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Prince Philip’s relationship with Indigenous people in Canada memorable, complicated

Prince Philip made more than 70 visits or stopovers in Canada between 1950 and 2013, many of which included meetings and events with First Nations leaders and people.

It was during one of those visits that the prince, who died on Friday at the age of 99, made an impression on Bill Erasmus.

In 1994, Erasmus was the Dene national chief and regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). He was part of a contingent of Indigenous leaders who met with Queen Elizabeth and Philip when the royal couple paid a visit to Yellowknife to celebrate the creation of a new Inuit territory.

In a prepared speech before the Queen, Erasmus voiced his frustration that the federal government hadn’t honoured treaties signed by the monarchy nearly a century ago. He said such inaction had “tarnished and sullied” the Crown’s reputation.

But Erasmus later took part in a more private and relaxed function with the royals, where he found himself connecting with Philip over a shared interest.

“I knew that he was really big on climate change and environmental issues, so I thanked him for that,” Erasmus said.

As they talked further, Erasmus was impressed by Philip’s knowledge on the subject.

The prince criticized “how multinationals were approaching the environment, the great amount of wealth and the waste that they generated,” and was keen “to keep the Earth pristine,” Erasmus said.

Prince Philip is seen here attending the wedding of his granddaughter Princess Eugenie of York to Jack Brooksbank at St. George’s Chapel on Oct. 12, 2018. (Alastair Grant/Getty Images)

“He commended our people for having a similar view, so we hit it off that way,” he said.

Erasmus said he found the prince’s forthrightness “refreshing.”

“He was really easy to get along with, really easy to speak to. He encouraged you to say what you had to say,” Erasmus said.

Arctic char for ‘a regular guy’ 

That easy camaraderie is also what Johnny May, a 75-year-old bush pilot from Kuujjuaq, remembers about Philip.

The Duke of Edinburgh used to pass through the northern Quebec community to refuel his private plane in the late ’70s and early ’80s, which is where May met and chatted with him on several occasions.

To him and the other pilots, Philip was just “a regular guy,” May said in an interview with CBC News.

“We didn’t treat him any special compared to any other pilot up at the airport. So I guess he enjoyed that and he seemed to be really relaxed around us.”

May recalled one time giving Philip a couple of Arctic char to take home to England. A year later, Philip flew through again and had a message for May from “the missus”: that “she enjoyed the Arctic char immensely.”

May also said that Philip had a good sense of humour and was “always joking around.”

Johnny May and his daughter Jeannie May are pictured circa 1980. Jeannie says the Arctic char that Prince Philip received from her father possibly came from this fishing trip to Dulhut. (Courtesy Jeannie May)

History of controversial statements

However, some of Philip’s comments have landed him in trouble, with the prince establishing a reputation over the years for blunt, controversial and sometimes offensive statements. In particular, some of his comments about Indigenous people were seen as racist, not funny.

For example, on a 2002 visit to Australia with the Queen, Philip infamously asked a group of Aboriginal people if “you still throw spears at each other.”

In 1995, he said to a Scottish driving instructor: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”

Indeed, Buckingham Palace felt compelled to issue an apology after another gaffe in 2000, when Philip, while touring a factory in Scotland, remarked that some electrical equipment looked so crude “it must have been installed by an Indian.”

“The Duke of Edinburgh regrets any offence which may have been caused by remarks he is reported as making earlier today,” the palace said. “With hindsight, he accepts that what were intended as lighthearted comments were inappropriate.”

WATCH | Royal Family lands in present-day Iqaluit in 1970:

The Queen, her husband and two oldest children land in present-day Iqaluit for a visit to Canada’s North in 1970. 1:48

Legacy of public service

Some Indigenous leaders have indicated a desire to not dwell on any past controversies and instead focus on Philip’s public service, as well as the Royal Family’s role in advancing Indigenous affairs in Canada.

Shawn Atleo met Philip in passing as part of official royal visits when he was AFN national chief from 2009 to 2014. He spoke with CBC News in March, when Philip was in hospital.

“I know that the principals that I engaged with, whether it was the Queen herself, Prince Charles or other members, always expressed respect and support for the treaty relationship,” Atleo said.

Chief Eric Large of the Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta checks his video camera as the royal couple, accompanied by N.W.T. Premier Nellie Cournoyea, attend a traditional and cultural demonstration in Yellowknife on Aug. 21, 1994. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

He also expressed sympathy for the intense spotlight the family operates under.

“I know mine, like a lot of people’s hearts, will go out to the family for the amount of attention that they get,” he said.

In a statement to CBC News on Friday, current AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde extended his condolences to the Royal Family and paid tribute to Philip’s legacy.

“In almost a century of life, Prince Philip has given so much to public service and was a lifelong champion of many worthy causes, especially youth fitness and volunteerism,” he said.

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Why Canada is suspending use of AstraZeneca vaccine in people under 55

Canada’s vaccine advisory committee is recommending immediately suspending the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in Canadians under 55 following reports of rare but potentially fatal blood clots in Europe that appear to be connected to the shot.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its guidelines to provinces and territories against the use of the vaccine for younger Canadians on Monday over safety concerns. 

Health Canada said Monday that 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered and no cases of the rare blood clotting adverse events have been reported in Canada, but that it was aware of additional cases that have recently been reported in Europe. 

Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, ManitobaNewfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have all suspended the use of the vaccine for anyone below the age of 55. Other provinces and territories are expected to follow. 

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force said that the discovery of a potential connection with the vaccine to blood clots raised a “red flag” that “warrants further exploration.” 

“People should appreciate that not all blood clots are created the same,” he said. “This is a very specific and particular method of blood clotting that likely has an association with the vaccine.” 

