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Everything you need to know about the Blue Jays this year

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The Toronto Blue Jays open the 2021 baseball season Thursday at 1 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium. Here’s a quick catchup on Canada’s only major-league team:

They’re not coming back to Canada any time soon

The Jays announced Wednesday that they’re extending their stay in Dunedin, Fla., through at least their May 14-24 homestand. They still want to return to Toronto at some point this year. But if Canadian government pandemic restrictions don’t soften, they’ll continue playing their home games in the United States — either in Dunedin or, if Florida gets too hot and humid, in Buffalo.

2 key new players should bolster the lineup

Toronto’s big off-season catch was slugging centre-fielder George Springer, who it lured from Houston with the richest contract ($ 150 million US over six years) in team history.

The 31-year-old leadoff man won the World Series MVP award in 2017 and averaged 31 home runs in the last four full seasons. But he’s out for a bit because of an oblique strain.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin joins John Northcott to preview Jays’ season: 

Jamie Strashin of CBC Sports joins John Northcott on CBC News Network to talk about the kick-off to the Toronto Blue Jays season today. 3:18

New second baseman Marcus Semien, 30, will be in the opening day lineup and looking to recapture his form from 2019, when he hit 33 homers for Oakland and finished third in American League MVP voting.

Springer and Semien join a talented young team

Corner outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernández are both coming off excellent seasons and are still on the right side of 30. Ideally, 22-year-old Alejandro Kirk can soon take over at catcher after hitting well in his cameo appearance last year.

But the Jays’ future — and present — hinges on their three core young guys.

A big year by a smaller Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be huge for the Jays. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Shortstop Bo Bichette, 23, should be a line-drive machine again after a knee injury sapped him of his power last year. Cavan Biggio, 25, is a good hitter who can steal bases and play almost anywhere on the field.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., though, could ultimately be the make-or-break guy. The 22-year-old hasn’t lived up to the massive hype yet. But he’s still very young, very talented and he’s in better shape now. If Guerrero becomes the all-star-calibre slugger everyone expects, he can push the Jays to the next level.

The pitching looks a little shaky

Opening day starter Hyun Jin Ryu is a legit ace who finished third in American League Cy Young voting last year. Behind him are a lot of journeymen and question marks.

The Jays hope prospect Nate Pearson can become the No. 2 guy after he showed flashes as a rookie, but he’s hurt again (strained groin).

The bullpen is pretty deep, but Toronto’s gamble on closer Kirby Yates went bust. The one-time 41-save man suffered a season-ending elbow injury in spring training, leaving the job up to a committee that could be led by Canadian righty Jordan Romano.

Another post-season trip is in reach

Last year’s appearance by the Jays in the post-season was a product of the field temporarily expanding from five teams to eight in each league.

The added randomness of a 60-game season may have helped, too, as the Jays gave up more runs than they scored.

But they’re a good, young team that made some solid additions, and there are objective reasons to think they can make the playoffs in a normal season.

Fangraphs’ projection model has Toronto finishing 88-74 — seven games behind the Yankees in the AL East, but good enough to claim the top AL wild-card spot from a tightly packed handful of contenders.

The Jays are also trendy in the betting market, which has them as the No. 3 favourite to win the AL pennant, behind the Yankees and White Sox.

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CBC | Sports News

Want to know how much added sugar is in your favourite foods? Canadian companies don’t have to tell you

Despite having to disclose many details about ingredients, specific allergens, calorie counts and other nutritional information on labels, food manufacturers are not required to include the amount of added sugar a product contains and don’t have to disclose that information to an inquiring consumer, a CBC Marketplace investigation has found.

As part of its latest investigation, Marketplace reached out to the Coca-Cola Company, General Mills and Campbell Canada, asking how much added sugar is in some of their popular products: Coca-Cola’s Vitaminwater calcium orange, General Mills’ Liberté organic vanilla 0% yogurt, and Campbell’s condensed tomato soup. 

Only one company told us how much added sugar is in its product — and it turns out, they don’t have to.

“I’m not surprised,” said David Hammond, professor and university research chair in public health at the University of Waterloo. 

“I don’t think it’s in their interest to talk about just how many of their products and at what levels they add sugar.”

Under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, Canadian food labels must list the total amount of sugars, which includes added sugars and any naturally occurring sugars like those in dairy, fruit and vegetables. The labels do not have to specify how much sugar the manufacturer has added to the product, often just for taste. 

Canadian food labels lacking

In an email, Health Canada said “the Food and Drugs Act and its regulations do not permit the declaration of added sugars information in the nutrition facts table.” 

However, Health Canada told Marketplace that, “Consumers are free to contact manufacturers directly to seek additional information about foods or ingredients that are not on the list of priority allergens or about added sugars in a product. While many manufacturers will provide such information, there is no obligation on the part of the manufacturer to do so.”

Dietitians recommend limiting daily added sugar intake, and the World Health Organization (WHO) and Heart & Stroke Canada, among others, offer guidelines. 

The WHO recommends limiting daily “free sugars” to 25 grams, or six teaspoons, for maximum health benefits. “Free sugars” include not only added sugars, but also the sugars naturally present in fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. Heart & Stroke Canada recommends Canadians ideally consume less than five per cent, or six teaspoons, of added sugars a day. 

Have a question or something to say? CBC News is live in the comments now.

David Hammond found added sugar in over 40,000 packaged food and beverage products found on Canadian store shelves. (David Hammond)

Back in 2015, Hammond researched the presence of added sugar in over 40,000 packaged food and beverage products available on Canadian store shelves by analyzing the ingredient list. He found added sugar in two-thirds of products, and he doesn’t believe anything has changed in the years since the study was published.

“It’s not just cookies and cakes. Most Canadians would be surprised to learn that some of the leading sources of added sugars are things like yogurt, bread,” said Hammond. 

Amount of added sugar tough to uncover

Marketplace bought the Vitaminwater, yogurt and soup products and tried to determine how much added sugar was in each. 

With only total sugar required on a Canadian food label, Marketplace worked with registered dietitian Stefania Palmeri to work out the nutrition math. 

Liberté organic vanilla 0% yogurt and Liberté organic plain 0% yogurt. Plain yogurts generally have only naturally occurring sugars and no added sugars. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Liberté’s organic vanilla 0% yogurt has 19 grams of total sugar per ¾-cup serving. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Liberté’s organic vanilla 0% yogurt has 19 grams of total sugar per ¾-cup serving.

In contrast, there is just five grams of total sugar per ¾-cup serving in Liberté’s organic plain 0% unsweetened yogurt. 

Palmeri’s best guess is that compared to the plain version, the vanilla yogurt has a whopping 14 grams of added sugar per ¾-cup serving, or about three teaspoons. Four grams of sugar is equivalent to about one teaspoon. 

“We’re not sure how much of this is added, but we’re still not doing well if this is the first thing we start with in the morning,” Palmeri said.

When Marketplace asked General Mills how much added sugar is in the yogurt, the company said it follows Health Canada labelling regulations, which include the labelling of total sugars in the product.

Registered dietitian Stefania Palmeri worked with Marketplace to determine the amount of added sugar in some popular products. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

U.S. does disclose added sugar on food labels

Campbell’s tomato soup was an interesting case. 

