Australia has abandoned a goal to vaccinate nearly all of its 26 million population by the end of 2021 following advice that people under the age of 50 take Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine rather than AstraZeneca’s shot.
Australia, which had banked on the AstraZeneca vaccine for the majority of its shots, had no plans to set any new targets for completing its vaccination program, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon.
“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,” Morrison said.
Authorities in Canberra changed their recommendation on Pfizer shots for under-50s on Thursday, after European regulators reiterated the possibility of links between the AstraZeneca shot and reports of rare cases of blood clots.
Australia, which raced to double its order of the Pfizer vaccine last week, had originally planned to have its entire population vaccinated by the end of October.
Australia’s hardline response to the virus largely stopped community transmissions but the vaccination rollout has become a hot political topic — and a source of friction between Morrison and state and territory leaders — after the country vaccinated only a fraction of its four million target by the end of March.
About 1.16 million COVID-19 doses have now been administered, Morrison said, noting the speed of Australia’s vaccination program was in line with other peer nations, including Germany and France, and ahead of Canada and Japan.
Australia began vaccinations much later than some other nations, partly because of its low number of infections, which stand at just under 29,400, with 909 deaths, since the pandemic began.
In a rare admission of the weakness of coronavirus vaccines developed in China, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to get a boost.
China’s vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” Gao Fu, the director of China’s Centers for Disease Control, said at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses abroad while trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made using the previously experimental messenger RNA, or mRNA, process.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
Officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official, Wang Huaqing, said developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines.
Gao did not respond to a phone call requesting further comment.
“The mRNA vaccines developed in our country have also entered the clinical trial stage,” Wang said. He gave no timeline for possible use.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in the U.K. are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the traditional AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.
The coronavirus pandemic, which began in central China in late 2019, marks the first time the Chinese drug industry has played a role in responding to a global health emergency.
Vaccines made by Sinovac, a private company, and Sinopharm, a state-owned firm, have made up the majority of Chinese vaccines distributed to several dozen countries including Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey.
The effectiveness of a Sinovac vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections was found to be as low as 50.4 per cent by researchers in Brazil, near the 50 per cent threshold at which health experts say a vaccine is useful. By comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been found to be 97 per cent effective.
Health experts say Chinese vaccines are unlikely to be sold to the United States, western Europe and Japan due to the complexity of the approval process.
Sinovac spokesperson Liu Peicheng acknowledged varying levels of effectiveness have been found but said that can be due to the age of people in a study, the strain of virus and other factors.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China.
Previous mRNA skepticism
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but cited mRNA as a possibility.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously questioned the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
WATCH | Few people in China receive COVID-19 jabs despite vaccine development:
China has developed four vaccines for COVID-19, but only four per cent of its population has been inoculated. China’s government continues to donate millions of vaccine doses worldwide. 1:59
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
As of April 2, some 34 million people in China have received both of the two doses required for Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
Liu said studies find protection “may be better” if time between vaccinations is longer than the current 14 days but gave no indication that might be made standard practice.
The group had previously flagged education workers as a priority and now the timing just made sense, said task force chair Dr. David Dec, a family physician based in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Many educators are under the age of 55 and cannot access mass clinics still aimed at older populations, nor can they receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rolling out in pharmacies and some doctors’ offices. But now prioritized, Niagara-area teachers off for the April break next week can easily attend daytime vaccination clinics, Dec said.
As provinces and territories move into the next phase of their coronavirus vaccination campaigns, educators and school staff are starting to join the priority groups becoming eligible for shots. While different approaches are being used thus far, some emerging trendsmay offer lessons for bringing this immunization drive to all education workers.
Our thinking has thus far been to vaccinate the most at-risk populations first, Dec said, starting with long-term care and nursing homes, because “we knew that if you’re in that congregate setting, and if you bring that virus into that setting, then it can transmit like wildfire.”
Yet, we don’t seem to appreciate that classrooms are also congregate settings, he said. “They’re a bunch of people bunched-in close together.”
