As Canadians begin a new year – the third year in a row marked by the designation of a global pandemic – many ask themselves a familiar question: “When will COVID-19 end?”
In December, optimism about a “normal” holiday was again overshadowed by a sudden increase in cases fueled by the Omicron variant, forcing some provinces to implement severe restrictions. stricter public health and caused a record number of cases never seen in a pandemic.
Yet despite Omicron’s looming threat, Canada’s top doctor says she’s still hopeful into the new year — something she hopes will allow us to live more comfortably with the kind. Viruses have disrupted life for as long as we know.
Dr Theresa Tam told CTV National News in a year-end interview: “It’s true that nobody can really have a crystal ball, but I think it’s just a reminder that we’re not on the same page. same position as last year.
“A lot of things happened [over the last] I think it’s 12 months away, and I’m still in a much better position than I was a year ago. “
Canada has come a long way in its response to the pandemic over the past 12 months.
This time last year, we just started vaccinating high-risk people against COVID-19. Today, Canada boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with more than 82% of the population being vaccinated with at least one dose.
With the emergence of new variants such as Delta and Omicron, we have also learned a lot about how viruses work, leading to the development of better diagnostic and therapeutic tools and understanding. awareness of important public health measures such as mask wearing.
And while Tam admits she cannot provide Canadians with a clear view of when the pandemic will end, she says these developments will help better manage future waves of the virus. without much interruption.
“Every pandemic has an end throughout history. So, at some point, the activity of the virus will become more predictable,” Tam said.
“I think in the coming months we might start to see a little more predictability and also be able to protect high-risk populations so we can learn to live with this virus. This withdrawal is more… but I still think that next year, we still have to be vigilant and be able to adapt and be flexible when needed.”
SCIENTIFIC ASSESSMENT OF VACCINES: ARE THE DOCTORS HERE?
The spread of Omicron has also sparked a massive booster vaccination campaign, with thousands of Canadians lining up for a third shot, raising questions like “What does full vaccination mean?” ?” and “Do I need multiple booster shots to protect myself?”
In December, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization strongly recommended that booster shots be given to Canadians 50 years of age and older and those in high-risk groups to boost the immune response. of the body against COVID-19.
But the science surrounding vaccines, Tam said, is evolving as rapidly as the virus itself.
“After one dose, we knew we had to take a second dose, and we had an extended period in Canada for the second dose, so we don’t know the duration of that second dose of protection, as well as what happens when viruses evolve,” she explains.
“We’ve learned a bit more now, and boosters are needed because antibody levels can decline over time. But the good news, I think, in the evolving science is that two pills can protect you from serious results, and that’s probably the most important sign we should be looking for. ”
Tam notes that boosters will also wane over time, but the hope is that it will recharge your immune system to further protect against serious outcomes, taking the stress out of your system. health care.
“It is likely that we will need some kind of vaccine on an ongoing basis, but perhaps not everyone will. Maybe not every year. Their timing is still unknown,” she added.
When it comes to the availability of booster shots – a factor handled separately by the provinces – Tam urges Canadians to be patient in the face of long queues or booking delays.
“This is what I call a super marathon — it’s not even a marathon anymore. The whole system is taxed… but people are still trying their best to provide vaccines and other support to the people,” she said.
“Doctors who vaccinate are also not easy to find. They are tired. And so I think if people can line up in an orderly fashion, we’ll get people motivated in a relatively short amount of time. “
At the same time, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus recently warned that “we will not accelerate the path out of this pandemic”, saying that most importantly we We give the first and second doses to people who don’t already have them.
Throughout the pandemic, Canada has provided vaccines and financial support to other countries through global efforts such as the COVAX vaccine sharing initiative, raising capital from wealthy nations. to buy vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.
To date, Canada has funded more than 9.2 million doses of vaccine surplus through COVAX and more than 762,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean through direct bilateral agreements. Still, there are calls for more to be done as Canada’s vaccine stocks fill up.
When asked about Canada’s efforts to supply vaccines to other countries, Mr. Tam agreed that all developed countries should provide vaccines to low-income countries, but maintained that the booster drugs very important for Canadians, especially those in higher risk groups.
“I think Canada is taking a very sensible approach. And we have to do both… even though we’re in a developed country, it’s in a very fragile state and we must do all we can to minimize the dire consequences and protect our tired and stressed healthcare system,” Tam said.
WHAT ABOUT RAPID TESTS?
Also in short supply are rapid antigen tests (RATs), a tool many provinces have turned to amid the rise in Omicrons as provincial testing centers reach capacity.
Activity tests that deliver results in as little as 15 minutes have become highly sought after as Omicron spikes as Canadians try to navigate the holiday season safely. In provinces like Ontario and Alberta, rapid-testing kits were given out to every household free of charge, but supplies quickly dwindled causing outrage over supply.
But Tam says that while there is a definite use case for quick tests, they are not an infinite resource or a fix-all.
“I think we are all learning how to use these tests wisely. Some of the most important [reasons] doing a quick check is to keep essential schools and workplaces open and target them to protect high-risk health care workers, long-term caregivers [workers] and visitors to those places are really important,” she said.
“I think it’s hard when people can’t find a test before socializing. But we have to really keep those quick tests for the people who need them most. “
Tam also notes that rapid testing should only be considered an extra layer of protection against infection, not a guarantee.
“If you get a negative rapid test, just remember this is more like a yellow light, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a virus, especially something that spreads as quickly as the Omicron virus. You have to get tested very often to be able to detect if you are infected between the tests,” she explains.
While some provinces offer free rapid testing kits to families during the holidays, Tam says she is unlikely to offer rapid tests to every Canadian household, like them. made in the UK, would be the best use of supplies.
“If you look at the UK, they use more rapid tests, but that doesn’t necessarily reduce the impact on health. In Canada, we actually did better overall in terms of serious outcomes. weight and number of deaths,” she said.
“So even though the UK has rolled out a lot of rapid tests, that doesn’t mean the impact of COVID is less on them. So again, we have to use these tests. as an additional layer but as a means of removing other layers of protection.”
Despite the sharp increase in cases, Tam said the Omicron variant is teaching us another important lesson about how COVID-19 can evolve, noting that “certainly there are more positive things waiting for us.” in front of.”
“We have to be optimistic. Nobody wants this pandemic to last, everyone is tired, but you know, there’s nothing we can do but maintain that hope.”