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Toronto Public Health issues new order limiting in-person attendance at all schools

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, May 7th, 2021

Health officials in Toronto have issued an order requiring schools and other educational settings to limit in-person attendance for most purposes, not just classes, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Toronto Public Health says the order is meant to supplement the provincially mandated school closures and will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The agency says the new rule applies to all educational settings, not just those designated as schools or private schools under the Education Act.

And it says in-person attendance by students is restricted “as much as possible” regardless of whether it’s for teaching or other instruction.

It says there are some exceptions, such as day care services and instruction for children with special needs who cannot be accommodated through remote learning.

The order comes in the wake of concerns raised by residents who reached out to CityNews, describing hundreds of students and staff going in and out of private schools in the Bathurst and Lawrence area. The schools claim that they were closed for in-person learning but are operating as a place of worship and hold religious services for children.

The City said it was aware of the situation and commenced an investigation, noting that enforcement may have been due to ambiguity around the wording of regulations.

The order is aimed at education providers, and the agency says parents cannot be charged under the new rule, though they are encouraged to comply.

Toronto Public Health says the move is necessary because the city continues to see extensive community spread of COVID-19 variants of concern, and the risk of transmission is highest indoors.

It says the provincial order halting in-person classes only applies to institutions deemed a “school or private school” under the Education Act, and does not prohibit children from attending schools for purposes other than attending classes.

The agency says its order is aimed at “supplementing the schools closure in order to stop school-aged children from congregating indoors, in enclosed spaces, for extended periods, on a regular basis.”

NACI chair says advice not meant to give AstraZeneca recipients vaccine remorse

MIA RABSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, May 7th, 2021

The chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization says people who already got the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine should not feel they made a bad choice.

Dr. Caroline Quach and the other 15 members of NACI were accused of sowing seeds of confusion and vaccine hesitancy when they recommended for a second time that Canadians who aren’t at high risk from COVID-19 may want to wait to get immunized until a dose of Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna is available.

Those two vaccines, which use mRNA technology and haven’t been linked in any way to blood clots, are the “preferred” vaccines, they said, leading some medical experts to worry NACI was grading the vaccines and Canadians would wonder if that means AstraZeneca is substandard and should therefore be avoided.

Some of the 1.7 million Canadians who had been vaccinated with it already questioned whether they should have waited instead.

Quach said people who took AstraZeneca did not get a “second-best shot.”

“The recommendation is not a retrospective one,” said Quach. “That means that everyone who has received the AstraZeneca vaccine has been protected against COVID-19.”

Quach said a single dose of AstraZeneca has proven to be as good at preventing hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19 as a single dose of Pfizer or Moderna. That includes against both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and the B.1.1.7 variant of it.

That variant is the dominant one in Canada.

“People who did get their AstraZeneca vaccine, mainly when COVID-19 was being transmitted in their community, actually did the right thing,” she wrote. “They protected themselves and their families against COVID-19 complications.”

They also got it at a time when it wasn’t entirely clear when they might be able to get a dose of Pfizer or Moderna. Most people going forward won’t have to choose between AstraZeneca now or an mRNA later, because more than 80 per cent of the doses coming to Canada in the next two months are mRNA.

Almost all the 2.3 million doses of AstraZeneca already delivered have been used, and only 655,000 doses are scheduled to arrive this month. Another million are expected in June.

Quach said NACI was only saying that with shorter waits for Moderna or Pfizer, younger people living in regions where COVID-19 infections are low, should look at whether they want to wait a bit longer for a vaccine.

That does not hold for people who live in places with high infection rates, or who are at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

“If your risk of COVID is moderate to high, get the first vaccine available now,” she said.

“If not, then one needs to balance out the risk of COVID complications against the risk of VITT that, although rare, does exist and may lead to severe complications.”

Dr. Fahad Razak, a general internist who treats COVID-19 patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said NACI’s communication of its advice was more problematic than the advice itself.

He said the doctors, nurses and other vaccine experts on NACI are “incredibly smart and well-meaning” but that they, like he and other scientists and medical experts, aren’t experts in communications.

“I think the challenge that you saw this week is in the messaging, of how to talk about a very serious but rare side effect, and how to say that in a way that doesn’t lead to people worrying about vaccines in general,” he said.