Risk of blood clots seems not to affect older age groups: NACI

NACI previously recommended earlier this month that Canadians over 65 not receive the shot, despite emerging evidence from around the world demonstrating its ability to prevent severe COVID-19 in older adults.

But that guidance changed on March 16 after more real-world data on the vaccine’s effectiveness was reviewed by NACI, and CBC News broke the story revealing documents on the federal government’s plans to allow those 65 and older to receive it.

“This vaccine has had all the ups and downs — it looks like a roller coaster,” said Dr. Caroline Quach, chair of NACI and a pediatric infectious diseases expert. “The problem is because data are evolving, we are also evolving our recommendations.” 

Quach said the risk of rare blood clots appears to only occur in younger populations, which is why NACI recommended suspending the vaccine in those under 55.

“What we’re doing is trying to contrast the risks and benefits,” she said. “So if you have that vaccine versus having to wait for two months while COVID is ramping and you’re at risk of catching it and having complications from it, I think that taking the vaccine is the best option at this point.”

Quach added that the vaccine works well in preventing severe outcomes and death in older populations over 55, particularly in those over 70, and the risk of blood clots does not appear to be present in those age groups. 

WATCH | Canada pauses use of AstraZeneca vaccine in people under 55:

“We are being fully transparent. Maybe it’s too transparent, I don’t know,” says Dr. Caroline Quach-Thahn, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. NACI issued guidance for the AstraZeneca vaccine for the third time, now recommending a pause for those under 55. 4:34

“What we need to have is continued confidence in our expert review panel that it’s looking at these vaccines and deciding what is going to be best, safest and most effective for Canadians,” said Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax. 

“This is a new vaccine to a new virus, it’s really important that we’re following all the data as closely as possible and as the vaccines are rolling out, we’re understanding them more and reviewing what the guidance should be.”

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University, said NACI is taking a calculated risk by recommending older Canadians still get the vaccine because they are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

“Scientifically, it makes sense,” he said. “This isn’t saying that everyone under 55 is going to get this complication. It’s the slight risk of this complication seems to be more predisposed in this age group. But again, the raw numbers seem to be very, very low.”

What led to Canada’s decision to suspend AstraZeneca

The decision to halt the use of the vaccine in Canadians under 55 comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigated 25 cases of the rare blood clots out of about 20 million AstraZeneca shots given. It concluded on March 18 that the benefits from the vaccine far outweigh its possible risks, although a definitive link could not be ruled out.

But 18 of the cases in Europe were of an extremely rare type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) — where veins that drain blood from the brain are obstructed and can potentially cause fatal bleeding.

The EMA said on March 18 at least nine deaths have been associated with the adverse events in Europe and the agency is continuing to investigate the situation.

Germany’s medical regulator told The Associated Press on Monday it had received reports of 21 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. 

The Paul Ehrlich Institute also said that seven people affected by the blood clots have died. It added that of the 21 cases reported in Germany until March 25, 12 also involved an abnormally low level of platelets in the patients’ blood.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its guidelines against the use of the vaccine for younger Canadians on Monday. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Nineteen of the 21 cases were in women ages 20 to 63, while two were in men ages 36 and 57. During the period covered by the reports, some 2.27 million first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were administered in Germany.

“You cannot ignore the blood clots that have been associated with AstraZeneca globally,” said Bogoch. “It’s not entirely clear what the true incidence of this is, but it does appear to be a rare event.” 

What Canadians need to know about the AstraZeneca vaccine

The federal health ministry said it would be requiring both manufacturers, AstraZeneca and India’s Serum Institute, to conduct risk assessments by age and gender — but is requesting more data before deciding whether or not to change authorization of it in Canada. 

Health Canada had previously updated the vaccine’s label with information on the rare blood clotting events.

Canadian health officials said during a press conference Monday the specific syndrome is being called Vaccine-Induced Prothrombotic Immune Thrombocytopenia (VIPIT) and that they are in contact with European officials about it. 

Dr. Isaac Bogoch said that the discovery of a potential connection with the vaccine to blood clots, particularly CVST, raised a ‘red flag’ that ‘warrants further exploration.’ (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

“I do understand why Canadians might feel worried,” said Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo.

“What I can say is that the chief medical officers of health of the provinces and territories take vaccine safety very seriously and we want Canadians to have confidence in these vaccines.”

Officials added that Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute reported VIPIT has an incidence rate of about one in 100,000, with a mortality rate of about 40 per cent, although more research is needed and that risk is reduced if treated early enough. 

“Where the true rate is, we just don’t know at this point in time,” said NACI Co-Chair Dr. Shelley Deeks. “But we are continuing to follow the data, as it emerges.” 

Symptoms to watch for

The Public Health Agency of Canada released a statement on Monday saying that “there is no cause for concern” for Canadians who have already been vaccinated with AstraZeneca for more than 20 days, but that you should seek immediate medical attention in the rare event you develop the following symptoms four or more days after vaccination:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Leg swelling.
  • Persistent abdominal pain.
  • Sudden onset of severe or persistent worsening headaches or blurred vision.
  • Skin bruising (other than at the site of vaccination).

PHAC said decisions on the type of second dose that will be offered to those who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca will be determined based on the “latest evidence and research.” 

Most of the complications in Europe occurred within 14 days of receiving the AstraZeneca shot, and the majority were in women under the age of 55. It’s worth noting that CVST is typically more common in women, particularly during and after pregnancy, while on birth control and hormone replacement therapy.

Germany and Italy resumed vaccinations with the shot on March 19, but France opted to vaccinate only those over 55 with it after discovering several cases of CVST. Denmark and Norway have suspended the use of the vaccine altogether for at least three weeks, while Sweden has resumed the use of the vaccine in those over 65. 

“The real question here is, how common is it, and are there identifiable risk factors for this? That way, we could probably continue to use this vaccine in people with very, very low risks of having a blood clot and selectively vaccinate people who would benefit,” Bogoch said.

