Canada is a patchwork when it comes to the severity and prevalence of COVID-19. In Manitoba, Hajdu coordinates assistance for COVID-flooded hospitals. Meanwhile, the governments of British Columbia and Alberta plan to lift most restrictions very soon. Hajdu spoke to As it happens host Carol Off Thursday. Here is part of their conversation.
In British Columbia, we hear [provincial health officer] Bonnie Henry talks about “cuddle day” in July. And in Alberta, [Premier] Jason Kenney wants everything back to normal in Alberta by July 1, by the end of June. So what is your opening date for Canada?
I don’t really have a specific date, but I would say it’s really important that prime ministers and policymakers listen to the science tables on a slow and cautious reopening. What we don’t want to see is a resurgence of the virus in a way that cannot be controlled.
And we see the provinces fighting as we speak. I mean, as you know, Manitoba comes from received healthcare workers to support their strong push. Ontario received support. Alberta received support. And what we definitely want is to be able to make sure that we have enough people vaccinated so that when we have a COVID outbreak, we can quickly put out those flames.
We heard from doctors in Manitoba on this show who blame the province for not shutting down sooner, for sending mixed messages. And it is the same thing that we have heard in other provinces which have experienced difficulties, as you just mentioned. So why do you think the Canadian provinces have not been able to learn from the mistakes of others?
There is immense pressure for… decision-makers to open up. And we see this debate, you know, as soon as the number of cases starts to drop, of course various industries are eager to resume commercial activity. They can’t wait to get back to their lives. People are tired of public health measures.
But the challenge is that, of course, when we reopen too quickly, we are actually delaying the economic recovery of those regions and of Canada.
It sounds like you are suggesting that what these provinces have decided to do is political – not based on science, but based on politics.
I can’t really make that decision because I’m not at their particular science tables. But I will say that [chief public health officer] Dr. [Theresa] Tam made it very clear that what we really should be doing is a slow and careful reopening.
You are right now call on provinces to start sharing unused doses of AstraZeneca before they expire. … Won’t our name be mud in the world if we let this happen?
I have worked with my provincial and territorial colleagues over the past few months to ensure that they intend to use all of the doses we have given them as effectively as possible. And we talk about it regularly at the health ministers’ table. And yes, I just sent them a letter reminding them that we have significant federal resources to get those doses to the provinces and territories that can use them.
People are reluctant because of all the mixed messages they’ve had about the AstraZeneca vaccine.… The Prime Minister was telling Canadians that you should just take the first one [vaccine] you can, and he’s ready to have that. He wants the second dose to be AstraZeneca. But at the same time we heard the Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on [Immunization] saying that she wouldn’t recommend it to her own family. And you said, well you should just take your doctors advice [about] what you should take.
I understand the communication was confusing, but in fact what we were talking about and what NACI was talking about was, a) doctors and immunizers know your own personal risk factors and, in fact, screen them in a meaningful way and are the best people to advise you on what an appropriate vaccination plan is for you and your own family.
And second, that AstraZeneca poses a very rare risk of blood clotting in very specific circumstances, and that as COVID goes down and all of our communities, of course, the [relative] the risk of side effect increases due to the fact that there is less COVID in the communities.
People came together to take AstraZeneca – and 2.3 million Canadians did, including me and the Prime Minister, as you pointed out – because we wanted … first, to protect ourselves, and we wanted to be part of our community’s work to protect against the spread of COVID. And I want to thank all Canadians who have done this.
Are you saying we misunderstood this? Because the provinces certainly thought it was a pretty big risk stop giving it to people [for their first doses].
No, what I’m saying is what we don’t see at all is reluctance among Canadians. In fact, according to a recent poll, 88% 100 of Canadians have received the first vaccine or are planning to be vaccinated. And I think it’s because they know that Canada, the provinces and the territories take people’s health very seriously.
Obviously, we are constantly monitoring the safety signals for all vaccines, and we will not hesitate to be transparent with Canadians when the science changes, when the approaches change.
So why are the vaccines going to expire and the refrigerators in a few days then?
The first doses have been withheld in many provinces and territories, and the provinces and territories are deliberating on what to do about the second doses.
We know that the risk of a blood clot with the second doses is much, much lower than with the first doses. Provinces and territories are therefore awaiting further advice from NACI on the potential for dose mixing, whether or not to proceed with AstraZeneca for second doses.
Many provinces have started. Ontario has started, as you know, to offer second doses of AstraZeneca to some of the first people to accept AstraZeneca in March. And that’s good news.
Can you understand, however, how confusing it can be? You said people can get their doctor’s advice. A lot of people don’t even have a doctor. How can people sort this out if they don’t have that kind of advice?
I think that question, you know, kind of implies that pharmacists and public health authorities who also help with vaccination are obviously not doing screening. Of course they are.
Pharmacists, public health officials, all immunizers are well equipped to ask questions, to determine people’s health records, to be able to understand whether the vaccination that is offered to that person is appropriate for the situation of that person. nobody.
And I have to thank all these immunizers. I mean, we see GPs, like I said, pharmacies – who have actually vaccinated people [for years] with influenza and other vaccinations – public health officials who are often at the forefront of vaccination campaigns.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview conducted by Kevin Robertson. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.