Razak said all the vaccines approved in Canada, including AstraZeneca, are good vaccines to take.

Canada has confirmed 12 cases of VITT — vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia. Three women have died.

The blood clot risk did not surface during clinical trials but was picked up in Europe after widespread use of AstraZeneca began. Health regulators in Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe rapidly investigated and concluded the risk is somewhere between one case in every 100,000 doses and one in 250,000.

But they said the risks of COVID-19 are much greater, VITT is generally treatable if it is diagnosed on time, and therefore the benefits of getting vaccinated still outweigh the risks.

Ontario NDP calls on OPP to investigate deaths in long-term care settings

BT Toronto | posted Friday, May 7th, 2021

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath is asking provincial police to investigate if criminal charges are warranted in the wake of reports into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care settings.

A 322-page report released late last week by the independent Long-Term Care Commission, along with the Auditor General’s report released several days earlier, both concluded the Ford government was slow in responding to COVID-19 in long-term care settings while calling for sweeping reforms in a sector that had long been neglected by past and present governments.

In a letter to OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Horwath says the deaths of many long-term care residents were not due to COVID-19, but the “callous, documented neglect of their basic necessities of life.” She pointed to at least 26 seniors who died, not from COVID-19, but from a lack of water and personal care.

“Ontarians have learned that their loved ones perished in long-term care homes from the Ontario government’s failure to protect our most vulnerable seniors in their most critical moments of need, and these seniors and their families are owed justice,” writes Horwath.

“I am asking for the Ontario Provincial Police to evaluate whether a criminal investigation is warranted into these deaths.”

The Long-Term Care Commission report noted that when the military was called in to assist at several long-term care facilities struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks, “they found deplorable conditions” and that 26 residents died due to dehydration prior to the arrival of the CAF team due to the lack of staff to care for them.

“They died when all they need was ‘water and a wipe down,’” they were quoted as saying in the report.

The military team also reported that there had been resident deaths due to dehydration and malnourishment, according to the commission which noted staff were “struggling to maintain fundamental standards of care which, in some cases, expose[d] patients to elevated risks.”

At the time when the military’s disturbing allegations were presented, Premier Ford said they would be launching a “full investigation” into the allegations and would be sharing those results with police so they can look into any possible criminal charges. However, on Wednesday, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones indicated no such investigation had been carried out by her ministry.

“Investigations would not happen at a provincial level or a ministry level, they would be the responsibility of either local police departments, or in some cases, they would refer it to another division or another police operation,” said Jones. “There was no Solicitor General led investigation, nor would there ever be, frankly.”

Opposition leaders have called for the resignation of Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, but Premier Doug Ford staunchly defended her in the legislature saying he has “full confidence” in her and that the blame should fall on him instead.

“I know it’s easy for the Leader of the Opposition to blame my great minister, but the buck stops with me. It stops with me and I’ll take responsibility,” Ford said.

Delays in COVID tests resulting in longer stays at quarantine hotels

ERICK ESPINOSA | posted Friday, May 7th, 2021

Some travellers who recently arrived in Canada can expect delays in receiving their COVID-19 test results, requiring them to pay for extra nights at a government mandated quarantine hotel.

“I have already spent the three nights in a hotel and fourth night booking is not in my budget,” Tahir told CityNews. “We do not want to break the quarantine rule, so I extended the hotel stay. This is very stressful for me and my family”

Tahir arrived with his wife and son at Pearson Airport on May 1. Upon arrival, his family was tested before heading to their quarantine hotel. He was expecting to return home on May 4, but was disappointed that he and his wife had not yet received their results.

“Switch Health told me on the phone that they are lagging in testing and told me that it may take up to five days.”

Switch Health, a company hired by the Public Health Agency of Canada to conduct the mandatory testing for air travellers upon arrival, confirmed the delay with CityNews.

“There may be a slight delay for a small number of travellers arriving in Toronto” Jordan Paquet, Director of Public Affairs, explained.

“On Sunday, one of our lab partners encountered a problem with some of their processing machines which temporarily decreased the number of tests they could run on that day.”

Paquet said the issue has since been resolved and they are working closely to assist those who have been affected.