Unlike in Canada, added sugar is now listed on all nutrition facts labels in the United States — including the label for Campbell’s tomato soup. That’s because it’s now required in the U.S. under new regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

On its U.S. website, the American Campbell’s tomato soup is listed as having eight grams of added sugar per 240-millilitre serving. 

WATCH | Here’s how much added sugar is in this tomato soup:

This tomato soup has added sugar. But you won’t find how much on Canadian nutrition labels. 2:38

When Marketplace called Campbell’s Canadian consumer line, no information about added sugar was provided for the product sold in Canada. However, later in emails, Campbell’s said it is “prohibited” by the Food and Drugs Act from including added sugar on the label, but did explain that the tomato soup it sells in Canada has 11 grams of added sugar in one 250-millilitre (one-cup) serving.

Despite the slightly larger serving size, that is still more sugar than the U.S. product.

Campbell’s condensed tomato soup has 16 grams of total sugar per one-cup serving. Campbell’s says 11 grams of it are added. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

“I don’t think most people have an awareness of how many places added sugars can be hidden,” said Palmeri. 

“When you’re looking at a tomato soup thinking, ‘I’m trying to eat more vegetables,’ you wouldn’t expect one of the ingredients to be glucose-fructose.”

Coca-Cola, the owner of Vitaminwater products, refused to tell Marketplace how many of the 32 grams of total sugar in its product are added sugar. 

However, it did say “too much sugar isn’t good for anyone,” and noted that it offers many low- or zero-sugar drinks including zero-sugar Vitaminwater. 

Palmeri suspects all of it is added, considering the second ingredient in the water is cane sugar. In the U.S., the label for Vitaminwater orange lists 27 grams of sugar, all of it added.

Vitaminwater calcium orange has 32 grams of total sugar in one bottle. Our experts believe all of it is added. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

Time for change

Hammond says consumers deserve to know about added sugar in their food.  

“We need to do something because the status quo certainly isn’t helping consumers at all,” he said.

Canadian consumers were consulted about new food labels back in 2013 and 2014. In the “Consulting Canadians to Modernize and Improve Food Labels” report, Canadian consumers requested that new food labels include a daily maximum value for sugar, as well as the breakdown of “naturally occurring” and “added” sugars.

But industry stakeholders pushed back, questioning the scientific basis of requiring that added sugars be on nutrition labels, “given that the body metabolizes naturally occurring and added sugars in the same way.” 

Industry stakeholders also expressed other concerns, including the cost of declaring added sugar information on labels, and cited U.S. research that found consumers had a “limited understanding” of what added sugar means.

It’s not clear which companies or manufacturers participated in the pushback. 

In emails, Marketplace asked Health Canada why added sugar will not be on the new nutrition labels, which are currently rolling out across the country.  

Health Canada replied that feedback in 2014 indicated that Canadians found the information about added sugars “confusing.” 

Health Canada also said it determined that having an added sugars declaration would be inconsistent with the WHO guideline on sugars, which recommends that people reduce their consumption of free sugars and not just of added sugars. Health Canada also told Marketplace it believes that information on the new labels — including the “% daily value” (DV) and a new footnote indicating “5% or less is a little, 15% or more is a lot” — will help educate consumers. 

(Health Canada)

Health Canada also introduced the requirement to group sugars-based ingredients together within the list of ingredients following the term “sugars.” The agency says that, “Together, these new requirements will support reduction in Canadians’ sugars intake.”

Hammond strongly disagrees and says research shows more Canadians were able to identify the presence of added sugar in a product when information for added sugar was clearly indicated on the nutrition label.

“Canadians are trying to make healthier choices … and one of the things they care about is how much added sugar is in there,” he said. 

“This should not be rocket science.”

  • Watch full episodes of Marketplace on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.

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CBC | Health News

Brazil’s hospitals under stress as cases surge: ‘We don’t know what’s yet to come’

Brazil’s hospitals are faltering as a highly contagious coronavirus variant tears through the country, while the president insists on unproven treatments and the only attempt to create a national plan to contain COVID-19 has just fallen short.

For the last week, Brazilian governors sought to do something President Jair Bolsonaro has rejected: cobble together a proposal for states to help curb the nation’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak yet. The effort was expected to include a curfew, prohibition of crowded events and limits on the hours non-essential services can operate.

The final product, presented Wednesday, was a one-page document that included general support for restricting activity but without any specific measures. Six governors declined to sign on.

Piaui state’s Gov. Wellington Dias told The Associated Press that unless pressure on hospitals is eased, growing numbers of patients will have to endure the disease without a hospital bed or any hope of treatment in an intensive care unit.

“We have reached the limit across Brazil; rare are the exceptions,” said Dias, who leads the governors’ forum. “The chance of dying without assistance is real.”

Those deaths have already started. In Brazil’s wealthiest state, Sao Paulo, at least 30 patients died this month while waiting for ICU beds, according to a tally published Wednesday by the news site G1. In southern Santa Catarina state, 419 people are waiting for transfer to ICU beds. In neighbouring Rio Grande do Sul, ICU capacity is at 106 per cent.

Gravediggers wear protective suits as they bury a person who died from COVID-19 at Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo. (Carla Carniel/Reuters)

According to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University, as of Thursday, Brazil had seen more than 11.2 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 270,650 deaths.

‘I have a lot of colleagues who … stop to cry’

Alexandre Zavascki, a doctor in Rio Grande do Sul’s capital, Porto Alegre, described a constant arrival of hospital patients who struggle to breathe.

“I have a lot of colleagues who, at times, stop to cry. This isn’t medicine we’re used to performing routinely. This is medicine adapted for a war scenario,” said Zavascki, who oversees infectious disease treatment at a private hospital.

“We see a good part of the population refusing to see what’s happening, resisting the facts. Those people could be next to step inside the hospital and will want beds. But there won’t be one.”

The country, he said, needs “more rigid measures” from authorities.

Over the president’s objections, the Supreme Court last year upheld cities’ and states’ jurisdiction to impose restrictions on activity. Even so, Bolsonaro consistently condemned such moves, saying the economy needed to keep churning and that isolation would cause depression.

P1 variant on the rise

The most recent surge is driven by the P1 variant, which Brazil’s health minister said last month is three times as transmissible as the original strain. It first became dominant in the Amazonian city Manaus and in January forced the airlift of hundreds of patients to other states.

Eurenice Melo, 87, who suffers from COVID-19, is helped by a nurse at her home in Manaus, Brazil, as her daughter, Cintia Melo, 50, looks on. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Brazil’s failure to arrest the virus’s spread since then is increasingly a concern not just for Latin American neighbours, but also as a warning to the world, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, said in a March 5 press briefing.

“In the whole country, aggressive use of the public health measures, social measures, will be very, very crucial,” he said. “Without doing things to impact transmission or suppress the virus, I don’t think we will be able in Brazil to have the declining trend.”

Last week’s tally of more than 10,000 deaths was Brazil’s highest since the pandemic began, and this week is on track to be even worse, after the country posted nearly 2,300 deaths on Wednesday — blowing away the prior day’s total, which was also a record.

Brazil has decades of experience with mass immunization campaigns, but rollout has been hobbled by delays. So far, 5.5 per cent of its population has been vaccinated.

“Governors, like a lot of the population, are getting fed up with all this inaction,” said Margareth Dalcolmo, a prominent pulmonologist at the state-run Fiocruz Institute. She added that their proposed pact is vague and will remain symbolic unless it becomes far-reaching and confronts the federal government.