“If there is that risk, we would hopefully have better data to support who we could safely and selectively vaccinate with this product.”

Benefits still outweigh risks, says vaccine maker

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca Canada said in a statement the company respects the decision by NACI but stressed that Health Canada’s guidance to health care providers around the use of the vaccine remains unchanged.

“Regulatory authorities in the U.K., European Union, the World Health Organization and Health Canada have concluded that the benefits of using our vaccine to protect people from this deadly virus significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups,” the statement read. 
“Tens of millions of people have now received our vaccine across the globe. The extensive body of data from two large clinical data sets and real-world evidence demonstrate its effectiveness, reaffirming the role the vaccine can play during this public health crisis.” 

Chagla said NACI’s decision will likely hurt confidence in the vaccine in the eyes of Canadians, especially among those over 55 who may be left “scratching their heads” as to why the vaccine is being recommended for their age group but not younger people. 

“I, unfortunately, envision this vaccine is going to have a limited rollout in Canada moving forward,” he said.

“Even if the dust starts settling, and it’s a completely separate issue or it’s much lower risk than expected, I don’t think you’re going to get many under 55-year-olds to get this vaccine anymore ,and that’s the reality.”

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‘People are talking about the same things they talked about back then’: COVID stirs up memories of polio

When Elizabeth Lounsbury was eight years old, she snuck out of the house to go swimming with her friends.

She had been taught to fear polio, a virus that paralyzed children every summer and paralyzed her southern Ontario hometown, where beaches and movie theatres were closed every August for “polio season.”

Lounsbury says she decided to just put her feet in the wading pool. 

“I was afraid to because I was afraid polio would get me. You kind of pictured it as a monster in your head,” she said.

Lounsbury tripped, fell into the pool and swallowed some water. The 77-year-old believes that’s how she contracted polio, which saw her wear braces most of her life and now has her getting around in a wheelchair.

“I never did tell my mother. She never knew,” she says.

Now living just outside of the small northern Ontario town of Hagar, Lounsbury has barely left her home in the past year of COVID-19. 

And to her it feels like a rerun of what happened in the 1950s with the emergence of an infectious disease followed by a mass vaccination campaign.

“People are talking about the same things they talked about back then,” she said. “Is it really safe? What are the side effects? Other people can’t wait to get it because they feel like they’ve been imprisoned in their own homes.”

To her it feels like “a repetition.

“And I suppose it will happen again. But I hope not in my lifetime.”

Elizabeth Lounsbury,77, of Hagar contracted polio when she was eight and sees a lot of parallels between COVID-19 and the lockdowns and vaccine rollout for polio in the 1950s. (Facebook)

In northern Ontario, the arrival of the polio vaccine in 1956 was trumpeted by newspapers in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

Concerns about polio vaccine

There were weeks of stories about the schedule for clinics and the vaccination rates, replacing the annual summer articles about the number of polio infections and the deaths in each district, with the names of victims published. 

But along with the polio vaccine, came concerns that public health officials would run out of vaccine, and questions about who was eligible to get it, which at the beginning was only children aged six months to six years.

There were also fears about side effects, especially after some bad batches in the United States sickened and even killed people, on top of worries about vaccine hesitancy, as only a fraction of the adult population in the north stepped forward to get the shot for what was widely seen as a children’s illness.

This Sudbury Star photo of liquid polio vaccinations in 1962 features a baby named Rita Brun, who is now a pharmacist preparing COVID-19 vaccines at a Toronto hospital. (The Sudbury Star)

The Sudbury Star photographed a baby named Rita Brun getting a spoonful of the pink liquid vaccine in 1962, which the health unit later moved away from out of fear it might be ineffective.

She is now a pharmacist packaging COVID-19 vaccines for a Toronto hospital, while her daughter treats coronavirus patients in an intensive care ward.

“It was interesting to reflect back on what it must have been like for my parents, as opposed to parents these days,” said Brun. 

“Maybe we know too much now.”

In some parts of the north, tuberculosis was seen as the larger threat and some old-timers remember local police posting signs on homes with people infected with scarlet fever and diphtheria in the early 20th century.

‘We’re so glad we weren’t involved in that’

Heather Mitchell grew up in Sudbury’s west end and remembers not being allowed to go to Bell Park in the summers out of fear of polio infection, but didn’t think much about the virus until she learned about it in theory during nursing school.

Then she and a classmate were cleaning out a storage room at the old general hospital and found a logbook where doctors and nurses discussed which polio patients should get treatment first. 

Similar to COVID-19, there were concerns in the 1950s about side effects from the polio vaccine, complaints about shortages and trouble convincing hesitant adults to get the shot. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick P342-1143)

“To see these discussions, whether a housewife was more likely a candidate for it than a school teacher, that kind of rocks you. Having to make that decision. Having to live with that decision,” says Mitchell, who went on to be a public health nurse. 

“We both thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re so glad we weren’t involved in that.'”

Maurren Moustgaard was 12 when she went to that same Sudbury hospital to get her tonsils out and saw the unforgettable sight of a young polio patient in the iron lung, the early version of the ventilators being used today.

She joined the health unit in 1969 and worked in vaccinations most of her career. Including in 1978, when she was called back from holidays to meet a surge in demand for polio shots, after an outbreak in southern Ontario.

Polio patients seeing visitors outdoors at a polio clinic in New Brunswick in 1942. (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick P384-58)

Sudbury newspapers ran photos of long lineups and had stories about a public frustrated with a lack of vaccines. Moustgaard says most were parents who had not been keeping up with their polio shots, just 20 years after it was first discovered. 

“Something has to happen to jolt people’s memories,” she said of that time. 