“I have called so many times to the Government Authorized Accommodation Information line,” Tahir said.

On day three of his stay, they advised him to continue to wait for his results.

“When I asked who is going to pay for an extra night of hotel, she did not have an answer.”

Switch Health has been trying to keep up with the influx of tweets they have been receiving from frustrated travellers.

“@SwitchHealthCA I would like to know what happened with our samples. It’s been past 72hrs and we still did not receive our test result. GAA hotel is expensive already. We don’t have the luxury to pay for another night. I contacted you any platform possible but i get no reply,” another tweet read.

The issue not only impacts travellers waiting to leave their hotels, but those isolating in their own homes. Switch Health has also been hired to manage all Day-8 COVID-19 test kits for air travellers who leave the hotel after day three to complete their 14 day quarantine at home.

“Our 14 day quarantine was completed on May 3, however the test kits were still in the sorting facility in Toronto according to the tracking system online” Brenda Hutson-Dean wrote to CityNews.

“We are required by law to remain in quarantine until the we receive a negative test result from the test.”

On day 16 Hutson-Dean received their negative results even though the tracking system indicating the tests were still in a Toronto storage facility.

“I am a bit suspicious of the test results being authentic since both test kits which were received in the sorting facility at different times on May 1 remain in Toronto according to the tracking system available to me.”

Paquet said “samples are sent to a sorting facility or “deconstruction” facility first, which is where they are logged, arranged in a rack, and sent to one of our lab partners for analysis.”

While this helps their team catch any issues early, Paquet said it’s the “last place a person would see it scanned if they were tracking with their Purolator number.”

ICU survivors at higher risk of suicide, research finds; implications for COVID

COLIN PERKEL, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, May 6th, 2021

*CONTENT WARNING*
This article has references to suicide and self-harm

Patients discharged from intensive care are at higher risk of suicide, according to new research, suggesting that people who survive a serious COVID-19 infection could also be more likely to harm themselves.

The study was based on pre-pandemic data, but the researchers say its findings take on added significance given the unprecedented surge in critical care admissions due to the novel coronavirus.

“In light of the pandemic, our findings have far more importance now that we know that ICU survivors are going to be at higher risk (of suicide),” said Dr. Shannon Fernando, lead author and critical care physician affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

The study, said to be the first of its kind, was published Wednesday in The BMJ, a British-based peer-reviewed medical journal. Researchers looked at the health records of hundreds of thousands of adult ICU admissions in Ontario between 2009 and 2017.

During the study period, 423,000 patients survived intensive care. Of those, 750 killed themselves, a significantly higher rate than among non-ICU hospital survivors, and far higher than among the general population.

Overall, when adjusted for “confounding” variables, patients who made it through ICU had a 22 per cent higher risk of suicide compared with non-ICU hospital survivors and a 15 per cent higher risk of self-harm. The more invasive the life-saving procedures, such as mechanical ventilation or kidney dialysis, the more pronounced the effect.

The findings make sense to Christine Caron, who was an active 49-year-old mother and runner who loved dancing when her dog nipped her hand during play. Caron, of Ottawa, developed sepsis and ended up in a coma for a month of her six weeks in ICU.

By the time she was discharged to rehab, doctors had amputated both legs below the knee, her left arm below the elbow, and much of her right hand.

“They’re always celebrating that you’re still alive,” Caron said. “And when you say, ‘This sucks and I want to die,’ people go: ‘What the hell’s the matter with you? You’re alive’.”

Five months into rehab, her hair began falling out in chunks. She started having nightmares and anxiety attacks.

“A lot of people are at home when that hits,” said Caron, now 57. “They are not getting the mental health supports they require.”

Caron said she was astounded when a student psychologist was initially assigned to her rather than a seasoned professional. Ultimately, she said, peer support — others who had been through similar trauma — became her lifeline, even though the subsequent suicide of one of them was devastating.

The research also showed that younger people surviving ICU — those aged 18 to 34 — appear at highest risk of harming themselves.

“If you asked me before about the young person who goes home on their own from the ICU, I would have said that’s my greatest win,” Fernando said in an interview.

