TORONTO — A single jab of COVID-19 vaccine appears to be highly effective, which could allow better use of scarce supplies and see more people immunized, federal and Quebec health officials said on Thursday.
Health authorities in Ottawa said experts were looking at whether one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be almost as good as the recommended two.
Canada's deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, called the data in a new Canadian-authored study compelling.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, two doctors say U.S. data indicate the vaccine to be 92 per cent effective against COVID-19 two weeks after just one dose. Original data suggested a first dose only offered about 52 per cent protection.
Co-author Dr. Gaston De Serres, with the Institut national de sante publique du Quebec, said preliminary data indicated a single dose given to health-care workers and long-term care residents in the province had been 80 per cent effective within two or three weeks.
De Serres and Dr. Danuta Skowronski, with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, said delaying second doses could allow more of the most vulnerable to be protected by giving them at least one shot.
Across Canada, COVID-19 has now killed 21,435 people out of 834,000 infections. Almost 33,000 people are currently infected, according to federal data.
Ontario reported another 44 pandemic-related deaths to bring its total to 6,773 and Quebec saw 10 more fatalities, bringing its total to 10, 268.
"It is important to remember that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19," the Public Health Agency of Canada said.
The misery inflicted by the pandemic beyond its rising death count was highlighted Thursday by a report showing record-setting job losses in the country's largest province last year, with young people hit hardest.
Ontario's fiscal watchdog said 355,000 jobs disappeared, while another 765,000 people had work hours cut. Youth unemployment jumped to 22 per cent.
The Canadian Labour Congress, noting many people were still out of work and facing an end to emergency benefits, called on Ottawa to provide extra weeks of aid beyond the maximum 26. Latest federal data show the Canada Recovery Benefit has paid out $9.88 billion in the $500-a-week aid to more than 1.7 million people in the past four months.
Despite mounting casualties, new cases of COVID-19 have plunged in recent weeks, prompting eased restrictions in many areas.
However, Ontario's health minister said the province was considering a plea from two hot spots — Toronto and Peel Region — to stay in lockdown for two more weeks.
The medical officers for the two areas have said lifting a stay-at-home order and other restrictions as scheduled next week could lead to more illness and death, particularly given the threat from new contagious variants.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, where a stubborn outbreak of coronavirus disease has hit the capital region, the mayor of a fly-in community expressed shock after a still unconfirmed case in his village.
Mayor Barry Andersen, of Makkovik on Labrador's north coast, said the case appeared to be related to medical travel to St. John's. Save for a few scattered cases, Labrador health officials have so far managed to keep the disease out of the region.
"Community members are taken aback," Andersen said.
Makkovik was one of the first places in the province to receive the Moderna vaccine and about 75 per cent of residents have received two doses.
Those able to receive their shots in Manitoba can now access proof of vaccinations to carry with them. People can retrieve their information on a government website and print it out while the province works toward the kind of formal vaccination cards available in British Columbia.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, meanwhile, said his government would compensate soon-to-reopen movie theatres barred from selling popcorn and other snacks as an anti-pandemic measure. Some cinemas have said they won't be viable without snack sales and won't reopen.
— With files from Mia Rabson and Jordan Press in Ottawa, Jacob Serebrin in Montreal, Sarah Smellie in St. John's, N.L., and Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press