Exhausted PSWs feel underpaid, lack of respect. One says they’re seen as ‘the cockroaches of health care’

Understaffing and burnout among personal support workers (PSWs) in the Hamilton area started well before the pandemic, but has been exacerbated by its demands. Many also feel there’s a lack of respect for the profession.

Personal support workers say their workplaces were plagued by understaffing and burnout before COVID-19, but the pandemic has made things worse. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

For one personal support worker at a nursing home in Ontario’s Norfolk County, each day is a blur. There should be at least six PSWs on each floor where she works, but many days, there are only three or four.

“We are always short-staffed … It means the residents don’t get the proper care they deserve,” said the worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. “You’re rushing through to get them up for breakfast, up for lunch… You are so busy and you’re running off your feet all day. By the end of the day, I have nothing left. 

“It’s heartbreaking because they’re [like] your family, and you’d never want to come home and do that to your family.”

PSWs are burned out from intense physical work in understaffed units — a problem that started well before the pandemic, but has been exacerbated by its demands, say two local PSWs who spoke with CBC Hamilton.

It’s a problem that has serious consequences for the people they care for and the workers themselves, says Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care advocate and researcher who teaches at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa.

“There’s been neglect in this system for decades and it is progressively getting worse,” she said, noting 13 PSWs have died in Ontario during the pandemic. “Who wants to work in a position where you can’t win? 

“These workers went through hell during the first and second waves.” Then many of them said, “‘To hell with it, I’m working at Starbucks.'”

No luck complaining to management

The Norfolk PSW, who works in a publicly owned facility, says she’s expressed her concerns about the working environment to management, with no luck.

“If we have a complaint about something, we’re always being shipped to the next person,” she said. “We don’t have the support we need from our nursing staff, and from management, we don’t have the support we deserve… It’s almost the norm now where you know when you walk in, it’s going to be [awful]. You shouldn’t have to feel that way.”

At age 39, she said, the stress on her body from doing more than her share of work is catching up to the mental and emotional stress she deals with daily.

“You’re constantly bending, rolling, lifting, pushing heavy wheelchairs,” she said, adding, “A lot of people around the 10-year mark seem to change careers.”

Hospital PSWs also facing burnout

Jen Cuthbert, a PSW at Brantford General Hospital, said her colleagues in the hospital system are feeling the stress of low staffing levels.

“Burnout is huge,” she said. “We already started out [before COVID] with a shortage of staff.”

On the mid-July day when she spoke with CBC Hamilton, Cuthbert had just finished working weekend shifts where her team was short two staff members. 

“You’re starting with the bare minimum, and as soon as you have a sick call, you’re bailing water,” she said, noting at night on her floor, there’s only one PSW on shift for 25 rehab patients. “Lately, it’s just been wild at night… Our facility has started hiring clinical aides, which are PSW and nursing students who are not accredited yet… But we’re still short.”

LTC residents get about 2½ hours of care per day

Stamatopoulos said that because of chronic understaffing, long-term care residents in Ontario get an average of about 2.5 hours of help per day, while experts in the field recommend between five and seven hours. The Ontario government has promised to implement a four-hour daily care standard over several years, but Stamatopoulos says it should happen right away in order to force homes to hire more people.

As a community, you always are ‘just’ a PSW. I had so many family members tell me that several times in the past couple weeks. It’s a lack of respect.– Jen Cuthbert

A provincial study released last summer reported 50 per cent of PSWs leave health care within five years, and 43 per cent leave long-term care because of burnout from “working short.”

The province recently launched an initiative to train up to 8,200 new PSWs, but Stamatopoulos said it’s unlikely they will stay in the job long without more systemic changes.

Cuthbert isn’t surprised people are leaving, and said part of the reason is a lack of respect of the work done by PSWs, both in some workplaces and society as a whole. 

‘We’re the cockroaches of health care’

“We’re the cockroaches of health care… Or ants, or aphids even,” she said. “We are seen as uneducated, sometimes lazy… not very dedicated and not open to ideas or science.

“As a community, you always are ‘just’ a PSW. I had so many family members tell me that several times in the past couple weeks. It’s a lack of respect.”

Cuthbert and the Norfolk worker both say they see that lack of respect in the recent public discussions about whether PSWs should be forced to get vaccinated. Both are vaccinated themselves, but said many peers feel strongly that vaccination is a personal choice, and could take forced vaccination as the final straw that pushes them out of the industry.

“We’re not paid exactly well,” says Cuthbert. “The amount of risk in our job is relatively high. I feel it does infringe on our rights because they are now taking away a choice.”

Vaccines still controversial topic among PSWs

The Norfolk worker, who believes fewer than half of her colleagues are vaccinated, said it can be hard to talk about it at work.

“We try not to talk about it too much because it just gets everyone worked up,” she said. “Some say it’s their personal choice. They don’t get the flu shot, so why would they get this? Others say it came too fast and they don’t trust it. Others don’t want it because they just don’t want it … If I didn’t work where I work, I probably wouldn’t have been vaccinated.”

Provincewide, vaccination rates among PSWs have seen a significant increase in recent weeks. As of Monday, 93 per cent of long-term care home staff had received their first dose, with approximately 88 per cent having two, according to the Ministry of Long-Term Care. On May 31, only 66 per cent had two doses, while 89 per cent had one shot.