“But we’ve identified now that these patients are uniquely at risk of death by suicide (and) that population is exactly the population, especially now in the third wave, that we’re seeing with COVID.”

Normally, ICU doctors focus on saving a patient’s life but the study suggests identifying those at risk of what is dubbed post-intensive care syndrome is crucial to self-harm prevention.

What’s become clear in recent years is that many patients who survive ICU are unable to get back to their pre-ICU lives. They may have to deal with life-altering physical realities, an inability to work, and monumental stresses on families and relationships.

Even the previously well adjusted develop mental illness as a result, bringing the higher risk of suicide or self-harm.

“It’s never been demonstrated before but (this study) shows the toll of ICU survivorship,” Fernando said.

A substantial number of patients who recover from serious COVID-19 infection, regardless of whether they need ICU or even a hospital, develop ongoing health problems known as “long COVID.” This, too, could pose a mental health risk.

“You’re going to see a lot more of this when COVID patients start to recover more,” Caron said. “When they say ‘recovered,’ they’ve not even touched on it yet.”

But exactly what needs to be done to mitigate the elevated suicide risk is not clear.

For Fernando, the study underscores the need for mental health supports. More research will have to be done, he said, into how best to provide them.

“We also have to face the possibility that our current system has failed a lot of these patients,” Fernando said.

The study researchers are affiliated with the Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa and the non-profit research institutes, Institut du Savoir Montfort and ICES.

TDSB suing City of Toronto, fire department and province for $90M over devastating York Memorial fire

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, May 6th, 2021

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is launching a lawsuit against the City of Toronto and Toronto Fire Service (TFS) for $90 million over the York Memorial Collegiate Institute fire that severely damaged the school in May of 2019.

The Ontario government, Ontario Fire Marshall and the Toronto Police Services Board are also named in the statement of claim.

The statement of claim says the scene was not put under a proper fire watch, leading to a second and much larger fire over 24 hours after the first blaze started. It also claims the TFS “failed to undertake reasonable, or any, steps, to ensure that the fire had been extinguished, with no possibility of rekindling.”

It says an overhaul of the building, which is defined in the lawsuit as the activity that makes sure the fire is completely out, was inadequate, including that only one thermal imaging camera (TIC) was used to look for heat signatures despite access to more than 20.

The Ontario Fire Marshall on the scene also noted the classroom below the auditorium, where the fire began, was “unusually warm.”

“No thermal imaging scanning of this room was undertaken at any time, nor was any overhaul or further investigation undertaken in this room by any of the Toronto Police Service (TPS), TFS or the OFM,” claimed the lawsuit.

Another claim in the lawsuit is that there was a July 15, 2019 meeting between Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg and the Ontario Fire Marshall (OFM), which is headed by his brother Jon Pegg, amid concerns of the potential liability for the OFM and TFS.

“The final report of the OFM Report was drafted so as to downplay, mislead, conceal and suppress evidence of negligence and gross negligence on the part of the TFS and OFM,” reads the statement of claim.

Emergency crews were first called to the school for a two-alarm fire around 2:15 p.m. on May 6 and found flames visible from the second floor.

The fire was extinguished and two people, including a firefighter, were taken to hospital with minor injuries, according to paramedics.

Following the incident, a fire watch was put into effect. TDSB security services were called in to guard the area until Fire Marshal officers could arrive to do a preliminary assessment in the morning.

The person left to conduct a “fire watch” was TDSB security detail who the lawsuit claims did not have proper training. The security guard was instructed by the OFM to sit outside in his vehicle and “pay attention to the windows directly below the auditorium,” for any signs of smoke, claimed the lawsuit.

“None of the TFS, TPS or OFM personnel made inquiries of the security guard as to whether he had any training or the equipment necessary to conduct a proper fire watch,” read the statement of claim.

A new security guard took over for him around 10:30 p.m. and the first security guard reiterated the instructions from the OFM.

The new security guard entered the building to use the washroom between 1 and 1:30 a.m. when he noticed a “bit of a ‘haze’ inside the hallway leading to the auditorium,” but assumed it was due to lack of ventilation. At around 3:15 a.m., he saw a flicker of light and immediately called TFS.