This push to prioritize educators is a “proactive approach,” according to Dec. “Everybody wants the schools to stay open, so if this is a small part of doing that, then I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Here is a look at how some jurisdictions are approaching the challenge.
B.C. starts in Surrey
Annie Ohana recalls feeling “absolute elation” upon learning at her union’s annual general meeting in March that school staffers in Surrey, B.C., would be prioritized next in the vaccine rollout, with officials citing how hard the Fraser Health region has been hit by COVID-19.
“I remember lining up for the shot on that Sunday and all of us smiling ear-to-ear — behind our masks, of course — and very much [feeling] just relief,” Ohana said of getting her first dose two weeks ago.
Yet the L.A. Matheson Secondary School teacher recognizes that it’s only a first step, since students, families and other B.C. education colleagues are still waiting for their chance.
“I got an exposure notice Sunday [for] my classroom. About half my class was missing yesterday. It’s good to feel that, ‘OK well, at least I had the first dose and so hopefully that can help me.’ But the reality is my kids don’t and many of their family members don’t yet,” Ohana said.
The campaign hasn’t moved as quickly as she’d anticipated out to educators in other B.C. regions, who haven’t yet been prioritized. The province’s teachers continue to push for safety measures like mask mandates and improved ventilation as well, she said.
“The more protected we are, the more we can keep the schools open.”
WATCH | Amid a third wave, educators are beginning to get priority for COVID-19 vaccines:
Most Ontario schools are staying open during an emergency stay-at-home order and education workers in COVID-19 hot zones will be prioritized for vaccinations, something already being done in Quebec and British Columbia. 1:45
New Brunswick blitz
Last month, New Brunswick high schools were also put on the priority list. Beginning March 22, the province launched a campaign offering vaccinations to all in-school secondary staffers, which took just over a week. It came ahead of a return to full-time in-person learning for high schoolers that was set for Monday, but later cancelled amid a rise in cases.
“In the region where the vaccination clinics were happening, they closed the school down completely [for the day]. All of the school staff had the opportunity to go to the vaccination clinic, get the vaccines done,” said Rick Cuming, president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation.
The clinics were very well attended, according to Cuming, who is based in Fredericton. However, one major lesson that emerged, he said, was the need to account for the fact that some people will inevitably experience mild-to-moderate vaccination side-effects such as fever, fatigue and muscle pain — also among the symptoms listed for COVID-19 screening at schools. This was something Ohana, the teacher in Surrey, also noted.
“We have a supply teacher shortage … we certainly feel that effect here in the best of times, and then under this COVID situation, anybody that’s showing symptoms can’t show up into the school,” Cuming said.
“Our schools certainly noticed that in the days that followed the vaccine clinics.”
Similar to Ohana, Cuming noted that the education workers not yet vaccinated — New Brunswick’s elementary and middle school teachers, administration and support staffers in those schools, as well as bus drivers and supply teachers — are anxiously awaiting their chance to get a shot.
Quebec, Ontario target hot spots
Following Niagara Region’s announcement this week about accelerating education sector vaccinations, the Quebec and Ontario governments also took a step in that direction, but primarily focusing on hot spot regions.
“I’m ecstatic to hear that teachers are finally being considered essential workers. That should have been the case a while ago,” said Andrew Adams, who teaches Grade 7 and 8 English at Montreal’s LaurenHill Academy.
The same day, as Ontario declared a third state of emergency and a new stay-at-home order, it also announced it was opening vaccination access to special education workers provincewide along with school staff in at-risk Toronto and Peel region neighbourhoods, starting next week during the April break. Officials in both Quebec and Ontario said the plan is to scale up vaccination in other regions of concern as soon as supply allows in the coming weeks.
Though the Ontario government’s announcement means some educators will soon get their first injections, union leader Harvey Bischof is looking for a more robust rollout beyond Toronto and Peel, which is located west of the city. Those two public health regions closed schools and shifted to remote learning this week.
“If it doesn’t reach face-to-face educators in [other provincial] hot spots where there are significant reasons for concern … then it’s potentially a case of too little, too late,” said Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, from Brantford, Ont.
