COVID update for Oct. 12: Novavax study shows booster effective against Omicron | COVID ramps up Canada’s nursing crisis

Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the coronavirus situation in B.C. and around the world.

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Here’s your update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for Oct. 12, 2022.

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We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly every day this week, with developments added as they happen, so be sure to check back often.

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You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.

Here are the latest weekly B.C. figures given on Oct. 6 for the week of Sept. 25-Oct. 1:

• Hospitalized cases: 369
• Intensive care: 29
• New cases: 697 over seven days ending Oct. 1
• Total number of confirmed cases: 385,599
• Total deaths over seven days ending Oct. 1: 19 (total 4,321)

Read the full report here | Next update: Oct. 13

Headlines at a glance

• Novavax says its booster showed strong antibody response against several Omicron variants
• Japan reopens to widespread tourism with shuttered shops, hotel staff shortages
• Canada’s nursing crisis is threatening to collapse the health-care system. Can it be fixed?
• China will persist with tough anti-COVID policies, saying in a CCP editorial ‘lying flat’ is inadvisable
• 2.8 million doses of the new Pfizer bivalent vaccine arrives in Canada next week
• B.C. to offer another bivalent vaccine as Health Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech’s version
• Nearly four million people in the U.S. got updated COVID shots last week: CDC
• Germany to burn almost 800 million unused masks
• B.C. reports 369 people are in hospital with COVID-19

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Latest News

Novavax says COVID booster dose shows benefit against Omicron variants

Novavax Inc said on Wednesday data from studies in adults and adolescents showed that the booster dose of its COVID vaccine produced robust antibodies against several Omicron variants, including BA.1, BA.2 and BA.5.

The data was from two studies – a late-stage study evaluating the booster in adults and adolescents who had received Novavax primary vaccination and another study testing it in those aged 18 to 49 who had received primary series of Novavax vaccine or other authorized or approved vaccines.

In the late-stage study, a single homologous booster dose significantly increased antibody levels against these variants relative to pre-boost levels, the company said.

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“These data are an early indication that our vaccine may be effective against variants such as Omicron,” Novavax executive Gregory M. Glenn said.

The company said ongoing trials are studying the efficacy of the vaccine against variants including BA.4 and BA.5.

— Reuters

Japan reopens to tourists with shuttered souvenir shops, hotel staff shortage

As Japan throws open its doors to visitors this week after more than two years of pandemic isolation, hopes for a tourism boom face tough headwinds amid shuttered shops and a shortage of hospitality workers.

From Tuesday, Japan will reinstate visa-free travel to dozens of countries, ending some of world’s strictest border controls to slow the spread of COVID-19. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to help invigorate the economy and reap some benefits from the yen’s slide to a 24-year low.

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Arata Sawa is among those eager for the return of foreign tourists, who previously comprised up to 90 per cent of the guests at his traditional inn.

— Reuters

Not ‘lying flat’: China to persist with tough anti-COVID policies

China will persist with its COVID-19 policies to guard against new coronavirus strains and the risks they bring, the official newspaper of the Communist Party warned in a commentary for the third straight day, crushing hopes of any near-term easing.

“Lying flat is not advisable, and to win (the COVID battle) while lying flat is not possible,” People’s Daily wrote on Wednesday, referring to a phrase in China that denotes doing nothing.

China has been grappling with a COVID resurgence after the National Day “Golden Week” holiday this month and the emergence of new Omicron subvariants, including the highly transmissible BF.7, days before a key Party congress where Xi Jinping is expected to extend his leadership.

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Some big cities, including Shanghai, have tightened preventive measures such as requiring residents to be tested for the virus more frequently. One city in southwest China has even offered cash rewards to residents who report on individuals attempting to conceal their travel histories.

— Reuters

‘I can’t do this anymore’: How to fix Canada’s nursing crisis

People banged pots and lids and cheered and whistled. They bought the nurses sandwiches and pizza and Starbucks gift cards and called them heroes. For many nurses, “hero” never sat well. They’re not heroes, or angels. Nursing is an art and a science. They chose it, and they did what they were trained to do: They went to work. They scrambled for masks and gowns and linens and IV tubing. They watched people die from a virus we didn’t understand, put breathing tubes down people’s throats to keep them alive, performed unprotected CPR when there was no time to fully gown up. The sick people kept coming, nurses became infected and it seemed the surges would never end: A brief reprieve, and then right back at it again. “We’re burning out,” the nurses warned. Is anyone listening?