Firefighters arrived on the scene around 3:30 a.m. and by that time, flames and heavy smoke began once again billowing out of the auditorium. It took over 24 hours to completely extinguish the six-alarm blaze.

The fire caused much of the roof to collapse, along with some of the exterior brick facade along the upper portion of the building. The damage was estimated to be approximately $90 million.

The Ontario Fire Marshal determined the fires, which were considered to be the same event, were “accidental.” The cause of the blaze was never determined, but it was confirmed it wasn’t deliberately set.

Shortly after the Fire Marshall’s report was released in August of 2019, Mayor John Tory said there were still questions left unanswered surrounding the fire watch.

Tory said, according to the report, the individual placed on fire watch saw smoke at 1:24 a.m., but the fire department wasn’t called until 3:24 a.m.

“By the time the two hours had passed, according to the report, a huge amount of fire had taken root underneath the floor and the auditorium and then became the major fire that we saw in the ‘second episode’,” the mayor said at the time.

Tory also said they don’t have a plan in place to conduct a review of the Fire Marshal’s report, but “clearly, there are questions even arising out of a thick, and a professional report of this, that are unanswered at this time.”

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said they were left with no choice, but to take legal action.

“The TDSB will continue to rebuild York Memorial Collegiate Institute regardless of the outcome of this legal proceeding,” read the statement from Bird. “In the meantime, our focus remains on supporting the 900 students and staff that were sadly displaced by the fire two years ago.”

The City of Toronto released a statement saying city staff fully cooperated in the investigation of the fires and they took all appropriate steps to preserve evidence.

“Allegations in the claim that suggest otherwise are patently untrue and irresponsible,” read the statement.

“It is unconscionable that the TDSB and its insurers would impugn the integrity of Fire Chief Matthew Pegg and other Toronto Fire Services staff in this manner.”

The city says they plan to file a statement of defence with the courts and “looks forward to vigorously defending against these allegations.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Ontario to expand workplace vaccinations, offer Moderna in select pharmacies

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, May 6th, 2021

Ontario will begin offering the Moderna vaccine in select pharmacies across the province as it continues to focus its attention on COVID-19 hotspot communities for the next two weeks.

In an update provided on Wednesday, provincial officials say the option to get the Moderna vaccine will be available in up to 60 per cent of pharmacies in hotspot postal codes in Durham, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor-Essex and York. An exact number was not provided by the province, however the locations will be updated on the province’s website.

By the end of the week more than 2,500 pharmacies will be ready to administer vaccines.

Ontario expects to receive more than 786,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week and expects to have more than four million doses delivered by the end of the month. An additional 3.7 million doses are scheduled to arrive in June. Provincial officials say they don’t have any plans yet to offer the vaccine to kids aged 12-15 despite Health Canada’s approval announced Wednesday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott added the announcement could see children aged 12 and older offered their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in schools, with a second dose given before the new school year begins in September.

She added that the province was also working to ensure education workers are able to get a second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine before September.

“We want to make sure that our young people are protected from COVID as well,” Elliott said. “We’ve already been in conversations, discussions with the Minister of Education, to make sure that we can start as soon as possible.”

All schools are currently teaching classes online as the province remains under a stay-at-home order imposed due to high COVID-19 rates.

Moderna is scheduled to deliver 388,100 doses this week but no further projections were issued. The province is scheduled to receive 116,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, no delivery date has been confirmed. Ontario is currently reviewing the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendation that it be offered to anyone 30 plus.

There was no additional information on AstraZeneca vaccine deliveries.

Health officials say they will continue to focus on hotspot communities for the next two weeks with 50 per cent of allocated doses going to those areas for weeks of May 3 and May 10. As of this week, anyone 18 plus in hotspot communities are eligible to book an appointment through the provincial booking system.

Ontario is also expanding efforts to vaccinate employees at workplaces in Toronto and Peel. Employees at the Ontario Food Terminal will start receiving vaccines the week of May 10 while employer-led workplace vaccination clinics are already underway at Maple Lodge Farms, Maple Leaf Foods and Amazon Canada in Peel. There are plans to hold additional workplace clinics in Peel at Walmart Canada, Loblaws companies, Air Canada, Purolator, Magna and HelloFresh sometime in the middle of the month

Mobile clinics are also planned in Peel, Toronto and York to vaccinate workers at small to medium-sized workplaces who cannot work from home starting May 7

The province says it is also on track to offer a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to 65 per cent of Ontarians 18-years and older by the end of May.

