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.

Beijing Olympics raise questions

Beijing Olympics raise questions

The National Stadium was the host stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and will be used again as the host stadium for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo credit: Slices of Light/ Flickr

Canada is expected to send 85 athletes to Beijing to participate in the winter Olympic Games in February – 44 men and 41 women.

But the location of the games is a subject of controversy.

 Earlier this week, the Bloc Quebecois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe introduced a motion in the House of Commons calling on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the games for one year, so that an international observation mission could visit Xinjiang, where crimes against humanity targeted against Uyghurs are alleged to be occurring.

“The Chinese government… is violating every provision of the United Nations Genocide Convention,” Brunelle-Duceppe said.

He also called for China to be withdrawn from the Olympics if it refused to host the mission. Brunelle-Duceppe’s motion was blocked.

On Tuesday, Pascale St-Onge, the federal minister of sport, said Canada has not yet decided whether or not to boycott the games.

“The decision has not been yet made, we are still in discussion,” St-Onge told reporters outside the House of Commons. “In regards to the government, we obviously respect the independence of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees with respect to Team Canada’s participation in the Olympic Games. At the moment, our priority is the safety and security of all athletes.”

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, said Canada’s decision will have to balance the interests of athletes and human rights.

“The Olympics are a big celebration of sports, but also international togetherness. And especially the opening and closing ceremonies are big celebrations of the host country. They get to put on a big extravaganza of the best entertainment their country has to offer,” she said.

“We don’t want our athletes to have to lose the opportunity of their career, something they’ve worked [on] for many years. If they didn’t attend at all, they would then have to work another four years — it’s a lot to ask them to give up.”

McCuaig-Johnston said Canadian athletes will have to consider how their participation in opening and closing ceremonies will be seen when they return home. “They will have to answer questions about why they went to big celebrations in China, when millions of people are being tortured and victimized.”

Transit, affordable housing among concerns for students heading into election year

Transit, affordable housing among concerns for students heading into election year

After a year that saw a host of issues including rising rental costs, LRT service problems, and the ongoing pandemic, many are looking for changes to be made. Photo taken by William Eltherington.

Young Ottawans say their priorities for local politicians heading into an election year include addressing ballooning housing costs, LRT service disruptions, climate change and rising police budgets.

The Raging Twenties asked several students about what kinds of issues they are concerned about going into 2022. The election is set for Oct. 24.

University of Ottawa student Jenna Mitchell Dueck, who studies international development and globalization, said there are several issues that need to be addressed but climate change, affordable housing and police budgets are top of mind for her.

While she said she does not always pay attention to municipal politics, someone who stands for those issues would likely motivate her to vote.

She added issues like affordable housing can help address large-scale problems such as climate change.

“If it’s possible for people to actually live and have a place to stay that they can afford, that doesn’t take their entire paycheque, then climate change and other things can also be addressed, she said. “It’s all interrelated.”

Dueck added a lot of young people are concerned about how much money is going to Ottawa police.

Transit is “definitely an issue for students,” said Alexander Elinov, a third-year student at the University of Ottawa.

Students walking on UOttawa campus.
“If it’s possible for people to actually live and have a place to stay that they can afford, that doesn’t take their entire paycheck, then climate change and other things can also be addressed,” Dueck said. “It’s all interrelated.” Photo taken by William Eltherington.

Combined with the transit issues in the city, he said the competitiveness of the urban rental market has forced students to live further outside the city.

The unreliability of the transit system has made others choose to walk instead.

“I do know friends that kind of have to ‘bite the bullet’ and have had to walk an hour or so,” he said.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard said among the issues young people should be paying attention to prior to next year’s election are accountability at city hall, developer influence, transit and climate change. 

“There are several areas where the council has fallen short,” he said. “We don’t see enough student affordable housing because we’re not holding developers to account and are allowing developers to influence municipal candidates during elections.”

Students should be more concerned over what developers are allowed to build in Ottawa which is driving up rents, he added. 

Meanwhile, one of the biggest issues from the year is from the problems related to the LRT, which has reduced trust in the system. 

On Wednesday, Menard introduced a motion to the transportation committee to study free transit to potentially help with affordability and encourage more to use the system.

“A lot of students have student debt and need an economical way to get around,” he said. “For students it would be a huge economic uplift.”

Menard, who has sparred with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson online and at some council meetings, said he is ready to see a change in leadership.

