Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on March 21, 2021
March 21, 2021 Ottawa, ON Public Health Agency of Canada
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.
In parts of Canada, variants of concern represent an increasingly high proportion of cases, and are being associated with a greater number of outbreaks. This is a crucial moment. If we can keep up with personal protective measures and limit our contacts for a final push to keep COVID-19 infection rates down as vaccine programs scale up, we can keep the path clear for vaccines to do their part. We are already seeing the benefits of vaccines in high-risk populations, with reduced COVID-19 infection rates among adults over 80 years of age and fewer outbreaks in long term care homes.
Each week, a new high is being set for the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered and we can expect more and greater benefits to come. Over 670,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered this past week alone and more than 3.68 million doses have been administered to date across Canada as of March 19th.
Ensuring that all vaccines authorised for use in Canada are safe and effective is a priority for health authorities at every level, who continue to monitor, investigate & report through Canada’s vaccine safety surveillance systems. To date, there have been no unexpected vaccine safety issues (safety signals) identified in Canada. National data up to March 12th, indicate there have been 2,209 reports of adverse events following immunization (AEFI) with COVID-19 vaccines. AEFIs include any medical event that occurs following immunization, but is not necessarily related to the vaccine or the immunization process. A total of 287 AEFI reports to date – about 1 in 9,900 doses administered – were considered serious, such as a severe allergic reaction.
Internationally, Health Canada has been working closely with other regulators to assess available information on the recent reports of rare blood clotting incidents following vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Europe. Although it is expected that rare events will be detected when vaccines are given to millions of people, they must always be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. Based on the assessment of the evidence to date, it has been determined that vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots. However, it is possible that the vaccine may be associated with very rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, i.e. low levels of blood platelets, including cases involving of clots in the vessels draining blood from the brain (CVST) and/or blood clots in multiple blood vessels (disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). This merits further analysis and Health Canada is continuing to work with international regulators to review new data and evidence as it becomes available, including as it pertains to these rare events.
Based on the information to date, Health Canada confirms that the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, in protecting Canadians from the severe outcomes of COVID-19, continue to outweigh any risks, despite a possible link to a rare type of blood clots associated with low blood platelets. As the international body of evidence is evolving rapidly on this issue, I will continue to update Canadians with the latest information to assist in making informed decisions on COVID-19 vaccination.
As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand for the protection of all Canadians.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 930,516 cases of COVID-19, including 22,643 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. They also tell us, together with results of serological studies, that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. As vaccination programs continue to expand across Canada, there is cause for optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. We now have multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with unique advantages that are authorised for use in Canada.
However, nationally, COVID-19 activity has levelled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are now on the rise. The latest national-level data show a 7-day average of 3,297 new cases daily (Mar 12-18). Currently, there are 34,283 active cases across the country. While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20-39 years of age. Although severe illness is less common among young adults, it is important to remember that serious illness can occur at any age. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults presents an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern. For the week of March 7-13, there were on average of 102,676 tests completed daily across Canada, of which 3.2% were positive for COVID-19. As of March 18, a total of 4,499 variants of concern have been reported across Canada, including 4,169 B.1.1.7 variants, 241 B.1.351 variants and 89 P.1 variants. With the continued increase of variants of concern, maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding a rapid reacceleration of the epidemic and its severe outcomes, including hospitalisation and deaths.
Nationally, declines in lagging indicators of COVID-19 severity are levelling off or increasing slightly. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 2,057 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Mar 12-18), including 561 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 31 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.
While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening, and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern. In particular, there must be sufficient contact tracing capacity and supports for effective isolation, given increased transmissibility of variants of concern.
Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, think about the risks and reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask as appropriate (including in shared spaces, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).
Aiming to have the fewest interactions with the fewest number of people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible, while wearing the best-fitting mask is a simple rule that we can all apply to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as vaccine programs expand to protect all Canadians.
Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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