“The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter with every vaccine administered, and together we can stop the spread of COVID-19,” Elliott said.

Provincial officials say they are carefully monitoring research underway in England regarding the mixing of different vaccines between the first and second doses, meaning people could get a second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna if they have received a first dose of AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.

Officials continue to say that the best vaccine “is the first vaccine you can get,” noting that the risk of getting COVID-19 and the serious complications from it are greater than any potential risk from vaccines such as AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.

More than 5.5 million COVID-19 doses have been administered across Ontario with over 381,000 people having been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Health Canada approves Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged 12-15

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, May 6th, 2021

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old.

The vaccine was initially approved for use in those aged 16 and older in December, and Health Canada received an application from Pfizer to expand the age threshold on April 16 of this year.

“After completing a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the department determined that this vaccine is safe and effective when used in this younger age group,” Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said on Wednesday.

A trial of more than 2,200 youth in that age group in the United States recorded no cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated kids. The trial used the same size doses, and the same two-doses requirement, as the vaccine for adults.

Sharma said the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group was 100 per cent after the second dose.

“This is the first vaccine authorized in Canada for the prevention of COVID-19 in children and marks a significant milestone in Canada’s fight against the pandemic,” she said.

Sharma said about one-fifth of all cases of COVID-19 in Canada have occurred in children and teenagers, and having a vaccine for them is a critical part of Canada’s plan.

“While younger people are less likely to experience serious cases of COVID-19, having access to a safe and effective vaccine will help control the disease’s spread to their family and friends, some of whom may be at higher risk of complications,” she said.

Health Canada said Wednesday that the updated approval is effective immediately, so if provinces choose to, they could start giving the shot to kids as young as 12.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the first to announce that starting on Monday, his hard-hit province would make vaccines available to everyone aged 12 and up.

The news comes the day after high COVID-19 transmission rates forced the closure of schools in Alberta.

Manitoba followed suit shortly afterward on Wednesday, saying it aims to have those 12 and up eligible to book a vaccine by May 21.

Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott said the province was also “actively” working on a plan to vaccinate children aged 12 and older, but she did not provide a firm timeline for that plan.

“We want to make sure that our young people are protected from COVID as well,” Elliott said. “We’ve already been in conversations, discussions with the Minister of Education, to make sure that we can start as soon as possible.”

Elliott said the plan could see children aged 12 and older offered their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in schools, with a second dose given before the new school year begins in September.

She added that the province was also working to ensure education workers are able to get a second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine before September.

All schools are currently teaching classes online as the province remains under a stay-at-home order imposed due to high COVID-19 rates.

While now authorized for use for those aged 12-plus, Sharma notes trials are underway from numerous drug-makers to have COVID-19 vaccines approved for children as young as six months.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Wednesday the company expects to have data on trials in kids between two and 11 years old in time to apply for authorization in the United States in September.

The company has generally applied to Canada for approval around the same time but in this case Canada is ahead of the U.S. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expects to authorize the vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds next week.

Health Canada maintains advice on taking offered vaccine

Earlier this week, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said given the risk of blood clots from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, people who are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19, or low risk of severe illness from it, can choose to wait for one of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.

Sharma did not directly comment on NACI’s advice, but said every vaccine in Canada has been authorized because it is safe and effective.

She also said she still stands behind the advice to take the first vaccine you’re offered, as soon as you’re offered it.

Sharma said the risk of a new vaccine-induced blood clotting syndrome is extremely low, and for many Canadians there is a big benefit to getting vaccinated as soon as they can.

She said if you have access to any of the vaccine options at the same time, “absolutely there may be an advantage” to going with the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna because they don’t carry any risk of blood clots.

But if you have to wait for Pfizer or Moderna and can get AstraZeneca now, getting immunized now is a good choice, she said, noting it takes at least two weeks for a vaccine’s full effect to take place.

More than a third of Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and Canada is on track to receive at least 10-million doses this month alone.

With files from Cormac Mac Sweeney

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