After she was infected with polio, Elizabeth Lounsbury was still vaccinated against two other strains of the virus.

But given her complicated health challenges, she isn’t sure she wants to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“I am afraid of it. And I wonder if the vaccine is safe,” she said. 

“And I guess I won’t know until the time comes for me to go in.”

Morning North9:31COVID-19 has stirred up memories of the polio epidemic in the northeast

The rollout of the COVID vaccine is reminding some of the last time there was an urgent drive to stop a feared virus. Although largely forgotten, the polio vaccine had a similarly bumpy road getting into northern Ontario arms back in the 1950s. The CBC’s Erik White offered the details. 9:31

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Is AstraZeneca vaccine safe for people who’ve had blood clots? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We’re still answering your COVID-19 questions. We’ve received more than 71,000 since the start of the pandemic. But vaccine questions are the main theme right now. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. Send your questions and stories to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll address as many as we can.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine has been in the headlines recently over concerns that some people were developing blood clots after receiving the shot. Some European countries suspended use of the vaccine, but many have since resumed.

You may be wondering what all of this means for you when it comes to taking the vaccine. Here’s what the experts are saying.

What are the latest findings on AstraZeneca’s safety?

A recent review from the European Union’s drug watchdog found the vaccine is not linked to an increase in the overall risk of blood clots. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also concluded that the benefits of protecting against COVID-19 — which itself results in clotting problems — outweigh the risks.

At the same time, the EMA said it could not definitively rule out a link between the vaccine and specific, rare types of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, or low levels of blood platelets.

WATCH | AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, says EU drug regulator:

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe and does not appear to cause blood clots, says the European Medicines Agency, after a review by an expert committee. But the EMA couldn’t rule out a link to blood clots entirely. 1:22

Specifically, it noted 18 cases of an extremely rare type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a condition that is much more common in women than men. Most of the incidents occurred within 14 days of receiving the AstraZeneca shot, and the majority were in women under the age of 55.

In its investigative document, the EMA said it would expect to see just 1.35 cases of CVST in the time period it looked at — but instead its researchers saw 12.

“A causal link with the vaccine is not proven, but is possible and deserves further analysis,” the agency said in its findings.

Around the same time the EMA released its report, researchers in Germany and Norway announced they had found a mechanism that could cause the AstraZeneca vaccine to create the blood clots in very rare circumstances, in addition to identifying a possible treatment for it.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, acknowledged the possible link said in a statement on Sunday.

“It is possible that the vaccine may be associated with very rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia,” she said.

Overall, Health Canada has maintained that the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks. 

WATCH | Benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh risks, Tam says:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the rare risks. 1:53

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca announced on Monday that scientists found no increased risk of clots among the more than 20,000 people who received at least one dose of the shot in a late-stage study in the United States. The vaccine has not yet been given the green light in the U.S.

The company said the study also showed the vaccine provided strong protection against disease and complete protection against hospitalization and death across all age groups.

Is AstraZeneca safe for people with a history of blood clots?

Amid the developments, many readers are still wondering if having a history of blood clots means they’re at a higher risk of developing them after getting an AstraZeneca jab.

Some of the experts we spoke to said no, the vaccine is safe, even for people with a history of blood clots.

“Anyone who has a history of blood clots might have an increased risk of blood clots at any point anyway,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said in a recent CBC News interview.

“But I don’t believe that there would be a rationale to make a recommendation against using [the vaccine],” she said.

A medical worker receives a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Taipei, Taiwan, on Monday. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Dr. Cora Constantinescu, an infectious diseases specialist from the Vaccine Hesitancy Clinic at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, said if you are still worried about blood clots, you should be more concerned about catching the coronavirus than the vaccine.

“If you looked at five million people hospitalized with COVID-19, you would expect 100,000 to 500,000 of them to have clots,” Constantinescu said in a recent interview with CBC News Network.

“Keep in mind the risk of the disease itself is so much higher, and the more you wait to [get the vaccine], the less protected you are.”

On the other hand, Dr. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said Germany’s data offered a “compelling picture” that the rare blood clots were potentially linked to the vaccine in rare cases.

“I find myself in disagreement with Health Canada’s guidance on the use of AstraZeneca,” Fisman said.

“I do think that the use of this vaccine should be suspended in Canada until we have more data. At a minimum, I do not think it should be used in women aged 20 to 50 until we know more.”

Have blood clots been associated with the other vaccines?

If the overall rate of reported blood clots after AstraZeneca is no more than the rate in the general population, a number of readers, including Carolyn W., wanted to know why we’re not hearing similar issues with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“That’s a great question,” Constantinescu said.

In terms of a blood clot, she said, the numbers appeared similar “across the board” for all of the vaccines, including the mRNA vaccines.

Constantinescu tried to put the figures into perspective.

“If you took five million people, you would expect 5,000 to 15,000 cases of blood clots versus the 37 that were noted,” she said. “So if anything, even in the vaccinated population, there seemed to be a lower baseline rate than you would [have] in the general population.”

WATCH | Can AstraZeneca vaccine overcome mixed messaging, distrust?

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says interim data shows that the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is 78.9 per cent effective overall. 1:05

There haven’t been any substantial reports of clotting during the clinical trials for the vaccines, Saxinger noted.

Most of the vaccine data has been “basically equal in the vaccine versus placebo recipient group,” she said. “And there certainly hasn’t been a strong population-based signal specifically for [deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism] so far.”

What if you’re immunocompromised?

If you’ve got an autoimmune disease or are taking an immunosuppressant drug, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your doctor.

That’s because each condition is so different, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician in Toronto and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, advised in an earlier article.

In general, the experts we spoke to said AstraZeneca is probably safe for immunocompromised people, but we’re still learning more.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which makes recommendations on the use of newly approved vaccines in Canada, notes there is currently no data on COVID-19 vaccination in individuals who are immunosuppressed, as they were not included in the clinical trials.

