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.”
Is the delta variant of the coronavirus worse for kids? – Delta-Optimist
Is the delta variant of the coronavirus worse for kids?
Experts say there’s no strong evidence that it makes children and teens sicker than earlier versions of the virus, although delta has led to a surge in infections among kids because it’s more contagious.
Delta’s ability to spread more easily makes it more of a risk to children and underscores the need for masks in schools and vaccinations for those who are old enough, said Dr. Juan Dumois, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Weekly infection rates among U.S. children earlier this month topped 250,000, surpassing the wintertime peak, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. Since the pandemic began, more than 5 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19.
The delta variant has been identified in at least 180 countries, according to the World Health Organization. In many of them, the spike in infections has also meant an increase in hospitalizations in young children and teens.
In the U.S., the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 was less than 2 per 100,000 children in late August and early September — similar to the peak last winter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the portion of kids hospitalized with severe disease hasn’t changed significantly.
The sheer numbers can make it seem like children are getting sicker with the delta variant, but experts say that does not appear to be the case. Most infected kids have mild infections or no symptoms and do not need to be hospitalized.
COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide protection against delta. Among children 12 and older — who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations — the weekly hospitalization rate in July was 10 times higher for the unvaccinated than those who have had the shots, CDC data show.
The AP is answering your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them at: FactCheck@AP.org. Read more here:
Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press
Data from 3 major hospital systems reveals how many COVID-19 patients are fully vaccinated – Bring Me The News
While the COVID vaccines are shown to be effective albeit not bulletproof at preventing infection from the virus, their effectiveness at preventing hospitalization and death is much greater.
Four Minnesota healthcare institutions provided specific data that shows the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who are fully vaccinated, and how many are unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated.
Allina Health, which has 14 hospitals in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, reports that almost four out of five COVID-19 patients hospitalized through Sept. 20 were unvaccinated.
Its data show that of 176 COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Sept. 20, 32 were in the ICU and 21 required a ventilator. Hospitalized patients who were fully vaccinated represented 22.7% of the total, and just 15.6% of the ICU cases and 9.5% of the cases with a ventilator.
HealthPartners, which has nine hospitals in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, told Bring Me The News that it has cared for 338 COVID-19 patients in the past 30 days and 53 of them (15.7%) were fully vaccinated.
“Of those 53 patients, only six required intensive care, two needed the support of a ventilator and nobody died. Year-to-date, 6.3% of hospitalized patients have been fully vaccinated,” a spokesperson from HealthPartners said.
Sanford Health, which operates 22 regional hospitals, is reporting that 10.1% of all COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Sept. 21 were fully vaccinated. Only two of 45 in the ICU and one of 34 patients on a ventilator were fully vaxxed,
More of the same from CentraCare, which operates eight hospitals in the region. The latest data provided Thursday (it changes daily and even hourly) had six of 67 COVID-19 inpatients documented as fully vaccinated.
To recap, that’s four major hospital systems that are reporting between 9% and 22% of all COVID-19 patients being fully vaccinated, with even lower percentages of vaccinated patients in the ICU or on a ventilator.
“COVID-19 vaccines continue to be our best tool in stopping the spread of infection and preventing serious illness and death,” the HealthPartners spokesperson said.
Bring Me The News has requested vaccinated and unvaccinated ratios from other major providers, including Mayo Clinic Health Systems, Hennepin Healthcare and Essentia Health.
330 people are in BC hospitals with COVID-19 – MY PG NOW
B.C. is reporting 832 new cases of COVID-19, 117 in Northern Health, 153 in Interior Health.
There are 5,697 active cases in the province, of those cases, 330 individuals are in hospital and 148 are in intensive care.
The north has 977 active cases, and the interior has 1,181.
87.3% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of a vaccine and 79.9% received their second dose.
The new/active cases include:
* 377 new cases in Fraser Health
* Total active cases: 1,932
* 114 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health
* Total active cases: 909
* 153 new cases in Interior Health
* Total active cases: 1,181
* 117 new cases in Northern Health
* Total active cases: 977
* 71 new cases in Island Health
* Total active cases: 654
* no new cases of people who reside outside of Canada
* Total active cases: 44
There were five new deaths reported, one was in Northern Health.
From Sept. 15-21, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 75.5% of cases and from Sept. 8-21, they accounted for 82.6% of hospitalizations.
Past week cases (Sept. 15-21) – Total 4,417
* Not vaccinated: 2,996 (67.8%)
* Partially vaccinated: 342 (7.7%)
* Fully vaccinated: 1,079 (24.4%)
Past two weeks cases hospitalized (Sept. 8-21) – Total 437
* Not vaccinated: 327 (74.8%)
* Partially vaccinated: 34 (7.8%)
* Fully vaccinated: 76 (17.4%)
Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Sept. 15-21)
* Not vaccinated: 289.0
* Partially vaccinated: 87.9
* Fully vaccinated: 27.0
Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Sept. 8-21)
* Not vaccinated: 46.5
* Partially vaccinated: 13.3
* Fully vaccinated: 1.8
After factoring for age, people not vaccinated are 25.8 times more likely to be hospitalized than those fully vaccinated.
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