Ian da Silva, director of operations for the Ontario PSW Association, said the remaining hesitancy and longstanding burnout may be linked.

“You’re talking about an extremely overworked workforce that may have a few minutes a day to watch the news,” he said. “Where are they getting their information from?”


Heat waves are increasing across Canada — and hotter nights are also dangerous

As Earth warms, Canada is facing not only more frequent heat waves, but higher nighttime temperatures. That combination is potentially deadly.

Heat waves are increasing in most parts of the world, and Canada is no exception. Rising nighttime temperatures can have deadly consequences. (Shutterstock/Edmund O’Connor)

When it comes to climate change, there is one fairly well-understood extreme that will affect humans in the decades to come: heat.  

Scientists know that climate change will see events like hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves increase in frequency or intensity. But when it comes to heat waves in particular, it’s already being seen across the world with deadly consequences. According to a recent study published in the journal The Lancet, more than five million deaths annually between 2000 and 2019 were associated with “non-optimal temperatures,” with roughly 500,000 of these deaths related to heat. 

While many of these deaths occur in tropical countries, heat waves are beginning to affect more northerly climes.

During the heat wave that suffocated British Columbia at the end of June into the first week of July, more than 800 people (as of this writing) died in the province. For comparison, in the same period last year, there were 232 deaths, according to B.C. Coroners Service’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jatinder Baidwan. The coroner’s office is continuing to investigate all of the deaths in order to nail down exactly how many were heat-related.

A man leaves a community centre in Toronto during a heat wave earlier this month. Some cities have been opening cooling centres during heat waves for people who do not have access to air conditioning. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

While we know that daytime temperatures are rising, in some regions — specifically in parts of Ontario and Quebec — nighttime temperatures are warming faster

Those warmer nights mean our bodies don’t have any time to cool off. For people with health issues like heart disease or asthma, for example, this can be extremely problematic and potentially deadly.

“Our bodies were not designed to put up with environmental heats that exceed the high 30s,” Baidwan said. “If you think about it, what happens to an air conditioning unit? When you stress it, it builds up with lots of ice on the outside and then it stops working. And in some ways that’s a great analogy for what happens to our bodies. With extreme heat, we just find it really hard to do the usual homeostatic sort of mechanisms and protocols that happen in our body.”

WATCH | How can we better prepare our homes and buildings for rising temperatures?

After a record-breaking heat wave in B.C., experts weigh in on long-term and efficient infrastructure solutions. 5:59

The heat wave that affected the Pacific Northwest was highly unusual — a one in 1,000-year occurrence, according to a recent analysis by the group World Weather Attribution, a collection of scientists who analyze severe weather events. However, parts of eastern Canada, including Ontario and Quebec, are seeing more frequent heat waves and tropical nights, defined as nighttime temperatures 20 C or higher. 

For example, according to the Climate Atlas of Canada, the number of tropical nights in Toronto averaged roughly 6.9 annually from 1976 to 2005. With climate change, under a scenario where carbon emissions decline substantially, that is expected to climb to 17.6 annually from 2021 to 2050.

If current rates of carbon emissions continue, the average number of tropical nights in Toronto is expected to hit 20.6 annually from 2021 to 2050. From 2051 to 2080, under the two different scenarios for emissions, the average number would rise to 26.4 and 42.8 respectively.

In 2018, a heat wave blanketed Montreal from June 29 to July 5; temperatures averaged roughly 34 C during the day. Nighttime temperatures didn’t fall below 20 C. In all, 66 people died.

“We’re seeing an increase in hot extremes in Canada that’s larger than the global mean warming,” said Nathan Gillet, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “The average warming in Canada is about twice the global mean warming. And the heat extremes are also increasing at a similar rate. And it’s not just the hottest, maximum temperatures, but the minimum temperatures, the nighttime minimums that are also increasing.”

Widespread effects on nature

Average temperatures in Canada have already warmed by 1.7 C and the country is warming at more than twice the rate of the planet. 

Increasing heat waves with higher-than-average temperatures during days and nights are also taking a toll on animals and delicate ecosystems, as well as crops.

A study published in the journal Global Change Biology last October found that nighttime temperatures are rising across most of the world. In those areas that saw more nighttime temperature warming than daytime, there was more cloud cover, higher precipitation and more humidity. This can affect nocturnal animals, but also animals that are active during the day who use the cooler nighttime temperatures to recover from heat stress.

Dead fish are seen floating in Alberta’s Pembina River. The fish are thought to have died due to the heat wave across Alberta that resulted in low oxygen in rivers and lakes earlier this month. (Stephanie Coombs/CBC)

“[The changes] increase the boundaries at which nocturnal species can operate. So you may get shifts in ranges, which then messes up ecosystems from changing competition and changing predation/prey relationships, and things like that,” said Daniel Cox, lead author of the study and a research associate in the U.K. at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute.

A new set of metrics

With the changing climate, governments are finding they need a new set of metrics for severe heat events. 

In 2013, Australia added new colours to their heat maps, as temperatures soared beyond anything they’d experienced in the past.

More recently, on Tuesday, the U.K. Met Office issued its first Amber Extreme Heat Warning as temperatures were forecast to rise to the 30s in parts of the country. Daytime temperatures in the 30s may not seem high compared to some parts of Canada but it’s all about what people are accustomed to. 

