Calgary Stampede competitors will need to have one shot of vaccine to compete for $1.5-million prize pool

Curtis Cassidy of Donalda competes in steer wrestling during the Calgary Stampede on July 15, 2017 Photo by Leah Hennel /Postmedia

Competitors at the Calgary Stampede will need to have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to attend this year’s rodeo.

Kristina Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Stampede, said that as part of the event’s modified quarantine plans, each competitor will need at least one shot, but two doses are preferred.

“The reason why it was one (dose) was because when we made the proposal, we thought the general community would only have one,” said Barnes. “All rodeo athletes, not just the international ones, will be required to have that vaccine.”

The federal government announced last week Stampede rodeo competitors and some support staff would be exempt from quarantine rules in place for the public when crossing the Canadian border, meaning they will be able to avoid isolating at hotels.

Barnes said competitors will have to monitor themselves for symptoms two weeks prior to coming to Stampede and they will be undergoing a daily testing regime while competing. She said they will have to remain separated from the public while in Calgary.

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“Once they cross the border, they will go to their secure facilities,” said Barnes. “They’ll go from that secured area, where they’re staying, and then they’ll come to Stampede Park and then they will go straight back.”

She said the infield at Stampede Park will be a secure location where they do not interact with the public.

Barnes said if any competitors test positive, they will have to go through all standard protocols to avoid spreading the virus.

No chuckwagon races, novice competitions this year

The rodeo itself will be a 10-day event as it has been in past years, however there will be no chuckwagon races or novice competitions this year, Barnes confirmed.

She said in past years, competitors would often come to Calgary for their initial runs, go to events south of the border and return for the finals later in the competition. This year, rodeo participants won’t be able to do any border-hopping.

“We can’t have that back and forth under our modified quarantine and testing plan,” said Barnes. “So some (competitors) potentially said no this year because of that.”

While the participant list has not yet been finalized, Barnes said they expect to see a “good mix” of Canadians and Americans competing, including former national and world champions. In past years, Brazilian competitors have attended the Stampede but Barnes said she doesn’t believe any will be in attendance for 2021.

“This year specifically, we probably have more Canadians than we regularly would just simply knowing that, you know, not as many Americans are able to cross the border.”

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Those that do make it to Calgary will be competing for a total of $1.5 million in prizes, split into $250,000 for each event, said Barnes. The total sum is down from around $2 million in past years.

“It’s still the largest payout of prize money In the PRCA season, except for of course the National Finals Rodeo, so it’s still a great payout,” said Barnes.

In terms of the rest of the Calgary Stampede, officials have repeatedly said they are committed to hosting a safe event. Barnes reiterated this during an interview on Thursday, saying organizers are committed to meeting and exceeding all Alberta Health regulations.

“Things like requiring all of our employees and volunteers to wear masks even if masking isn’t mandatory in public,” said Barnes. “We recognize that all of our community will be finding a different way towards moving back out into what is normal.”

On Thursday, it was announced that Nashville North, a mainstay attraction at the event, will be returning in 2021 with a canopy-style tent and lineup of 40 country music stars.

Vaccine rule for Springsteen Broadway show adds travel uncertainty for AZ recipients

David Screech had already selected his seats and put in his credit card information for “Springsteen on Broadway” tickets when he noticed the COVID-19 vaccine requirements: his two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca wouldn’t be enough for admission.

Screech, the mayor of View Royal, B.C., and a Springsteen fan of 40 years, received his second AstraZeneca dose last week, but the Jujamcyn Theaters’ website said it would only allow guests “fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine” — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — to see the show.

The New York venue held firm when Screech contacted them directly to ask about the requirement, turning his anticipation into disappointment. While he’s “very grateful” to have two doses of an effective vaccine, Screech said he had some reservations about AstraZeneca, and the Broadway snub “certainly added to that.”

“Obviously our health is far more important than being able to go to shows or concerts. But the flip side of that is, shows and concerts have been a major part of my life,” Screech said.