He said he has worked closely with Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who has also been an advocate for better transit accountability and has stated they are considering running for mayor.

Menard added he is waiting for Watson to announce whether he will seek re-election in 2022 before making any decisions regarding his own political future. “McKenney definitely reflects my values,” he said.

Christmas Cheer spreading joy to those who need it most

Christmas Cheer spreading joy to those who need it most

Santa takes a jolly stroll toward hosts Patricia Boal and Graham Richardson of Bell Media to take centre stage at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Rajpreet Sahota.

The Christmas Cheer Foundation hosted their annual breakfast fundraiser on Friday morning to raise money for local charities that provide community support services for young Ottawa residents in need.

The annual breakfast helps youth experiencing financial and mental health issues across Ottawa, which have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bethany McNee received help from Youville Centre, one of the organizations supported by the foundation, when she graduated from their high school program as a teen mom in 2006.

“I started at the school when my daughter was six months. At the time I was in an abusive relationship and the counsellor I worked with there helped me build the courage to leave the relationship,” McNee said. “If it wasn’t for YouVille, I don’t think I ever would have graduated.”

Operation Come Home is another one of the charities that receives funding from the annual event. They offer multiple services including a drop-in center, food bank and mental health and substance use counseling.

“The average age of a homeless person is getting younger every year. We’ve seen more youth than we have before in spite of the pandemic,” said John Heckbert, the associate executive director at Operation Come Home, explaining that there has been an increase of those reporting economic and mental health stress during the pandemic.

Marieanne Simard, a 23-year-old Ottawa resident, visited Operation Come Home for mental health and addiction counselling in 2017.

“Operation Come Home have and still helps me with mental health, housing, food bank and others. They’ve been and still are a big support in helping me become the better person I am,” Simard said.

“It’s an opportunity to come together as a community to see people in person [and] celebrate the Christmas season,” said Christmas Cheer board chair Jim McConnery explaining that the donations from the event will be going towards 22 food-related charities.

“As a group, we’re raising immaterial amount of money for charity. This is a great Ottawa tradition that we’ve had for so many years. It’s a special way for the community to come together,” he said.

The event was held virtually as well as in-person at the Shaw Centre. The event also featured performances by musicians Twin Flames, Steph La Rochelle, Natalie MacMaster and Ontario’s first poet laureate Randell Adjei.

‘We’re missing the girls’: Why women with ADHD are still slipping through the cracks

In a series of interviews, women and experts weigh in on how ADHD is often misdiagnosed in women. Produced by Natalia Weichsel.

The first thing Alex Neufeldt, 25, does in the morning is take her daily dose of Concerta, a small blue pill that contains a low dose of 27 milligrams of the stimulant methylphenidate. After, she continues her day as a business owner and student at Ottawa’s Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design.

To further keep herself on track, Neufeldt routinely consults calendar reminders, phone notifications and detailed to-do lists.

Although these organizational skills are practiced by many, they especially help Neufeldt manage her responsibilities as someone who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that first presents itself in early childhood. Traits and symptoms vary from person to person and exist on a spectrum of behaviours that include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

When most people hear the term ADHD, they might picture young, overly active boys who have difficulty sitting still and staying focused. What they rarely envision are smart and accomplished women who are struggling to keep themselves organized and their emotions in check.

According to the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, young girls and adult women living with ADHD often go undiagnosed. As a result, many are left wondering why they were missed by the healthcare system and left untreated for so long.

Neufeldt was diagnosed during her senior year of high school and has practiced strategies to manage her ADHD ever since.

“It would have been nicer to have [a diagnosis] a little bit earlier,” Neufeldt said, adding that she believes she could have “achieved more” or “opened more doors” had she known how to properly manage her ADHD from a young age.

Marlo Hepburn, 27, is in the process of seeking a formal diagnosis for her ADHD. A recent graduate with an acting diploma from Calgary’s Ambrose University, she never suspected that she could be living with an undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder.

“It had never even crossed my mind because ADHD is like hyperactive 10-year-old boys,” Hepburn said with a laugh.

Hepburn never displayed these symptoms. Instead, she was a bright student who excelled in her classes.  

“I was always able to function, so in the really stereotypical ways, I don’t look like anything is wrong,” Hepburn said.

She is part of a larger demographic of women who are discovering that they have ADHD well into their mid-20s and 30s.