“The concern is not so much about a safety issue,” Saxinger said, noting that AstraZeneca is considered as safe as any other non-live vaccine. You can read more about different types of vaccines here.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts after receiving his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in London on March 19. (Frank Augstein/Reuters)

The real issue, Saxinger said, is “whether or not your particular immune change will allow you to get a fully protective response.”

“That’s where we’re still learning more.”

But even if immunocompromised people have slightly less protection than others, they should go ahead and get the vaccine, she said, because even a partially protective response against a severe COVID-19 infection is worthwhile.

Constantinescu added that it’s likely immunocompromised people may need booster doses in the future.

If you’re offered AstraZeneca, can you refuse?

Sure. No one is going to force you to take any one vaccine if you don’t want it. COVID-19 vaccines aren’t mandatory.

But that doesn’t mean you will immediately be offered another vaccine. That would depend on the province you live in, Constantinescu said.

For example, Quebec’s director of public health has said that people who refuse to take the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will be bumped to the back of the line and have to make another appointment.

And waiting could be risky, especially as some provinces are seeing case counts rise, Constantinescu said.

“You are putting yourself at risk waiting for a different vaccine when we know that this vaccine works really well at preventing hospitalization, severity and death,” she said.

Have a question? 

Send your questions to COVID@cbc.ca

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Serious COVID-19 cases on the rise among younger people in B.C., health officials say

An increasing number of younger people in British Columbia are becoming infected with COVID-19 and some are dying, just as vaccines are protecting older populations, the provincial health officer said Monday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said younger patients who are ending up in intensive care units need more time there, in part because of clusters of cases in some communities.

“We saw that with some of the outbreaks that were happening in First Nations communities where people at a younger age were much more likely to need hospitalization or critical care. And sadly, where we’ve seen younger people die from the virus,” Henry said. 

COVID-19 is spreading through crowded households and workplaces as cases rise among people between the ages of 20 and 39, and up to age 59, she said.

“With a higher number of people in that age group being affected, the probability that somebody is going to end up in hospital at a younger age goes up,” Henry said, adding some people who have been hospitalized have underlying health conditions.

Indoor gatherings, even with people having minimal contact, should be avoided as the variant first identified in the United Kingdom becomes more prevalent, transmitting COVID-19 easily as it spreads, Henry said.

“The only safe place for us to gather now in our small groups, with our friends and families, is outside,” she said of her public health order limiting gathering numbers to 10 and among people who must stick to the same group.

“I’m calling on all of us again to go back to our basics. This is not the time to be getting together even with a small group of friends. This is not the time to have that wedding. Put it off. Put it off to the summer and we will be a different place, a post-pandemic place.

“We are seeing things increasing, whether it’s the end of our second wave or the beginning of the third, it is worrisome.”

Henry said establishments hosting weddings and similar events will be held accountable for putting their employees and others at risk.

She also called on businesses to continue having safety plans in place regardless of whether owners or employees have been vaccinated.

“It takes time for that to come into effect. And it takes time when we have this much transmission in our community,” she said, adding businesses with ongoing transmission could be closed for at least 10 days.

“For all of us, don’t let up now. And if you are blatantly disregarding those public health orders, there are ramifications for that.”

Health officials have been meeting with religious leaders to finalize plans for the resumption of outdoor services with an announcement expected in the coming days, Henry said.

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10 people, including police officer, killed in Colorado supermarket shooting

Ten people, including one police officer, were killed in a shooting at a Colorado supermarket Monday afternoon and a suspect was in custody, authorities said.

“A painstaking investigation is already underway both at the crime scene and in interviews to make sure we receive all the accurate information,” said Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty.  Police say the investigation is likely to take at least five days. 

The police officer killed was the first officer on the scene Monday afternoon, according to Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold, who spoke to reporters late in the evening. Eric Talley, 51, had been with the department since 2010. 

The suspect was getting medical treatment and there was no further threat to the public, authorities said. Officers had escorted a shirtless man with blood running down his leg out of the store in handcuffs but authorities would not say if he was the suspect.

Earlier in the day, Boulder police Cmdr. Kerry Yamaguchi said police did not have any details on motive.

People are led out of the King Soopers grocery store after the shooting, Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (Hart Van Denburg/Colorado Public Radio via The Associated Press)

‘You need to surrender’

A man who had just left the store in Boulder, Dean Schiller, told The Associated Press that he heard gunshots and saw three people lying face down, two in the parking lot and one near the doorway. He said he “couldn’t tell if they were breathing.”

Law enforcement vehicles and officers massed outside the store, including SWAT teams, and at least three helicopters landed on the roof in the city that’s home to the University of Colorado and is about 40 kilometres northwest of Denver.

Some windows at the front of the store were broken. At one point, authorities over a loudspeaker said the building was surrounded and that “you need to surrender.” They said to come out with hands up and unarmed.

Sarah Moonshadow told the Denver Post that two shots rang out just after she and her son, Nicolas Edwards, finished buying strawberries. She said she told her son to get down and then “we just ran.”

Once they got outside, she said they saw a body in the parking lot. Edwards said police were speeding into the lot and pulled up next to the body.

“I knew we couldn’t do anything for the guy,” he said. “We had to go.”

James Bentz told the Post that he was in the meat section when he heard what he thought was a misfire, then a series of pops.

“I was then at the front of a stampede,” he said.

Bentz said he jumped off a loading dock out back to escape and that younger people were helping older people off of it.

Law enforcement officers sweep the parking lot at the site of a shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Monday. (Kevin Mohatt/Reuters)

Biden briefed on shooting

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis tweeted a statement that his “heart is breaking as we watch this unspeakable event unfold in our Boulder community.” He called it “very much an active situation” and said the state was “making every public safety resource available to assist the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department as they work to secure the store.”