Brazil’s national council of state health secretaries last week called for the establishment of a national curfew and lockdown in regions that are approaching maximum hospital capacity. Bolsonaro again demurred.

“I won’t decree it,” Bolsonaro said Monday at an event. “And you can be sure of one thing: My army will not go to the street to oblige the people to stay home.”

Wait list for ICU beds

Restrictions can already be found just outside the presidential palace, after the Federal District’s governor, Ibaneis Rocha, implemented a curfew and partial lockdown. Rocha warned Tuesday that he could clamp down harder, sparing only pharmacies and hospitals, if people keep disregarding rules.

Currently, 213 people in the district are on the wait list for an ICU bed.

Bolsonaro told reporters Monday that the curfew is “an affront, inadmissible,” and said that even the WHO believes lockdowns are inadequate because they disproportionately hurt the poor.

While the WHO acknowledges “profound negative effects,” it says some countries have had no choice but to impose heavy-handed measures to slow transmission, and that governments must make the most of the extra time provided to test and trace cases, while caring for patients.

Such nuance seems lost on Bolsonaro, whose government continues its search for silver-bullet solutions that so far has served only to stoke false hopes.

Bolsonaro’s government spent millions producing and distributing malaria pills, which have shown no benefit in rigorous studies. Still, Bolsonaro endorsed the drugs. He has also supported treatment with two drugs for fighting parasites, neither of which have shown effectiveness. He again touted their capacity to prevent hospitalizations during a Wednesday event in the presidential palace.

‘Every day is a new surprise’

Bolsonaro also dispatched a committee to Israel this week to assess an unproven nasal spray that he has called “a miraculous product.” Fiocruz’s Dalcolmo, whose younger sister is currently in an ICU, called the trip “really pathetic.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro removes his mask to address a ceremony in Brasilia, Brasil, to sign a law that expands the federal government’s ability to acquire vaccines on March 10, 2021. (Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, the city of Araraquara, in Sao Paulo’s interior, has seen new cases turn downward weeks after declaring lockdown amid a crippling surge dominated by the P1 variant. Mayor Edinho Silva told the AP in a message that, without mass vaccination, there was no alternative.

Camila Romano, a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Tropical Medicine, hopes a test her lab developed to identify worrisome variants, including P1, will help monitor and control their spread. She also wants to see stricter government measures, and citizens doing their part.

“Every day is a new surprise, a new variant, a city whose health system enters collapse,” Romano said. “We’re now in the worst phase. Whether this will be the worst phase of all, unfortunately we don’t know what’s yet to come.”

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What we know about spacing out COVID-19 vaccine doses

Federal and provincial health officials are poring over emerging data on the advantages and disadvantages of extending the time between shots of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines. Here are some of the factors they’re weighing and why it matters.

Why do provinces want to space out the doses beyond official recommendations?

More vaccines are arriving and the provinces aim to get them into the arms of willing Canadians as quickly as possible.

But demand exceeds supply, so researchers in British Columbia and Quebec are studying what happens when the interval between doses is extended. That way they can use the supply to vaccinate more people with a first shot sooner.

Late last year, Quebec decided to vaccinate more quickly and more widely by allowing a 90-day delay between doses.

But British Columbia went further on Monday, moving to a four-month interval for doses of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, pointed to advances since Health Canada approved those vaccines.

A health-care worker prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, in Santiago, Dominican Republic, in February. (Ricardo Rojas/Reuters)

“What’s happening is, I think, very encouraging,” Njoo said in a briefing on Tuesday.

“We have real-world data, the actual experience of what’s happening with the vaccination, for example in British Columbia and in Quebec, as they’re vaccinating seniors in long-term care facilities. We’re seeing quite a high level of protection.”

Njoo said experts are balancing vaccinating a large number of Canadians to achieve a good level of protection without compromising the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician in Mississauga, Ont., says the top priority is to protect older individuals and those who are at highest risk of severe consequences, hospitalizations and death.

Chakrabarti said the principle of getting as many people covered with one dose is a good one.

“We do know from other vaccines that increase in the interval between two shots doesn’t have any major consequence in decreasing efficacy and in some situations might actually make it better,” he said. “But keeping that in mind, we do have to be careful. I think that we don’t want to stray too far away.”

What’s the basis for the recommended dosing schedule?

Vaccine-makers tested their shots in clinical trials with certain times between doses.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is meant to be given as two doses, 21 days apart, while Moderna recommends 28 days. For AstraZeneca-Oxford’s, the interval is eight to 12 weeks.

Health Canada approved the vaccines based on that clinical trial data. Both Pfizer and Moderna acknowledge that, in a pandemic, health authorities will make their own recommendations.

What’s the scientific basis for delaying?

Chakrabarti says there’s evidence, for example, to support delaying the second dose of the Hepatitis A vaccine by six to 36 months, and that’s true for other vaccines, too. But the COVID-19 vaccines haven’t existed long enough to know.

Efficacy for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine was around 95 per cent after both doses and 52 per cent after the first, according to clinical data. For Moderna’s it was about 80 per cent after one dose and 94 per cent following the second.

WATCH | Stop confusing vaccine messaging, expert says:

Open communication about evolving decisions around COVID-19 vaccinations is very important to keep public trust, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 task force. 8:14

The benefits of a second dose include include longer-lasting protection says Tania Watts, a professor of immunology at the University of Toronto who is studying immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines in Canadians. 

She says everyone should eventually get a second dose. But “as we go to the broader population, yes, I think we will still get the benefit if you delay the second dose,” Watts said. 

Watts noted that when the mRNA vaccines were developed, the four-week interval for the “prime-boost effect” in the clinical trials was done for practical purposes.

“All things being perfect, we could stick to the protocol,” from the clinical trials, Watt said. “But, if you can save a lot more lives by not giving everyone the second dose at three weeks, but giving a lot more people the first, I think this is where the rationale comes, and I think it makes complete sense.”

What’s unknown?

The variants of concern that are more transmissible than the original coronavirus could throw a wrench into the works for some combinations of vaccines.

Watts said neutralizing antibodies that block the coronavirus from attaching and infecting cells dropped to almost nil in lab tests of those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot against the B1.352 variant that first appeared in South Africa.

“After two doses, which gives you stronger antibodies, you still had some partial protection,” she said.

Watts says Canada is at a critical juncture, watching to see if the variants will take off among partially vaccinated people.

Epidemiological or population-level studies are also needed to figure out how many antibodies are needed to prevent infection as well as the details of immune system memory.

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Do we know how effective vaccines are against the variants? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 67,000 emails from all corners of the country.

Are the vaccines effective against all the variants of concern?

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna say their COVID-19 vaccines appear to be effective against two variants of concern first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, based on blood samples from people who have been vaccinated. But more research is needed on the pair of vaccines, while other vaccine candidates already have some real-world data on their effectiveness against the variants. 

The good news is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t seem to mutate as much or as quickly as the influenza virus that causes the flu. Even with the current, more transmissible variants of concern, people who’ve been vaccinated are not falling severely ill or dying from COVID-19 in large numbers.

But to prepare in case that starts to happen, drugmakers are already re-working their vaccines.

Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists, said last week that his company has already made a template for a prototype vaccine targeting the variant first identified in South Africa.

The re-tooling work took on new urgency after South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial suggested the vaccine did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the B1351 variant now dominant in the country.

Despite that, Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont., told Dr. Brian Goldman of CBC’s The Dose that he remains optimistic the existing vaccines can fight the coronavirus variants. That’s because five different vaccines have been submitted to Health Canada for approval, Chagla said, and each may play a role in controlling the variants.

“The best vaccine is the one that’s administered,” Chagla said. “Every Canadian should be hopeful that they can get one of these vaccines, period.”

The clinical trials of both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech were completed before the variants of concern took off worldwide.

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatrics professor at Dalhousie University in Halfax and a vaccine safety researcher, said as experts gain a more detailed and sophisticated perspective on how the COVID-19 vaccines work, they’ll also gain a better understanding of what types of protection they offer.

Studies suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t highly effective against the variant first identified in South Africa. Do we know how effective other vaccines are against it?

Yes, we do have some information about the other vaccines.

So far, three drugmakers — Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax — have data comparing how well their vaccines work against the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa.

The variant has a mutation that changes the shape of the viral spike protein.

As a result, lab experiments suggest the antibodies that our body produces have a harder time attaching to the spike protein, reducing the effectiveness of the vaccines, virologists say.

But infectious disease experts say the vaccines could still save lives amid B1351 cases by preventing admissions to intensive care from serious COVID-19, which reduces strain on our health-care systems — the goal of flattening the curve.

WATCH | Re-tooling vaccines to keep up with coronavirus variants:

New coronavirus variants won’t necessarily mean new vaccines or vaccine boosters are needed. And if adjustments are needed, they would take less time to develop than the original vaccines. 2:01

Preliminary data from Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine suggested it was 72 per cent effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 in the U.S. compared with 57 per cent effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant was circulating at the time of the research.

The Novavax vaccine also showed some protection against the B1351 variant, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician with Toronto’s University Health Network. 

In a news release, Novavax said the efficacy of its vaccine in studies from the U.K. was 89 per cent compared to 60 per cent in South Africa. 

Protection can refer to not getting the infection as well as protection against severe infection, hospitalization and death.

“So, while it isn’t perfect, while it isn’t the same, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and very likely Pfizer and Moderna still provide some element of protection against that variant of concern,” said Bogoch, who is also a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.

We’re hearing the variant first identified in the U.K. can be more deadly. Is this across all age groups?

“Based on the limited evidence we have, it does seem to be across all age groups,” Maria Sundaram, an infectious diseases epidemiologist based in Toronto, told CBC News Network.

In January, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said two studies presented to his government suggested the B117 variant “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

Patrick Vallance, Johnson’s chief scientific adviser, said the previous average death rate of 60-year-olds in the U.K. from COVID-19 was about 10 per 1,000. With the new variant, roughly 13 or 14 per 1,000 infected people might be expected to die.

The relative increase in the case fatality rate “appears to be apparent across age groups,” the researchers wrote. “The absolute risk of death per infection remains low.”

Do you anticipate we’ll need booster shots to protect against variants even after we’ve received both doses of a vaccine?

The answer is yes, said Bogoch.

For the first-generation of COVID-19 vaccines, Bogoch said he expects people will eventually need a booster dose.

“Down the line, and I am not sure how much farther down the line, we’d likely need a booster dose with a vaccine or an updated vaccine that accounts for the new variants of concern that are emerging,” he said.

A health-care worker is seen at a COVID-19 testing centre at Ridge Meadows Hospital in Maple Ridge, B.C., earlier this month after a case of a coronavirus variant was detected at a nearby secondary school. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

MacDonald said major regulators such as Health Canada, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and their counterparts in the U.K. and Europe are meeting virtually to discuss how to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines against variants.

She said the regulators may ask drugmakers for what are called non-inferiority studies.

Unlike clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of a vaccine that involve 40,000 to 50,000 people, MacDonald said non-inferiority trials need 400 to 500 people and can be done relatively quickly.

“We’ll do non-inferiority,” MacDonald said. “That is a simpler, easier process and it’s just saying, ‘Are you good if not better than what you had before?'”

Alyson Kelvin, a virologist working on COVID-19 vaccine candidates at VIDO-InterVac in Saskatoon, said surveillance in Canada and around the world will be important to see what variants people are commonly being infected with, both in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

“I am optimistic that we’ll still have effective vaccines and we won’t get into as frequently a cycle of vaccination and changing the vaccine formulations as we do with influenza,” Kelvin said.

A lab technician works on blood samples taken from people taking part in a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine study in Groblersdal, South Africa, northeast of Johannesburg, on Feb. 11. The five different vaccines submitted to Health Canada for approval may each play a role in controlling the variants. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

When someone is infected with the original version of the virus and they develop antibodies, those antibodies have been shown to be less effective against some new variants of concern with altered spike proteins.

Researchers have documented cases of reinfection with the variant first identified in Manaus, Brazil. But reinfections are difficult to prove since doctors need genetic proof showing a distinct coronavirus strain caused each instance of infection. 

Our bodies generate antibodies to fight off a natural infection. Besides antibody-based immunity, our immune system also has T-cell immunity, or cell-based immunity. T cells are a type of white blood cell. 

Kelvin said cell-based immunity is often broader than what we get from just antibodies.

Immunologists say antibodies are also relatively short-lived compared with some T cells

Kelvin said it will be important for researchers to watch for any breakthrough infections from a variant that suggest both arms of immunity are no longer effective.

Alyson Kelvin, who is working on different coronavirus vaccine candidates, is seen in her lab at VIDO-InterVac in Saskatoon, last March. She says she’s optimistic we will still have effective vaccines against the variants. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

Brian Lichty of the McMaster Immunology Research Centre in Hamilton, who is also working on COVID-19 vaccine candidates, said genes for the variants can be swapped into an existing mRNA vaccine, such as those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

“Technically, it’s really simple,” Lichty said. “I can, with my laptop, design a new vaccine in 20 minutes sitting on my couch.”

Then, in the lab, the new gene is synthesized. Finally, the new vaccine is mass manufactured — the step that takes the most time, he said.

Looking ahead, drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said it will work with the German pharmaceutical company Curevac to develop an mRNA vaccine against the variants.

The advantage of existing mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna compared with vaccines based on older technologies is they don’t need cells or tissue culture to grow. That’s one reason why it is easier to change recipes in their manufacturing lines to address the variants, MacDonald said.

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The Canadian women’s soccer team is back — here’s what to know

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The Canadian women’s soccer team is back

The back-to-back Olympic bronze medallists will play their first match in close to a year tonight at 7 p.m. ET when they face the United States at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando. Here’s a catchup on the Canadian team as it begins to ramp up for the Tokyo Olympics in five months:

The SheBelieves Cup is a quick, four-team event. Canada, the U.S., Brazil and Argentina will play each other once, and whoever finishes with the best record wins the tournament. There’s no playoff round. Canada’s other matches are Sunday at 6 p.m. ET vs. Argentina and Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET vs. Brazil. The U.S., which has won the last two Women’s World Cups, is ranked No. 1 in the world. Canada and Brazil are tied for eighth and Argentina is 31st.

