Yukon sets out its path from pandemic to endemic for COVID-19 infections

·3 min read

WHITEHORSE — The Yukon government has set out its framework for moving from the pandemic to an endemic approach, treating COVID-19 much like the flu.

Premier Sandy Silver said Friday the territory is scheduled to lift its state of emergency on Aug. 25, after which a six-pillar plan, titled Forging Ahead, will help guide Yukon to safely adapt to the disease.

The pillars include increasing vaccination, continued testing and tracing to curb outbreaks, along with supports for vulnerable people.

Acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Catherine Elliott said it is important not to overwhelm the system by mass screening or unnecessary use of testing.

"Therefore, our testing guidance carefully lays out when testing is needed," she said during a news conference.

"For the most part, it will still be business as usual, get tested when you are sick, or when you are asked to do so by a health-care provider."

Silver noted that COVID-19 has unequal impacts on different segments of the population including women, children and those in vulnerable positions.

"We cannot move forward without keeping all this in mind," he said.

"We shaped 'Forging Ahead' with the knowledge that social connection, physical and mental health, and economic vitality are fundamental to how we need to move on with our recovery and beyond."

Elliott said the strict rules that everyone has become used to will be removed and people will have to learn to be less fearful.

"In the event that we need such regulations, we will work together to bring them in as needed."

The officials emphasized the importance of vaccines and urged people to get their shots.

More than 80 per cent of the territory's residents are fully vaccinated, but it has 52active cases and most of its 671 infections came in an outbreak that started in June. It has recorded eight COVID-19-related fatalities since the pandemic began.

The territory reported two cases of the Delta variant Wednesday.

Elliott said they expect to find more cases of the Delta variant over the coming days even as they transition to the next phase.

"This will not be a surprise when it happens."

She said she is concerned about the partially vaccinated and unvaccinated population and the risk they carry.

Changes will be made, and rules updated, if the risk to the community from the Delta variant increases, she said.

The territory is expecting guidance soon from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on booster shots for its vulnerable population in light of the waning efficacy of the vaccines over time and the rise of the Delta variant, Elliott said.

"We recognize this issue and yes we are monitoring it and following it closely."

Health Canada confirmed in a statement that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is reviewing data and will update its recommendations in the coming weeks.

The two-dose regimen offers "good immunity" for at least six months, although it is not clear how long it lasts or whether and when additional shots are required, it said.

Older adults and those who are immunocompromised may not be as protected as others, it said.

For such populations, provinces and territories may offer an additional vaccine dose, it said.

"This would be considered off-label use since Health Canada has not authorized a three-dose regimen for any of the vaccines authorized in Canada," it said.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that it will begin offering booster shots to all Americans on Sept. 20 and starting eight months after a person's second dose.

"We've seen a lot of noise on things before the officials released the scientific statements based on an evidence review. The evidence review is currently underway, and we are awaiting with bated breath," Elliott said.

"The expectation is that they will outline for which populations and which time periods are most appropriate."

— By Hina Alam in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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