Syringes are readied at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, Friday, April 30, 2021, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Official sees easing COVID-19 rules when more than half of population vaccinated

Expanded vaccine access comes as some provinces are struggling to contain a deadly 3rd wave of COVID-19

Canada could begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions when more than half the population has received a first vaccine dose, the head of the country’s immunity committee said Monday, as hard-hit Alberta signalled more public health rules would be coming Tuesday.

Premier Jason Kenney said the impetus for more restrictions in Alberta, the province with the highest rate of infections in the country, was a “No More Lockdowns” rodeo over the weekend. The event saw hundreds congregate without masks in open defiance of public health rules.

“I was very disturbed. Actually I was angered,” Kenney told a news conference Monday.

“Given the issues we saw this weekend, and the record high cases recorded, we are developing a package of stronger public health measures.

“The next few weeks are critical.”

Dr. Timothy Evans, executive director of Canada’s immunity group, said easing measures may come with increased vaccinations.

The United Kingdom, like Canada, made a decision to delay second vaccine doses in favour of wider coverage. The U.K. has vaccinated more than half its population against COVID-19 and has so far been successful in curbing a third wave, Evans said.

As for public health measures, “I think we may see an opportunity to dial those back when we get to 50, 60 per cent of Canadians vaccinated,” he told a House of Commons committee.

But he noted that because fewer Canadians per capita were infected with COVID-19 than in the U.K., it may take more vaccination here — between 60 and 65 per cent. Currently, about 33 per cent of all Canadians are vaccinated with at least one dose.

Canada’s national vaccine expert committee also weighed in on the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine Monday, saying it should be offered only to Canadians 30 and up who don’t want to wait for a different shot.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said in an update that the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are still preferred due to “the excellent protection they provide and the absence of safety signals of concern.”

The age guidance is similar to that issued for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and comes as both are suspected of causing a new and very rare blood-clotting syndrome.

However, the recommendations noted that as a single-shot vaccine, Johnson & Johnson may be suited for populations who are harder to schedule for a second dose or who don’t want to wait.

Plans to distribute the first shipment of the J&J vaccine were put on hold after Health Canada learned part of it was made at a Maryland facility cited for safety and quality-control violations.

That did not stop several provinces from expanding their inoculation programs Monday thanks to an anticipated increase in deliveries from another key vaccine maker. With shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine expected to roughly double from about one million to two million per week, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia opened access to new age groups.

Quebec and Nova Scotia lowered the age of eligibility for vaccines, while Manitoba announced that all Indigenous adults could now get a shot.

Alberta also said it would start including teachers child-care workers and support staff for vaccine priority.

READ MORE: Canada will align policy on ‘vaccine passports’ with international allies: Trudeau

Ontario opened vaccine appointments to those 18 and over living in designated hot spots, although some residents reported difficulties in finding a spot. More than 73,000 appointments were booked in the first two hours after the province expanded eligibility.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said she was happy with how it was going overall and urged those experiencing problems to try again. “You will get an appointment, but I am sorry about the problems people are having now,” she told reporters.

Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that the vaccines appear to offer a high degree of protection from infection beginning two weeks after inoculation.

The agency said that as of April 26, 2,274 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 at least two weeks after getting their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Data suggests about 7.1 million people were 14 or more days past being vaccinated with at least one dose by that date, meaning there were so-called breakthrough infections in about 0.03 per cent of people vaccinated.

Among those infected after vaccination, 203 people ended up in hospital and 53 died. The agency said that the “percentage of breakthrough cases is small” and detailed data is not yet available to fully understand the reasons behind them.

The expanded vaccine access comes as several provinces are struggling to contain a deadly third wave of the novel coronavirus.

In the North, Nunavut suspended its common travel area with the Northwest Territories, where a COVID-19 outbreak at an elementary school in Yellowknife caused the closure of all schools in the city. City council in Iqaluit, Nunavut, also declared a local state of emergency after the total number of active cases in the city of 8,000 people rose to 81.

There was better news in Quebec, which announced last week it was easing some public health restrictions amid stable or declining case counts and hospitalizations. Most elementary students in the Quebec City area returned to in-person classes Monday, while the curfew in Montreal and Laval was pushed back from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., beginning Monday night.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday about 1.1 million more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and more shipments of Moderna coming this month could mean the 16-week wait time between doses would be shortened.

The province had 2,174 new cases over three days and 15 more deaths.

— With files from Mia Rabson, Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Shawn Jeffords

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Memorials have been set up to honour those who died during the Second World War. (Pixabay.com)
COLUMN: It’s time to stop making comparisons to Hitler

The deadliest, most destructive war in human history should not become a metaphor

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

An example of one the sounding boards the RDOS has set up to gather feedback for their first parks, trails and recreation master plan. (RDOS)
Looking for feedback from Princeton and Keremeos for park and rec plan

Sounding boards have been set up in both regions for in-person input

Al Kowalko shows off the province's first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Okanagan schools shifting gears to electric buses

Vernon, Central Okanagan, Rocky Mountain and Okanagan-Skaha on board

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Kelowna seen from the top of Knox Mountain. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press Media file)
Accessibility concerns raised as Kelowna ponders banning vehicles from Knox Mountain

Knox Mountain Drive, which leads to two lookouts, has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began

Upgrades will be completed on a portion of the Kettle Valley Railway trail north of Penticton. (Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen photo)
Contract awarded for improvements to trail near Penticton

Portion of Kettle Valley Railway trail will receive upgrades

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Cops for Kids riders will be spinning 30 feet in the air on scissor lifts at SaveOn Foods locations in Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna Saturday, May 8, 2021. (File photo)
Cops reach new heights for Okanagan kids

Nor-Val Rentals is doing the heavy lifting Saturday in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News file)
People aged 30+ in Summerland, Rutland offered vaccine amid high transmission risk

Interior Health offers residents of Rutland and Summerland aged 30 and up chance at vaccine

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Most Read