Vaccination Strategy : Despite Canada’s struggles in COVID-19 fight, hope on the horizon with shift in vaccination strategy, some experts say
Canada is struggling to make progress in its fight against COVID-19, as vaccinations have so far failed to tame the surge of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by the more contagious variants of the virus now tearing across the country.
But some experts predict there is hope on the horizon, and the shift in vaccination strategy already underway to target virus hot spots could start to yield gains within four to six weeks.
“We would be able to see slow and cautious reopening,” said Caroline Colijn, a Simon Fraser University professor who holds a Canada 150 Research Chair in mathematics for evolution, infection and public health.
She cautioned that even if the strategy starts to bear fruit, enough people will still be vulnerable to the virus that some restrictions will still be necessary.
“It won’t be summer, back to normal,” she said.
According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, the number of new cases recorded in the country each week has tripled since the start of March, growing to more than 60,000 for the week of April 12. Over the same period the number of deaths each week rose from about 240 to 320.
Hospitalizations have also continued to spike, and provincial health care systems are at risk of being overwhelmed. As of Friday, almost 4,400 people were in hospital with COVID-19, more than 1,300 of them in critical care.
Those grim numbers come even as Canada has dramatically accelerated its vaccine rollout.
More than a quarter of Canadians, or 27.6 per cent, have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine. At the beginning of March, the number was less than five per cent. More than 11.3 million doses have now been administered.
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The initial phase of Canada’s vaccination program focused on inoculating those who were most at risk of severe outcomes if they contracted the virus, like long-term-care residents and older citizens.
Colijn said that strategy saved lives, but authorities are now realizing that to slow transmission they need to focus on vaccinating those most likely to spread the virus, like essential workers and younger residents in hard-hit neighbourhoods.
Earlier this month, the Ontario government announced residents 18 and older in 114 hot spot communities would be eligible for vaccines. British Columbia is prioritizing people 40 and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods.
Colijn said her modelling shows the targeted strategy should be “noticeably denting” transmission rates by mid-May to late June, depending on the province. If so, provincial authorities could start to safely reverse restrictions instituted at the start of the third wave like stay-at-home orders, indoor dining prohibitions and strict customer limits at businesses.
“Hopefully this will be the first time that we will be able to relax some of the measures without seeing rises in cases, because of the vaccination,” Colijn said.
Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said any progress will be dependent on ensuring there are enough doses to reach the at-risk populations fast, and that new, more dangerous variants don’t emerge.
“We need a lot more vaccine to vaccinate more people more quickly, and the strategy has got to evolve very quickly toward addressing the hot spots . . . to even have a chance of being successful,” he said.
As of Friday, there had been about 1.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada since the start of the pandemic, and 23,825 people had died.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr
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