Alex Neufeldt (pictured on the left) and Marlo Hepburn (pictured on the right) are open about their experience living with ADHD in their mid-20’s

Why women are misdiagnosed:

Heidi Bernhardt founded the Centre for ADHD Awareness, based in Toronto. She said ADHD in women is often left undiagnosed because they generally do not display easily identifiable behaviours.

“Very often, their symptoms will be more subtle,” Bernhardt said, explaining that this comes as a result of women being more likely to have the inattentive presentation of ADHD.

Hormone imbalances are also responsible for the misdiagnosis of women with ADHD.

“We tend to see ADHD in girls come out when their hormones kick in, but then people don’t recognize that as a symptom,” Bernhardt said.

As a result, girls get referred far less often to a medical professional for assessment.

However, even speaking with a specialist doesn’t guarantee that women will be accurately diagnosed.

According to Bernhardt, doctors are more heavily trained in identifying comorbid symptoms such as anxiety and depression. This often leads to ADHD being overlooked while another illness is incorrectly diagnosed as the primary disorder.

“When they see symptoms of a woman being anxious and not being able to focus on getting her work done, [anxiety] might be their go-to diagnosis because that’s what they’re familiar with,” Bernhardt said.

“The underlying ADHD is what is often driving all of this. If it is not diagnosed then women are not treated effectively.”

These gaps in diagnoses are even more prevalent among women of colour and Indigenous people, Bernhardt said.

“Our biggest issue is a lack of knowledge about ADHD in general,” Bernhardt said, adding that doctors have additional biases from things they’ve heard in the media and inadequate training in mental health.

Pennsylvania based writer René Brooks has noted that few stories about ADHD reference Black people.

She started a blog called Black Girl, Lost Keys in 2014 to share her own experiences with ADHD, Black neurodivergence and mental health.

For some women, unnecessary suffering can last for decades.

“One in four women with ADHD have attempted suicide,” said Berhardt. “We’re missing many of the girls right when we could be supporting them.”

Speaking with your doctor about ADHD can be a daunting process.

Shannon Anderson, 26, co-founder of the smileML tech startup, said she “felt completely helpless” when a doctor dismissed her concerns regarding her ADHD medication.

“I still kind of get worked up thinking about it,” Anderson said, sharing how the doctor recommended that she stop taking Adderall after not believing her previous diagnosis.

“This person had some very unprofessional things to say to me and I was shocked,” Anderson said.

Jodi Laidlaw, 32, a part time bookseller, graphic designer and marketer, was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of 2021. She said that healthcare providers need to be more informed with how they approach female patients with ADHD, urging women to trust their instincts if they “feel like something is wrong.”

“Your healthcare provider should be a partner in this process with you,” said Laidlaw. “You should never feel dismissed and you should never feel ridiculed.”

Above all, Laidlaw believes that women should always have their medical needs taken seriously.

“You deserve an equitable relationship with your healthcare provider and you deserve to have a thorough understanding of what’s going on,” Laidlaw said.

Shannon Anderson (pictured on the left) and Jodi Laidlaw (pictured on the right). Both women began sharing their experiences with ADHD on TikTok during the pandemic.

How the TikTok generation is changing the conversation:

Despite the many challenges that are associated with obtaining an ADHD diagnosis, online platforms such as TikTok provide a welcoming space to those seeking more information.

Throughout the pandemic, both Laidlaw and Anderson amassed a large following on the social networking app, earning a combined total of approximately 145,000 followers between them. Their relatable and informative content has helped generate meaningful conversations surrounding a once unfamiliar topic.

Laidlaw accidentally gained traction online by speaking about her story of ADHD in an honest and transparent way.

In her videos, she shares personal experiences as well as meaningful advice to help other viewers who might have ADHD.

Laidlaw said that TikTok has also been an important tool in helping her cope with her own diagnosis.

“It is wild and bonkers that a platform most known for dancing teenagers has impacted my life in such a positive way,” she said.

When Anderson downloaded TikTok during the pandemic, she quickly realized that sharing her experience with ADHD could help others.

“I decided to start making content on TikTok just to share everything that I’ve learned because there’s no point in anyone having to reinvent the wheel twice,” she said.

Anderson’s lighthearted and trendy videos share lifehacks on how to manage ADHD in your everyday life. She said her content helped other women reflect on their own experiences and pursue formal diagnoses.

