Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on Tuesday, March 30, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Today we’ll touch on the recent safety signal associated with the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults under 55 years of age. But first, we’ll begin with an update on the current numbers and trends.
COVID-19 activity has been steadily increasing for several weeks, with a rising number and proportion of more contagious variants driving epidemic growth in many areas.
To date, over 970,000 cases of COVID-19, including 22,900 deaths have been reported across Canada. Over the past week, there have been an average of over 4,600 new cases and 26 deaths reported daily. The ongoing increase in infection rates is now playing out in our hospitals, with rising trends in severe and critical illnesses placing renewed strain on the health system. Over the past week, an average of over 2,200 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day representing a 6% increase over last week. Over 660 of these people were being treated in intensive care units, which is 14% higher than last week.
Most concerning is the continued increase in number and proportion of variants of concern that spread more easily and increase the risk of severe illness outcomes. Over the past week, there has been a 64% increase in new variant cases. To date, over 9,000 variant of concern cases have been reported across Canada, with the B.1.1.7 variant accounting for over 90%. This includes 8,381 B.1.1.7 variants, 358 P.1 variants, and 270 B.1.351 variants reported to date in Canada. New variant case numbers represent the tip of the iceberg as there are thousands more cases that have screened positive for problematic mutations.
Yesterday, Health Canada issued a statement in relation to new data on additional cases of a rare type of blood clot, known as Vaccine-Induced Prothrombotic Immune Thrombocytopenia (or VIPIT), which occurred following the administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in several European countries. To date, no cases of VIPIT have been reported in Canada. Nevertheless, as the data on these additional cases could change the risk benefit assessment, Health Canada, as regulator, has put in place additional terms and conditions on the authorization of AstraZeneca vaccines in Canada. In the interim, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has recommended to pause the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged under 55 years, pending a full risk assessment by Health Canada. Chief Medical Officers of Health have considered NACI’s recommendations and have issued a statement outlining a unified decision to take this precautionary measure.
I know this is another difficult development in the seemingly never ending twists and turns of this pandemic, but there is a point of grace. I couldn’t have said it better, so I would just like quote Dr. Menaka Pai, Associate Professor of Hematology & Thromboembolism at McMaster University who notes, “Strong global vaccine safety surveillance rapidly picked up this rare and serious adverse event. Collegiality, academic rigour, transparency, and medical science will help us manage it.”
As Spring brings warmer weather and as important religious observances such as Passover, Easter, Vaisakhi and Ramadan are upon us, we too must do our best and remember our duty to protect one another. COVID-19 activity levels are different depending on where you are in Canada but there is a risk of introduction and rapid acceleration of cases everywhere.
Please continue to follow local public health recommendations, stick to the safer ways we’ve learned to celebrate during COVID-19 and save gatherings for a better time in the future.
Despite the hurdles, we are getting closer everyday and we’re stronger and more united for it.
Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources, including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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