According to Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam’s June 17 statement on COVID-19 in Canada, while COVID-19 is still circulating across the country, disease indicators show a stabilization with most areas in decline. While hospitalization rates remain high and variable, a decrease is being seen in severe illness trends. However, she says that while there is optimism about the current trajectory, they are seeing early signs of elevated activity in some areas of the country.
Tam says that she and other health care professionals are closely monitoring variants like Omicron and other new variants that come along.
“Because the Omicron variant is immune evasive, two doses of COVID-19 vaccines offer less protection against Omicron than against previous variants. Fortunately, evidence shows that boosters can help increase antibody levels that wane over time after the second dose. Although vaccine effectiveness against infection decreases over time, evidence shows that two doses of mRNA vaccines generally maintain good effectiveness against severe outcomes across variants, and a booster further increases vaccine effectiveness to over 90 per cent against severe outcomes. Thus, health authorities continue to strongly recommend up to date COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible people, including those who have been previously infected,” she says in her statement.
Tam says that getting a booster shot to increase protection against Omicron is especially important for those aged 50 years and older, as the risk of severe illness increases with age. She says that as of June 16, over 18.7 million third doses and as of May 22 over 2.5 million fourth doses have been given. In addition, national data shows that as of May 22 over 86 per cent of seniors aged 70 years and older and 62 per cent to 77 per cent of those aged 50 to 69 years had gotten at least one additional dose.
Tam urges continued caution and readiness during this transition phase of the pandemic and beyond, preparing for surge capacity for future responses and keeping in mind and using the personal protective habits adopted over the last two years. She recommends keeping vaccinations up to date, continuing to follow public health advice like wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, ensuring good ventilation indoors, practicing good hand hygiene and staying home if you are sick.
As of June 17 in Canada, there were 15,726 cases reported in the seven days prior, with 174 deaths over that same period. From June 6 to June 13, the total number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients went from 3,628 to 3,350 beds, while the number of patients in ICU beds decreased from 193 to 175.
In Ontario, as of June 14, there were 786 new cases reported. There were 529 hospitalizations and 109 people reported in the ICU as June 15. There were 13,351 deaths reported this week as of June 14 since the beginning of the pandemic, an increase of 15 cases since last week.
In Hastings Prince Edward, as of June 14, there were 30 new high-risk cases and active high-risk cases amounted to 30 people. There were three outbreaks in high-risk settings like LTC homes, and there were 62 deaths reported. There are two people who are currently hospitalized at Quinte Health Care hospitals and nobody in the ICU.
WHO makes interim statement on considerations for decision making for the use of variant-updated COVID-19 vaccines
On June 17, the World Health Organization with the support of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization and its COVID-19 vaccines working group, released an interim report on whether enhanced vaccines specifically formulated to address variants like Omicron were necessary at this time. They stress that this is not a policy recommendation. The current vaccines, formulated to combat the first strain of COVID-19 still offers strong protection against disease and death across all variants seen to date, so in their opinion, it was not necessary at this time. Achieving high coverage rates with the primary series of shots and the booster shots with the current vaccines should in their opinion remain the top priority.
However, they say as time passes and variants of concern result in a rapid decline of protection against symptomatic illness, assessing whether variant updated vaccines, especially to fight Omicron, would improve performance of said vaccines, should be considered.
The WHO and SAGE reveal that variant updated vaccines are under clinical development and will be assessed when they are ready, and once that occurs and they have gotten WHO emergency use authorization of approval by a national regulatory authority, will a policy recommendation be considered.
“The full public health benefit of variant updated vaccines and their value proposition over current vaccines can only be quantified once vaccine effectiveness date has been obtained,” they say in their report.
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times