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Why rollout of COVID-19 vaccine could be ‘the most difficult part’ in Canada

Despite promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates on the horizon worldwide, experts say Canada needs to overcome major hurdles before it can develop rollout strategies to get the right shot into Canadians’ arms. 

News that Pfizer’s vaccine candidate has shown promising preliminary results in Phase 3 clinical trials made headlines this week, but specific data on which patients benefited from the trial, which could inform rollout plans, has yet to be released. 

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country needs “a very sophisticated” rollout plan that will require “high degrees of logistical support.”

But determining who should get a vaccine first is extremely challenging without specific data on who it would help most.

“The rollout is going to be the most difficult part of this vaccine and that’s the part I think everyone is starting to think of today,” Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist at St Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, told CBC’s The National

“If the vaccine data shows that the highest risk populations also have the highest reasonable benefit here, I think that prioritization scheme works very well and hopefully that’s the target for the first 10 million doses.”

WATCH | Pfizer’s vaccine raises questions with medical experts:

Pfizer says initial data suggests its COVID-19 vaccine is 90 per cent effective. Medical experts call it encouraging, but have a lot of questions. 2:05

But who is most at risk of severe illness and transmission of COVID-19 is still in question, meaning Canada might need to develop several contingency plans. 

“If we decide to start with health-care workers, it’s going to be a completely different strategy than if we start by vaccinating the elderly in long-term care facilities,” Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), said on The Current on Tuesday. 

“So it’s difficult currently for provinces and territories to have a good idea and a good understanding of how they need to deploy.”

The federal government has reportedly secured enough syringes and needles for provinces and territories to vaccinate all Canadians who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but Quach says the specific plans are still unclear.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement to CBC News the federal government is working with provinces and territories to approve and distribute a vaccine as quickly as possible. 

Dr. Caroline Quach says a lack of key data makes it difficult for provinces and territories to have a good understanding of how they need to deploy a potential vaccine. (CBC)

“It is anticipated that in the early stages of rollout, supply availability will be limited,” a spokesperson said.

“The quantity and schedule of availability of vaccines will be the subject of ongoing discussion with provinces and territories to manage expectations and plans for delivery.” 

The NACI has released preliminary recommendations that prioritize the elderly and others at severe risk of illness: health-care workers, front-line staff and those with lower access to health care including Indigenous populations. 

But to know who should be first in line, the NACI and government officials need to know who fell ill in the vaccinated group compared with the placebo group during clinical trials. 

Without answers, governments across Canada will need to hedge their bets.

“They may have to work on two to three plans in parallel,” Quach said. “Just in case one of those will be picked as the first strategy.”

Logistical challenges 

How to deploy a vaccine across the country, especially to remote communities such as First Nations, is also a key consideration. 

Pfizer’s vaccine candidate needs to be stored at –70 C to –80 C, but commercial refrigerators typically go down to –15 C at the most. 

Given that strict temperature requirement, Chaga suspects that Pfizer’s vaccine would be distributed much differently than a typical vaccine. 

“We’re probably going to have centralized hubs and teams going out from those hubs to do mass immunization campaigns,” he said. “Rather than what we’re seeing with the flu vaccine with pharmacies and physician offices involved with distribution.” 

But Quach says unlike influenza vaccines, there may not actually be enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines to make a significant impact — especially early on. 

“We don’t have enough vaccines to vaccinate all Canadians,” she said, adding that COVID-19 vaccines could be distributed over the next 12 to 18 months. “The rollout will be slow.”

Alyson Kelvin says she’s discouraged by the fact that Canada has not released preliminary plans for the rollout of a potential vaccine. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

Lack of plan concerning

Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology, says she is eager to see a vaccine rollout plan for Canada. 

“We need a good strategy to get that out, we need a strategy to get it to our front-line health-care workers, the people who keep our daily lives running, the grocery store workers, as well as we also need to start thinking about the under-served communities.” 

Kelvin says she was discouraged that Canada has not released preliminary rollout plans despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization doing so months ago.

“Just because we have a vaccine doesn’t mean we’re done. We need to think through how we’re going to get this into people’s arms and who should get it first,” she said. “This is going to be a huge undertaking … it concerns me that I haven’t seen a plan.” 

Quach says, unlike the U.S.’s minimum requirement of 50 per cent efficacy for a COVID-19 vaccine, Health Canada has not set a bar for approving a vaccine.

“Being close to our neighbour, we are a little bit stuck with what they are going to decide,” Quach said.

Kelvin said the NACI recommendations were a good start, but were not released in a way that’s easy for average Canadians to understand. It’s also not yet clear whether the federal, provincial and territorial governments will follow those guidelines. 

“Information will have to be easily accessible to the public, policy makers and stakeholders for the more effective use of a vaccine when it becomes available,” she said. 

“Pharmacists and nurses or those approved to vaccinate the public will need accurate information about the vaccine being given and the rollout plan as it is put in place.” 