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Read the full story here.

— Sharon Kirkey, National Post

Health officials hope new Omicron vaccine will improve uptake of boosters

The first doses of the most up-to-date vaccine for COVID-19 will start arriving in Canada next week after Health Canada gave the green light to the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot on Friday.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser, said the combination vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech that targets both the original coronavirus and the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of Omicron can now be offered to Canadians who at least 12 years old.

“If you are six months post any vaccine and COVID illness, then you should get your bivalent vaccine, you should get that booster,” Sharma said.

“And that’ll help you in terms of serious illness protection, but it will also give you some protection, especially in the short term against potentially getting infected with COVID.”

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This shot was authorized through a process similar to the one used for annual flu shots, which meant the approval could come much quicker. Sharma said the vaccine has already been given to nearly five million Americans and no safety signals have arisen.

Canadians can get the shot as early as three months after their most recent booster, but Sharma said she wouldn’t recommend doing it sooner than that. She said doses too close together can limit the effectiveness of the extra dose.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said 2.8 million doses of the new Pfizer booster will be shipped to Canada next week, and 11 million by the end of the year. Provincial governments will announce separately who will become eligible to get this shot and when.

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Combination vaccines, referred to as bivalent by vaccine makers, target more than one strain of the virus. Pfizer’s BA.4 and BA.5 boosters is the second bivalent authorized in Canada.

A Moderna booster approved five weeks ago targets the original virus and the first strain of the Omicron variant.

Sharma said there isn’t a lot of difference between the results of being boosted with one or the other, even though BA.4 and BA.5 are the dominant strains in circulation now.

Health Canada data show in mid September, 88 per cent of COVID-19 cases that were sequenced to identify the strain proved to be BA.5 and nine per cent were BA.4.

— The Canadian Press

China steps up anti-COVID measures in megacities as infections mount

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Shanghai and other big Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, have ramped up testing for COVID-19 as infections rise, with some local authorities hastily closing schools, entertainment venues and tourist spots.

Infections have risen to the highest since August, with the uptick coming after increased domestic travel during the National Day “Golden Week” earlier this month.

Authorities reported 2,089 new local infections for Oct. 10 on Tuesday, the most since Aug. 20.

— Reuters

B.C. to offer new Pfizer bivalent vaccine to those 12 and older

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry say the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine approved this week by Health Canada will be made available soon to anyone 12 and older in the province looking for a more robust COVID booster.

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“The updated vaccine targets the Omicron variant, as well as the original strain of the virus,” said the top provincial health officials in a joint statement.

“The Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine will be available to people 12 and older. The Moderna bivalent vaccine, which was approved on Sept. 1, 2022, is available to people 18 and older.

“Both bivalent vaccines induce a stronger, more robust immune response and provide better protection against the Omicron variant and subvariants.”

The bivalents will be the primary vaccines offered during the fall booster campaign. B.C. is expected to get more than 1.7 million doses of the Pfizer shot starting next week, and already has 1.4 million doses of the Moderna equivalent.

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Starting Oct. 11, both the COVID bivalents and flu shots will be available so people can get both in a single visit.

More on the new bivalent vaccines from Susan Lazaruk here.

— Joseph Ruttle

Health Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech BA.4/BA.5 Omicron vaccine

Health Canada says Canadians ages 12 and up can now be given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster vaccine that targets the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the Omicron variant.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Health Canada officials are scheduled to discuss the approval in detail later today.

The authorization says the vaccine can be given three to six months after a second dose of the primary vaccine series, or the most recent booster shot.

It is the second combination vaccine green-lighted by Health Canada’s vaccine review team, but the first that targets the virus strains that are now most common in Canada.

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The Moderna combination shot approved five weeks ago targets the original virus and the first Omicron variant, while the Pfizer shot authorized today targets the BA.4 and BA.5 strains.

Health Canada says 88 per cent of the COVID-19 cases identified in mid-September were BA.5 and nine per cent were BA.4.

