This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Canadians are entering one of the most confusing chapters of the pandemic — and many may be left wondering why we’re not where we’d hoped to be after becoming one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.
Reports of waning immunity from COVID-19 vaccines, the potential need for booster shots and the possibility of breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated may be leading many of us to second guess what we can and can’t do safely in the fourth wave.
And the more contagious, potentially more deadly delta variant has prolonged the pandemic, made daily life more difficult to navigate and turned back the clock on our collective plans to return to a relatively normal life.
“Everyone needs this damned virus to go away,” said Dr. David Naylor, who led the federal inquiry into Canada’s national response to the 2003 SARS epidemic and now co-chairs the federal government’s COVID-19 immunity task force. “But it’s not done with us yet.”
It was easy to think that once most of us rolled up our sleeves and did our part to get vaccinated and protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19 that this would all be over, but the unfortunate truth is that we still have a ways to go.
“We need to rethink this,” said Linsey Marr, an expert on virus transmission at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. “It is emotionally upsetting because we thought we saw the light at the end of the tunnel — but apparently the tunnel is longer.”
Unvaccinated driving Canada’s 4th wave
The hard truth is that despite our collective efforts to stave off another wave of the pandemic through widespread vaccination, Canada is continuing to see a troubling rise in COVID-19 levels across much of the country.
Over the past week, new COVID-19 cases have risen to an average of 2,848 per day — an increase of 29 per cent over the previous seven days.
Daily hospitalizations have also climbed 39 per cent week-over-week to an average of 917 across the country, while ICU admissions are also up by an average of 29 per cent per day to 340 over the past week.
That’s despite having 66 per cent of the Canadian population fully vaccinated — a number that has plateaued in recent weeks, but is remarkably high nonetheless.
So why isn’t that enough? The answer lies with those who haven’t yet gotten a shot.
Since vaccines became available in December, just 0.8 per cent of cases, one per cent of hospitalizations and 1.4 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 have been in fully vaccinated Canadians, according to the latest available data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“When we look at where cases and certainly hospitalizations are showing up right now, we’re seeing massive over-representation in unvaccinated communities,” said Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair of emerging viruses. “So the vaccines are working.”
But there are still millions of Canadians who have yet to get vaccinated — either by choice or due to a lack of access or eligibility — and that’s putting all of us at risk.
Unvaccinated Canadians pose risks to vaccinated
The bottom line is the vaccines aren’t perfect (and were never purported to be) and even the fully vaccinated are at some risk of COVID-19, which adds to the confusion of how Canadians should proceed in the weeks and months ahead.
Dr. Allison McGeer, a medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003, says the unvaccinated pose two different threats to vaccinated Canadians in the fourth wave.
“Firstly, they pose a direct risk of transmission, and while the vaccine is very effective at protecting you from serious illness and death — it’s not 100 per cent. Nothing in life is 100 per cent,” she said.
“The second thing that unvaccinated people do is they increase the spread of coronavirus in the population. So if you release restrictions, unvaccinated people contribute substantially more to the growth of transmission in the community.”
To put it bluntly, the longer the remaining Canadians put off getting a shot — and until we can get kids under 12 vaccinated — the more the pandemic drags on.
And while we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic, we’re still nowhere near where we need to be to control the delta variant.
“That’s very helpful and should mitigate the toll of the fourth wave compared to earlier waves,” he said. “But it makes no sense to leave a lot of immunological room for this virus to spread and cause more harm.”
Public Health Ontario, a provincial government agency, said in a recent report that the delta variant has kicked the possibility of herd immunity further down the road — meaning we now need 90 per cent of the population fully vaccinated to get there.
“Vaccines are not a panacea, but if everybody got vaccinated — this is done,” said Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Despite the fact these vaccines aren’t perfect.”
Delta changing rules of the game
The problem we face at this stage of the pandemic is that delta has changed the rules of the game — raising the immunity threshold we need to hit, increasing risk in our day-to-day lives and meaning even fully vaccinated Canadians need to keep their guard up.
But instead of coming together in a cohesive way, the country is once again divided over vaccine passports, mask mandates and reinstating public health restrictions — leaving a patchwork system across the country that leaves room for the virus to spread.
Ontario and Alberta have vehemently rejected the idea of vaccine passports to date, although Ontario may soon change course, while British Columbia joined Quebec and Manitoba in announcing passports for the fully vaccinated in response to the fourth wave.
Saskatchewan announced this week that not only would it not be implementing vaccine passports — it also won’t reintroduce indoor mask mandates or lower capacity limits on gatherings despite rising COVID-19 levels.
“I’m really disappointed that some provinces have not moved forward with vaccine certificate programs. This isn’t about civil liberties. It’s like smoking in a crowded restaurant,” said Naylor.
“Vaccine certificates are also a spur to those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated to get on with protecting themselves and others. One can only hope all the premiers eventually wake up to the harm they are doing by side-stepping this sensible measure.”
WATCH | B.C. announces vaccine passport amid COVID-19 spike
The reality is that until that happens, Canadians may need to take matters into their own hands by using the proven tools we have at hand to blunt the worst of a delta-driven fourth wave.
“We have to appreciate that there’s a balance,” Kindrachuk said. “Vaccines are certainly an important way out of the pandemic for us, but they’re not the only way.”
Those tools include wearing high quality masks when needed, filtering the air indoors and avoiding crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation — especially with the unvaccinated.