Boulder police had told people to shelter in place amid a report of an “armed, dangerous individual” about five kilometres away from the grocery store but later lifted it and police vehicles were seen leaving the residential area near downtown and the University of Colorado. They had said they were investigating if that report was related to the shooting at the supermarket but said at the evening news conference that it wasn’t related.

The FBI said it’s helping in the investigation at the request of Boulder police.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the shooting.

Law enforcement officers rush to a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder. (Kevin Mohatt/Reuters)

In a statement, the King Soopers chain offered “thoughts, prayers and support to our associates, customers, and the first responders who so bravely responded to this tragic situation. We will continue to cooperate with local law enforcement and our store will remain closed during the police investigation.”

Kevin Daly, owner of Under the Sun Eatery and Pizzeria Restaurant a block or so from the supermarket, said he was in his shop when he saw police cars arriving and shoppers running from the grocery store. He said he took in several people to keep them warm, and others boarded a bus provided by Boulder police and were taken away.

Police on the scene outside the grocery store where the shooting took place. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

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8 people killed, including at least 4 women, in shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlours

Shootings at two massage parlours in Atlanta and one in the suburbs Tuesday evening left eight people dead, many of them women of Asian descent, authorities said. A 21-year-old man suspected in the shootings was taken into custody in southwest Georgia hours later after a manhunt, police said.

The attacks began around 5 p.m., when five people were shot at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor in a strip mall near a rural area in Acworth, about 50 kilometres north of Atlanta, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Capt. Jay Baker said. Two people died at the scene and three were transported to a hospital where two of them also died, Baker said.

No one was arrested at the scene.

Around 5:50 p.m., police in the Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta, responding to a call of a robbery in progress, found three women dead from apparent gunshot wounds at Gold Spa. While they were at that scene, they learned of a call reporting shots fired at another spa across the street, Aromatherapy Spa, and found a woman who appeared to have been shot dead inside the business.

“It appears that they may be Asian,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said.

Crime scene tape is seen outside Aromatherapy Spa after shootings at a massage parlour and two day spas in the Atlanta area. (Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in statement Wednesday that its diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed from police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent. The ministry said the office of its Consulate General in Atlanta is trying to confirm the nationality of the women.

Suspect taken into custody

The killings came amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States.

“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday evening on Twitter.

A man suspected in the Acworth shooting was captured by surveillance video pulling up to the business around 4:50 p.m. Tuesday, minutes before the attack, authorities said. Baker said the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, was taken into custody in Crisp County, about 240 kilometres south of Atlanta.

This undated photo provided by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office shows Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Ga., who was arrested following the three shootings. (Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office/The Associated Press)

Baker said they believe Long is also the suspect in the Atlanta shootings.

Police said video footage showed the suspect’s vehicle in the area of the Atlanta spas about the time of those attacks as well. That, as well as other video evidence, “suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody,” Atlanta police said in a statement. Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities were working to confirm the cases are related.

FBI spokesperson Kevin Rowson said the agency was assisting Atlanta and Cherokee County authorities in the investigation.

Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock said in a video posted on Facebook that his deputies and state troopers were notified around 8 p.m. that a murder suspect out of north Georgia was headed toward their county. Deputies and troopers set up along the interstate and “made contact with the suspect,” who was driving a 2007 black Hyundai Tucson, around 8:30 p.m., he said.

A state trooper performed a PIT, or pursuit intervention technique, manoeuvre, “which caused the vehicle to spin out of control,” Hancock said. Long was then taken into custody “without incident” and was being held in the Crisp County jail for Cherokee County authorities, who were expected to arrive soon to continue their investigation.

Due to the shootings, Atlanta police said they dispatched officers to check nearby similar businesses and increased patrols in the area.

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Prioritizing people with specific conditions for COVID vaccine slows race for herd immunity: N.S.’s top doctor

Amanda Robinson used to work part time five days a week for an organization that supports adults with disabilities. She went to bingo and bowling on the weekends and attended a Friday night social.

It all disappeared when COVID-19 struck.

Robinson, 36, has Down syndrome and is largely non-verbal. Her mother keeps her close to home these days because she worries about what will happen if her daughter contracts the coronavirus. 

“Amanda going out puts her life at risk every day and she doesn’t even know it,” said Carolin Robinson, outside her family’s home in Halifax. 

Robinson points to research in the U.K. that suggests people with Down syndrome who contract COVID-19 have a significantly increased risk of death. She is among the advocates across the country calling on governments to prioritize vaccinating people with disabilities. 

Amanda Robinson, left, with her mother, Carolin, and her brother, Aaron, in their Halifax home. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Some Canadian provinces are prioritizing people with various disabilities to varying degrees, but Nova Scotia, which currently has 29 active cases of COVID-19, is among those that are not, unless the individuals live in congregate settings such as group homes. 

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, says the province is focusing on vaccinating by age, beginning with people 80 and older, and working down by brackets of five years at a time.  

“We certainly understand lots of different groups thinking about their own risk or the risk within their group, and I understand that perspective,” he said during a recent interview at Nova Scotia’s Department of Health. 

In fact, Strang understands better than most. 

His son, who turns 16 in September, lives with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, including autism, chronic pain and a mutation in the GRIN2A gene that causes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders.  

Speed is key 

But Strang insists age is “by far” the biggest risk factor. He also said it’s important to have a vaccine program that is fast and efficient, and trying to figure out how to prioritize a range of conditions would significantly delay the overall process.  

“It’ll be so much slower,” he said.

Because of his age, Strang’s son is going to be among the last to be vaccinated, he said. “But he’s going to be well protected because we’ve rapidly built herd immunity all around him.”

