June 1 COVID-19 update: ICUs emptying, Half of city has one dose, Mixing doses a-ok, LTC staff must be vaccinated

Special to WC Online

OTTAWA – Hospital emergency rooms are getting some breathing room as Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is reporting eight people suffering from COVID-19 in local intensive care units and 35 people in hospital with the virus overall during today’s (June 1) update.

Those numbers have been steadily dropping from highs seen a little over a month ago with 124 in hospital and more than 30 in ICUs.

OPH is confirming one new COVID-19-related death and 39 new cases of novel coronavirus, Tuesday, June 1.

The deceased was a person in their 90s. Ottawa’s pandemic death toll is up to 571, including: one person in their 20s; one in their 30s; eight in their 40s; 22 in their 50s; 66 in their 60s; 107 in their 70s; 200 in their 80s; and 166 in their 90s.

The health unit says it is tracking 635 active cases of COVID-19. The number has come down from more than 3,800 at its peak in late April. The current active case number is comparable to where Ottawa was in late February of this year.

There are still 22 healthcare institutions and two childcare centres dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. The two most recent outbreaks are being reported at the Ottawa Hospital Civic and General Campuses, affecting three and two patients in each facility. OPH is also monitoring four community outbreaks stemming from workplaces.

Ottawa’s weekly incidence rate is at 39.9 per 100,000 residents. The local positivity rate remains at 4.7 per cent today.

More than 51 per cent of Ottawa’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with five per cent having had their second doses. New vaccine information is released by the health unit every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

There have been 27,097 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa (25,891 resolved) since March of 2020.

Ontario is reporting 699 new cases of COVID-19, Tuesday, including, two in Renfrew County and district, and none in either the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s region or the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark district.

Mixing doses a-okay

CANADA – The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) says people who got the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for their first inoculation can safely and effectively receive either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for the second.

The advice affects more than two million Canadians who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine before provinces stopped using it for first doses last month. The vaccine was potentially linked to a rare but serious blood clotting syndrome.

In Canada, 41 confirmed or suspected cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia were diagnosed and five people died.

NACI’s published report says AstraZeneca recipients can be offered the same vaccine if they want it, or can be given either Pfizer or Moderna. 

They say they are basing their advice on the risk of VITT, and emerging evidence that mixing and matching different types of vaccines is not only safe but may produce a better immune response.

The guidance is not binding but most provincial governments have indicated they were waiting for the information before setting their policies for second doses.

Manitoba didn’t wait for the report to be published, announcing Monday (May 31) they would offer AstraZeneca recipients Pfizer or Moderna if they wanted.

Quebec currently recommends getting the same vaccine twice but says with informed consent people who got AstraZeneca first can get Pfizer or Moderna. 

Ontario is expected to update this later in the week, along with shortening the wait to get second doses of mRNA vaccines.

NACI’s advice comes after interim results were published in May from two studies looking at mixing and matching vaccines. 

A Spanish study concluded a second dose of Pfizer after a first dose of AstraZeneca produced more than twice the antibodies as a second dose of AstraZeneca.

A United Kingdom study reported there were more frequent reports of short-lived side-effects such as fever and fatigue in people whose second dose was a different vaccine. It is still waiting for results on how effective mixing and matching is but as second doses ramp up across Canada, health officials say they need to make decisions now.

Several European countries are giving Pfizer or Moderna as second doses to AstraZeneca recipients, including Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Spain.

More than two-thirds of Canadians over the age of 12 now have at least their first dose, but only about 10 per cent of them are fully vaccinated. With vaccine supplies limited in the first months of the immunization program, provinces delayed second doses up to four months to try and get more people one dose faster.

The plan has worked to that end, with Canada now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world when it comes to first doses. As of May 30, Canada is now in the top 10 countries for first doses in the world, and is likely to surpass the United Kingdom on first doses by the end of the week.

It’s not even in the top 50 for second doses.

Second doses are starting to be given faster now, with several provinces moving to fully vaccinate the highest risk populations, including seniors and those with compromised immune systems.