Don’t read too much into Canada’s results, though. Six key players are missing, either due to injury or because they’re playing for their clubs in Europe. Canada will be without captain Christine Sinclair, four-time UEFA Women’s Champions League title winner Kadeisha Buchanan, Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod, Ashley Lawrence and Jordyn Huitema.

On the bright side, this creates an opportunity for younger players. Janine Beckie and Jessie Fleming are among those who’ll have a chance to take on a bigger role and show they deserve to keep it once the roster returns to full strength. Another interesting player to watch, says CBC Sports’ Signa Butler, is 24-year-old forward Evelyne Viens. She’s never played at the international level, but Viens scored 73 goals in 77 matches for her U.S. college team and has eight goals in 12 matches this season for Paris FC, which loaned her from Sky Blue FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Tonight’s match could be tough. Canada is 3-50-7 all-time vs. the Americans and hasn’t beaten them since 2001. Their most recent meeting came last February, in the final of their regional Olympic qualifying tournament. The match didn’t mean much because both teams had clinched a spot in Tokyo by winning their semifinals, but the result was familiar: a 3-0 U.S. win. The Americans have since extended their unbeaten streak to 34 matches, including back-to-back routs of Colombia last month in their first action since March. The Canada-U.S. match is available live only on the streaming service OneSoccer, but you can watch a replay on the CBC TV network and CBCSports.ca on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

Canada has a new coach. Facing the best team in the world with a depleted roster isn’t the ideal setup for your first match as a senior national team head coach, but that’s the spot Bev Priestman is in tonight. Prior to replacing Kenneth Heiner-Moller in November, the 34-year-old spent two seasons as an assistant with the national team in her native England. Before that, she led Canada’s developmental program, was the head coach of the women’s under-17 and under-20 teams, and served as an assistant under former coach John Herdman at the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, where Canada won its second consecutive bronze medal. Read about how Priestman is approaching her new job and watch Signa Butler’s interview with her here.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler explains the SheBelieves Cup:

Signa Butler breaks down the basics of the SheBelieves Cup, and what participating in the tournament means for Team Canada 2:41


The Blue Jays will start the season in Florida. They confirmed today that their first two homestands, at least, will be played at their spring-training stadium in Dunedin. After that, team president Mark Shapiro said, the Jays could move their home games to Buffalo, where they played them last year. He added that the team would like to return to Toronto “as soon as it is safe to do so,” but there’s no timetable for that. The Jays open their 162-game regular season April 1 in New York against the Yankees, and their home opener is April 8. Read more about the Jays’ temporary move to Florida here.

Naomi Osaka is one win away from her fourth Grand Slam title. The Australian Open’s No. 3 seed easily beat Serena Williams in last night’s marquee semifinal and will face 22nd-seeded Jennifer Brady in the final on Saturday at 3:30 a.m. ET. If she defeats Brady, who’s never played in a Grand Slam final, Osaka will have won four of the last nine Slams. Since she won her first, at the 2018 U.S. Open, no other woman has won more than one. The men’s final matchup will be decided early Friday when No. 4 Daniil Medvedev plays No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas. The winner faces world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.

Bianca Andreescu lost in the semifinals of her tournament. The Phillip Island Trophy event in Melbourne is for players who either didn’t qualify for the Australian Open or got knocked out early, so the competition isn’t the strongest. But, after losing in the second round of the Aussie, Andreescu got in four more valuable matches as she tries to shake off the rust from her 15-month layoff. And she can still squeeze in a few more in Australia despite today’s three-set defeat to 50th-ranked Marie Bouzkova. There’s a tournament in Adelaide starting Sunday, and Tennis Canada said Andreescu is “tentatively entered” in it. 

The new president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee is a woman who competed in seven Olympic Games. Seiko Hashimoto is a fitting replacement for 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, who was fired for making sexist remarks. Before taking the job, the 56-year-old Hashimoto was the country’s Olympic minister as well as the minister for women’s empowerment. She competed in three Summer Olympics as a cyclist and four Winter Olympics as a speed skater, winning bronze in the 1,500 metres at the 1992 Winter Games. Read more about Hashimoto here and about how a 22-year-old college student launched the campaign that helped bring down Mori here.

Another big-name quarterback is getting traded. A few weeks after the Lions swapped Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff, the Eagles have reportedly agreed to send Carson Wentz to the Colts for a pair of draft picks. Wentz was an MVP contender in 2017 until he got hurt late in the season and watched backup Nick Foles lead Philly to a Super Bowl victory. He’s struggled since then and was downright awful in 2020, throwing 15 interceptions and only 16 TDs. Indy needed a QB after Philip Rivers retired, and head coach Frank Reich was Wentz’ offensive co-ordinator for that MVP-calibre season in Philly. Read more about the trade here.

The Canadian men’s water polo team faces a tough path to the Olympics. Today’s 19-6 drubbing by Greece dropped Canada’s record at the last-chance qualifying tournament in the Netherlands to 1-0-3. Canada finished fourth in its group, which is good enough to advance to the quarter-finals, but it will have to face the top team in the other group. That’s Russia, which went undefeated in its five round-robin games. A loss would end Canada’s hopes of landing one of the three remaining spots in the Olympic tournament. The game is Friday at 2 p.m. ET and you can watch it live here.

Also coming up on CBC Sports

Alpine skiing world championships: Watch the two runs of the men’s giant slalom live Friday at 4 a.m. ET and 7:30 a.m. ET here. Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami won today’s women’s giant slalom for her second gold medal of these world championships. American star Mikaela Shiffrin finished second and now has a medal of each colour, with the slalom — her best event — still to come.

Ski cross: Canada’s Reece Howden has won three of the last four World Cup events to open up a big lead in the men’s season standings. Canada’s Marielle Thompson is second in the women’s chase after reaching five of the last six podiums. Watch them both race live Friday starting at 5:30 a.m. ET. here.

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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We Now Know How Much Scalpers Warped PS5, Xbox, Zen 3, Ampere Markets

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Nvidia’s Ampere arrived to much fanfare last fall before mostly vanishing from store shelves. In the aftermath of the launch, bot-users and resellers bragged about buying as many as 50 cards at a time. This kind of taunting struck a nerve with a lot of people. We know that scalping definitely caused problems for various products, but we haven’t had any idea how big those problems were, until now.

Michael Driscoll, an Oracle Data Engineer, has put together a detailed method of tracking the movement of various products on eBay. He’s published his full data sets and written several reports on what he’s seen across the market these past 6-8 months. He includes data for Nvidia Ampere GPUs, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, AMD CPUs, and AMD’s RDNA2. I’m not going to walk through every article — they’re all quite thorough — but we’ll discuss some of the more interesting findings. He’s also handing out the source code for the data scraper he’s using if anyone wants to tinker with it. All graphs below are his property and work.

Scalping in the Console Market

Roughly 6.85 percent of all Xbox Series S|X were sold on eBay through 1/16. The sales total was $ 79.68M, with the scalpers making $ 14.57M in profit, collectively. Prices are currently running at 150 percent of MSRP. Xbox Series S prices increased by about 1.33x, while Xbox Series X pricing remained relatively stable over this time period.

Interestingly, between 28-45 percent of Xbox Series S|X were on accounts that only moved 1-2 consoles. Individual buyers looking to move a system or two appear to have driven a significant percentage of the eBay/StockX volume, not enormous buying operations.

