Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on June 16, 2021
June 16, 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.
I am happy to share that Canada's elimination status for measles, rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) has been officially re-verified. The term elimination is used when the measles and rubella viruses are no longer circulating after a period of 12 months or greater in the presence of a good quality surveillance system. Since 1983, with the introduction of routine measles, mumps, and rubella containing vaccine (MMR) to all infants in Canada, the number of reported cases has decreased by 99%. Canada first obtained elimination status in 1998 for measles, 2000 for CRS and 2005 for rubella and through our robust national surveillance system and public health infrastructure, we contribute to ongoing global efforts to reach a world free of measles, rubella and CRS.
The region of the Americas is currently the only World Health Organization (WHO) region to have obtained the elimination status for measles, rubella and CRS. However, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) advises that disruption of immunization services, even for short periods, can result in an accumulation of susceptible individuals, leading to a higher likelihood of vaccine-preventable disease (VPD) outbreaks. Such outbreaks may result in VPD-related deaths and an increased burden on healthcare systems already strained by the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, once COVID-19 public health measures are relaxed and international borders are re-opened, risk for VPDs may increase as people start to travel or congregate again in settings where diseases are readily transmitted.
Making efforts as soon as possible to get and keep vaccinations up to date will protect you and your loved ones from serious and potentially life-threatening infectious diseases, while protecting Canada's progress in reducing vaccine-preventable diseases and elimination of measles and rubella/CRS. Every vaccination counts and by keeping immunizations up to date during childhood and through adulthood, we are protecting our health and health of our families, loved ones and communities.
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, including acceleration of second dose programs, to better protect people and communities across the country.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,404,093 cases of COVID-19 and 25,972 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. However, as vaccination programs expand at an accelerated pace, there is increasing optimism that widespread, stronger and longer lasting immunity can be achieved by fully vaccinating a high proportion of Canadians over the coming weeks and months.
As immunity is still building up across the population, public health measures and individual precautions remain crucial for COVID-19 control. Thanks to public health measures in place and people across Canada continuing with individual precautions, the strong and steady declines in disease trends continues, with reported active cases down by 83% since the peak of the third wave in Canada. The latest national-level data show a continued downward trend in disease activity with an average of 1,240 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (June 9-15), down 29% compared to the week prior. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, we must sustain a high degree of caution to drive infection rates down to a low, manageable level, and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly where infection rates are high.
With the considerable decline in infection rates nationally, the overall number of people experiencing severe and critical illness is also steadily declining. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 1,537 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (June 9-15), which is 21% fewer than last week. This includes, on average 694 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 18% fewer than last week. Likewise, the latest 7-day average of 24 deaths reported daily (June 9-15) is continuing to decline, showing a 24% decrease compared to the week prior.
Overall, variants of concern (VOCs) represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases across the country. Four VOCs (B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), and B.1.617.2 (Delta)) have been detected in most provinces and territories. While the Alpha variant continues to account for the majority of genetically sequenced variants in Canada, we are observing an increase in the Delta variant in some parts of Canada. As Canada continues to monitor and assess genetic variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including impacts in the Canadian context, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, are working to reduce spread of COVID-19.
As vaccine eligibility continues to expand, Canadians are encouraged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as soon as they are able. As well, with provinces and territories accelerating second dose programs, those who are eligible are urged to get fully vaccinated, including getting the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series. The second immune-boosting dose substantially lowers our personal risk of infection and serious harms, provides stronger protection against certain variants of concern, including the Delta variant, and may make immunity last longer. Canadians are reminded that it is safe and effective to receive one vaccine product for your first dose and a different vaccine product for your second dose to complete your two-dose vaccine series for optimal protection from COVID-19.
However, regardless of our vaccination status while COVID-19 is still circulating, it is important to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines are building: 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).
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. 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 optimal use to adapt approaches. As the science and situation evolves, we are committed to providing clear and evidence-informed guidance in order to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.
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. 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.
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