Until a week ago, fewer than one-tenth of new doses given out each were for second doses, but over the last week one-sixth of new doses were for second shots.

For some people, getting a different second dose is a supply issue, particularly for Moderna recipients, with that company unable to deliver expected doses on time so far. 

For AstraZeneca however it is a question of safety. Provinces stopped using AstraZeneca for first doses in mid-May as the number of Canadians diagnosed with vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia grew.

The rare blood clotting disorder believed to be caused by an unexpected immune response to the AstraZeneca vaccine, has occurred in about one in every 53,000 Canadians given the AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose.

While health experts say the risks of the clots is extremely low and is outweighed by the risks of COVID-19, NACI said people should only get AstraZeneca if they are over the age of 30, and live in an area where they are more likely to be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Many provinces have been holding off giving second doses of AstraZeneca pending NACI’s advice on whether it should be given as second doses.

NACI has already said people can mix and match vaccines within the same vaccine family — so the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna can be mixed and matched, or the viral vector vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

That latter advice was theoretical since Canada hasn’t started using the J&J vaccine at this point. The 300,000 doses received in April remain in quarantine in freezers at Innomar Strategies pending a quality assurance check.

The drug substance in those doses was made at a facility in Maryland that has since been cited for numerous safety violations.

Half of Ottawa vaccinated

OTTAWA – OPH data shows 51 per cent of the city’s total population has now had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

For those 18 and older who have one shot of the vaccine, that number jumps to 62 per cent. 

OPH data shows 50,601 residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated against the virus, which is about five per cent of the total population. 

This week, the city is holding pop-up vaccination clinics in select neighbourhoods for those 12 and older to get their first shot.

Residents are asked to bring at least one piece of ID and proof of address. Appointments are made on an in-person, first-come, first-serve basis.

On Monday, appointments for the Bayshore-Belltown vaccine clinic filled up by 1 p.m.

Upcoming clinics:

June 2

  • Infinity Centre 
    Ledbury-Heron Gate-Ridgemont and Hawthorne Meadows-Sheffield Glen
    Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

June 3-4

  • Patro d’Ottawa
    Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

June 5-6

  • Regina Street Alternative School 
    Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Ridgemont High School 
    Ledbury-Heron Gate-Ridgemont
    Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Issues with the provincial booking system on Monday resulted in problems for Ottawa residents trying to book their first vaccine appointment or those 80 and older who were looking to rebook their second appointment. 

Province’s LTC staff must provide proof of vaccination

ONTARIO – Ontario long-term care homes will now enforce mandatory COVID-19 immunization policies for staff.

Staff must provide proof of vaccination, a documented medical exemption, or participate in an educational program about vaccination benefits. Homes must track and report back on their progress.

The province says encouraging more workers to get vaccinated will reduce the likelihood of outbreaks and infections.

Insiders say school won’t re-open this year

ONTARIO – Media outlets are reporting the province is leaning toward keeping schools closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year, although no final decision has been made yet.

Premier Doug Ford is still going over the responses from health experts and the teachers’ unions about their positions on the return to classrooms.

Sources say Ford will meet with his cabinet tomorrow (June 2), when the current stay-at-home order is set to expire, and it remains unlikely a decision comes before then.

There are just over three weeks left in the school year.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who has remained mum on the subject of re-opening schools, kept his cards close to his chest during a recent question period, not revealing what the Ford government may do.

Lecce once again repeated schools are safe from COVID-19.

“The chief medical officer of health has advised the people of Ontario – and when repeatedly asked about the safety of schools, transmission schools – have suggested the protections we put in place has kept students and staff safe,” Lecce said.

In response to Ford’s request for input last week, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said Saturday they believe schools can reopen safely on a regional basis for in-person learning for the last month of the school year. The table believes most health units would be able to mitigate and manage the increases in their communities.

Ford sent a note to various stakeholders last Thursday (May 28), including the advisory tables, health officials, school boards and teachers, asking for advice on whether it would be safe to reopen for in-person learning.

The deadline for a response to the letter was 5 p.m. on Friday.

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