“It didn’t occur to them that they might have ADHD until seeing some of my videos and that’s what got them to talk to their doctor. That’s why they’re diagnosed today,” she said.

Hepburn accidentally came across TikTok’s ADHD community after a friend convinced her to download the app.  

“Every video was so specific,” Hepburn said, stressing the fact that seeing ADHD content online was “so helpful and so relevant.”

She was especially grateful to learn that she wasn’t alone in her experience.

“It was erasing all of these gross feelings of inadequacy and laziness,” Hepburn said. “There’s all these people who were having the same feelings as me and I saw that it’s not impossible and there’s resources.”


This video is like when you start writing a poster with confidence but have to squish the last 4 letters. #adhd #adhddiagnosis #adhdsymptoms

♬ Kouen – Lo-Fi Beats

Apart from belonging to an online community, Neufeldt stressed that real-life interactions are equally important in creating a positive impact on your life.

“If something is not working, get out,” she advised, persuading those who experience ADHD to befriend people who “understand you and who can complement your strengths and weaknesses.”

For Hepburn, the biggest relief has been connecting with her truest self.

“I’ve been looking at who I actually am and trying to be okay with that while realizing that I’m not wrong and people aren’t going to leave if they see the real me.”

To the metaverse and beyond

To the metaverse and beyond

Cavin Hayer, 25, is both excited and apprehensive about the metaverse. (Photo by Rajpreet Sahota)

For Cavin Hayer, the metaverse is the future and young people must prepare.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the metaverse is the next step of what social media has already done to our society,” Hayer said, “whether that’s good or bad. I’ve got mixed reviews.”

Hayer, 25, a finance manager who works for Bell Media in Toronto, thinks the metaverse is a virtual movement as powerful as globalization.

One of the principal architects of this digital world, Mark Zuckerberg, recently capitalized on the idea of the metaverse by changing Facebook’s name to Meta Platforms.

What all this means for how people will interact with one another in the future is murky. There are significant grey areas as far as regulations to address issues with sexual harassment and other ethical considerations in virtual reality spaces. But as the world inches out of the COVID-19 pandemic, major companies are flocking to invest in the next age of the internet.

And that has some advocates embracing this brave new world.

An entirely virtual space to interact

The term “metaverse” is credited to author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash where he described lifelike avatars who met and interacted in 3D environments.

For Zuckerberg, this means creating an entirely virtual space to exist and interact. Big tech companies have been building the metaverse infrastructure for the past decade. New models of smartphones are all augmented reality capable and virtual reality is finding ways to seamlessly enter the everyday world.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has highlighted how it plans to allow employees to meet in virtual spaces with their avatars using the Teams infrastructure they are already familiar with.

Screen shot of a Microsoft Mesh meeting with virtual avatars as participants
Microsoft unveiled its Mesh for Teams which allows users to join virtual meetings using their customizable personal avatars. (Photo provided by Microsoft)

Won Sook Lee, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, specializes in the human-computer interaction.

“Better human-computer interaction has the possibility to bring more equal opportunity to people,” Lee said. “We have to develop this technology to make it more comfortable.”

Lee said with any new technology, a small group adopts it quickly. A much larger group, sometimes referred to as the “moveable middle,” will pick up the tech only once the kinks have been worked out and they can seamlessly incorporate it in their life. Making this technology more comfortable can have the power to draw in Canadians who are hesitant about trying it.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s rapid advancements in digitization, or virtualisation as Hayer put, Lee said the direction of the metaverse is one that has been chosen for us.

“We have to think, is this really the good direction for humankind?,” Lee asked.

When virtual lives become ‘more enjoyable’ than real lives

Hayer is excited about the business opportunities available in the metaverse, listing off real estate, casinos and shopping centres as enticing avenues for investment.

Hayer also emphasized the opportunity for job creation through the metaverse.

“When I enter the metaverse casino, there is a virtual black-jack dealer who is maybe working somewhere on the other side of the world,” Hayer said.

“I am gambling, and they are getting paid to do that work.” Hayer said, adding he is excited by the prospect of introducing a human element to what was once a solitary experience on 2-D gambling platforms.

Hayer explained this monetization resides in the individuals using the platform and away from centralized websites like Facebook or Instagram. For example, in the metaverse you can create marketing spaces that do not exist in the real world. The potential for profit is skyrocketing, with real-estate currently selling for millions.

