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Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

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OTTAWA — Some health experts are questioning Canada’s decision to accept thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from a global vaccine-sharing alliance, only to have them sit in freezers in an Ontario warehouse.

More than 655,000 doses of AstraZeneca arrived in Canada through the COVAX initiative Thursday even as most provinces have temporarily paused their use for first doses amid supply issues and the potential risk of rare blood clots.

It is the first time vaccines have been delivered to Canada without immediately being distributed to provinces and territories, because Ottawa isn’t yet clear who wants them.

“Depending on how and when the provinces want to use them, they can either have them all now, have them on a scheduled delivery, we can hold (them) for a couple of weeks,” said Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin at a vaccine briefing Thursday.

As of May 8, 2.16 million Canadians had been given one dose of AstraZeneca. With enough Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coming to vaccinate everyone who hasn’t yet been given a first dose, the main use of AstraZeneca in Canada going forward would be for second doses.

But even that is in doubt, as a United Kingdom study looking at mixing and matching vaccines might indicate the second dose should be Pfizer or Moderna. Preliminary data this week showed doing so was safe, but how effective it was to mix them won’t be known until June.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu defended accepting the doses even though they were going to be stored for now, saying there’s no indication yet provinces won’t use them for second doses.

“Obviously, we’re monitoring this very closely, and my expectation is that doses of vaccine, regardless of the variety and type, don’t go to waste,” she said.

Fortin said he is preparing advice to cabinet on what to do with the doses that aren’t immediately wanted but wouldn’t go into detail.

“There are a range of options that we continue to investigate, the contingencies and a number of things to include what we would do with future doses,” he said.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, an internal medicine specialist in Toronto, said Canada needs to make those decisions immediately.

“We should definitely not be keeping doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in freezers while thousands of people are dying every day in India, and other countries around the world and are desperate to receive a highly effective vaccine,” he said.

Canada has been criticized before for being the only G7 country taking doses from COVAX, which was designed as a vehicle for wealthier nations to help low and middle-income nations get access to COVID-19 vaccines. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the practice, saying COVAX was designed as a way to both buy and share doses and Canada is doing nothing wrong.

Dhalla said in an ideal world vaccinations would happen equally everywhere, but he said practically that was never going to happen.

“We know that high-income countries are going to vaccinate more quickly than low-income countries,” he said. “But it is unconscionable to then not use the vaccine that we have. Either we use it, or we send it to places where it can be used and we need to do that now.”

NDP health critic Don Davies said Canada needs to return the COVAX doses immediately.

“When they first decided to do it there was an immediate reaction from all sorts of sources,” he said. “It didn’t make sense then and it’s case closed now.”

Dr. Alan Bernstein, the president of the global research organization CIFAR and a member of Canada’s national vaccine task force, said it might make practical sense to wait until the second-dose question is answered by the U.K. study.

“I think that we wouldn’t want to be caught with having given away doses (if) we ultimately will regret that literally two or three weeks later,” he said.

But Bernstein said as soon as that data comes in, the decision must be made, and then if we aren’t using the doses, they need to be given back to COVAX immediately.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Two charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance in Regina

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REGINA — Two people accused of killing a Mountie by hitting him with a truck in rural Saskatchewan made their first appearance in court Monday.

Alphonse Stanley Traverse, 41, and Marlene Velma Louise Pagee, 42, have been charged with manslaughter in the weekend death of Const. Shelby Patton.

RCMP have said the 26-year-old officer died Saturday after he stopped a suspected stolen truck in the small town of Wolseley, 95 kilometres east of Regina.

Patton was hit by the truck before it sped off. The officer died at the scene.

Pagee and Traverse were arrested two hours later in a field outside Francis, a town about 80 kilometres southwest of where the officer was killed.

They also face charges of failing to stop after an accident resulting in death as well as of theft of a motor vehicle. Pagee is also charged with possession of a controlled substance.

They appeared in a Regina court in person. Pagee is to be back in court Friday, while Traverse is scheduled for a video appearance on Monday.

Both are from Winnipeg and RCMP have said the truck was stolen in Manitoba. Winnipeg police said they could not provide any information about the investigation.

“The tragic, senseless death of Const. Shelby Patton is being investigated by Saskatchewan RCMP,” Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver wrote in an email.

Manitoba court records show Traverse and Pagee have been in and out of jail for multiple convictions, including theft and break and enter. In 2006, Pagee was found guilty for operating a motor vehicle while being pursued by police.

Both face outstanding charges in Manitoba for unrelated offences.

Meanwhile, a memorial of flowers continued to grow at the Indian Head detachment where Patton was posted.

He had been a Mountie for just over six years and worked at the detachment since 2015. Before that, he was briefly on assignment at Parliament Hill.

Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said officers have appreciated the outpouring of support and condolence messages.

“These messages help us through this difficult time. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us know they share our grief,” Blackmore said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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Putin likens Russian crackdown to arresting Capitol rioters

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is to meet President Joe Biden at a summit Wednesday, has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested for rioting at the U.S. Capitol are being subjected to “persecution for political opinions.”

Putin is likely to come under strong criticism from Biden at their meeting in Geneva for moves against his political opponents in Russia, particularly the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the detention of thousands of demonstrators protesting his arrest, and the outlawing of Navalny’s organizations as extremist.

“You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance toward dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently,” he said in an interview with NBC News broadcast Monday. He then pointed to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington when protesters barged into the Capitol to try to halt the count of electoral votes to certify Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump.

“Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? … They came there with political demands,” he said.

Although the protests that erupted across Russia after Navalny’s arrest in January were unsanctioned, demonstrators were largely peaceful and did not enter government buildings or cause significant property damage, unlike the Capitol riot.

Putin also reiterated denials that the Kremlin was behind last year’s poisoning of Navalny with a nerve agent that nearly killed him.

“We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Putin said.

“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Putin said, referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a window that led to the House floor.

At a news conference after a NATO summit Monday in Brussels, Biden declined to assess how he’ll measure the success of his meeting with Putin because “the last thing anyone would do is negotiate in front of the world press.”

Biden described Putin as “bright,” “tough” and a “worthy adversary.” But he indicated he would remain wary of any commitments coming out of their meeting, saying he would “verify first and then trust” the Russian leader.

He also suggested he’d be looking for areas of agreement with the Russian president, while also warning him against continued aggression towards the U.S.

“I’m gonna make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and other activities, then we will respond, we will respond in kind,” he said.

In his NBC interview, Putin sharply dismissed the cyberattack allegations against the U.S. as baseless.

“Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,” Putin said. “We have been accused of all kinds of things — election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth — and not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.”

In April, the United States announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and new sanctions connected to the so-called SolarWinds cyberattack in which several U.S. government branches experienced data breaches. U.S. officials blamed the Russian foreign intelligence service.

In May, Microsoft officials said the foreign intelligence service appeared to be linked to an attack on a company providing services to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At the summit, Biden also is expected to raise the case of two Americans imprisoned in Russia: Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage, and Trevor Reed, convicted of assaulting police while drunk. U.S. officials say both were convicted in biased trials on flimsy evidence.

Putin said of Reed, a 29-year-old former Marine: “He’s just a drunk and a troublemaker.”

Putin brushed off one possible source of tension in the upcoming summit: Biden’s claim that he once told Putin he considered the Russian leader soulless.

“I do not remember this particular part of our conversations,” Putin said.

—-

Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed.

The Associated Press

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