“And the idea of not being able to go to them for the foreseeable future because of possibly getting the wrong vaccine is a little disappointing.”

“Springsteen on Broadway” isn’t the only New York City attraction holding guests to strict vaccination rules.

Live tapings of TV shows including “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” also snub AstraZeneca doses in rules listed on their websites, which say they’re acting “at the direction of New York State.”

The New York Islanders, currently in an NHL playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, don’t appear to have the same restrictions. While the team’s website says fans need proof of vaccination “per New York State guidelines,” the arena also has “non-vaccinated sections.”

The offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Health and the Jujamcyn Theaters did not immediately return requests for comment.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician in Hamilton, wasn’t surprised to see institutions begin enacting vaccine passports. But blocking AstraZeneca recipients from a Springsteen show seemed particularly cruel.

“If there’s something more painful you can do to Generation X, this is it,” Chagla said with a laugh.

Potential vaccine requirements for travellers could get even trickier if other countries begin forming rules based on their own authorized jabs, Chagla said.

A sense of vaccine nationalism could lead some to insist their authorized products are “the gold standard,” he added, noting that Johnson & Johnson, which was created with the same viral-vector technology as AstraZeneca, was slightly less effective in clinical trials.

“This is just a very arbitrary line in the sand, based on what the FDA approved, (without) recognizing that AstraZeneca is approved by many other health-care organizations around the world,” Chagla said.

“Private industries have the right to do what they want but at the same time we need to have larger discussions around what’s considered a fully immunized person, and with which vaccines.”

Canada and the United States extended restrictions on non-essential travel on Friday, keeping the border between the countries closed until at least July 21.

Chagla expects more U.S. states to adopt FDA-approved vaccine requirements, which could bring more uncertainty and insult to AstraZeneca recipients planning to travel south once the border re-opens. Roughly two millions Canadians have received an AstraZeneca shot.

The websites of some tourist attractions in California and Florida, and ones in border cities including Detroit and Seattle, did not outline specific immunization rules as of Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while potential stipulations in countries that don’t recognize the “full suite of vaccines” will be an issue, Canada is “engaged in discussions with Americans and with partners around the world to ensure that people who are protected from COVID-19 are able to travel.”

Chagla called for world leaders to establish a “benchmark” of potential vaccine requirements and give people confidence in their jab.

“You really want people to feel they’re making the right decision, they’re not going to be discriminated against, and they’ll have access to everything a vaccinated person should,” he said.

Andria Bianchi, a bioethicist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s school of public health, wondered about the justification for the Broadway show’s vaccine rule.

If the goal is to ensure no one with COVID-19 enters the building, relying strictly on FDA-authorized vaccine passports isn’t the only way to achieve that.

“I hope that when any place is developing policies or putting restrictions in place that they’re very well-thought out and all possible options are explored,” Bianchi said.

“I imagine there’s going to be a lot of AstraZeneca recipients frustrated and maybe feeling a sense of injustice.”

Screech said he hopes the “Springsteen on Broadway” rule will change to reflect that AstraZeneca provides solid protection against COVID-19.

“But there’s disappointment for sure, and a bit of worry about what it means for (other) U.S. venues in the future.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2021

Brazil still debating dubious virus drug amid 500,000 deaths

As Brazil hurtles toward an official COVID-19 death toll of 500,000 – second-highest in the world – science is on trial inside the country and the truth is up for grabs.

With the milestone likely to be reached this weekend, Brazil’s Senate is publicly investigating how the toll got so high, focusing on why President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government ignored opportunities to buy vaccines for months while it relentlessly pushed hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug that rigorous studies have shown to be ineffective in treating COVID-19.

The nationally televised hearings have contained enough scientific claims, counterclaims and outright falsehoods to keep fact-checkers busy.

The skepticism has extended to the death toll itself, with Bolsonaro arguing the official tally from his own Health Ministry is greatly exaggerated and some epidemiologists saying the real figure is significantly higher – perhaps hundreds of thousands higher.

