Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 29, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

OTTAWA, ON, May 29, 2021 /CNW/ - As part of Paramedic Services Week, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Canada's paramedical practitioners for the important work they do each and everyday, connecting patients with a broad range of health and community services. In particular this year I would like to recognize their efforts as part of the largest mass vaccination campaign in Canada's history. In communities across the country, paramedic services are working in partnership with local public health to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines. In some cases this has meant administering vaccines right in the homes of people who are unable to attend vaccination clinics due to medical or mobility issues. These are the kind of efforts that can make all the difference in ensuring that everyone who is eligible has the opportunity to be vaccinated to protect themselves against COVID-19 and be a part of the collective effort to build up immunity across our communities.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) continues to review new evidence on COVID-19 vaccines. Most recently, there has been encouraging real-world evidence that COVID-19 vaccines, primarily mRNA vaccines, have been well tolerated in populations not included in the original clinical trials. NACI has reviewed this new data, as well as COVID-19 risks for these populations and has updated their guidance so that recommendations for people who are immunosuppressed, have an autoimmune condition, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding are now the same as the recommendations for the general adult population. NACI has also reviewed up-to-date information on vaccine effectiveness from Canada and the United Kingdom, where extended intervals are being used. While NACI continues to recommend that jurisdictions maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by extending the interval between doses up to four months, in the context of increasing COVID-19 vaccine supply in Canada, the Committee recommends that second doses be offered as soon as possible. NACI recommends that priority for second doses should be given to those at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 disease after – or at the same time as – first doses are offered to all remaining eligible populations. NACI continues to closely monitor the effectiveness of extending dose intervals and will update recommendations as needed.

As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand for the protection of all Canadians.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,374,275 cases of COVID-19 and 25,440 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. They also tell us, together with results of serological studies, that a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. Multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, with unique advantages, are authorised for use in Canada. As vaccine delivery continues to ramp up at an accelerated pace, there is increasing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. As of yesterday, provinces and territories have administered over 22.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Benefits are being seen among groups targeted for priority vaccination and as vaccine coverage increases across Canada, we can expect further benefits to protect more Canadians over the coming weeks and months.

We are seeing strong and steady declines in disease trends, with 39,903 active cases in Canada, showing that measures put in place are working to suppress the third wave. The latest epidemiology and modelling update show that nationally, we expect the third wave to continue declining, as long as current measures are maintained and there is no increase of in-person contact rates across the community. However, as COVID-19 activity remains elevated in many jurisdictions, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere to drive infection rates down to low and manageable levels, while getting our vaccination rates as high as possible.

While the latest national-level data show continued downward trend in disease activity with an average of 3,376 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (May 21-27), down 33% compared to the week prior, infection rates remain high in some areas of the country. For the week of May 16-22, there were an average of 94,311 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 4.7% were positive for COVID-19, compared to 5.6% the week prior. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must maintain a high degree of caution with public health and individual measures and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rates are high.

Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. Although we are seeing declines in these trends, persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses have put a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,910 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 21-27), which is 16% fewer than last week. This includes, on average 1,173 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 10% fewer than last week. Although the mortality trend has leveled off, with a 7-day average of 43 deaths reported daily (May 21-27), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could continue to impact this trend.

We are continuing to monitor and assess genetic variants of the virus and their impacts in the Canadian context. Overall, variants of concern (VOCs) represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases across the country. While all four VOCs (B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1 and B.1.617) have been detected in most provinces and territories, the B.1.1.7 variant continues to account for the majority of genetically sequenced VOCs in Canada. All of these VOCs are more contagious, and evidence demonstrates that the B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 variants are at least 50% more transmissible. The P.1, B.1.351, and B.1.671 variants all have mutations in common, which may have an impact on vaccine effectiveness, although the evidence is limited at this time. While the impact of all VOCs continues to be monitored in Canada, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, are working to reduce spread of COVID-19.

As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them. However, regardless of our vaccination status, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as we're beginning to see the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, think about the risks and reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask as appropriate (including in shared spaces, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).

For more information regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, I encourage Canadians to reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Working together, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Canada's Chief Medical Officers of Health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and optimal use to adapt approaches. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.

Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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