillance, and lagging indicators, like hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths, to get a handle on when to lift restrictions.

Dr. David Naylor, who led the federal inquiry into Canada’s national response to the 2003 SARS epidemic and now co-chairs the federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, said while public morale and patience have “eroded” and could lead to a “fatalistic sense” that we should just “give up and do the minimum,” that mindset won’t help control the virus.

“Those misperceptions and sentiments, if they become truly widespread, will make premature reopening more likely,” he said.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said health officials should be communicating transparently with Canadians on what benchmarks need to be met for further reopening, as well as bringing the public onboard with what’s informing decisions to get more buy-in if things take a turn for the worse.

“There could be another curveball. A lot of people are anticipating that after this Omicron surge is over, it will be a very different landscape and I think that that’s very plausible — but I would not promise it,” Saxinger said.

“It’s just a flat-out mistake to make any promises right now.”

Vaccination rates of eligible population, by province and dose   

Note: Timing of eligibility for booster shots has varied by province.

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