Nova Scotia has a higher percentage of people living with disabilities than any other province in Canada. 

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, with his son, now 15. Despite the fact his son has severe physical and intellectual disabilities, Strang says he’s confident in the province’s age-based approach to determining the order for vaccinating the public. (Submitted by Dr. Robert Strang )

Krista Carr, the executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, a national organization that works on behalf of people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, wants all provinces and territories to create a separate vaccination category for people with disabilities and to clearly define who that will include. 

She acknowledges different disabilities might need to be prioritized in different ways. For example, some people may need to be moved up the list because they’ve been more isolated or unable to protect themselves by physically distancing because they rely on support workers, and others need to be prioritized because of their physical health. 

“People with disabilities often have co-occurring health conditions that go along with their disability, so that puts them at higher risk for the virus,” she said. 

She said by not creating a separate category to prioritize their vaccination, “we’re telling people with disabilities they don’t matter, and that’s just the wrong message to send.” 

Some provinces are prioritizing in various phases

British Columbia plans to vaccinate people who are “clinically extremely vulnerable” including “adults with very significant developmental disabilities that increase risk” in Phase 3. 

New Brunswick intends to vaccinate people who have “select complex medical conditions,” including people who live with Down syndrome, in Phase 2.

Ontario has released a specific list of conditions that put people at an “increased risk of serious illness and death regardless of age” and will be included in Phase 2 vaccinations.  

Alberta says it will prioritize people “with underlying health conditions” in its Phase 2, but it has not yet determined the list of conditions that will qualify. 

Strang not ‘rigid’ in thinking

Strang says he is very comfortable with Nova Scotia’s approach but is not “rigid” in his thinking and will make changes if there is a shift in the science, epidemiology or vaccine supply.

Robinson says the idea of building herd immunity doesn’t give her peace of mind. She says the risks are just too high and the statistics too stark. 

“All my life, I’ve been fighting for her,” she said. “I’m her voice, and I wonder when I don’t need to be her voice, that it just happens because it should.”

Robinson said she’s not asking for her daughter to be first, just prioritized, so she can feel safer, sooner. 

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Why people working snowy slopes may be at greater risk of catching COVID than skiers

Fresh air, blazing speed and spacious alpine terrain makes skiing and snowboarding low-risk activities for COVID-19 transmission, infectious disease doctors say.

But the threat is never zero during a global pandemic, they add. And people working on those snowy slopes may be at greater risk of catching the virus than those dashing down them.

Most ski hills in Ontario were permitted to reopen Tuesday, joining other mountainous resorts across the country that have remained operational through the winter.

Many have implemented extra safety precautions and operate under local restrictions, including:

  • Asking patrons to wear face coverings on lifts.
  • Cancelling classes.
  • Limiting access to indoor spaces.

While the activity of skiing is relatively safe from a transmission standpoint, experts say spread can still happen, and COVID outbreaks have been reported at larger resorts over the last couple months, mostly affecting staff members.

One outbreak in Kelowna, B.C., in December began with workers living on site before it sprawled to include more than 130 cases. Popular Lake Louise and Nakiska resorts in Alberta also reported outbreaks among staff.

‘Tale of two pandemics’

Dr. Andrew Boozary, the executive director of population health and social medicine at the University Health Network, says it’s clusters of cases like those that make ski hills concerning.

“I have no anti-skiing bias — it’s an activity that makes a whole lot of sense in Canada — but there’s a lot of people who take on risk to ensure a ski hill is operational,” he said.

“A lot of the time we rely on people who are in temporary work or who’ve been underpaid, without living wages and without paid sick leave, to take on risk so some of us can have that pleasure and leisure activity.” 

Boozary likened the recent emphasis on ski hills to that of golf courses over the summer, or to policy around cottages and seasonal vacation homes that were tailored to higher-income populations.

Skiing, like golf, isn’t affordable to everyone, he says.

And while Boozary agrees that skiing and snowboarding can provide mental health benefits of exercise in a low-risk setting, he’d like to see more emphasis on ensuring lower-income populations have safe, outdoor spaces, too.

WATCH | Ont. ski resorts welcome people back to the slopes:

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer of Calabogie Peaks Resort, says skiers and snowboarders are excited to be back on the hill after the extended shutdown. 0:45

“We’ve seen this dichotomy, this tale of two pandemics. And we’re seeing it now with skiing,” Boozary said. “There’s an income divide on who gets access to these spaces.”

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta, says staff members at ski resorts are more likely than visitors to become infected because of the close proximity workers tend to be in.

Sometimes they share indoor spaces like lunchrooms, which aren’t conducive to mask-wearing when people are eating, Schwartz says, and “transmission thrives” in those settings.

“The likelihood of infection is going to be a function of physical proximity, the amount of time they’re in that proximity, the activities they’re doing and whether there are precautions taken to minimize transmission.”

Precautions for skiers

While skiers will generally be safe, those who wish to hit the slopes still need to be mindful of safety precautions, Schwartz says.

He added that spread is more likely to happen before or after people glide down the mountains, like when they put on ski boots in a crowded indoor area. Those spots should be avoided when possible, Schwartz says, and masks should be worn when distance can’t be maintained.

Skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes as Mount Pakenham in Eastern Ontario reopens after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakenham, Ont., on Feb. 11. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Other factors could make trips to snowy resorts more dangerous, he added, including guests travelling from COVID hot spots and potentially bringing the virus with them into small ski towns.

The rise of new variants of concern might require more stringent restrictions on skiers as well, says Parisa Ariya, a chemistry professor at McGill University who specializes in aerosol transmission.

Ariya says while outdoor settings are far safer than indoors, spread “actually does happen outside” in some instances, and she recommends wearing a mask while skiing or snowboarding.

