Ontario will be pausing the rollout and administration of first doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, effective Tuesday, due to concerns over rare but potentially fatal blood clots.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, made the announcement at a news conference on Tuesday. He said the decision was made out of an abundance of caution because of increased instances of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).
In Canada, at least 12 cases of VITT have been confirmed out of more than two million doses given. Three women have died in connection with the condition. Ontario said it has 49,280 doses of the shot remaining in the province out of more than 707,000 received.
Ontario is preparing guidance for people who already received a first dose of AstraZeneca on what to do next, Williams said. He stressed that AstraZeneca recipients made the right decision, based on the advice available at the time, to get that vaccine.
Williams also said Ontario made the decision, in part, because of an "increased and reliable" supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and a continued downward trend in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Jessica Hopkins, the chief health protection and emergency preparedness officer for Public Health Ontario, stressed that VITT remains very rare.
"This is really out of an abundance of precaution," she said. "And that's why we have a vaccine safety surveillance system, to identify these early signals that relate to safety and take action on them."
Earlier, the province reported 2,073 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 1,783, with 802 people in ICU due to COVID-related illness.
Ontario, along with other provinces, is awaiting results of a clinical trial in the United Kingdom looking at giving a different vaccine for the second dose.
That would allow people who got AstraZeneca first to be given vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second dose.
Ontario's move comes hours after Alberta said it won't give out more first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being because there aren't any confirmed shipments coming. Alberta's existing supply of AstraZeneca will be used as second doses, the provincial health department confirmed on Tuesday.
The province reported 1,449 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and three related deaths. Premier Jason Kenney, meanwhile, told a news conference that Alberta expects to administer its two-millionth vaccine dose tomorrow.
What's happening across Canada
As of 7:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 1,299,584 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 78,043 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 24,714.
As more questions emerge about when and how provinces will reopen, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a cautious note at a briefing on Tuesday. Trudeau said cases are still "too high" in many parts of the country, noting that hospitals in those areas are "under incredible pressure."
The prime minister said there is hope as more people get doses of COVID-19 vaccines — but even with more vaccinations, restrictions are still needed.
"We can't ease public health restrictions until cases are way down," he said, noting that more screening, testing and contact tracing are critical.
"We need to successfully limit community transmission."
Trudeau also said that at least 75 per cent of eligible Canadians should have had their first vaccine dose, echoing a figure put forward previously by Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.
"And we need to keep ramping up those second doses."
In Quebec, there were 660 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Tuesday and nine additional deaths. The update came as the province's health minister, Christian Dubé, called on young adults to get vaccinated in an open letter published Tuesday, on the eve of appointments opening to those 25 and older.
The province is also lifting emergency measures in the Outaouais region on Monday, May 17. Premier François Legault says schools in that region — located in the western part of the province near the border with Ontario — will reopen, the curfew will be pushed back to 9:30 p.m. from 8 p.m. and non-essential businesses can reopen.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 118 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. Earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador reported 15 new cases and no additional deaths, while New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.
Manitoba reported 329 new COVID-19 cases and no related deaths on Tuesday. The province also dropped the age of eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine to 24 and older, the fifth time it has been lowered in the last week and one day after dropping it to 30.
Saskatchewan reported 186 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and four related deaths. Beginning Wednesday morning, the province is lowering the age eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to 26 and older. This applies to all immunization clinics, including booked appointments; drive-thru, walk-in or mobile clinics; and pharmacies.
Labour Minister Harry Bains introduced the legislation on Tuesday. The new program includes part- and full-time workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who need time off in order to self-isolate.
A statement said employers will be required to pay workers their full wages. The government will reimburse employers without an existing sick-leave program up to $200 per day for each worker absent.
WorkSafeBC will begin administering the program in June. It will be in effect until Dec. 31.
In the North, Nunavut was the first territory to provide updated information on Tuesday, reporting 14 additional cases.
Nunavut is announcing 14 new cases & 9 recoveries of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> today. There are 75 active cases in the territory- all in Iqaluit. <br> <br>To date, 16,471 Nunavummiut have their 1st dose of Moderna & 12,931 are fully vaccinated. There have been 116 recoveries since this outbreak began. <a href="https://t.co/Td2zCv7H3Q">pic.twitter.com/Td2zCv7H3Q</a>
Yukon reported two new confirmed cases on Tuesday, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. In the Northwest Territories, the COVID-19 outbreak linked to N.J. Macpherson School in Yellowknife grew by 10 cases.
What's happening around the world
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 159 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according a tracking tool from Johns Hopkins University that looks at the novel coronavirus around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.3 million.
India's coronavirus crisis showed scant signs of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a new high and international health authorities warning that the country's variant of the virus poses a global concern.
India's daily COVID-19 cases rose by 329,942, while deaths from the disease rose by 3,876, according to the Health Ministry.
The World Health Organization said the coronavirus variant first identified in the country last year was being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.
Nations around the globe have sent oxygen cylinders and other medical gear to support India's crisis, but many hospitals across the country are struggling with a shortage of the life-saving equipment.
Canada on Tuesday sent a plane carrying additional ventilators to India. Canada, which has also contributed to funds aimed at supporting the COVID-ravaged nation, has already sent hundreds of ventilators, pharmaceuticals and other aid to the country.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia imposed a new nationwide lockdown as the country grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases and highly infectious variants.
In Africa, Sudan is struggling to provide hospital beds, drugs and medical oxygen to COVID-19 patients hit by a third wave of infections.
In the Americas, U.S. regulators authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12 and said they could begin receiving shots as soon as Thursday, widening the inoculation program as vaccination rates have slowed significantly.
In Europe, as strict lockdowns are loosened across the region and many EU citizens dream about holidays in the sun, the 27-nation bloc has yet to agree on how to quickly implement a virus certificate scheme to boost summer travel and tourism.
Belgium, for example, plans to ease nearly all lockdown measures beginning June 9, provided the country's vaccination campaign keeps up its momentum and the number of people in intensive care units remains under 500, the government said on Tuesday.
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have established a travel corridor for tourists who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Gulf sheikhdoms jointly announced Monday that fully vaccinated travellers will be able to fly between the countries without having to undergo mandatory quarantines. The deal starts with Eid al-Fitr, one of Islam's biggest holidays, at the end of this week. Travellers must demonstrate their vaccine status with approved COVID-19 health pass apps.
With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters and The Associated Press
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