Tam says pandemic now at 'most challenging' stage, calls on Canadians to give vaccines time to work

·4 min read
Tam says pandemic now at 'most challenging' stage, calls on Canadians to give vaccines time to work
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam is urging Canadians not to lose patience, saying that now is the time to follow public health guidance to give vaccines time to work. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam is urging Canadians not to lose patience, saying that now is the time to follow public health guidance to give vaccines time to work. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Canada has entered a "challenging" stage of the pandemic and Canadians must do all they can to follow public health measures and give vaccines time to work, said Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.

Taking part in a question-and-answer session on Facebook today, Tam said that now is not the time for Canadians to have mass gatherings — with the country heading into a third wave and hospital intensive care units filling up.

"We need to give it our best effort right now because the vaccines need time to take hold. There's many people who are not vaccinated right now in Canada, so I would say this period is one of the most challenging periods," she said.

"This resurgence may not be the same as previous ones. We've now got variants that are more transmissible so there is less room for errors."

Tam said this summer is beginning to look like "hope" because the projections for vaccine deliveries suggest that every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated will have had their first dose by "probably around June, the end of June."

According to the federal government, Canada will be getting more than one million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine each week until the end of May, rising to two million doses a week in June. That supply will be augmented by an additional 3.2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of April.

Canada is also getting two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the very short term, although Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is recommending provinces pause its use for under 55s because of safety concerns.

More early Pfizer doses possible

On Tuesday, Pfizer-BioNTech agreed to move up delivery of five million vaccine doses to Canada from late summer to June following negotiations with the federal government — a move that Tam said buoyed her confidence.

Fabien Paquette, Pfizer's general manager in Canada, told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that it's possible additional doses of the vaccine will be shipped early as the year goes on.

"As an organization we try to always improve and accelerate the deployment of doses in Canada, so we're really happy that we were able to bring five million more doses in June rather than the second half of the year," Paquette told host Vassy Kapelos.

"We are trying to bring more doses and actually accelerate the pace of immunizations for Canadians," he added.

Tam said the pace of the vaccine rollout suggests the country will be able to get every Canadian fully vaccinated with two doses of a vaccine by some point in the fall.

"I am looking forward to the fall, once everyone has had two doses of the vaccine, and that we would pass what I call the crisis phase of the pandemic," she said.

Tam said she expects the country can begin to get back to something like normal by the time the leaves start changing colour — providing nothing else goes wrong.

"Of course, this virus is very good at giving us surprises so we'll be watching its evolution and the variants very carefully. But I definitely have hope," she said.

WATCH | Fabien Paquette on additional Pfizer doses:

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, told Power & Politics that the more than 10,000 confirmed cases of variants across Canada is fuelling the third wave.

"What's concerning us, in provinces like Ontario, [is] the percentage keeps increasing in terms of the total proportion of cases that are due to variants," Njoo told Kapelos. "I think at the latest count it was 67, getting close to 70, per cent of cases and as we know the variants are generally the ones we are concerned about\."

Njoo said the new variants are not only more transmissible, but have shown to have more severe health consequences and an increased risk of death.

Last month the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said marginalized and racialized communities should be vaccinated at the same time the provinces start immunizing over 60s because these populations have proven to be more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul echoed that point on Wednesday.

"Based on the efficiency of where the vaccines that we have would make the most difference; adults in marginalized and racialized communities need to be at the front," Paul told Kapelos.

"They have been the most impacted and we know that the rates of infection in this third wave are more than two and a half times higher in these neighbourhoods," she added.

WATCH | Njoo: 'We can't rely on the vaccines alone':

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.