This is how all the Junes since 1880 stack up.

This is Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly compared to the long term average 1951-1980. pic.twitter.com/97Bn0SnuGn


In another example of how governments are attempting to adapt to a warming climate, a team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Quebec, together with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) announced on Wednesday that a new heat wave warning threshold for the province should be introduced. Quebec’s warm seasons, researchers said, are starting earlier and ending later. 

As Earth continues to warm, air conditioning may seem like a possible solution. The problem is that energy is needed to operate them, and this also produces heat. And cities create “heat islands” where heating is further amplified by  concrete structures, adding more stress to people who are living in a hotter climate. Some cities like Toronto and Montreal are trying to introduce greener building codes and designs to address this. 

“[Heat waves aren’t] something we think about as a big hazard in Canada, but as the climate warms, we’re going to see this more and more,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Gillet. “Heat waves cause deaths and and are dangerous. And yeah, it is something … that we’re going to see more and more here in Canada.”


Two doses of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 shots effective against delta variant, study finds

Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccines are nearly as effective against the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant as they are against the previously dominant alpha variant, a new study shows.

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Manila on July 15. Two doses of that shot or AstraZeneca-Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccines are nearly as effective against the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant as they are against the previously dominant alpha variant, a new study shows. (AFP/Getty Images)

Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccines are nearly as effective against the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant as they are against the previously dominant alpha variant, a new study shows.

Officials say vaccines are highly effective against the delta variant, now the dominant variant worldwide — though the study reiterated that one shot of the vaccines is not enough for high protection.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, confirms headline findings given by Public Health England (PHE) in May about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, based on real-world data.

The research team found that two doses of Pfizer’s shot was 88 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic disease from the delta variant, compared to 93.7 per cent effective against the alpha variant, broadly the same as previously reported.

Two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine were 67 per cent effective against the delta variant, up from 60 per cent originally reported, and 74.5 per cent effective against the alpha variant, compared to an original estimate of 66 per cent effectiveness.

“Only modest differences in vaccine effectiveness were noted with the delta variant as compared with the Alpha variant after the receipt of two vaccine doses,” PHE researchers wrote in the study.

The research didn’t look at the effectiveness of mixing brands for different doses, though ongoing U.K. research has shown the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines appear to generate a stronger immune response than having two rounds of the AstraZeneca shot.

WATCH | Delta variant a ‘dangerous’ virus, says WHO:

The World Health Organization says the trajectory for the COVID-19 delta variant in some countries is almost ‘vertical’ and warns that even partially vaccinated countries are at great risk because of its high transmissibility. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters) 0:56

High protection against severe disease

Data from Israel has estimated lower effectiveness of Pfizer’s shot against symptomatic disease, although protection against severe disease remains high.

PHE had previously said that a first dose of either vaccine was around 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the delta variant.

The full study also found that one dose of Pfizer’s shot was 36 per cent effective, and one dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine was around 30 per cent effective.

“Our finding of reduced effectiveness after the first dose would support efforts to maximize vaccine uptake with two doses among vulnerable groups in the context of circulation of the delta variant,” the authors of the study said.

‘All signs’ point to delta taking over

Hamilton-based immunologist Matthew Miller, a McMaster University professor and member of school’s Immunology Research Centre, called it a “strong study.”

“I think it is really important, especially in the Canadian context right now, because all signs are pointing to delta rapidly taking over as the main variant circulating,” he added.

Miller also noted the high level of effectiveness of two vaccines in the study, both of which have been used in Canada, is a good sign for the country moving forward.

“If we can continue our momentum and get second doses into people as we move into the end of July and August, we’re really setting ourselves up for success in the fall and winter where, by necessity, people have to be indoors more,” he said.


China uninterested in WHO plan for further COVID-19 origins study

China cannot accept the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said Thursday.

Above, security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Wuhan, China in February 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

China cannot accept the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said Thursday.

Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the National Health Commission, said he was “rather taken aback” that the plan includes further investigation of the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab.

He dismissed the lab leak idea as a rumour that runs counter to common sense and science.

“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan,” he said at a news conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.

Liang Wannian, the Chinese co-leader of the joint China-WHO investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, speaks at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday. Chinese officials dismiss the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

The search for where the virus came from has become a diplomatic issue that has fuelled China’s deteriorating relations with the U.S. and many American allies. The U.S. and others say that China has not been transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic. China accuses critics of seeking to blame it for the pandemic and politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.

The Biden administration in a statement Thursday criticized China’s rejection of WHO’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19.

“We are deeply disappointed. Their position is irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous,” the White House said. “Alongside other member states around the world, we continue to call for China to provide the needed access to data and samples. And this is critical so we can understand to prevent the next pandemic. This is about saving lives in the future, and it’s not a time to be stonewalling.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, acknowledged last week that there had been a “premature push” after the first phase of the study to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019.

Most experts don’t think a lab leak is the likely cause. The question is whether the possibility is so remote that it should be dropped, or whether it merits further study.