“Delta is obviously much more transmissible and the vaccine helps protect against that, but it’s not 100 per cent. So it almost puts us back where we were a year ago with a less transmissible virus and no vaccines,” Marr said.
“At the same time, it’s not as upsetting as the first time around because we know what we need to do.”
The Key Role of Trustworthy Babysitters in Balancing Work and Family Life
Are you a busy parent in constant pursuit of the elusive work-life balance? We know firsthand how overwhelming and challenging it can be to juggle professional commitments while still having quality time with your children.
That’s why we’re here to discuss an essential ingredient that unlocks the secret to harmony: trustworthy babysitters.
What Characteristics Parents Should Look for When Choosing a Babysitter?
Parents should look for a few key characteristics when choosing a babysitter. A good babysitter should be patient, responsible, and reliable. They should also be comfortable with children and have prior experience caring for them.
Besides, the babysitter must be able to communicate effectively and follow directions well. The babysitter should be someone the parents can trust to care for their children in their absence.
Strategies for Parents to Establish Reasonable Anticipations
As a parent, finding babysitters you can trust to care for your children is vital. However, it is also important to establish reasonable expectations for your babysitters.
Some tips for establishing reasonable expectations for babysitters include:
- Set clear expectations: Sit down with your babysitter to discuss bedtime routines, dietary preferences, and any necessary medications.
- Allow flexibility: While clarity is vital, also provide room for your babysitter to use their judgment and feel comfortable in their role.
- Trust their expertise: Once expectations are set, trust your babysitter’s judgment as a professional caregiver to avoid undermining their authority and creating discomfort in their role.
Determining a Fair Payment Plan
Determine your babysitting budget, factoring in your income and family size, while researching local rates. Account for the babysitter’s experience and qualifications, giving preference to those recommended by trusted sources.
Engage in open negotiations with your chosen babysitter. This aims to find a mutually agreeable arrangement that accommodates both your budget and their needs.
Tips on Finding Trustworthy and Compassionate Caregivers
When seeking a caregiver for your child, to ensure you find the right fit:
- Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, and neighbours who may have suggestions for caregivers in your area.
- Conduct online research to review feedback and check references to gauge candidates’ qualifications and experience.
- Request references and contact details from the caregivers’ previous employers or families they have worked with.
- Trust your instincts and ensure you feel at ease with the caregiver, ensuring they are someone you can entrust with your child’s well-being.
Being able to trust your babysitter means you can have peace of mind knowing your child is safe and cared for.
Spending some time researching online reviews or asking friends and family for recommendations will help you find the perfect fit so you can feel more at ease while juggling work commitments in today’s hectic world.
Facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home
THUNDER BAY — St. Joseph’s Care Group and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit have declared a facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home, part of the St. Joseph’s Heritage complex on Carrie Street near Red River Road.
The respiratory outbreak at the 112-bed facility was declared effective Sept. 15 but only announced publicly on Monday.
No details were provided with regard to the number of people affected to date.
Restrictions are now in place for admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.
Alberta COVID hospitalizations up 73% since July: health minister
Three weeks after the start of the school year, Alberta’s health minister provided an update on the spread of airborne viruses in the province.
Adriana LaGrange also said more information about flu and next-generation COVID-19 vaccines will soon be released.
“Now that we will be spending more time indoors, we need to make doubly sure we are following proper hygiene protocols like handwashing and staying home when sick,” LaGrange said. “It also means respecting those who choose to wear a mask.”
Global News previously reported that influenza vaccines will be available on Oct. 16 with the new Moderna vaccine formulated to target the XBB.1.5 variant likely to be available at around the same time. On Sept. 12, Health Canada approved the use of the Moderna vaccine.
“More information on immunizations against respiratory viruses including influenza and COVID-19 will be available shortly,” the health minister said.
LaGrange said there have been 28 cases of influenza and five lab-confirmed cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) since Aug. 28.
“This is consistent activity for this time of the year,” the health minister said in a statement.
The end of August or the beginning of September has typically marked the beginning of flu season for provincial health authorities.
LaGrange also provided an update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the province.
From Aug. 28 to Sept. 8, there were a total 92 new hospitalizations and three ICU admissions, bringing the total to 417 in hospital and seven in ICU, a 73 per cent increase of COVID hospitalizations from the last reported info.
On July 24 – the last update to the province’s COVID data dashboard – there were only 242 in hospital.
“Sadly, five Albertans died during that period due to COVID-19,” LaGrange said.
LaGrange said the reporting dashboard is being refreshed to include RSV, influenza and COVID-19 data, work that was originally expected to be completed on Aug. 30. The latest data on the province’s influenza statistics dashboard is dated July 22.
“This work is currently underway and will be available in the coming weeks,” LaGrange said.
She said data for the dates between July 24 and Aug. 27 will be available when the new dashboard goes online.
Amid more hospitals continent-wide reinstating masking requirements in the face of increased hospitalizations, the health minister made no mention of any such moves for Alberta hospitals. Acute care COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta jumped from Sept. 5 to 12, with 146 per cent more healthcare workers and 55 per cent more patients testing positive for COVID.
LaGrange stressed the “collective responsibility” to prevent the spread of airborne viruses like COVID and influenza.
“As a mother and grandmother, I understand the anxiety that comes with sending your children back to school. I want to reassure you that Alberta’s government has the health and well-being of all young Albertans top of mind,” the health minister said.
–with files from Meghan Cobb, Global News
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