WATCH | Canada preparing for vaccine rollout:

The federal government has taken a very aggressive vaccine buying approach and has already bought millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine with the hope it works. And governments are already planning how to distribute vaccines when they’re available, including who will go first. 1:47

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CBC | Health News

Election of Kamala Harris to U.S. vice-presidency ‘the beginning of something important,’ say women of colour

When the U.S. election was called for Joe Biden last Saturday and it became clear Kamala Harris would be the next vice-president of the U.S., Annamie Paul thought of the importance of the moment for her 84-year-old mother.

“I don’t think she ever believed that she would live to see this day,” said the recently elected leader of the Green Party, the first Black woman to head up a Canadian federal party.

“Where her daughter would be representing a national party in Canada and a Black woman would be the vice-president of the United States, and [that] one day, we might meet and shake hands and talk public policy together.”

Those things seemed impossible just a short time ago, Paul said. 

“Whenever a woman of colour is elected to an office that she has never occupied, it’s really not an overstatement to say that it makes people dream,” she said.

While she might not always agree with Harris’s policies, Paul said, the “more women that you see like her and me in politics, the more people come to understand that we don’t just speak with one voice, we represent many points of view.” 

‘One day we might meet and shake hands and talk public policy together,’ said New Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, pictured in Ottawa last month. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A powerful symbol

For many women of colour, Harris’s victory serves as an inspiration, said former provincial politician Yolande James, the first Black woman elected to Quebec’s National Assembly in 2004.

“A lot of women, a lot of Black women, in particular, can speak to the struggle of knowing what it is to be talented, to be qualified and to be overlooked,” said James.

While Harris’s win won’t fix everything about gender and race discrimination, she said, seeing her on stage on Saturday delivering her first speech as vice-president-elect was a powerful symbol.

“It’s one thing to say that it’s possible, but when you see her, it’s like, now you know it,” she said.

WATCH | Kamala Harris’s win shows what’s possible:

For Canadian women and girls of colour, including politicians, Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and South Asian woman elected U.S. vice-president is a source of hope, excitement and shows what is possible. 2:23

Pivotal moment for women, girls

In her victory speech in Wilmington, Del., Harris evoked the generations of women who paved the way for her and those who will follow.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last,” she told the cheering crowd.

Those words gave Kamal Khera, Liberal MP for Brampton West, goosebumps.

“It’s a pivotal moment for women and girls all around the globe, especially those that are racialized and specifically Black and South Asian women,” she said in an interview from her constituency office in Brampton, Ont.

Vice-president-elect Harris, left, and president-elect Joe Biden are pictured on Saturday in Wilmington, Del. (Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP Photo)

‘Representation matters’

When Khera was elected in 2015 at age 26, she was the youngest member of the Liberal caucus. That, along with being a South Asian woman, made for a challenging experience early on, she said.

“I didn’t have that many women to look up to or that looked like me in those leadership roles,” she said.

“That is why I think representation matters.”

While things have improved in the House of Commons since then, Khera said, there is still a lot of work to do. She said she hopes Harris’s win is a step toward better representation around the world.

WATCH | Women react to news that Kamala Harris will be the new U.S. vice-president:

Diverse American women describe what it means to them to have Kamala Harris elected as the first female vice president of the United States. 2:37

‘The beginning of something important’

When teacher Sabrina Jafralie heard about Harris’s win, she was sitting in her car in Montreal, full of cautious optimism and a feeling she was “floating on air.”

“As a mom, as a teacher, as a human, it’s amazing,” she said. “It felt heavy, and now I feel lighter.”

Sabrina Jafralie is an ethics and religious teacher at Westmount High School. She hopes her students will be similarly inspired and, seeing Harris, recognize their own potential to achieve. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Jafralie teaches at Westmount High, the same school Harris attended as a teen while her mother taught at McGill University and did research at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. Harris graduated from the high school in 1981.

Like Harris, one of Jafralie’s parents is Black and the other is Indian. Seeing someone who looks like her in such a significant role is a major milestone, she said.

“It makes me wonder, maybe I should become the minister of education. It’s very, very inspiring.”

Jafraliee hopes her students at Westmount High will be similarly inspired and, seeing Harris, recognize their own potential to achieve.

“I want to tell them it’s not a one-off,” she said. “If anything, it’s the beginning of something important.”

