Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on May 13, 2021
May 13, 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.
Vaccines are an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19 and will help end the pandemic. Getting vaccinated will help reduce infection rates, ease pressure on the health system and create the conditions that will allow us to lift restrictions so that we can get back to important social, economic and recreational activities.
Working together, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Canada's Chief Medical Officers of Health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and use to adapt approaches for optimising COVID-19 vaccination across Canada. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing timely, clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy. Canada is continuing to monitor and assess reports of rare but serious medical events involving blood clots (thrombosis) with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia) (TTS) following immunization. This blood clotting disorder, following vaccination with COVISHIELD/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, is also known as Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) when confirmed by a positive laboratory result for antibodies against platelet factor 4 (PF4). As of May 12, there have been 28 reports of TTS in Canada, of which 18 were positive for PF4 antibodies, meeting the definition of VITT; laboratory testing on the remaining 10 TTS cases is ongoing. Based on available evidence to date, PHAC has estimated the rate of VITT in Canada as 1 in 83,000 doses administered. As investigations continue for additional cases, pending PF4 antibody results, this rate could increase to 1 in 55,000.
I recognise that many Canadians who received their first dose of AstraZeneca have concerns and questions, including whether it is possible to receive a different vaccine for their second dose. We know that the AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be more effective with an interval of 12 weeks, so those who have received one dose are recommended to wait for at least 12 weeks before receiving a second vaccine. Generally, vaccine series are completed with the same vaccine, but in some cases, they can be completed with a different one. As well, it may be possible that using a different vaccine type could result in a greater immune response, providing broader protection against COVID-19.
Currently, the United Kingdom is conducting clinical trials of vaccines using different combinations of vaccine types for the first and second dose. We expect the results of a study that will measure antibody responses to these different vaccine combinations in the coming weeks. Once the data are available, the Public Health Agency of Canada will immediately review the data and seek advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on recommendations for the second dose for those who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. For more information regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, I encourage Canadians to reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca.
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 1,305,770 cases of COVID-19, including 76,676 active cases and 24,766 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 a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. Multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, with unique advantages, are authorised for use in Canada. As vaccine delivery continues to ramp up, there is increasing optimism that widespread and lasting immunity can be achieved through COVID-19 vaccination. Benefits are being seen among groups targeted for priority vaccination and as vaccine coverage increases across Canada, we can expect further benefits to protect more Canadians over the coming weeks and months.
However, as COVID-19 activity remains elevated in many jurisdictions, strong public health measures must be sustained where COVID-19 is circulating and individual precautions are important everywhere. The latest national-level data shows only a modest decline in disease activity, with daily case counts remaining very high. During the latest 7-day period (May 6-12), an average of 6,919 cases were being reported daily. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must maintain a high degree of caution with public health and individual measures and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rated are high.
Elevated infection rates continue to impact lagging COVID-19 severity indicators, particularly in areas with sustained high levels of disease activity. These persistently high numbers of severe and critical illnesses have placed a prolonged and heavy strain on the health system and healthcare workforce. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 3,900 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (May 6-12) representing an 8.0% decrease over last week. This includes, on average, 1,381 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), which is 5.3% lower than the previous week. Although the mortality trend has recently leveled off, with a 7-day average of 45 deaths reported daily (May 6-12), continued high rates of infection and high numbers of hospitalisations and critical care admissions could negatively impact this trend.
While COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those under 60 years of age. Serious illness can occur at any age and evidence indicates that variants of concern can be associated with more severe illness and increased risk of death. In addition, circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially-connected adults is an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings. Variants of concern (VOCs) now represent a majority of COVID-19 cases in Canada, with the B.1.1.7 variant now reported in all provinces and territories and accounting for over 95% of VOCs sequenced to date. As this variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity, and as vaccines may be less effective against other variants, such as the P.1 and B.1.351 variants, it is even more important to remain vigilant with all available measures to suppress spread.
This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the B.1.617 variant, first identified in India as a VOC, based on early evidence of increased negative impacts compared to other circulating virus variants. Early findings of the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group indicate that this variant appears to have higher rates of transmission; as well, preliminary evidence suggests the variant may be associated with reduced effectiveness to some COVID-19 treatments. However, we know that regardless of which variants are circulating, vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures work to reduce spread.
As vaccine eligibility expands, Canadians are urged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them. However, regardless of our vaccination status, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as we're beginning to see the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines: 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).
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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