WATCH Vanity Fair reporter on their investigative piece on the lab-leak theory:

Vanity Fair contributing editor Katherine Eban talks about her months-long investigation into the emergence of the lab-leak theory, why it was dismissed for months, and how efforts to probe it were suppressed within parts of the U.S. government. 6:47

The first phase was conducted earlier this year by an international team of scientists who came to Wuhan to work with their Chinese counterparts. The team was accused of bowing to demands from the Chinese side after it initially indicated that further study wasn’t necessary.

Zeng said the Wuhan lab has no virus that can directly infect humans and noted that the WHO team concluded that a lab leak was highly unlikely. He added that speculation that staff and graduate students at the lab had been infected and might have started the spread of the virus in the city was untrue.

Lab director denies designing novel coronavirus

Yuan Zhiming, the director of the biosafety lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said they had not stored or studied the new coronavirus before the outbreak.

“I want to emphasize that … the Wuhan Institute of Virology has never designed, made or leaked the novel coronavirus,” he said.

The WHO team concluded that the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans, probably from bats to an intermediate animal. The experts visited markets in Wuhan that had sold live animals, and recommended further study of the farms that supplied the market.

“In the next step, I think animal tracing should still be the priority direction. It is the most valuable field for our efforts,” Liang Wannian, who headed the Chinese side, said at Thursday’s news conference.

WATCH Fauci, Sen. Rand Paul angrily clash July 20 over U.S. funding of research:

At one point saying ‘you do not know what you are talking about,’ a frustrated Dr. Anthony Fauci debated the origins of the coronavirus with Sen. Rand Paul at a Senate committee in Washington. 3:27

Tedros said last week that he hoped for better co-operation and access to data from China. “We are asking China to be transparent, open and co-operate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for in the early days of the pandemic,” he said.

His words were echoed at the same virtual news conference by Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, who called on China to intensify co-operation in the search for the origin of the virus.

Zeng said China has always supported “scientific virus tracing” and wants to see the study extended to other countries and regions. “However, we are opposed to politicizing the tracing work,” he said.

China has frequently sought to deflect accusations that the pandemic originated in Wuhan and was allowed to spread by early bureaucratic missteps and an attempted coverup.

Day 610:27Why scientists are reconsidering the lab leak theory in their determination to understand COVID-19’s origins

This week, U.S. President Joe Biden publicly asked intelligence officials to step up their efforts to identify the source of the COVID-19 outbreak, reinvigorating a longstanding public and scientific debate about whether the virus could have leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China. The so-called lab leak theory is controversial, but scientists say it cannot be definitively ruled out. Freelance science journalist Grace Niewijk tells us why the lab leak theory has been getting so much attention lately and why figuring out how the outbreak began is so important to scientists. 10:27

Government spokespersons have called for an investigation into whether the virus might have been produced in a U.S. military laboratory, a theory not widely shared in the scientific community.

China has largely ended local transmission of COVID-19 through lockdowns and mask-wearing requirements, and has now administered more than 1.4 billion doses of Chinese vaccines. Just 12 new domestically spread cases were reported Thursday and China says its death toll from the virus has remained unchanged for months at 4,636.


Vaccine hesitancy, rising R-value mean Alberta can’t let up on pandemic fight, expert says

A rising R-value for COVID-19 in Alberta coupled with a stubborn and country-leading rate of vaccine hesitancy are two signs that the province’s battle to beat back the pandemic still has hurdles to overcome, says a Calgary infectious diseases expert.

A health-care provider performs a COVID-19 test in this undated handout photo. (Alberta Health Services)

A rising R-value for COVID-19 in Alberta coupled with a stubborn and country-leading rate of vaccine hesitancy are two signs that the province’s battle to beat back the pandemic still has hurdles to overcome, says a Calgary infectious diseases expert.

Alberta’s provincewide R-value — which represents the number of people infected by each infected person — rose to 0.84 from July 5 to July 11.

That’s up from the period before that, when the R-value was 0.75. The rate is calculated once every two weeks. 

Meanwhile, a poll released Wednesday by the Angus Reid Institute suggests that vaccine hesitancy is more common in Alberta than in the rest of the country.

The survey found that one in five Albertans remain disinclined to get a shot — twice the national average. 

“We absolutely need to get a better push on vaccine uptake,” said Craig Jenne, an associate professor at the University of Calgary in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases.

“We actually rank dead last in Canada, among all provincial and territorial jurisdictions, for vaccination. So we have the lowest vaccine rate in the country.”

According to the poll, in B.C. the hesitancy rate is 12 per cent, and in Ontario and Quebec it’s just nine per cent.

“Hesitancy appears to be a more significant problem regionally, jumping to 22 per cent of the population in Alberta, and 15 per cent each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” the institute’s poll report said.

The institute noted that hesitancy has declined in both Alberta and Saskatchewan since the beginning of the year, when the rate was 45 per cent in Alberta and 26 per cent in its eastern neighbour.

Jenne says vaccine hesitancy has always been a phenomenon in Alberta, leading in the past to vaccine preventable outbreaks of such things as whooping cough.

“So this a barrier in Alberta that we have to continue to work to reduce,” he said.

And while there are some encouraging trends — such as continued relatively low daily case counts and hospitalizations currently below 100 — there are other troubling trends, Jenne said.

One key metric, the positivity rate — the percentage of positive tests from the number of total tests on a given day — had been heading downward steadily since the spring. But it had climbed to 1.4 per cent by Wednesday.