Next up, the PlayStation 5. The total value of the PS5’s eBay market stands at $ 143M, compared with the Xbox Series S|X at $ 80M. That puts the Xbox Series market at about 55 percent the size of the PS5. While that’s not a great position for Microsoft to be in, the Xbox One/One X has sold 44 percent as many consoles as the PlayStation 4 according to VGChartz. Microsoft does appear to be over-performing its previous console, even if not by nearly as much as it would like.

The PlayStation 5 is on a rather different trajectory. Higher demand for the console is reflected in the fact that its price curve is higher than the Xbox Series X|Ss. It’s also more stable, reflecting higher overall demand. There are slight differences in how many consoles each seller moves, but people in the 1-2 bracket still account for 40 percent of all PS5’s move. An estimated 7 percent of PS5s were moved this way.

Since eBay and StockX are not the only venues people use to fence hardware at higher-than-MSRP pricing, they aren’t going to give a completely accurate view of how many systems were moved in the gray market. Driscoll estimates somewhere between 10-15 percent of systems are being moved this way. It’s enough to matter, but it’s not enough to irretrievably warp the entire market.


Let’s talk about what’s going on with the PC side of things. The console market’s scalping value on eBay and StockX comes to $ 223M, while the Ampere/Ryzen/RDNA2 side of things adds up to $ 62M, $ 6M, and $ 4M, respectively. If you’re curious about the numbers, there were 49,580 Nvidia Ampere GPUs sold, compared with 8,720 Zen CPUs and 3,461 RDNA2 GPUs.

Given that AMD has already hailed the Ryzen 5000 series as a major revenue generator, this seems to imply that a lot of chips have been going to OEMs, not the retail channel. Either that or the people getting their hands on Zen CPUs aren’t selling them. Zen 3 retail markups have been slowly trending downward, implying that the gap between supply and demand is improving:

Zen+ and Zen 2 CPU prices also increased when Zen 3 chips did — the entire AMD product family has been difficult to find this season. Interestingly, AMD also apparently caused a drop in Core i9 pricing; I’ll leave that story to Driscoll.

RDNA2 sales aren’t suffering much markup, but this may be due to a lack of demand for the cards. The new Big Navi GPUs only shipped 7 percent as much volume as Ampere. Price inflation remains at around 220 percent for the 6800 XT and the 6800 and 6900 XT are bumping along around 160 percent.

Ampere demand has obviously dwarfed AMD’s CPU and GPU sales on eBay combined and doubled. Pricing on these GPUs remains high, and unlike some of the other cards we’ve seen, they appear to be trending upwards. This isn’t great for anyone hoping to get an affordable GPU.

Price inflation in the GPU market has been very high. Driscoll quotes price jumps of 33 to 100 percent on older Turing cards, both GTX and RTX. He writes: “It seems many more individuals were lucky to get their hands on an RTX 30 series and turned to eBay to make a quick buck than Zen 3.”

Scalpers Aren’t the Only Problem

No one is going to argue that scalping is a good thing. Driscoll estimates that as many as 15 percent of consoles might be sold at these high mark-ups. These consoles and other hardware represent thousands of parts that might have gone to happy users at MSRP rather than paying a large premium for the privilege of owning hardware.

But what this also lends credence to is the idea that TSMC or one of TSMC’s downstream partners has been capacity / component constrained. The idea that AMD might have prioritized consoles over PC hardware also seems to have gotten some lift as well, given the huge difference in revenue sales between PS5/Xbox and the rest of the PC industry.

Companies are now guiding that it could be July until the shortages ease. Until they do, unless you get lucky, we recommend checking OEM system builds before pulling the trigger and building your own. This is another one of those times when PC companies may be able to offer you better deals than what you’ll find on Newegg or Amazon.

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To battle pandemic, NHL players know they must hold each other accountable

Back in September, after the Tampa Bay Lightning were awarded the Stanley Cup, the NHL announced over 33,000 tests were administered during 65-playoff days in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles with zero positive results for COVID-19.

That was then. Things are different now.

Since the NHL resumed play earlier this month with teams playing in a division format, players have tested positive for the coronavirus, practices have been cancelled and games postponed.

The positive tests are to be expected, said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control, and an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network in Toronto — even with the protocols and safety measures implemented by the NHL and its teams.

“I wouldn’t say it’s surprising at all,” said Hota, who also is an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto. “The bubble is a very controlled environment but it’s also artificial. It’s not going to be reflective of what happens if you open things up and people are going in and out into the communities.

“It’s a mixing of populations. It’s going to be much more difficult to manage things out of a bubble, even with the same measure of testing.”

WATCH | Week 1 roundup of the NHL’s North Division:

In our new weekly segment, Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 4:25

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn and forward J.T. Miller both missed games due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.

Benn said he had “no idea” how he contracted the virus.

“I didn’t have any symptoms,” he said. “I felt good for the 10 days I was in isolation. You see people that are in hospital and taking it a bit harder. It’s a weird virus.”

The NHL has prepared a list of “preventative measures” for players and team officials to avoid COVID-19. Included is staying at home, not engaging “in unnecessary interactions with non-family members”, wearing face coverings and avoiding going to “restaurants, bars and clubs.”

Players understand importance

Earlier this month the Winnipeg Jets were forced to cancel a practice due to COVID-19 concerns. Centre Mark Scheifele said the players understand the importance of being careful.

“It’s kind of what we have been doing for the last 10 months, since this all started,” he said. “Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your social distance from people. That’s all you can really do, worry about yourself, control your own environment.

“That comes to every single guy on this team, every single guy in the league. You all have to hold each other accountable for their actions and abide by all those protocols that have been set forth by the professionals that we are relying on.”

“All have to hold each other accountable and abide by the protocols that have been set forth by professionals,” says Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Vancouver forward Tanner Pearson said concerns about the virus have changed players activities both at home and on the road.

“On the road, you can pretty much go for a walk and that’s it,” he said. “There are no dinners with teammates on the road, no dinner with friends. 

“When I’m at home, I want to be with [my son] and the family as much as possible.”

Unknown exposure

Hota said the risk of exposure doesn’t end with the players. Many have families. Their children attend schools, wives shop at the supermarket.

“You look at the experience we’ve had within the hospitals and healthcare workers who are being very vigilant and are aware of what the transmission risks are,” she said. “We continue to have people being exposed from their family members who test positive or from other unknown community-type exposures.”

Heading into last weekend there were 21 names on the NHL’s list of players who were unavailable to play or practise in accordance with the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

That included Alex Ovechkin and three other members of the Washington Capitals. The Capitals were fined $ 100,000 US because the players gathered in a hotel room during their season-opening road trip.

“That speaks to the fatigue issue,” said Hota. “Everyone’s a little bit tired of this.

“We’re all social creatures as human beings. You crave that kind of contact with other people.”

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin was among four Capitals to be placed on the COVID-19 list earlier this month. (Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Reason for concern

While the overall numbers may be small there still is reason for concern, said Hota.

“It can set off something that will then go rampant,” she said. “And if the players aren’t affected, it doesn’t mean that others aren’t.”

The emergence of a coronavirus variant in Canada also raises red flags.

“What’s happening is areas where variants have taken over, they’re up to 70 per cent more transmittable than what we’ve been seeing so far,” said Hota. “How that’s actually happening and why is it they’re more transmittable is not entirely clear.”