Halton, the region northwest of Niagara, announced Friday it is also moving ahead to prioritize school-related workers and child-care staff among the essential workers able to get a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 16.
Bischof said he also wants to see schools in high-risk regions remain in remote learning until three weeks after educators can receive a shot, so the vaccine has time to take effect.
He’s heartened to see some regions and local public health units “striking out on their own” beyond decisions being made at the provincial level, like Niagara’s move to vaccinate all school staffers and Peel and Toronto shuttering in-person learning this week.
“We’ve had quite a few school boards across the province now call for the priority vaccination of educators. We’ve seen some medical officers of health and public health units take really important steps,” he said.
Back in B.C., high school teacher Ohana recognizes the pandemic is complex, “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” but she wants politicians and decision-makers to be more willing to pivot their vaccination rollout strategy.
“It was great to see [officials] kind of re-tinker things and say, ‘OK, it’s not just about age. We need to consider positions and jobs.'”
Playoffs at the world men’s curling championship in Calgary have been suspended because of positive tests for the COVID-19 virus.
Those who tested positive are asymptomatic and don’t involve playoff teams, according to Curling Canada.
Watch and engage with CBC Sports’ That Curling Show live Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET; Sunday 5 p.m. ET) featuring the men’s curling championship on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
But games are halted until athletes and staff on playoff teams are tested Saturday and receive their results.
“All teams that made the playoffs will undergo testing on Saturday morning, and until the results are clear and it’s known that the players and event staff are safe, no further games will be played,” Curling Canada said in a statement.
Those who have tested positive for the virus are in quarantine and contact tracing is underway, the organization added.
Canada’s Brendan Bottcher was eliminated from gold-medal contention Friday evening in a 5-3 loss to Scotland.
Saturday’s playoff game involving the United States and Switzerland, and semifinals involving Russia and Sweden are on hold. The medal games are scheduled for Sunday.
Fourteen teams, including 13 who travelled to Calgary from outside the country, competed in the men’s world championship.
The field was whittled down to six teams by Friday afternoon. The eliminated teams were preparing to travel home.
WATCH | Scotland upends Canada in qualification game:
Canada’s Brendan Bottcher loses to Scotland’s Bruce Mouat 5-3 in the qualification game at the men’s world curling championship. 1:04
The Canadian men’s, women’s and mixed doubles championships held at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre before the world championship were completed without any positive tests for the coronavirus.
Athletes and team personnel quarantine and are tested upon arrival in Calgary before competing. They’re confined to the arena and the their hotel across the highway.
Positive COVID cases in Calgary curling bubble. <br><br>A thread:<br><br>- positive cases discovered upon doing “exit” tests for a team eliminated and preparing to return home.<br>- teams arrived in Calgary at least one week prior to event<br>- needed negative test prior to leaving <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbccurl?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cbccurl</a>
Comparing apples to oranges isn’t necessarily useful if you’re trying to learn more about apples. And that is exactly what some experts say is happening in recent discussions of Canada’s vaccine rollout performance on the world stage.
This country’s vaccination record can seem disappointing when compared to the quick progress in some other countries, but that may not be a fair comparison, some experts say. The fact is certain key metrics suggest Canada’s rollout performance is actually on the rise compared to those of many other countries.
“It really does matter who you compare Canada to,” said Trevor Tombe, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary and a research fellow at its school of public policy.
How we evaluate Canada’s performance, he said, is by comparing ourselves to other major countries and by “using realistic metrics based on Canada’s current rollout strategy.”
At the beginning of March, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the interval time between first and second doses for the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccines be extended to a maximum of four months.
Tombe said that extension is the reason why Canadians should be sure they are really comparing apples to apples, so to speak, when we look at our numbers internationally.
Comparing Canada to the world based on the metric of how many people have received at least one dose of vaccine paints the most accurate comparative picture right now, he said, given the country has focused its efforts on administering first doses.
By those markers — measuring the Canadian vaccine rollout to other major economies and looking at the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose — this country is doing better than average.