Dr. Abdel Latif, who oversees an intensive care unit an hour from Sao Paulo, said the fear and desperation caused by the coronavirus have been compounded by misinformation and opinions from self-styled specialists and a lack of proper guidance from the government.

“We need real humane public health policy, far from the political fight and based on science and evidence,” he said.

Brazil’s reported death toll is second only to that of the U.S., where the number of lives lost has topped 600,000. Brazil’s population of 213 million is two-thirds that of the U.S.

Over the past week, official data showed some 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day in Brazil, representing one-fifth the global total and a jump public health experts warn may reflect the start of the country’s third wave.

Bolsonaro has waged a 15-month campaign to downplay the virus’s seriousness and keep the economy humming. He dismissed the scourge early on as “a little flu” and has scorned masks. He was not chastened by his own bout with COVID-19. And he kept touting hydroxychloroquine long after virtually all others, including President Donald Trump, ceased doing so.

As recently as last Saturday, Bolsonaro received cheers upon telling a crowd of supporters that he took it when infected.

“The next day,” he declared, “I was cured.”

He pushed hydroxychloroquine so consistently that the first of his four health ministers during the pandemic was fired and the second resigned because they refused to endorse broad prescription of the medicine, they told the Senate investigating committee.

The World Health Organization stopped testing the drug in June 2020, saying the data showed it didn’t reduce deaths among hospitalized patients. The same month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked emergency authorization for the drug amid mounting evidence it isn’t effective and could cause serious side effects.

Nevertheless, the notion that medicines like hydroxychloroquine work against COVID-19 is one of the main things the fact-checking agency Aos Fatos has been forced to debunk continually for the past year, according to Tai Nalon, its executive director.

“This didn’t change, mostly because there is a lack of accountability of doctors and other medical authorities who propagate this sort of misinformation, and the government supports it,” Nalon said. “Basically it takes only the president to make any fact-checking efforts not useless, but less effective.

In fact, the Senate hearings that began in April have turned into a forum for dueling testimony from doctors who are either pro- or anti-hydroxychloroquine, creating what some experts fear is a misimpression that the drug’s usefulness is still an open question in the international scientific community.

A Health Ministry official who is a pediatrician told the Senate that there is a much anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness and that the ministry provided guidelines for its use without explicitly recommending it. Fact-checkers cried foul, saying the ministry’s own records show it distributed millions of the pills nationwide for COVID-19 treatment.

A cancer specialist and immunologist who has been one of the drug’s biggest champions – and is said to be an informal adviser to the president – also testified, decrying demonization of a drug she said has saved lives. But fact-checkers proved her wrong when she claimed Mexico is still prescribing it for COVID-19.

Still, the drug is celebrated across social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp. And other misinformation is circulating as well.

Bolsonaro told a throng of supporters on June 7 that the real number of COVID-19 deaths in 2020 was only about half the official death toll, citing a report from the national accounting tribunal – which promptly denied producing any such document.

The president backtracked but has publicly repeated his claim of mass fraud in the death toll at least twice since.

Epidemiologists at the University of Sao Paulo say the true number of dead is closer to 600,000, maybe 800,000. The senators investigating the government’s handling of the crisis ultimately hope to quantify how many deaths could have been avoided.

Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist who runs the nation’s largest COVID-19 testing program, has calculated that at least 95,000 lives would have been spared had the government not spurned vaccine purchase offers from Pfizer and a Sao Paulo institute that is bottling a Chinese-developed shot.

When the U.S. recorded a half-million COVID-19 deaths, President Joe Biden held a sunset moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House and ordered flags lowered for five days. Bolsonaro’s government plans no such observance.

The Health Ministry is instead trumpeting the 84 million doses administered so far. The number is mostly first shots; just 11% of Brazil’s population is fully vaccinated.

