Federal government updates advice on booster shots, confirms purchase of antiviral COVID pills

Federal government updates advice on booster shots, confirms purchase of antiviral COVID pills

Canada’s Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Filomena Tassi, announces Canada’s purchase of 1.5 million courses of antiviral pills at a press conference on Friday. Screenshot is taken from Global News broadcast.

By Hafsatou Balde & Sam Konnert

In a week that saw several provinces expand eligibility for booster shots to combat COVID-19, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on Friday recommended the use of booster shots for people over the age of 18, but emphasized that adults over 50 should be prioritized.

The announcement came among concerns about the new Omicron variant, which was first reported last week.

“It’s still too early to understand what the effect of this variant is going to look like,” said Puja Bagri, a project analyst at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“Our best information is coming from South Africa, but their population is very different in terms of vaccination rates compared to Canada.”

Meanwhile, Filomena Tassi, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, announced Friday the federal government has signed an agreement with Pfizer and Merck for the purchase of 1.5 million courses of COVID-19 oral antiviral pills, both in stage three of Health Canada authorization.

“Access to effective and easy-to-use treatments is critical to reducing the severity of COVID infections and will help save lives,” the minister said.

Sarthak Sinha, an MD PhD candidate at the University of Calgary who specializes in tissue scarring and cell regeneration, said he sees the antiviral medication as an essential step in attacking the virus at the right time.

He explained there are two stages to the body’s response to COVID-19, and the pills are most effective in the first stage.

“The antiviral pills the government announced are best administered acutely after symptom onset,” Sinha said.

In the second stage of the body’s response to the virus, according to Sinha, the pill is not as effective. “The late stage of response is when people become hypoxic, they get really sick and have to go to the hospital,” he said.

The second stage of fighting COVID-19 is not driven by the virus, he said, and is instead driven by the body’s hyperinflammatory response.

While steroids like Dexamethasone are good for later stages of infection, he added a combination of the two therapies will have the greatest benefit for patients. “Early intervention mitigates risk for severe disease,” Sinha said. “That’s the overarching concept.”

With the Dec. 1 announcement that Alberta is opening up boosters to those 18 and up and Ontario outlining plans to offer a third dose for people over 50 as of Dec. 13, Bagri said she thinks other provinces may eventually follow suit.

“We should be taking care of key populations that may be more vulnerable first,” Bagri said. 

“Testing and sequencing hand-in-hand – that’s how we’re going to really capture the spread of this variant,” Bagri said.

On Friday, the province of Ontario reported 1,031 new cases of COVID-19. It’s the first time since May 30 the number has surpassed 1,000 new cases.

Numbers like this make the possibility of a booster appealing to people like Nitika Sharma, a 26-year-old student at Carleton University who received her second dose back in June.

“Once they ask us to get the shot, I’ll be the first person in line,” she said.

New COVID-19 variant prompts Canada to announce new travel restrictions

New COVID-19 variant prompts Canada to announce new travel restrictions

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced new restrictions for travellers from seven southern African countries at a press conference on Friday. The government also urged Canadians to avoid travelling to the region. Screenshot is taken from CBC live broadcast. 

By Sophie Kuijper Dickson & Adam Beauchemin

Canada will implement travel restrictions to mitigate the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant recently detected in South Africa, federal officials announced Friday.

“Emergence of new variants is unfortunately not unexpected,” said Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam during press conference on Friday, adding that, to date, there are no indications of the variant’s presence in Canada. 

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Canada will impose restrictions on travel from seven countries in southern Africa: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini. 

The Omicron variant was first detected by South Africa and announced in a press conference Thursday.

While South Africa has seen an acceleration in cases, Tam said it’s too soon to say whether it is because of more relaxed health measures or because the virus has gained a biological advantage.

All Canadians who have arrived in Canada from any of the restricted countries within the past 14 days must remain in isolation until they receive a negative test result. 

Canadians arriving from travel-restricted countries will be tested upon arrival and asked to quarantine until they produce a second negative test. Foreign nationals will be prohibited from entering the country if they have been in any of the seven restricted nations within 14 days. 

Duclos noted the number of travellers Canada has been receiving from the restricted nations is small, an estimated average of 50 people day, which he said will allow the government to closely monitor the isolation and testing of those individuals. 

While officials only announced restrictions on seven countries, Alghabra stated the government has not ruled out the possibility of adding more measures as events unfold. 

Tam explained this variant is of significant concern because of the high number of mutations it contains, which may cause increased transmissibility as well as a weakened immune response among carriers. 

However, she emphasized there is still not enough information on the nature of this variant to fully understand its potential impact. 

“We know very little about this variant right now including how transmissible it is and whether it increases severity of illness or what the impact is on the vaccine,” Tam said, adding the vaccine is still the most important and effective means of protection against all strains.  

“There are still approximately three million Canadians, 12 years and older, who haven’t received a single dose of vaccine,” Duclos said, urging Canadians to get vaccinated now.