Canada is third in the G7, behind only the United States and United Kingdom. Canada also ranks third when compared to members of the G20 (with data not available for Saudi Arabia and China). And those same metrics put us in the top 10 out of 37 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Scott Halperin, the director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax, agrees that comparing Canada’s “fully vaccinated” rate with the rest of the world is not the best measure of the country’s immunization progress right now.
“When you have a policy of first dose completion, that’s the metric you want to use — because it’s a conscious policy,” he said.
“When you make a conscious decision not to give the second dose for another three or four months, then your two-dose completion rate is going to stall for that three or four months.”
Halperin and other experts have pointed out the dearth of vaccine supply in February and early March was caused mostly by a lack of capacity in Canada to manufacture vaccines on a mass scale, a situation created by decades of policy-making decisions.
“You can only do as well in rolling out the vaccine in terms of how many vaccine doses you have,” he said. “And the leaders in rolling out the vaccines, except for a small number of exceptions, are countries who already had manufacturing capacity and invested very heavily in those vaccines.”
But in the here and now, he said, working with what Canada has to work with, the rollout is ramping up at a pace that matches supply.
The rationale behind the strategy
Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, the head of NACI, says she responds to criticisms of Canada’s vaccination record with a similar recounting of facts. She says the lack of vaccine supply is a factor that influenced her group’s decision to recommend extending the time gap between first and second doses, which is part of what led to Canada’s seemingly poor performance on the world stage when comparing “fully vaccinated” numbers.
“What we’ve decided to do in Canada is to give one dose to as many people as possible,” she said. “I know that that decision, that was taken by Canada and the provinces, has led to a lot of anger and anxiety in some people.
“It’s very complicated for some people to understand that better protection for all is eventually going to be better protection for them as well.”
The Ontario government’s health agency is telling hospitals across most of the province to stop performing all but emergency and life-saving surgeries because of the growing caseload of COVID-19 patients, CBC News has learned.
A memo was sent to hospitals Thursday night telling them to postpone their non-emergency surgeries, effective Monday, everywhere but in northern Ontario.
“Given increasing case counts and widespread community transmission across many parts of the province, we are facing mounting and extreme pressure on our critical care capacity,” says Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson in the memo, obtained by CBC News.
“We are instructing hospitals to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-emergent/urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity,” says Anderson.
The provincial health agency is also warning hospitals that they may be asked to send staff to harder-hit areas.
“We may request available health-care workers/teams to support care in other parts of the system,” says Anderson. “We may be asking you to identify available staff who might be redeployed to sites requiring support.”
The order comes with Ontario hospitals reporting a record number of patients critically ill with COVID-19 in the intensive care units. Premier Doug Ford cited the pressure on ICUs in his decision Wednesday to declare a third state of emergency and put the province under a stay-at-home order.
There were 532 patients with COVID-19 in the province’s ICUs on Wednesday night, according to a daily report from Critical Care Services Ontario.
Ontario has roughly 2,000 ICU beds. Emergency patients who don’t have COVID-19 typically fill 1,200 to 1,400 of those beds.
Modelling from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table projects 600 COVID-19 patients in ICUs by the middle of April, and 800 by the end of the month, should current case trends continue.
“To look after the kinds of patients that we know are going to be coming over the next couple of weeks, we need to generate more capacity,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, Ontario Health’s executive vice-president of medical, in an interview Thursday night.
“To do that, we need to ramp down some of the surgeries and procedures and other care that can be deferred,” said Simpson, who works as a cardiologist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. That hospital has already been the destination for numerous transfers of patients from the Greater Toronto Area in an effort to relieve the pressure on the busiest hospitals.
Emergency surgeries for such things as strokes, heart attacks and trauma would not be postponed, nor would urgent cancer surgeries, said Simpson. However, operations such as hip and knee replacements would be deferred.
Ontario has not ordered such an across-the-board postponement of non-emergency surgeries since the first wave of the pandemic hit the province in March 2020.
Postponing elective surgeries frees capacity in ICUs because some patients need critical care after their operations, sometimes because of the intensity of the surgery or because of complications, said Simpson.