On July 10, it had fallen to just 0.50 per cent, the lowest it had been since last summer.

And while daily case counts remain relatively low, they’re now creeping upward after hovering in the low 30s for several days. There were 69 new cases reported Tuesday.

“It does look like the virus is beginning to spread again. And this is something that is somewhat concerning, and definitely something that we have to keep our eye on and be ready to respond to,” Jenne said.

“And I’m not advocating for closures, or lockdowns, but we have to look and say, if we’re seeing the bulk of viral transmission occurring in this particular segment, or this activity, are there any things we can do to help reduce that.… They don’t have to be black-and-white, absolute restrictions.”

Jenne said it is also a concern that serology reports indicated during the third wave that only three to four per cent of Albertans had been exposed to the virus.

Craig Jenne is an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

“So that still suggests that of that unvaccinated group, there’s very little protection there. 

If all of the hospitalizations we’ve seen, all of the loss of life was really only coming from infecting four or five per cent of Albertans, we still have 40 per cent almost with no vaccine protection,” he said.

“So we have to be careful that those people are still somehow protected from the virus even if they’re not vaccinated, and the only way to do that is to keep the numbers of cases low.”

Vaccine passports

The Angus Reid Institute poll also asked respondents whether they supported the idea of vaccine passports to certify that a person has been inoculated in order to attend certain events, travel, or to go back to work. 

“A majority of Albertans are supportive of this type of policy for air travel, but less so for domestic application,” the institute said in its poll. 

While 77 per cent of people in Ontario and 83 of Quebecers said they’d support vaccine passports to board a commercial flight, only 55 per cent of Alberta respondents approved of the idea. 

And just 43 per cent of Albertans said they’d be willing to show proof of vaccination to go to work, compared with 64 per cent among Ontario respondents and 61 per cent of respondents nationally.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted its online survey from July 9 to 13 among a representative randomized sample of 2,040 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum.

Online surveys do not have a margin of error that can be accurately calculated. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The margin of error is larger when looking at provincial-level results.


Demand for COVID-19 vaccines dropping in Canada — and some fear it could mean tossed doses

Canada’s demand for COVID-19 vaccines is slowly dropping, experts say, and they warn those waiting to see whether cases spike before getting their jabs are wasting time the body needs to build sufficient immunity.

A woman exits a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal on July 17. More and more Canadians are signing on to get their shots, but the pace of Canada’s vaccine roll-out has slowed recently. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC News/Radio-Canada)

Canada’s demand for COVID-19 vaccines is slowly dropping, experts say, and they warn that those waiting to see whether cases spike before getting their jabs are wasting time the body needs to build sufficient immunity.

Less than one per cent of Canadians were vaccinated per day over the last week, a decrease from the record-high daily rate of 1.44 at the end of June, according to Our World in Data, which is supported by a research team based at the University of Oxford.

A vaccine tracker created by a University of Saskatchewan student also shows daily average first doses have dropped to fewer than 40,000 from roughly 96,000 a month ago.

A drop is to be expected, since 80 per cent of the eligible population already has at least one dose and close to 60 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Canada’s vaccine uptake and rate of vaccination is still among the highest in the world — France is vaccinating 0.92 per cent of its population per day while the United Kingdom is at 0.34.

Concern over variant spread 

But Kelly Grindrod, a pharmacy professor at the University of Waterloo, says a slowing rate is concerning, and the spread of new variants means more Canadians need to be fully protected to mitigate future outbreaks.

Grindrod pointed to countries with high vaccine uptake, including the U.K. and the Netherlands, that are seeing new infection waves, largely hitting unvaccinated populations.

“We’re in a very difficult stage of apathy, where people don’t think they’re at risk,” Grindrod said. “But … there’s a real concern that if you wait until the numbers go up to get vaccinated, it’s too late.”

WATCH | Canada needs to increase COVID-19 vaccinations, experts say:

Canada has edged ahead of the U.S. for per capita COVID-19 vaccinations, but experts warn the uptake needs to increase for better community protection. 1:59

Some Canadians wary of Moderna, mixing doses

Grindrod said some of the slowdown might have to do with people delaying second doses when offered a Moderna shot, preferring to wait for Pfizer-BioNTech instead.

Even waiting a few days delays protection, Grindrod said, as immune systems require two weeks after a second dose to build optimal levels of antibodies. Anyone still waiting for their first jab must wait another four weeks for their second dose, putting themselves at an even greater disadvantage.

Concern over mixing Pfizer and Moderna shots appears to be driving some hesitancy, she said. Though experts have repeatedly said the two mRNA jabs are interchangeable, there is still confusion.

Mixing mRNA vaccines became more widespread in Canada last month, when delayed Pfizer shipments coincided with an influx of Moderna doses.

Toronto pharmacist Kyro Maseh said he and his colleagues have a harder time moving Moderna vaccines, and he fears a preference for Pfizer will result in large amounts of wastage.

“I’m about to throw out 350 doses of Moderna,” he said. “Another country would gladly take that off our hands.”

Maseh said part of the issue is that each Moderna vial contains 14 doses, compared to Pfizer’s six. Once a vial is punctured, its contents need to be used within 24 hours. Vials that are thawed from their freezing temperatures need to be used within a month.