Hayer explains how there is finite real-estate to be purchased in the metaverse.

“The opportunities are endless, particularly in entertainment and retail,” Hayer said. He spoke to the new level of consumerism that is at its dawn as people will begin to purchase things for their Metaverse avatar.

 “We all like stuff, and now we can begin to like stuff virtually,” Hayer said.

At the same time, Hayer expressed concern over where to draw the line in placing too much value on something that is not real.

“We are already at the point where we all have a social profile where we identify ourselves in some form of social world,” Hayer said. 

“At the moment, we only have one screen, say an Instagram page. In the metaverse, we will be able to welcome our friends to our metaverse house to see how our friends live and dress.”

Jonah Brotman, 35, co-founder and CEO of Canada’s leading virtual reality (VR) services company House of VR, is proud to use his company’s reach to employ VR as a tool for empathy building in schools and communities.

Still, he is skeptical of the metaverse’s ethos. It’s being created by large companies for their own objectives, pushing young people to spend even more time on their screens than they already do.

“As Meta is growing, I worry that they are going to have in head-set advertisements at some point, and it would be terrible because you can’t look away,” Brotman said. 

When he founded the company in his early 30s he did not know the success it would see.

House of VR now leads diversity and inclusion workshops using VR devices, produces VR empathy films and does in school programming for education purposes.

“The scary tipping point will be when people find their virtual lives more enjoyable than their real lives,” Brotman said. “For many people in this world, that will not be that difficult. That is scary and the implications for that are really major.”

Brotman echoed Hayer’s belief that it is more intriguing to be in the metaverse with your friends, than passively scrolling with your thumb on a cell-phone.

Hayer cautioned users may come to enjoy VR more than their normal life.

“If this reaches a point where social media is today, what will you value more, your identity in the metaverse, or your identity in our real universe?” he asked. “The way I see the metaverse is that it is unstoppable at this point.”

Capacity for harm

Thea Berringer, 27, opened Colony VR in Ottawa in 2015 along with her parents and brother. The family’s vision was to host a community space to share their excitement about VR and offer the opportunity for groups to try out immersive experiences.

Echoing Brotman, Berringer explained VR is an empathy machine which allows people to fully immerse themselves in the perspectives of others.

“However, I also think the reverse is true. When you are getting rid of barriers, there is real risk of desensitization.” Berringer said.

“The abstraction of digital and real in VR is much slimmer,” she explained. “You are still touching someone’s body for example, even if you are not physically there.”

Sexual harassment was prevalent in Colony VR’s unique social settings. The conversation on consent became a routine need for teen parties held at Colony VR as sexual harassment of participants’ avatars was a daily occurrence.

Berringer, who now studies in the interaction, design and development program at Toronto’s George Brown College, explained a majority of those working in designing the infrastructure of VR are often male-presenting and white. This can inform the cultural and racial expressions they offer for the avatars that exist in the metaverse. This can also influence how the virtual infrastructure is coded, making it inaccessible to users who may not fit the coder’s own profile.

On top of this, Berringer is concerned about the loss of community spaces that are not privately owned. Can you loiter and just go for a walk in the metaverse, or do you always have to be consuming and engaging with something?

Since the pandemic began, her family business had to close its physical doors and now leads virtual workshops on VR for Ottawa based businesses.

Knowing about the shortfalls in VR regulation and ethics, Berringer was motivated to become an architect in the field and limit its capacity for harm.

What does this mean for the future?

Brotman pointed to the importance of QR codes during COVID-19 as an example of how quickly the metaverse is becoming a norm.

Hayer discusses the real-world applications of the metaverse.

“The goal is the blurring of digital and physical realities. It is going to happen,” Brotman said. “Right now technology is moving so fast. However far you think it is away, it will probably happen faster.”

Brotman wonders how his intrinsic desire to be outside and interact with other humans in person will mesh with the pull of the growing metaverse.

“If I’m totally honest, I am a little dystopian about it,” Brotman said. “I actually see more harm than good and that’s what concerns me.”

Despite some trepidation, Hayer is leaning in.

“People are starting to come around to the sense that it is here, especially because of COVID. This is the next step in terms of where technology takes us,” Hayer said.

There is a lot of cautiousness among his friends who are not already using it, while those who do are excited, he added. 

“This tells me that the more people use it, it will become mainstream quicker because the excitement will spread like wildfire.”