“We need to ensure that every ounce of capacity that we have is used as best as we possibly can,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital and intensive care has been on the rise in many provinces lately, but comparing these numbers isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Not all provinces count patients the same way.
The key difference is whether the official numbers include patients who remain in hospital or intensive care units (ICU) but are no longer considered infectious.
In Alberta, these patients are included in the data that the province publishes daily.
“We report them as long as they are hospitalized with COVID-19 as a contributing cause, regardless of whether they are infectious,” said Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.
Health officials in Quebec and Saskatchewan say they count patients in the same way.
But British Columbia does it differently.
“Patients in ICU in B.C. with COVID-19 who are no longer infectious are not in the ICU totals that are reported daily,” Justine Ma with B.C.’s Provincial Health Services Authority said in an email.
It’s not entirely clear if the same applies to B.C. patients who are hospitalized outside of ICUs. Asked for clarification on that, Ma did not answer.
Manitoba, meanwhile, reports both numbers.
As of Wednesday’s daily update, the province said 61 patients were in hospital with active COVID-19, as well as 79 more patients who are no longer infectious but continue to require care, for a total of 140 hospitalizations.
This included 12 patients in ICU who remain infectious and 18 who are no longer infectious, for a total of 30.
Ontario recently started making this distinction when it comes to ICU patients as well — but not for the total number of patients in hospital.
Ontario changes ICU reporting method
As of last week, the Ontario government’s official data started differentiating between the “number of patients in ICU, testing positive for COVID-19” (i.e. those who are still considered infectious) and the “number of patients in ICU, testing negative for COVID-19.”
As of Wednesday, the data showed 504 total COVID-19 patients in Ontario ICUs, 476 of whom were still testing positive and considered infectious.
Ontario’s public-facing COVID-19 data website now shows both numbers: the higher number in the daily “overview of cases” and the lower numbers in a chart of past hospitalization data.
It’s not clear how New Brunswick reports its data, which showed 18 people in hospital on Wednesday including 12 in intensive care. CBC News has asked the province’s health ministry for clarification but has yet to receive a reply.
In the rest of Atlantic Canada, meanwhile, hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain rare.
As of Wednesday, Nova Scotia was reporting one patient in hospital (outside of ICU) while Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador each reported zero hospitalized patients.
The NHL says it remains hopeful the Vancouver Canucks can complete a 56-game schedule even though 25 members of the team have tested positive for a variant form of COVID-19, but some experts question if that is possible.
The Canucks released a statement Wednesday saying 21 players, including three on the taxi squad, plus four staff members, “have tested positive and the source infection is confirmed a variant.” Which variant has not been confirmed.
On Tuesday, when the Canucks had 18 players on the COVID-19 protocol list, an NHL spokesman said “a 56-game season is still the focus,” but if necessary the league has some flexibility on scheduling the opening of the playoffs. Asked Wednesday if anything had changed following the Canucks’ announcement, the spokesman said, “my answer is the same as it was yesterday.”
An NHL agent said he had heard nothing about any plans to cancel games.
“So far it sounds like they will push forward based on what I’m hearing,” the agent said.
Twenty-five members of the Vancouver Canucks organization have tested positive for a COVID-19 variant and it has put the remainder of the team’s season in question. 1:55
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician for St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said studies have shown people affected by the different variants “will recover on pace,” but depending on the severity of the virus — professional players may need extra time to regain their conditioning.
“They may be out of quarantine in 10 days, but a lot of players may not return after they are considered clear,” he said. “They may actually need a few weeks to get back to hockey normal.”
The Canucks’ situation is complicated because so many players have contracted the virus.
“If you have an outbreak of five or six [players] you can fill in the gaps, you can wait for some of your players to condition properly,” Chagla said. “At 21 players, that’s 21 different players that need to condition properly, that’s 21 players that need to get back into shape, get over their COVID and heal.”
Recovering from the virus is different from rehabbing after a sports injury.
“[A] lot of these guys, it sounds like, were in bed at home,” Chagla said. “You’re losing muscle mass; you’re losing that elite shape.”