The problem isn’t that Canada is receiving too many doses now, he said, but that messaging over mixing vaccines has hit roadblocks in recent days.

Last week, a World Health Organization official warned of individuals seeking out different vaccines on their own for third or fourth doses, a quote that was taken out of context to suggest mixing doses wasn’t advised.

Grindrod said colleagues recounted seeing people reading and sharing the story with others while in line at a mass vaccine clinic in Cambridge, Ont., — and then walking out.

People wait in line outside Canada Place for their COVID-19 vaccination in Vancouver on Monday, June 21, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Concerns over international travel

Travel concerns could also be a factor.

A story last week about Barbados not recognizing Canada’s mixed-dose strategy prompted more hesitation, Grindrod said, even though the Caribbean country quickly reversed its policy.

Norwegian Cruise Line said on its website that vessels embarking and disembarking from U.S. ports won’t accept mixed vaccination, though ships from non-U.S. ports will.

“It doesn’t take much for people to delay (their second doses) and that’s a real concern,” Grindrod said. “People are thinking very far into the future about travel, and that’s another way of saying they don’t believe they’re at risk right now.”

Celia Du, a science communications specialist in Toronto, said debunking negative perceptions about mixed doses can be difficult once they’re ingrained.

Experts can get bogged down in scientific language and lose peoples’ attention, she said, so it’s often the quick and simple headlines — even if misleading — that people tend to remember.

“Finding ways to make the truth short and sweet is always a good strategy,” she said.

Maseh said people who delay vaccination now, as restrictions lift and travel resumes, risk being vulnerable at a time when COVID-19 could soon rise.

He also said the lack of vaccine access in other parts of the world is troubling. And while Canada is doing well to keep COVID-19 at bay now, Maseh said the threat of new variants developing and spreading could spell trouble.

“By taking perfectly good vaccines and tossing them in the trash, you’re shooting yourself in the foot down the road.”


Online trolls force closure of pro-vaccine Ontario business website

A new website that was set up to provide Ontarians with a list of businesses with fully vaccinated staff or that require customers to show proof of vaccination has shut down, citing online attacks from a small contingent of anti-vaxxers.

A team from Humber River Hospital administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at St. Fidelis Parish church, in Toronto, on Apr. 7, 2021. A website that was listing Ontario businesses that had fully vaccinated staff or required proof of vaccinations from customers has shut down. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A new website that was set up to provide Ontarians with a list of businesses with fully vaccinated staff or that require customers to show proof of vaccination has shut down, citing online attacks from a small contingent of anti-vaxxers.

SafeTO-Do went live just last week, alongside a Twitter account that announced new additions to the website. It was created by Brandon Mattalo, a Toronto lawyer who works mostly in commercial litigation on a freelance basis.

Mattalo announced in a lengthy Twitter thread Tuesday night that he is shutting down the website. He previously said in an interview earlier this week that he has received messages from people opposed to the use of face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

He also said he’s heard from those opposed to vaccines and the concept of a vaccination passport, which is a document that is proof that the holder has received two doses of vaccine.

“Whenever I add a new business, there is a group of people (a small minority), who attack those businesses by leaving fake Google reviews, making false bookings at their restaurants, and sending hateful messages to them,” he wrote.

“I cannot, therefore, in good conscience continue to add businesses to the website, because I cannot be certain that they will not be attacked by the same people.”

Whenever I add a new business, there is a group of people (a small minority), who attack those businesses by leaving fake google reviews, making false bookings at their restaurants, and sending hateful messages to them.


I do not feel comfortable adding businesses, despite their requests, because I cannot possibly confirm that they know about some of the negative reactions that may result.


Site creator received hateful messages

Mattalo declined an interview request when contacted by CBC News Wednesday, citing the hateful messages he’s received.

In a previous interview, Mattalo said the idea for the website came from a desire to help residents and businesses. 

“I think people want this information. And I just thought centralizing it in an easy-to-look-at format and to look through would be useful to people,” he said. “There isn’t really guidance on what businesses should do.”

On Twitter, Mattalo said he has gotten a lot of supportive messages from businesses about the venture, with one telling him that it received over 100,000 online views after being listed, and only 20 negative posts.

“Overall, it has been an abundantly positive reaction from the community,” he wrote.

But Mattalo said he’s also gotten a “significant” number of hate messages, including one that he reported to police.

“The messages have become increasingly personal, directed and hateful.”

He said he didn’t want to expose any more businesses to that kind of response. “Many just want to do their business and not deal with this, understandably.”

Some businesses call for government guidance

People’s Pint Brewing Company was one of the companies listed on the website before it shut down. Co-owner Doug Appeldoorn told CBC News that staff there are all fully vaccinated, and said he thought the SafeTO-Do website was a great idea.

“I think it’s terrible that a small minority of very vocal, dangerous people are allowed to do these kinds of things.”

Appeldoorn noted, however, that outside from a few detractors, response to the company’s announcement that all staff have been vaccinated has been received in an “overwhelmingly positive” way. 

He says he believes the province should be providing guidance and a framework, through a program like vaccine passports — an idea Premier Doug Ford has rejected despite calls from several prominent organizations including the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

As of Wednesday, 63 per cent of eligible Ontarians are fully vaccinated and just under 80 per cent have had a first dose of vaccine. The province reported 135 new cases of COVID-19 today.