Winters in Quebec and Ontario make air more dense, Ariya adds, which could have an impact on how long viral particles stay in the atmosphere.

WATCH | Ski resorts walk a fine line during pandemic: 

The ski industry in the Canadian Rockies is struggling during the pandemic, with operators trying to balance COVID-19 safety and industry survival. 2:00

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease expert in Mississauga, Ont., says that while cold air may cause physical changes to aerosols “it does not translate to increased risk of disease transmission.”

He says risk of outdoor spread remains “quite low,” except for situations with large crowds in close contact, like during concerts or sporting events.

“From a public health standpoint I would much rather see 50 people skiing outdoors than a group of 10 watching TV together indoors,” he said.

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None of Ottawa’s new travel rules apply to the largest group of people entering Canada — truckers

None of the federal government’s recently announced new travel measures — which include COVID-19 testing upon arrival — apply to the largest group of people regularly entering Canada: Commercial truck drivers.

Of the 10 million entries into Canada since March 21, 2020, close to half — 4.6 million — were made by commercial truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Because truck drivers deliver essential goods across the border during the pandemic, the government has exempted them from quarantine and all COVID-19 test requirements. Ottawa says it’s exploring tests for truckers at the border but has not yet presented concrete plans.

Meanwhile, some Canadian truck drivers want more protections now, as highly contagious COVID-19 variants spread rapidly in the United States

“You hear how this thing is spreading like wildfire,” said long-haul trucker Luis Franco of Calgary, who transports goods to the U.S. four to five times a month. 

“I’m very concerned about my family when I come back,” Franco said. “I don’t want to get them sick.”

Close to half the entries into Canada since March 21 have been made by truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Even though truck drivers are exempt from quarantine, they must follow other protective measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and answering health questions at the border. 

Despite following all the rules, Franco said he still feels unsafe because he encounters many people at U.S. rest stops who don’t take precautions.

“A lot of the Americans like in the southern states, or in the western states, they don’t believe in COVID,” he said. “You walk into a truck stop or fuel up, or to do whatever you got to do and [it appears as though] 80 per cent of the people, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing.”

Watch: Truck driver Luis Franco talks about the dangers trucker face

Calgary-based Luis Franco says the essential worker exemptions for border crossing truck drivers like himself are dangerous. He makes four to five trips into the U.S. every month, where he says too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. He worries he could be infected and bring the virus — or one of the highly-contagious new variants — into Canada, and into his own home. He wants to see the federal government take action, to either enforce rapid testing at the border or to give truckers priority for the COVID vaccine. 2:02

As an added protection, Franco wants the government to test truckers for COVID-19 each time they cross into Canada. 

“A lot of us could very well be asymptomatic,” he said.

Franco’s not alone. More than 100 Canadian science and health experts have signed a petition calling for the federal government to implement strict border measures, including COVID-19 tests for everyone entering Canada — including essential workers. 

“Canada faces a very significant risk of an escalated new, variant driven COVID wave,” says the petition. 

Ottawa explores testing truckers

On Jan. 29, eight days after the petition was launched publicly, the government announced it was toughening up its border measures.

Effective Feb.15, travellers entering Canada by land must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test at the border. And starting on Feb. 22, they will also be required to take another COVID-19 test on arrival, as well as one near the end of their 14-day quarantine.

However, truckers and other essential workers — who are already exempt from quarantine — are exempt from the new test requirements.

On Sunday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government is also exploring the introduction of COVID-19 tests for essential workers crossing the border.

“We’re working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and also with our provincial health authorities to [look] at implementing a system of regular testing to help protect those essential workers and truck drivers that are coming into the country and also to ensure that they’re not the source of any new infection,” Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

But infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jeff Kwong said the government needs to take action now.

“It only takes a handful of [truckers] to be infected when they’re coming back and then they’re seeding infections here in Canada,” said Kwong, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 

Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jeff Kwong said the government needs to take immediate action to start testing truckers at the Canadian land border. (CBC)

Kwong recommends Ottawa immediately introduce COVID-19 rapid tests for essential workers crossing the land border. Rapid tests are known to be less sensitive than regular COVID-19 tests, but provide results within minutes.

“Just do a test at the border. If they’re positive, then don’t go home to your family,” Kwong said. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t been implemented.”

Following the swift spread of a new COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom in December, several European countries began demanding that truck drivers entering from the U.K. provide proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test.

What about vaccinating truckers?

Long-haul truck driver Leanne Steeves said she also feels unsafe when transporting goods to the U.S., which has the highest COVID-19 case count across the globe. Steeves is diabetic which puts her at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

“It’s scary,” said Steeves who lives in Woodbridge, Ont. “We have to go to the states, we have to go to California, we have to go to Florida, you know what I mean? We’re going through these bad [COVID-19] areas.”

Despite the risks, Steeves isn’t a fan of testing truckers because she believes it would create a logistical nightmare. 

“The wait at the border would be insane,” she said. 

Leanne Steeves and her husband Gerald are both long-haul truck drivers who make frequent trips to the U.S. during the pandemic. Steeves said she would like truck drivers to get top priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Submitted by Leanne Steeves)

Teamsters Canada — which represents more than 15,000 long-haul truck drivers — agrees with Steeves, which is why the union recommends the government instead test truckers at truck stops and rest areas. It also wants truck drivers given top proriority for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

“More needs to be done to protect drivers as new and potentially more dangerous variants emerge,” said Teamsters spokesperson, Christopher Monette in an email. 

Truck drivers Franco and Steeves agree they should be vaccinated as soon as possible. However, neither of them are in the top priority group for their province, meaning they could wait months for their shots.

“If we can help protect ourselves a little bit more by having the vaccine [now], that’d be awesome,” said Steeves. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond to a request for comment on prioritizing vaccinations for truckers. 

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