WATCH | Vancouver Canucks sidelined by COVID-19:
The Vancouver Canucks have cancelled several upcoming games after a COVID-19 outbreak hit at least half the team’s roster. 1:59
When the first Canuck player tested positive last week, Vancouver’s next four games were postponed. The Canucks were scheduled to return to play Thursday in Calgary against the Flames. The Canucks’ website now says that game and another on Saturday in Calgary have been postponed.
The NHL season was originally scheduled to end May 8 but has already been extended to May 11 to allow for previously postponed games.
The Canucks have 19 regular season games remaining.
The cost of doing business
Corey Hirsch, a former NHL goaltender who is now a member of the Canucks’ radio broadcast team, worries about the physical strain forced on players if they are expected to play their remaining games in a condensed period of time after overcoming the virus.
“You are talking about the whole team,” he said. “You’re not only talking about one guy. My question would be if they are at risk of injury because of the physical shape they are in.”
Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University in Montreal, said the Canucks’ situation is a result of the NHL “not bubbling up for a season.”
“The NHL has accepted this is the cost of doing business,” said Lander.
Delaying the start of the playoffs creates problems for teams in the other three divisions, Lander said. The league also won’t want the playoffs extending into late July because of the Tokyo Summer Games.
Last year’s playoffs, which included a play-in round, began Aug. 1 and ended Sept. 28.
Lander predicts Vancouver might only play 50 games, which will impact other teams in the NHL’s North Division.
“A whole bunch of Canuck games are going to be cancelled, not going to be made up,” he said. “You’re cancelling games against the Oilers, or the Canadiens, or [other teams] that are playoff-bound so their ranking system is going to be disrupted.
“The NHL has protocols in place to determine tiebreakers. I’m assuming it’s just going to be best winning percentage. Everybody has played enough games at this point that you have a reasonable enough sample size to know who [the playoff teams] are.”
Even before the virus struck, Vancouver faced an uphill battle to make the playoffs.
Heading into Wednesday night, the Canucks (16-18-3) trailed Montreal by eight points for the final playoff spot in the North Division.
The Vancouver Canucks confirm a variant of the COVID-19 virus is responsible for the outbreak that has ravaged the team.
“As of today, 25 individuals have tested positive and the source infection is confirmed a variant — full genome sequencing by [B.C. Centre for Disease Control] will be required to determine which specific type,” reads the statement from the team.
So far, 21 players and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. An additional player is considered a close contact.
Earlier, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health told CBC News that officials had traced how the virus first gained a foothold in the team.
“The cluster at the Vancouver Canucks … we do know how the virus entered that community,” said Dr. Patricia Daly. “We don’t provide details of any cases.”
The Canucks statement said the source is “a single individual obtained in a community setting, which has since been identified by public health as a public exposure location.”
“Rapid spread of infection throughout the team indicates a link between contacts and the primary case.”
Forward Adam Gaudette was the first member of the team to test positive for COVID-19 and was pulled off the ice mid-practice on March 30.
Defenceman Travis Hamonic followed the next day and the NHL postponed the Canucks game against the Calgary Flames that evening.
Five more games have since been postponed as the virus spread among players and staff.
With the team having played just 37 of 56 regular season games, it’s unclear what the remainder of the season will bring.
An NHL spokesperson said “a 56-game season is still the focus” but if necessary, the league has some flexibility on scheduling the opening of playoffs.”
The prolonged layoff while battling the virus could be another blow to Vancouver’s already precarious playoff hopes.
Heading into Wednesday night, the Canucks (16-18-3) trailed Montreal by eight points for the final playoff spot.
“The health and safety of players, staff, families and the greater community remains the utmost priority,” said the Canucks.
“This is a stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and its serious impact, even among healthy, young athletes.
All staff and players remain in quarantine, according to the team.
Elaine McCartney typically keeps a list on hand of her 30 or so health issues following a bout of COVID-19 a year ago— in part because she just can’t keep track of them all.
