National decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths starting to level off: Tam

·4 min read

Canada's chief public health officer urged caution Wednesday as a national decline in severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalizations and deaths, began to level off at the same time as the country's vaccine rollout picks up steam.

In her daily statement, Dr. Theresa Tam said provincial and territorial data show an average of 2,048 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals every day over the seven-day period that ended Tuesday.

That includes 550 people who were in intensive care units, she said, adding an average of 31 COVID-related deaths were reported each day during that same period.

She noted the emergence and transmission of more contagious variants heightens the risk of 20-to-39-year-olds -- currently the group with the highest infection rates -- spreading the virus to more vulnerable populations.

"While vaccine programs begin to accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution," she said.

"Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern. In particular, there must be sufficient contact tracing capacity and supports for effective isolation, given increased transmissibility of variants of concern."

Tam has also warned in recent days that average daily case counts of COVID-19 are now on the rise again across the country after plateauing for several weeks.

More than 8.5 million dosed of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are slated to arrive in Canada in the next eight weeks, according to updated delivery information from Health Canada. That represents more than 2.5 times the amount received in the last 14 weeks.

Nearly 1.2 million doses are expected in each of the upcoming two weeks, with slightly more than one million doses set to be delivered each of the following six weeks.

Other drugmakers whose COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use in Canada have promised shipments but given few details on when they will arrive.

Moderna has not confirmed any deliveries after this month, and no date has been set at this time for the first shipments directly from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

A million doses of the AstraZeneca shot are expected from the Serum Institute of India next month, followed by 500,000 in May, but no precise date has been given for their arrival.

Another 1.6 million doses produced in South Korea are expected to land in Canada before the end of May, though no specific delivery schedule has been laid out so far.

On Tuesday, Canada's expert vaccine panel released new advice on the AstraZeneca shot, saying there is now enough evidence to show the vaccine is safe and effective for seniors.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization had previously said the vaccine was not recommended for use on those over 65, citing a lack of data regarding that demographic.

Most provinces decided at the time not to give the AstraZeneca shot to seniors, and several have said they will not change course at this time despite the committee's reversal on the issue.

Manitoba became the latest province Wednesday to say it would stick to its original plan regardless of the new advice.

"Right now that doesn't change the fact that we only have 18,000 doses of AstraZeneca available. So for now we'll be sticking with the current eligibility criteria," the province's medical officer of health, Dr. Joss Reimer, said.

Some European countries have suspended the use of the vaccine while EU regulators and the World Health Organization investigate whether AstraZeneca's product has the potential to cause blood clots in those who receive it.

Some findings could come as early as Thursday as the European Medicines Agency releases initial results of its investigations. So far, the EMA and WHO have said there’s no evidence the vaccine is to blame for blood clots.

Health Canada has also said it is following the issue but does not currently see any evidence of a safety risk,

Nearly 3,330,100 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Canada as of Wednesday, the federal government said.

In Toronto, three city-run mass immunization clinics opened their doors Wednesday.

At the same time, a panel of scientists advising the Ontario government recommended taking the shots directly into buildings with large populations of seniors in order to protect those most likely to be hospitalized or die as a result of the virus.

In a report published Wednesday, the province's Science Advisory Table identified 489 such buildings in Toronto alone, including more than 250 in neighbourhoods with the highest incidence of COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press