The NHL has restricted travel so teams only play within their divisions but that doesn’t eliminate the risk of spreading the virus.

“It’s an added layer for sure,” said Hota. “I get more concern about importing risk from one area that’s more of a hotspot to an area where there’s less transmission and public health measures may be less strict.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told a video conference earlier this month the league may have to be “flexible and agile” in dealing with COVID circumstances as the 56-game season progresses.

Hota said the league must be adaptable because “nobody’s exempt from this pandemic.”

“The more contingency plans you have and the more prepared you are to change the way you approach something, the better off you’ll be,” she said. 

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Canada won’t receive any Pfizer shots next week — here’s what you need to know about the vaccination campaign

Canada’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start — and news this week that deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech product will be reduced dramatically over the next month has further complicated the national rollout.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), has said Pfizer will not ship a single vial of its highly effective vaccine to Canada next week as the pharmaceutical giant retools its production facility in Puurs, Belgium to boost capacity.

The announcement is already prompting some provinces to warn that they will have to curtail appointments in the weeks ahead as they direct the existing supply of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to patients who need their second shots.

Why is Canada getting less vaccine than anticipated?

Pfizer is grappling with unprecedented global demand for its vaccine as the world scrambles to inoculate patients against the deadly novel coronavirus.

While the company had projected it could manufacture up to 1.3 billion shots this year alone, it is now shifting gears to pump out even more.

The company is making upgrades to its Belgian plant so that it can manufacture up to 2 billion doses this year to meet the insatiable demand. In order to complete those upgrades, some production lines will have to be idled and Pfizer won’t have enough vials to go around in the short term to meet its previously promised delivery schedule.

“Pfizer and BioNTech are working relentlessly to support the further rollout of the vaccination campaigns worldwide by not only expanding their own manufacturing capacities but also by adding further suppliers as well as contract manufacturers to increase total manufacturing capacity,” the company said in a news release announcing the disruptions.

A driver pulls his truck out of the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Valentin Bianchi/AP Photo)

Fortin has said that, starting next week, Canada’s deliveries will be reduced by up to 50 per cent over a four-week period, punting as many as 400,000 doses to a later date.

While the company has another manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., the Belgian plant alone is supplying Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. U.S. deliveries will continue uninterrupted.

Will Canada, the EU and the United Kingdom be equally affected by these disruptions?

No. Announcing the delays last week, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she expects Pfizer will treat all countries equally as it reduces shipments with an eye to restoring service in February.

But Pfizer isn’t treating every customer the same way. While Canada will receive zero doses next week, the company said it “will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of January 25.”

Pfizer has promised the EU that it will then “increase delivery beginning week of February 15, resulting in our ability to deliver the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter.”

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin look on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 7, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When asked why Pfizer will not make the same commitment to Canada, Anand said that she expects the company to treat all countries equitably — but could not say why Canada has been singled out.

“This was very disappointing and I spent the weekend on the phone with Pfizer executives and my team. We reiterated firmly the importance for Canada to return to our regular delivery schedule as soon as possible,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.

Pfizer did not respond to specific questions about why it is showing more favourable treatment to the EU. In an emailed statement, the company said the details of its agreements with governments are “confidential.”

“Multiple countries around the world will be impacted in the short term in order for us to quickly enable increased production volumes afterwards,” the spokesperson said. 

The U.K. delivery schedule is less clear. The government there has said it is “in close contact” with all suppliers so that it can achieve its target of immunizing all those over age 70 by February 15.

So how many doses will Canada receive over the next number of weeks?

It’s hard to say for sure. Fortin had said Canada would see a 75 per cent drop next week in deliveries — but then had to correct that forecast after learning Canada wouldn’t receive a single dose.

Just last week, Fortin had been expecting delivery of 208,650 doses to the provinces every week for the rest of this month. Fortin also said Canada is expected to receive 366,000 Pfizer doses per week in February.

Speaking to the press this week, Fortin conceded those numbers are no longer accurate.

“Those numbers remain to be confirmed by Pfizer Canada. In fact, we have regular conversations with them and we hope and we expect to have clarity on those numbers,” Fortin told reporters at a public health briefing.

Is Canada still on track to get 4 million doses of the Pfizer product by the end of March?

The government has said yes. While the deliveries may change, the government insists its medium-term targets are more certain.

By the end of the first quarter, Canada is expecting four million doses from Pfizer and another two million doses from Moderna — enough to vaccinate some 3 million Canadians with these two-dose products.

WATCH | Canada affected by Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine production delay in Europe:

Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand made the announcement to reporters in Ottawa on Friday. 2:38

But these delays mean that many people will be kept waiting much longer for shots than they originally anticipated. While deliveries might return to a more normal flow, it will be difficult for provinces to pump through hundreds of thousands of patients in a short timeframe to reach vaccination targets.

The delivery hiccup also could push off the vaccination campaign for the general population, which had a start date of April 1.

Pharmacies have said they could vaccinate as many 2.5 million people per week if all 11,500 community pharmacies in this country are mobilized, but the lack of supply has delayed their participation in the effort.

Data released by PHAC Thursday suggest 10 million more people could be fully vaccinated between April and June, for a cumulative total of 13 million people inoculated since the start of the campaign.

And if other vaccines apart from the Pfizer and Moderna products are approved over that time period, 10 million more patients could complete the vaccine regime by the end of June, for a combined total of 23 million.

The PHAC data also suggest that 36 million Canadians can be vaccinated by the end of September, if all goes well and there aren’t any significant delivery disruptions in the interim.

What is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doing about this Pfizer delay?

While the prime minister of Israel has had more than a dozen calls with the CEO of Pfizer, and the president of the European Union has personally reached out to the company’s leadership, Trudeau has said that Anand is the lead on this file.

“I can assure you that Minister Anand is talking almost daily with Pfizer and the other vaccine companies to ensure that we get as many doses as possible, as quickly as possible, and that work will continue,” he said. “We will not rest, we will not slow down.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, second left, attend the arrival of plane with a shipment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines at Ben Gurion Airport, near the city of Lod, Israel, on Jan. 10, 2021. (Motti Millrod/AP Photo)

When pressed by Vassy Kapelos, host of CBC’s Power & Politics, to state whether Trudeau has personally contacted Pfizer to ask for more doses, Anand would only say that she has been in “close communication” with the prime minister.

Some observers have said Trudeau should ask U.S. President Joe Biden to temporarily float Canada some vaccines from the Michigan plant as a sign of goodwill — especially after Biden rescinded the presidential permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.

So how are the provinces reacting to all this?

Not well. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the delivery delays will be very disruptive. The province also has said the temporary stoppage could mean its goal of immunizing all long-term care residents in the province by Feb. 15 won’t be achieved.

“If I was in (Trudeau’s) shoes … I’d be on that phone call every single day. I’d be up that guy’s yin-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” he said of Pfizer’s executives. “I would not stop until we get these vaccines.”

On Wednesday, Ford called Pfizer Canada President Cole Pinnow to discuss the situation.

“He reiterated the serious impact these cancelled shipments will have on Ontario and sought answers as to why Canada isn’t receiving vaccines as quickly as other countries,” Ford’s office said in a media statement after the call.