There’s the severe fatigue and memory issues. Brain fog, much like after a concussion. Constant headaches, low appetite, round-the-clock dizziness. And on and on.
The 65-year-old from Guelph, Ont., has been experiencing those symptoms for close to a year, after developing what felt like a severe case of influenza in April 2020 and which a physician identified as a probable case of the COVID-19 illness.
Then last month she got her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Her condition quickly seemed to improve.
“I was able to go to the store on my own, which I haven’t done for eight months,” McCartney said. “And my energy was up, and my pain was less. I had chronic debilitating pain in my shoulder, and it was gone.”
McCartney’s experience may offer a glimmer of hope for a growing number of people around the world living with prolonged health concerns after being infected with the virus causing the COVID-19 illness.
She’s not the only patient seeing unexpected improvements. Emerging research suggests vaccines may reduce symptoms for some of those suffering from what is now being called “long COVID”, where patients continue to suffer from a range of health concerns long after the infectious phase of the illness has passed.
‘Reassuring’ findings from U.K. study
More than a year into the pandemic, it’s not clear how many people are experiencing long-term health issues after having COVID-19, but their numbers are growing.
Researchers think around 10 per cent of people who get sick with COVID-19 continue to live with lasting symptoms — some suggest the number could be as high as 30 per cent — which could mean millions worldwide are coping with some lingering issues from the disease.
A new preprint study out of the U.K., which is still awaiting the peer review process, looked at a small group of such “long COVID” patients. It found those who had received at least one dose of the vaccine had “a small overall improvement” in long COVID symptoms and a “decrease in worsening symptoms” when compared to the unvaccinated patients.
The researchers followed 66 hospitalized patients whose symptoms persisted — issues like fatigue, breathlessness, and insomnia — including 44 who got vaccinated and 22 who didn’t.
A little over 23 per cent of the vaccinated patients saw some resolution of their symptoms, the researchers noted, compared to around 15 per cent of those who weren’t vaccinated — with no difference in response identified between the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines used among the participants.
The team also found another “reassuring result” — fewer vaccinated patients reported any worsening symptoms during the time period studied than the unvaccinated group, though they cautioned that there was a large potential for bias given patients self-reported their symptoms.
Dr. Fergus Hamilton, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Bristol Medical School and part of the team behind the new study, said the findings offer a “slight hint” that vaccines might improve lingering symptoms.
“Although we’re a bit suspicious about that given the small numbers,” he added.
Science behind vaccine impact not clear
The study is limited by its small sample size, but other medical experts are observing a similar trend.
In the U.S., where roughly a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated, physicians now have a large pool of patients to follow.
Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases physician at Columbia University in New York, said around 40 per cent of the patients he is treating for lingering health issues from COVID-19 are reporting either complete, or significant, improvement in their symptoms after being fully vaccinated.
He said the numbers in the U.K. study were “pretty on-target” with what he initially observed in his own patients, but that the impact seemed to bump up a couple weeks after people got their second dose.
“That’s the first bit of good news in a really a long time,” Griffin said.
But he acknowledged the mechanics behind why vaccination might clear up lingering COVID-19 symptoms isn’t yet clear.
WATCH | Long-COVID sufferers struggle with limited care options:
Kim Clark and Sonja Mally have jumped from specialist to specialist for the past year as they’ve sought relief for a series of crippling symptoms associated with post-acute COVID-19 syndrome. Some health experts say more dedicated funding and resources for COVID long-haulers would help sufferers like them and shed light on a little-understood aspect of the pandemic. 2:27
“I think the most persuasive theory for me is that the virus was never completely cleared, or whatever remnants might still be … are now able to be cleared because of the robust response that’s triggered by the vaccines,” Griffin said.
McCartney said her own post-vaccination experience felt nothing short of a miracle — even if the science behind what’s happening in her body remains hazy and more research needed to evaluate how much vaccines could actually help COVID long-haulers going forward.
“I was feeling so miserable, for so long,” she said.
“I’ve logged more than a thousand steps in the past four days and I haven’t done that for months and months and months — so I’ve definitely seen improvement.”