WATCH | Friends react to Harris’s historic rise to the White House:

Wanda Kagan has known vice president-elect Kamala Harris for nearly 40 years. Kagan says that in their most recent conversation, Harris credited her for inspiring her career path. 4:35

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CBC | World News

‘The Kissing Booth 2’ Cast Breaks Down That Ending (Exclusive)

‘The Kissing Booth 2’ Cast Breaks Down That Ending (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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‘The Bold Type’ Star Aisha Dee Calls for More Diversity Behind the Camera

‘The Bold Type’ Star Aisha Dee Calls for More Diversity Behind the Camera | Entertainment Tonight

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Kiki Layne on the Importance of Playing a ‘Black, Female Hero’ in ‘The Old Guard’ (Exclusive)

‘The Old Guard’: Kiki Layne and Charlize Theron on Importance of Diversity | Entertainment Tonight

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‘The Crown’ Casts Princess Margaret for Fifth and Final Season

‘The Crown’ Casts Princess Margaret for Fifth and Final Season | Entertainment Tonight

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Kim Kardashian Shares Sweet Family Photos In Father’s Day Tribute to ‘The Best Dad’ Kanye West

Kim Kardashian Shares Sweet Family Photos In Father’s Day Tribute to ‘The Best Dad’ Kanye West | Entertainment Tonight

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Nicole Avant on ‘The Black Godfather’ and Creating Real Change Through Storytelling (Exclusive)

Nicole Avant on ‘The Black Godfather’ and Creating Real Change Through Storytelling (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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Phyllis George, Former Miss America & ‘The NFL Today’ Alum, Dead at 70

Phyllis George, Former Miss America & ‘The NFL Today’ Alum, Dead at 70 | Entertainment Tonight

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Can Ovechkin catch Gretzky? ‘The Great One’ rooting for him in pursuit of goal scoring record

Wayne Gretzky sees a lot of himself in Alex Ovechkin, from the smile on his face each time he steps on the ice to his passion for scoring goals.

There are also differences, like Gretzky’s sole focus on the NHL growing up in Brantford, Ontario, versus Ovechkin’s upbringing in Moscow. “The Great One” believes the Washington Capitals captain has a good chance of breaking his all-time record of 894 goals that once seemed untouchable, depending on how long Ovechkin plays in the NHL. Gretzky speculated that Ovechkin could go home to Russia and finish his career in the Kontinental Hockey League.

“Maybe one day in his mind he’ll say, `Look, I want to go home and play in the KHL when I can still compete at a high level,”‘ Gretzky told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday. “We don’t know that. That’s his decision. But I think he loves being in Washington, I think he loves the NHL and I think he’ll do everything he can at any point to chase down the record.”

Ovechkin’s longevity and his pursuit of Gretzky’s record are among the topics they discussed in their first joint interview, which airs Monday on NBC Sports Network. It comes with them 3,000 miles away and hockey on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic but shines a spotlight on the potential of Ovechkin, who has 706 goals, spending the next few years chasing Gretzky.

Ovechkin has 48 goals this season, tied for the league lead with Boston’s David Pastrnak, and if the regular season were to resume, he could match Gretzky and Mike Bossy with nine 50-goal seasons. If not, the time away and focus on the chase could drive Ovechkin to play long enough to break the record.

“You really feel like this record is meaningful,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said in a video interview with The AP. “I’ve got the feeling that if he’s close, he’s not going to go away so fast.”

WATCH | Flames’ Tkachuk has plenty to keep him busy during quarantine:

It’s been over a month since the NHL put the season on pause, but Matthew Tkachuk has plenty to keep him busy. 4:45

When asked how long he’d play, Ovechkin has repeatedly referred to the one year remaining on his contract and said, “We’ll see.” He answers the same to NBC’s Kathryn Tappen during the hour-long special with Gretzky and adds: “I’m healthy, thanks God, and I still love this game. As soon as I’m not gonna love this game, I’m not gonna cheat on it because I respect it a lot.”

Gretzky knows that feeling and was even offered a job to play in Russia in 1999 after playing his final NHL game. He respectfully declined.

“All I remember was my mindset was there’s one league and if I’m not good enough for this league, I’m done,” Gretzky said. “I grew up, I’m an NHL guy and if I can’t play in the NHL, that’s it for me. He’s probably in a different scenario. He grew up in Russia and he’s proud of his country and maybe it’ll be great for him to go home.”

At 35, Ovechkin has already blown past the age where goal-scorers usually slow down and put up numbers not seen in decades. Even at his pace, Ovechkin would likely need to play at least four more seasons to threaten the record, which Gretzky believes would be great for the game.

WATCH | Gretzky rooting for Ovechkin to break record:

During a video conference between the Great One and the Great 8, Wayne Gretzky encourages Alex Ovechkin to break his goal scoring record. The Capitals captain discusses the key factors that made No. 99 one of the greatest to ever play. 2:47

Gretzky recalls his dad telling him his record will be broken one day and hoping he handles it with the same class and dignity Gordie Howe did when Gretzky surpassed him as the leading goal-scorer.

“I can’t help but cheer and root for him each and every day,” Gretzky said. “I hope I’m the first guy who’s able to shake his hand when he does break my record.”

That’s a hope for a few years down the line. With a pandemic raging, Ovechkin — whose wife is expecting the couple’s second child — said on a recent video call his focus is on the present, not the future.

“My mind right now is not about 50 goals or catch `The Great One’ or somebody else,” Ovechkin said. “My mind right now [is] to do the best what I can do, and what my family can do to be safe.”

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CBC | Sports News