Ford also has suggested Biden should “help out its neighbour” by releasing some shots to Canada.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday the province is putting a temporary hold on the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure it has enough vaccine to provide a second dose to people who have already received their first shot.

“By pausing first appointments, we can ensure enough vaccine is allocated for committed second-dose appointments,” Kenney said.

How is Canada doing compared to the rest of the world?

Canada has administered some 700,000 shots – roughly 1.7 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna products. In Ontario, about 40,000 people have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

The United States has vaccinated three times more people per capita than Canada.

The U.K., too, has been a world leader in getting shots into the arms of patients. Nearly 7.5 per cent of the British and Northern Irish population has so far received at least one dose.

Canada’s vaccination effort has also been outpaced to date by those in Bahrain, Denmark, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

But according to the latest data collated by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, Canada has administered more shots per capita than G7 partners like Germany and France, and middle-income countries like Argentina and Costa Rica.

“I had a lovely conversation with Angela Merkel yesterday morning in which she sort of complained to me that every day she gets it from the German media that they’re not doing as well as Canada,” Trudeau told reporters Tuesday.

“I think a lot of people are comparing stories from country to country and trying to figure out how we can all move quicker.”

The EU authorized the Moderna product for use two weeks after Health Canada regulators gave that vaccine the necessary approvals, which could account for the slower start to vaccination campaigns in countries like Germany.

What about the other promising vaccine candidates?

Health Canada regulators are still reviewing clinical trial data for both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products. Canada has placed orders for doses from these companies but a delivery schedule is far from certain, given that the regulatory review is still underway.

The U.K. approved the AstraZeneca vaccine on Dec. 30.

The product from Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, has not been approved for use anywhere in the world. Some countries are eager to secure doses of this vaccine because it only requires one shot.

The company has not yet presented publicly any final data on its effectiveness, although some early results, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, are promising.

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CBC | Health News

What we know and don’t know about the Scotties, Brier

It has been another chaotic week of curling cancellations in Canada as more member associations finally surrendered to a seemingly inevitable fate, in the most fair way possible, hand picking their representatives for this year’s Scotties and Brier. 

And while there is more clarity about what the fields will look like just over a month from the beginning of the curling frenzy set to take place in the Calgary curling bubble, there are still a lot of unknowns. 

To recap, eight jurisdictions across Canada have now cancelled their playdowns — they include: B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. 

Nunavut played a best-of-five men’s showdown last weekend. P.E.I., N.L., N.B., N.W.T., and Yukon are all still endeavouring to play some sort of championship to determine their representatives.

With so many cancellations, many curlers and fans continue to wonder why Curling Canada is so determined to go on with the show in Calgary. 

There are a number of factors — we know money and keeping sponsors happy is at the top of that list. 

But there’s more to it.

Niche sport

Outside of Canada, curling is a niche sport in most countries. However, in Canada, it’s on TV throughout the winter and early spring a lot between Curling Canada events and the Grand Slam of Curling. It’s disappeared from the sports landscape for nearly a year.

It’s not lost on officials close to the sport as well as the curlers to continue to be relevant and hold onto valuable sponsors – they need to be on the ice and on TV. 

And it’s also important to note that this is all leading to 2022 Beijing Olympics. Remember, Canada is coming off its worst performance ever at the Games, having missed the podium in the women’s and men’s events. The pressure on Curling Canada and athletes is immense. 

What many people take for granted and have assumed, incorrectly, is that Canada already has a place at the Olympics with just over a year away.

Canadian curlers will need a top-six finish at both the men’s and women’s world championships to lock up a spot. That shouldn’t be a problem if past history is any indication. But in a pandemic, with curling mostly shut down across the country because of health restrictions, Curling Canada knows how crucial it is for the top curlers to be on the ice — that’s why they’re pushing forward with the Scotties and Brier.

It should be noted that the United States and Scotland, and there could likely be more countries, are not holding playdowns to determine their representatives for the world championships. 

Denmark’s national championships were halted in December after 14 of the 16 curlers competing got COVID-19.

The women’s worlds are scheduled to take place in Switzerland in late March and the men’s world championship is set for the Calgary bubble in early April. 

WATCH | Heroux, Jones break down Calgary bubble: 

Devin Heroux is joined by six-time Scotties medallist Colleen Jones to discuss the announcement of the Calgary curling bubble. 5:34

Expanded field

Which brings us to an expanded field at this year’s championships. 

It’s looking more and more likely there will be 18 teams at both the Scotties and Brier — the largest fields in the history of both events.

The reason this is happening is because there will be no wild-card game this year. That match, played on the Friday night before the main event, has been a dramatic one-game showdown for the top two Canadian teams that did not qualify through their regional championships. Win and you’re in, lose and you head home. 

Curling Canada did not want two wild-card teams traveling to the bubble to play one game and possibly have to leave if they lost. These unprecedented times called for unprecedented measures, says Curling Canada. They want to make sure the best teams in the country are on the ice. 

“So much is riding on this Olympic qualifying season, we had to make sure that the fields for both the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier includes Canada’s top teams. With many of them not having the chance to earn their way into these events through the traditional route, we feel this is the best possible way to remedy that issue,” said Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada. 

For instance, Alberta has yet to name their representatives but should they go with the format many others have, Brendan Bottcher will get the nod as he was last year’s provincial champion. Here’s the snag: Kevin Koe’s team did not compete in provincials as they wear Team Canada colours after winning the previous Brier. 

Kevin Koe is one of the teams hoping to be competing inside the Calgary curling bubble. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Making space for Koe

So instead of punishing Koe for not winning last year’s championship and not letting him in this year’s event, Curling Canada is making space for them. 

A lot is hinging on who Alberta selects as its representatives — that will then create a domino effect on the rest of the field. 

The expanded field is increasing from 16 to 18 teams — the two teams that would have played in the wild-card game and then a third team. Third team that is going to be selected based on criteria is unknown at this point. There will be no shortage of drama over who that third team is on both the men’s and women’s side.

A quick note on team’s who made off-season changes. To be eligible, three of four players need to be returning. If it’s two of four, then they are ineligible for, at the very least, the two wild-card spots. We’ll see if Curling Canada is willing to make exceptions for that third spot.

Here is the field as it stands right now:


  • Canada — Kerri Einarson.
  • B.C. — Corryn Brown.
  • Saskatchewan — Sherry Anderson.
  • Manitoba — Jennifer Jones.
  • Ontario — Rachel Homan.
  • Northern Ontario — Krysta Burns.
  • Quebec — Laurie St-Georges.
  • Nova Scotia — Jill Brothers.
  • Nunavut — Lori Eddy.


  • Canada — Brad Gushue.
  • B.C. — Steve Laycock.
  • Saskatchewan — Matt Dunstone.
  • Manitoba — Jason Gunnlaugson.
  • Ontario — John Epping.
  • Northern Ontario — Brad Jacobs.
  • Quebec — Michael Fournier.
  • Yukon — Dustin Mikkelsen.
  • Nunavut — Peter Mackey.

Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones is seeking her seventh Scotties crown. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

There are six major curling events planned for the Calgary curling bubble starting with the Scotties on Feb. 19. That will then lead into the men’s national championship beginning of March. 5.

Following these two events, the mixed doubles championship will take place all leading to the men’s world curling championship, set to begin in early April.

The final two events held inside the bubble include two Grand Slam of Curling bonspiels. 

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