Canada is in a race against time to vaccinate enough people to avoid the worst-case scenarios of a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam and her deputy Howard Njoo presented the monthly modeling update at a press conference on Friday, showing a slight increase in COVID-19 cases. They pointed to the potential for numbers to rise over the next month beyond those seen in the latest wave of the pandemic, even as vaccinations increase. However, they said the increase may not lead to a comparable increase in hospitalizations and deaths.
“I think we are currently in a slightly precarious period between these people trying to get vaccinated and reopening,” Dr Tam said.
The five-week countdown to Labor Day is the main focus of the government’s vaccination campaign, she said. Modeling from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that more than 80% of eligible people must be fully immunized to avoid overwhelming hospitals in the event of a fourth wave. According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, 81 percent of eligible Canadians have received their first injection and 66 percent are fully immunized. Health Canada has approved vaccines for people 12 years of age and older.
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The unofficial end of summer in Canada is also when the colder weather and the return to classrooms will start to draw more people inside. “This is a crucial time to strengthen protection before we come together in schools, colleges, universities and workplaces,” she said.
Some infectious disease specialists have said Canada should aim for a vaccination rate of at least 90% for those eligible to limit the impact of Wave Four. Dr Tam said his agency focused on protecting hospitals, but added that vaccination shouldn’t stop at 80% coverage.
“If we can get to 90, I’ll open the champagne,” Dr Tam said.
Reaching that level is no easy task and will require much more focused outreach, said Noni MacDonald, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Center in Halifax. Dr MacDonald, who researches vaccine safety and reluctance, said Canada has come close, but has never fully met targets for other vaccines, but noted that the context of COVID-19 is different because of how the disease comes to the fore on a daily basis. life.
About 5 percent of adults are hardliners who won’t get the vaccine, Dr. MacDonald said, but there is a “moving average” group of people – including those looking for more information and information. others who face barriers due to a disability, lack of confidence in the system, geographic challenges, irregular work schedules, and even needle phobias. All of these problems can be solved, she said, highlighting British Columbia’s efforts to send mobile vaccination clinics to where people already are – namely beaches and summer camps.
“The barriers to access are very important… you need to actively think about these barriers and how you can overcome them as a health care program,” said Dr. MacDonald.
To achieve higher immunization levels, peer groups and neighbors can also play an important role in standardizing immunizations and helping others access the vaccine, she added.
Modeling on Friday also showed that even with full vaccine coverage of 85%, cases could reach around 7,500 per day in early September if individual contacts increased by 25%. While the number of people we come into contact with remains unchanged, modeling predicts around 1,300 new cases per day by September. The trajectory will depend on the level at which Canada can increase its immunization coverage and “the timing, pace and extent of reopening,” said Dr Tam.
Among the provinces, Alberta is taking the most aggressive approach to reopening, already ending the majority of its COVID-19 health measures and no longer requiring masks indoors. He will soon lift the self-isolation warrant and stop widespread testing and contact tracing. Ontario said on Friday that once it meets its remaining vaccination goals, it will end the vast majority of public health measures, including capacity limits during events. However, masks will still be needed inside.
When asked about Alberta’s decision, Dr Tam said she strongly believes in isolation of cases and that the province’s decision puts more of the burden on individuals.
In June, the public health agency’s modeling indicated that Canada needed to achieve 83% full immunization coverage to avoid overwhelming hospitals. Dr Tam did not explain why that figure was removed from the last update on Friday. She said it was a “very specific number,” but added that she expects Canada’s immunization coverage to exceed 83%.
Young people have had less time to make vaccine appointments than older populations who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and who were prioritized earlier in provincial and territorial immunization campaigns. Modeling on Friday highlighted the need for many over 18 to 39 to get their jabs to protect hospitals during the next wave of the pandemic.
If only 72% of this age group are fully immunized, hospitals could be overwhelmed again. According to the models, this risk is considerably reduced if the total vaccination coverage in this age group reaches 80%.
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