Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam released new COVID-19 modelling today that warns Canada could see up to 15,000 cases per day by the end of the month if the rate of vaccination does not increase and more restrictive public health measures are not introduced.
"This is a crucial moment," Tam said. "We have a window of opportunity to rapidly accelerate vaccine uptake and close the protection gap in younger age groups with the lowest vaccine coverage."
Today's briefing marked the first time Tam has taken media questions since the start of the federal election campaign.
Tam said that as the fall approaches and Canadians return to a more indoor lifestyle, they should increase their use of masks and physical distancing.
"If we continue on the path we are on now since reopening, we could expect to see a continued sharp increase in cases ... reaching levels not seen before in Canada during the pandemic," said Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer.
Tam said it's crucial to increase the vaccination rate in the 18- to 39-year-old age group because those in that group are the most mobile and tend to interact with a large number of people — and currently have the lowest vaccination rate of any demographic in the country.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), only 63 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 29 are fully vaccinated and those aged 30 to 39 are only slightly better off, with a vaccination rate of 68 per cent. The data show that the older age groups all have much higher vaccination rates.
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Canadians aged 40 to 49 are 76 per cent fully vaccinated, those 50 to 59 are at 80 per cent, those aged 60 to 69 are 88 per cent vaccinated, those 70 to 79 are 94 per cent vaccinated and those over age 80 are 92 per cent vaccinated.
Tam said Canadians aged 12 to 17 are only 67 per cent vaccinated but added she was not worried about that low number because the number of vaccinations in that age group is increasing rapidly.
A pandemic of the unvaccinated
According to the modelling, Canada could see case counts decline from the nearly 5,000 cases it is seeing daily now if transmission of the disease can be reduced by at least 25 per cent.
If the economy reopens further and transmission increases by 25 per cent, the modelling warns we could hit that 15,000 number by mid-September.
Njoo said that right now about 7.6 million eligible Canadians still have not been fully vaccinated and that outbreaks of COVID-19 among this group are many times more likely than outbreaks among the fully vaccinated.
I would ask for caution and patience for a booster dose for the rest of the population because we haven't seen enough data. - Theresa Tam
PHAC says that the number of new cases is increasing among the unvaccinated at a rate 12 times higher than the rate for the fully vaccinated, and that the rate of hospitalization is 36 times higher for people who are unvaccinated compared to the fully vaccinated.
Tam said she would like to see up to 80 per cent of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated but doesn't want the country to stop there.
"There's no magic number except to say reach for the stars," she said. "I have a 100 per cent mark on that graph. That's where people should be aiming toward as much as possible."
"I believe that we can accelerate and I know that provinces are pulling all stops in different ways."
Not enough data on boosters yet: Tam
Tam said that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, NACI, is meeting today to examine the evidence suggesting that immune-compromised Canadians would benefit from a third dose of the vaccine.
She said the committee would be releasing its findings soon but warned that offering a third dose to immune-compromised Canadians is not the same as offering booster shots to other Canadians.
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"While that is being rapidly analyzed, I would ask for caution and patience for a booster dose for the rest of the population because we haven't seen enough data, and based on the information we have at hand in Canada we're not seeing a lot of breakthrough infections," she said.
Tam said that all evidence right now says that the available vaccines offer significant protection against hospitalization and death.
Delta driven spike in cases
The update comes as parts of the country dive further into a delta variant-driven fourth wave of the pandemic.
In Alberta, active cases and ICU hospitalizations have quadrupled. As of Thursday there were 12,290 active cases, 465 people in hospital and 107 in intensive care units in the provinces.
The absence of COVID-19 briefings by the Public Health Agency of Canada during the election campaign sparked some controversy last week.
The Conservatives called on Interim Clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette to investigate what they described as a breach of the "caretaker convention" — the policy that directs public servants to avoid doing anything that could influence the campaign.