Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on November 26, 2021
November 26, 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.
Over the past 24 hours, health authorities in Canada and internationally have become aware of the emergence of a new variant, which has a number of concerning features, the significance of which are still being assessed. This variant, B.1.1.529 which was first reported in South Africa, has been designated by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern (VOC), named Omicron. Provinces and territories across Canada have been alerted to this new variant and have searched for possible detections, but to date there are no indications of Omicron’s presence in Canada. There have not been any identifications of this VOC through post-arrival testing of international travellers to date. Although the epidemiological significance of Omicron is still being assessed, it is considered unusual in that it has a very high number of mutations in two keys areas of the virus’ spike protein:
- one area of mutations is in the spike receptor binding domain where the virus attaches to and invades our cells, which could signify a potential for increased transmissibility of the virus.
- the other area of mutations is in what is referred to as the spike N-terminal domain, which is also known as the "antigenic supersite" because it is a target for our bodies defensive or “neutralising antibodies,” so mutations to this area of the virus may impact our body’s natural immunity as well as potentially reduce immunity induced by vaccines.
Hence due to the potential for increase transmissibility, and the possibility of increased resistance to vaccine-induced protection, we are monitoring this new variant of concern and evolving situation closely. Dealing with the formidable challenges of this virus requires ongoing caution and layering of individual protections. The emergence of new variants is, unfortunately not unexpected, and the concerns raised by this variant further underscore the need to maintain vigilance. In addition to getting fully vaccinated, you can reduce your risk by properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask in public or private spaces with people outside your immediate household, avoiding crowding and improving ventilation.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continues to monitor COVID-19 epidemiological indicators to quickly detect, understand and communicate emerging issues of concern. The following is a brief summary of the latest national numbers and trends.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,777,814 cases of COVID-19 and 29,600 deaths reported in Canada. These cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date, while the number of active cases, now at 23,113, and 7-day moving averages indicate current disease activity and severity trends.
Surveillance data continue to show significant regional variation in COVID-19 disease activity across the country. Nationally, daily case counts have been gradually rising with high infection rates persisting in many areas. During the latest 7 day period (Nov 19-25), an average of 2,608 new cases were reported, which is an increase of 9% compared to the previous week. Currently, hospitalisation and critical care admission trends are still declining slowly, but if infection rates accelerate, trends could begin to rise again. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 1,605 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Nov 19-25), which is 5% lower than last week. This includes, on average, 471 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 3% less than last week and an average of 20 deaths were reported daily (Nov 19-25). Together with prolonged hospital stays these still elevated numbers continue to place a heavy strain on local healthcare resources, particularly where infection rates are high and vaccination rates are low. Keeping infection rates down remains key to avoiding renewed increases in severe illness trends over the coming weeks and months as well as to ease longer term strain on the health system in heavily impacted areas.
We know that vaccination, in combination with public health measures and individual practices, work to reduce disease spread and severe outcomes. In particular, evidence continues to demonstrate that a complete two-dose series of Health-Canada approved COVID-19 vaccines provides substantial protection against severe illness, particularly among younger age groups. Based on the latest data from 10 provinces and territories for the population aged 12 years or older, in recent weeks (October 10 - November 6, 2021) and adjusting for age, average weekly rates indicate that unvaccinated people were significantly more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated people.
- Among youth and adults aged 12 to 59 years, unvaccinated people were 42 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
- Among older adults aged 60 years or older, unvaccinated people were 16 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
As of November 25, 2021, provinces and territories have administered over 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. With the recent approval of the pediatric formulation of Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine for use in children aged 5 to 11 years, the population eligible for vaccination in Canada has expanded and now represents an estimated 95% of the total population. The latest provincial and territorial data indicate that close to 79% of the total population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 75% are now fully vaccinated. Age-specific vaccine coverage data, as of November 20, 2021, show that over 89% of people 40 years or older have at least one dose and over 86% are fully vaccinated, while 86% of younger adults aged 18-39 years have at least one dose and 81% are fully vaccinated. As the pediatric vaccination program starts to rollout across Canada, I encourage parents and guardians to seek credible information from trusted sources, such as Canada.ca to make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination. I also urge healthcare providers and others to support children and their caregivers by listening, sharing credible information, and engaging in respectful dialogue.
As more of our activities move indoors, this fall and winter, we must strive to have as many eligible people as possible fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as quickly as possible to protect ourselves and others, including those who may not mount a strong immune response or who cannot get vaccinated. Nevertheless, using timed and targeted public health measures and maintaining individual protective practices continue to be important for slowing COVID-19 infection rates and reducing the impact on healthcare capacity. While our protection against COVID-19 has been bolstered by vaccines, we also need to think about the return of other respiratory infections. We can stay healthier by getting up-to-date with recommended vaccines, such as influenza and other routine vaccines for children and adults and maintaining basic precautions that help slow the spread of COVID-19 as well as other respiratory infections.
While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, public health practices remain crucial: stay home/self-isolate if you have symptoms; be aware of risks associated with different settings; follow local public health advice and maintain individual protective practices. In particular, properly wearing a well-fitted and well-constructed face mask when in public or private spaces with others outside of your immediate household, as well as avoiding crowding and getting the best ventilation possible in indoor spaces, can provide additional layers of protection that further reduce your risk in all settings.
For additional information regarding vaccination in your area, reach out to your local public health authorities, healthcare provider, or other trusted and credible sources, such as Canada.ca and Immunize.ca. Canada.ca provides a broad range of COVID-19 information and resources to help Canadians understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
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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