Why Canada Loses Vaccine-Variant Race As Wave Three Worsens
Much of Canada grapples with a worsening third wave as COVID-19 vaccinations slowly increase, and experts say the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants is throwing gasoline on a fire already raging.
“Many viruses are moving across the country and getting worse very, very quickly,” said Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Emerging Viruses.
“Vaccinations are certainly starting to increase, but we are nowhere near where we need to be to get this thing under control.”
Over 15,000 of the most transmissible cases and potentially more deadly To date, variants have been reported across Canada, over 90% of which is the B117 variant first identified in the UK.
But the P1 variant first discovered in Brazil is also on the rise in Canada, with cases doubling last week to nearly 1,000 – mostly in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.
But experts say the slow rollout of vaccines in Canada has failed to keep up with the exponential rise in Wave 3 variants and that the premature easing of restrictions has resulted in increased hospitalizations and deaths – even among young Canadians.
WATCH | Variant first found in Brazil, latest COVID-19 challenge in British Columbia
“People were hoping that we could get to the finish line and get everyone vaccinated without having to face another wave and unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Dr Leyla Asadi, medical doctor. infectious diseases at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“It’s a combination of our reopening too quickly and now you’re adding these worrisome variations.”
Canada has become one of the only countries in the world to have experienced major outbreaks of three different variants at the same time – making us a giant experiment on the world stage.
“There is no other country that is dealing with the problem like us – we all emerged from them at the same time,” said Dr Zain Chagla, infectious disease specialist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“What happens to all three in the mix? Which one takes over? Which one is the fittest of the three?”
Variants could threaten vaccine effectiveness
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam says another unanswered question that has huge implications for our ability to control Wave 3 is whether variants like P1 pose a threat for the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This virus might be able to elude the immune response,” she said. “But we don’t have an actual estimate of vaccine effectiveness that is solidified.”
Tam says she has called on medical officers of health across the country to gather more information on the effectiveness of P1 vaccines in particular, while encouraging Canadians to get vaccinated and provinces and territories to maintain restrictions. health system in place.
Amid this black hole of data, Tam says Canada may be able to fill the international search void due to our increasing rate of variant cases – for better or for worse.
“We don’t have enough information from other countries, including Brazil, on the effectiveness of these P1 vaccines,” she said. “If Canada sees the evolution of the spread of P1, we may be a country where we are able to produce some of this data.”
Tam says scientists believe that a specific mutation common to all three variants, called E484K, could actually allow the virus to escape the immune response and even allow a person who has had COVID-19 to be reinfected.
“This is the first event that worried us about this P1,” she said. “There was reinfection in one particular person who had previously had COVID-19.”
Tam said that while until now there have only been laboratory studies of antibody response to P1 which have shown in some cases that there is a reduced capacity for antibodies from a vaccinated person to neutralize P1 – the evidence to date is still a “signal of concern”.
Officials warn against travel to Canada
Health officials urge Canadians to avoid leisure travel to Canada as third wave rages, but experts say tighter travel restrictions may not be enough now to prevent widespread outbreaks of more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
“The worrisome variants pose new challenges in different parts of the country. Now is not the time to travel for recreational purposes,” Tam said Tuesday. “Limit your trip to essential travel only and do your part to stop the spread.”
Dr Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, said individuals should take “their personal responsibilities to the extent possible”.
“Stay home as much as possible, don’t take any kind of non-essential travel – especially vacations from province to province.”
Alberta is reinstate strict restrictions at a time when the variants are multiplying, with a total of 676 cases announced on Tuesday, representing more than 40% of active COVID-19 cases in the province.
WATCH | Alberta renews restrictions as communities fight P1 variant outbreaks:
Officials are also investigating several major outbreaks of P1 in large workplaces, at least one of which is related to a traveler returning to Alberta from out of province.
“Even before the variants took hold, we could have been a lot more responsive. But we weren’t and we are now in a situation where we have these variants which are much more transmissible, ”said Asadi.
“We need to take much more stringent measures than before, at least for a while until we can increase vaccination rates.”
Manitoba is the only province or territory outside of Atlantic and Northern Canada to implement strict regional travel restrictions, requiring a 14-day quarantine for all travelers, and has so far avoided a third wave.
“Manitoba implemented it when they saw the variations and we just didn’t,” said Asadi.
“There’s just this reluctance to do anything that seems too drastic, when doing the same old things basically ends up having to institute stay-at-home orders, which are themselves really drastic but become necessary once. that you lose control.
Ontario announced sweeping restrictions and a stay-at-home order on Wednesday due to an increase in the number of cases and overwhelming pressure on the healthcare system, but halted ahead of regional travel restrictions to slow the spread of the variants.
Ashleigh Tuite, infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says variants already account for nearly 70% of COVID-19 cases in Ontario.
“It’s incredibly widespread, so I think there is merit in restricting movement between areas,” she said. “But to control the spread of the variants? This ship has probably already sailed.”
Kindrachuk said Manitoba’s travel restrictions were a key part of its ability to control the spread of variants in Wave 3, but a recent spike in cases and variants locally could compromise this.
“Once they get in they start to taxi a bit under the radar and then they start to take off,” he said.
“Now what we’re seeing is really it’s raging in virtually every province except the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba and the Territories. The question is now going to be, how long can this be maintained?