80 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in Spain among unvaccinated people, health minister says

The vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in Spain in the past five weeks were detected among non-vaccinated people, Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Monday, as new infections rose by 27,286.

Spanish citizens line up outside a vaccination clinic at the Triumphal Arch in Barcelona on July 7. Officials say the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in Spain in the past five weeks were detected among unvaccinated people. (AFP via Getty Images)

The vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in Spain in the past five weeks were detected among unvaccinated people, the country’s health minister said on Monday, as new infections rose by 27,286.

Just 5.5 per cent of new cases within the period were detected among people who had been fully vaccinated, Carolina Darias said, adding 11.4 per cent were partially vaccinated and 83.1 per cent were unvaccinated.

“We must keep up the rhythm of vaccination we have reached,” the minister told a news conference. “This will give us an important level of protection to allow us to enjoy the summer.”

The number of new COVID-19 cases per day in Spain has been steadily rising since late June, with the 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants rising to a little more than 622 on Tuesday.

The country of roughly 47 million people has so far reported a total of just under 4.2 million cases and 81,148 deaths.

Spain is the third fastest country at vaccinating its population, according to database Our World In Data, lagging behind only Canada and the U.K. with 51.3 per cent of Spaniards fully vaccinated and 62.1 per cent at least partially vaccinated.


India’s COVID-19 death toll could be 10 times the official count, research suggests

India’s excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic were a staggering 10 times the official death toll, according to the most comprehensive research done to date.

A woman leans against a stretcher holding her husband in the corridor of the emergency ward of Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Bhagalpur, in the eastern state of Bihar, India, on July 27, 2020. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet on the ravages of the virus in the South Asian country.

Most experts believe India’s official toll of more than 414,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.

The report released Tuesday estimated excess deaths — the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected — to be 3.4 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. It said an accurate figure may “prove elusive” but the true death toll “is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count.”

The report was published by Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s former chief economic adviser, and two other researchers at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, and Harvard University. 

It said the count could have missed deaths that occurred in overwhelmed hospitals or while health care was disrupted, particularly during the devastating virus surge earlier this year.

Worst tragedy since Partition of India

“True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since Partition and independence,” the report said.

The Partition of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 led to the killing of up to 1 million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other.

WATCH | India’s COVID-19 death toll could be 10 times the official count:

India has officially reported 414,000 deaths from COVID-19, but new research shows that number could actually be above four million. 2:05

One Canadian expert said the report’s overall conclusions are likely right, but its methodology is problematic. 

“They did the best they can,” Prabhat Jha, a doctor and epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said in an interview with CBC News. “They end up with a big number, well over 3 million deaths, but they end up with [the] somewhat implausible idea that the first viral wave, which was in September of last year, was bigger than the current viral wave, which was in April to May or April to June.”

He said that the researchers included data from unreliable sources, which will lead to pushback from the Indian government about their findings. 

Dr. Prabhat Jha is the director of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital, and professor of epidemiology at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. (Unity Health Toronto)

Still, Jha said he agreed that India’s death toll is much greater than 400,000, which he said would mean the country had a death rate about one-eighth of the death rate in the United States.

“No one really seriously believes that the Indian death rates from the infection are so low.”

The report on India’s virus toll used three calculation methods: data from the civil registration system that records births and deaths across seven states, blood tests showing the prevalence of the virus in India alongside global COVID-19 fatality rates, and an economic survey of nearly 900,000 people done thrice a year.

Researchers did caution that each method had weaknesses, such as the economic survey omitting the causes of death. 

So the researchers also looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality in previous years.

Researchers also cautioned that virus prevalence and COVID-19 deaths in the seven states they studied may not translate to all of India, since the virus could have spread more in urban versus rural states and since health care quality varies greatly around India. 

This image taken by a drone shows grounds being prepared for a mass cremation of COVID-19 victims in New Delhi on April 28, 2021. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Other nations are also believed to have undercounted deaths in the pandemic. But India is thought to have a greater gap due to having the world’s second highest population of 1.4 billion and because not all deaths were recorded even before the pandemic. 

The health ministry did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment on the report. 

Dr. Jacob John, who studies viruses at the Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India and was not part of the research, reviewed the report for the AP and said it underscores the devastating impact COVID-19 had on the country’s underprepared health system. 

“This analysis reiterates the observations of other fearless investigative journalists that have highlighted the massive undercounting of deaths,” Jacob said.

‘Collective complacency’

The report also estimated that nearly 2 million Indians died during the first surge in infections last year and said not “grasping the scale of the tragedy in real time” may have “bred collective complacency that led to the horrors” of the surge earlier this year.

Over the last few months, some Indian states have increased their COVID-19 death toll after finding thousands of previously unreported cases, raising concerns that many more fatalities were not officially recorded.

Several Indian journalists have also published higher numbers from some states using government data. Scientists say this new information is helping them better understand how COVID-19 spread in India.

Health-care workers attend to a patient at the Nesco Jumbo COVID-19 center in Mumbai on July 5, 2021. (Rafiq Maqbool/The Associated Press)

Murad Banaji, who studies mathematics at Middlesex University and has been looking at India’s COVID-19 mortality figures, said the recent data has confirmed some of the suspicions about undercounting. Banaji said the new data also shows the virus wasn’t restricted to urban centres, as contemporary reports had indicated, and that India’s villages were also badly impacted.