The Senate committee will name at least 10 people as formal targets of its investigation by next week, members told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. That could lead to a recommendation of charges by prosecutors. The list includes the pediatrician and cancer specialist who testified, the current health minister and his predecessor.

For his part, Bolsonaro has said the investigation amounts to persecution.

Last week, microbiologist Natalia Pasternak, who presides over the Question of Science Institute, a nonprofit that promotes the use of scientific evidence in public policies, went before the committee and decried the government’s “denialism.” She lamented that the myth of hydroxychloroquine won’t seem to die.

“In the sad case of Brazil, it’s a lie orchestrated by the federal government and the Health Ministry,” she said. “And that lie kills.”

Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro. AP videojournalist Tatiana Pollastri contributed from Valinhos, Sao Paulo.

PM says Canada to receive 68M COVID-19 doses by end of July

By the end of July, Canada will have received “over 68 million” doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday, resulting in more Canadians being able to receive their second doses earlier than expected.

“Canada is getting millions more Moderna doses brought forward from our summer shipment schedule into June, and we’re locking in shipments for the first half of July… And we’re also getting extra doses from the U.S.,” Trudeau said, addressing the country from self-isolation at Rideau Cottage where he is quarantining after his international trip.

The previous cumulative total for doses the federal government said they expected to see delivered by the end of July was 55 million, which the government said Friday was based on Pfizer-BioNTech’s commitments and all past deliveries, as Moderna had not yet confirmed its future shipments.

“Just like we surpassed our delivery numbers for the first quarter of the year, we’re doing the same for the spring quarter. That will mean that for the end of June, as promised, we’ll be at more than 50 million doses total, and by the end of July, we’ll be over 68 million doses for Canadians.”

Detailing the anticipated upcoming deliveries, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that Moderna will be sending 11 million doses of its mRNA vaccine between late June and the end of July, and Pfizer will be delivering 9.1 million doses of its mRNA vaccine by the end of July.

Anand called the announcement a “milestone,” that is the result of an ongoing push with suppliers to accelerate deliveries. Asked whether Canada will be paying a premium for the fast-tracked deliveries she said that the government has paid “fair value.”

There are no future confirmed deliveries of either the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The federal government has previously promised a “one-dose summer” and “two-dose fall” with all Canadians who can, and want to be, able to be fully vaccinated by the end of September. With this influx of doses expected over the next several weeks it is possible, pending further delivery delays, that the target date could be moved up.

Asked whether the prime minister was ready to set a new target for when all shots will be in arms, he said he is “certainly hopeful that everyone who wants to is going to be fully vaccinated before September.”

“The sooner the largest possible number of people get double vaccinated, the sooner we’re going to be able to get back to more and more normality,” he said, thanking provinces for doing their part in ensuring doses are being administered expeditiously.

Further, Anand said that sticking to the end of September target factors in the “volatile” supply chains, the reality of global demand, and the domestic responsibility of the rollout.

According to CTV News’ vaccine tracker, as of Friday morning, more than 31 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Canada, with more than 74 per cent of eligible Canadians having received their first dose, and nearly 19 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.


Following the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest recommendation that people who received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine should receive a second dose of a mRNA vaccine, Trudeau says he’ll take whichever vaccine is offered to him first.

Trudeau received his first AstraZeneca shot in April, and when provinces started limiting the use of the vaccine he had said he still planned to get a second AstraZeneca shot on the advice of his doctor.

“Like many Canadians, I’m looking forward to my second dose, which I hope to get soon after coming out of quarantine in the next few weeks,” he said.

“But as to which dose, I will take whichever dose is offered to me. I will do what all Canadians should do, which is follow the best advice of the experts around them, including NACI and their family doctors, and I will be reassured as all Canadians should be that getting that second dose is the best way through this pandemic.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and many other federal and provincial politicians were among those who received AstraZeneca for their first dose and will soon be due for their second shots.

Trudeau said that any Canadian who received a Health Canada-authorized vaccine “did the right thing,” because “we’re on our way to getting through and into a much better summer because of it.”

More coming…