— The Canadian Press

Nearly 4 million Americans received updated COVID boosters last week: CDC

Around 3.9 million people in the United States received updated COVID-19 booster shots over the past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

The CDC said a total of 11.5 million Americans had received the shot as of Oct. 5, the first five weeks the booster has been available. This is up from the 7.6 million people who received the shot as of Sept. 28.

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The 11.5-million figure represents only 5.3% of the 215.5 million people in the United States aged 12 or older who are eligible to receive the shots because they have completed their primary vaccination series.

The shots are being administered at a slower pace than last year, when the United States initially authorized COVID boosters just for older and immunocompromised people. Around 20 million people received their third shot in the first five weeks of that vaccination campaign.

A recent survey conducted by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States do not plan to get updated COVID-19 booster shots soon.

— Reuters

 Germany to burn almost 800 million unused COVID masks

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Germany is set to burn almost 800 million unused face masks purchased in the first months of the pandemic because they have passed their sell-by date.

Initial calls for tenders have been issued for candidates to “thermally dispose” of about 730 million surgical and 60 million FFP-2 expired medical face covers, the health ministry’s press service said on Friday, confirming an earlier report by Der Spiegel magazine. In addition, about 20% of masks procured since March 2020 were deemed to have quality defects, the ministry said.

Germany spent €6 billion ($5.9 billion) on face covers at the start of the pandemic, according to Spiegel. Former Health Minister Jens Spahn was criticized at the time for excessive procurement and for using personal connections to buy masks, steps he defended by citing major supply shortages and a desperation to obtain protective coverings swiftly.

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— Bloomberg

Hospitalizations with COVID-19 steady at 369

On Thursday, 369 people in B.C. hospitals tested positive for COVID-19, said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

The figure has remained steady since last Wednesday when 367 patients had COVID-19, a surge of 20 per cent from the previous week.

Health officials had warned of a rise in hospitalizations in the fall and winter due to COVID-19, influenza and other respiratory illnesses.

In its latest update, the BCCDC said there were 697 cases reported in Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, a slight increase compared to the 636 the previous week. This number is an undercount because of limited availability of PCR testing. It does not include rapid test results, which are more widely-used.

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Hospital admissions (185), critical care admissions (28), and deaths (19) are stable or lower than the previous week, said the agency.

There have been nearly 28,600 hospital admissions with COVID-19 in B.C. and 385,599 cases since the pandemic began. To date, there have been 4,321 deaths.

The province switched to a weekly reporting system in April. For a primer on how to interpret data in the BCCDC weekly reports, click here.

— Cheryl Chan

What are B.C.’s current public health measures?

MASKS: Masks are not required in public indoor settings though individual businesses and event organizers can choose to require them.Masks are also encouraged but not required on board public transit and B.C. Ferries, though they are still required in federally regulated travel space.

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GATHERINGS AND EVENTS: There are currently no restrictions on gatherings and events such as personal gatherings, weddings, funerals, worship services, exercise and fitness activities, and swimming pools.There are also no restrictions or capacity limits on restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs; and no restrictions on sport activities.

CARE HOMES: There are no capacity restrictions on visitors to long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, however, visitors must show proof of vaccination before visiting.

Exemptions are available for children under the age of 12, those with a medical exemption, and visitors attending for compassionate visits related to end-of-life. Visitors to seniors’ homes are also required to take a rapid antigen test before visiting the facility or be tested on arrival. Exemptions to testing are available for those attending for compassionate visits or end-of-life care.

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How do I get vaccinated in B.C.?

Everyone who is living in B.C. and eligible for a vaccine can receive one by following these steps:

• Get registered online at to book an appointment in your community.
• Or, if you prefer, you can get registered and then visit a drop-in clinic in your health authority.
• The system will alert you when it is time to go for your second dose.
• The same system will also alert you when it is time for your booster dose.

Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

TESTING CENTRES: B.C.’s COVID-19 test collection centres are currently only testing those with symptoms who are hospitalized, pregnant, considered high risk or live/work with those who are high risk. You can find a testing centre using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s testing centre map.

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If you have mild symptoms, you do not need a test and should stay home until your fever is gone. Those without symptoms do not need a test.

TAKE-HOME RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS: Eligible British Columbians over the age of 18 with a personal health number can visit a pharmacy to receive a free take-home test kit containing five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.

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