“A question we should ask is if some of those deaths were avoidable,” he said.


Protect Canadians from another COVID-19 wave by ramping up vaccination in developing countries, experts say

With an average of one per cent of people vaccinated with at least one dose in the world’s poorest countries, ‘variant factories’ threaten Canada’s progress in the battle against COVID-19, doctors and scientists say.

A person holds a placard during a march to demand a rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 25. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

As many Canadians embrace a return to summer gatherings and activities amid relatively high vaccination rates and dropping COVID-19 case counts, millions of people around the world are still suffering the ravages of the pandemic as they desperately wait for vaccines, doctors and scientists say. 

“To be honest it’s sad and infuriating to see how other countries have just [been] taking everything that was on the shelf,” said Pablo Tsukayama, a microbiologist at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru. 

As of Monday, 70 per cent of Canadians had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, according to online research publication Our World in Data. About 26 per cent of the world’s population have had at least one shot. 

But that percentage is driven up by rich countries. It’s a stark contrast with the struggle on the ground in low-income countries, where only one per cent of people, on average, have received any vaccine at all. 

In Africa, the rise of variant-driven infections coupled with a lack of vaccine coverage has plunged many countries into crisis. 

“Deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks. This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, in an online update.  

If Canada, along with other rich countries, doesn’t move quickly to dramatically scale up the amount of vaccine it contributes to those countries, some experts say, it will not only be a global citizenship failure — but it will also put Canadians at risk of another wave of COVID-19.  

“[It’s] not simply a matter of charity. It’s a matter of self-interest,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, a global health researcher at Unity Health Toronto and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. 

‘A global war’

“This is a global war. You can’t simply say we’re going to vaccinate Canadians and we’ll be safe.” 

That’s because countries with low vaccination rates and uncontrolled transmission of the virus become “variant factories,” Jha said.  

The longer people remain unvaccinated, the bigger the chance that another variant will develop that evades protection by our current vaccines, he said. 

And like the more-transmissible delta variant that’s becoming increasingly dominant, new variants will make their way to Canada, experts say.   

“Global security and our actual safety ourselves really does depend on getting a lid on things,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta.

Many of the low and middle-income countries still hardest hit by COVID-19 as they struggle to get vaccines are popular vacation destinations for Canadians, she said.   

‘People think it’s over’

“Here, it almost feels like people think it’s over,” Saxinger said. “I’ve even had a lot of people increasingly say, ‘Do you think it’s going to be OK to go to, you know, holiday destination X in the fall or the winter?’ And I’m like, ‘Holiday destination X is still going to be in the pandemic’ … unless we actually start .. helping more aggressively.”  

Because the virus spreads exponentially, speed is critical right now, Saxinger said. 

“The bang for your buck for helping is so much greater if you do it earlier.”

Canada has pledged about 118 million vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries, including 100 million announced at the G7 Summit in June. Eighty-seven million of those doses had already been bought with contributions to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, launched by the WHO in April 2020.  

The remaining 13 million doses pledged at the G7 are surplus doses procured by the Canadian government.  

In July, the federal government announced it would donate 17.7 million surplus doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, bringing the total current pledge to about 30 million doses. 

That day, the government also announced it would match individual donations to UNICEF, up to $10 million, until Sept. 6. 

The donation-matching campaign could provide enough money to vaccinate another four million people in struggling countries, said Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and International Development Minister Karina Gould. 

In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Gould said the federal government was still finalizing contracts with COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing program, to get the 30 million vaccine doses to the people who need them. Gould said she expected it would take another couple of weeks.

“I think Canada has actually really stepped up and done our fair share,” Gould said when asked whether Canada should ramp up its efforts in global vaccination.

Thelma Modise, a member of the South African Police Service (SAPS), receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Soweto, South Africa. As of July 18, 7.3 per cent of South Africa’s population had received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

In addition to being one of the top dose contributors per capita in the world, the federal government also helped fund the initial development of COVID-19 vaccines and contributed to logistical support efforts to ensure countries are able to administer them, she said.   

When asked if Canada will be offering any further vaccines, Gould said the government was “constantly assessing … our pipeline and our availability of vaccines.”  

“Our top priority is ensuring that every Canadian who wants access to a COVID-19 vaccine gets one,” she said. “As the prime minister has said since the beginning, if we have excess supplies we’ll be donating it.” 

‘War’ effort needed

But donating excess vaccines isn’t enough, Jha said, arguing that the global crisis requires a “war” effort, including using Canada’s purchasing prowess to buy more vaccines for developing countries, as well as using its diplomatic clout to put pressure on vaccine-manufacturing countries to make more — and quickly.   

“We have to do that urgently,” Jha said. “It’s in our own interest to fight the variants where they occur, not when they show up in our borders.”

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for GAVI — the global alliance for vaccination and a co-founder of COVAX — praised Canada’s contributions, but acknowledged that moving faster would be a big help. 

“The best immediate way that countries like Canada can help is by converting pledges of doses into doses delivered in country and in arms as soon as possible,” GAVI said. 

“The global supply crunch is now — the supply landscape will be radically different in a few months. Delivering vaccines now means saving lives.”