Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on December 17, 2021
December 17, 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.
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 with the latest national numbers and trends.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,857,999 cases of COVID-19 and 30,012 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 43,909, and 7-day moving averages indicate current disease activity and severity trends.
Since last week, the number of cases associated with the Omicron variant of concern have increased rapidly around the world and in Canada. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization remarked that Omicron has been reported in 77 countries worldwide but is probably already in most countries, even if not detected yet. Omicron’s rapid spread in Canada and globally is concerning and underscores the need to remain vigilant, particularly as we head into the holiday season. Preliminary data suggests that Omicron is highly transmissible and that prior immunity, either from vaccination or previous infection, provides reduced protection against infection with this new variant. Nationally, daily case counts are continuing to rise, with rapid acceleration of cases driven by Omicron in some areas of the country. Modelling suggests that we could expect a stronger, more rapid acceleration of cases if Omicron replaces Delta and becomes the dominant strain in Canada.
During the latest 7 day period (Dec 10-16), an average of 5,001 new cases were reported across Canada, which is an increase of 45% compared to the previous week. Of these, as of December 16, 2021, there have been 344 cases confirmed with the Omicron variant, reported in 11 provinces and territories; however, these cases likely represent just the tip of the iceberg. Importantly, a growing number of cases across the country are not linked to travel, indicating that community transmission of Omicron has been established in many parts of Canada and outbreaks are being reported in a multiple settings. Omicron cases have been reported in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in Canada, as well as in previously infected people. However, it is important to stress that being fully vaccinated is expected to provide us with a reasonable level of protection against infection and likely strong protection against severe illness.
Currently, hospitalisation and critical care admission trends, are increasing in Ontario and Quebec and the national trend could similarly shift. Although, there is still uncertainty regarding the potential impact of Omicron on disease severity, any rapid increase in cases could add additional strain on the healthcare system. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 1,461 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Dec 10-16), which is 0.6% lower than last week. This includes, on average, 453 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 1% less than last week and an average of 19 deaths were reported daily (Dec 10-16). 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, particularly in heavily impacted areas.
Regardless of which SARS-CoV-2 virus variant is circulating, we know that vaccination, including booster doses as recommended, in combination with layers of public health measures and individual practices, work best to reduce disease spread and severe outcomes. Although there may be some reduction in the level of protection from vaccination against infection with the Omicron variant, COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada are expected to provide a level of protection particularly against severe illness. As well, evidence continues to demonstrate that a complete two-dose series of Health-Canada approved COVID-19 vaccines will provide substantial protection against severe illness due to the predominating Delta variant, 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 31 - November 27, 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 31 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
- Among older adults aged 60 years or older, unvaccinated people were 15 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
As of December 16, 2021, provinces and territories have administered over 64 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The latest provincial and territorial data indicate that over 81% of the total population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 76% are now fully vaccinated. Age-specific vaccine coverage data, as of December 11, 2021, show that over 89% of people 40 years or older have at least one dose and over 86% are fully vaccinated, while over 86% of younger adults aged 18-39 years have at least one dose and 82% are fully vaccinated.
Among children aged 5-11 years, 32% have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. As the pediatric vaccination program rolls out 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.
In consideration of emerging evidence on waning protection of vaccines over time, the National Advisory Committee for Immunization recently updated their guidance regarding booster doses of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for adults 18 years of age and over, who are at least 6 months from completing their primary series. Immunization for those who are eligible - but have not yet received their primary series - remains a top priority.
While COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, a vaccines plus approach continues to be essential to the pandemic response in Canada. This includes layering vaccination with timed and targeted public health measures and individual protective practices such as staying home/self-isolating if you have symptoms; getting tested if symptomatic and/or as recommended; being aware of risks associated with different settings; following local public health advice and consistently maintaining individual precautions. 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, avoiding crowding, and getting the best ventilation possible in indoor spaces, are layers of protection that can reduce your risk in all settings. As well, given the significant risks and uncertainties associated with rapidly expanding spread of the Omicron variant, Canadians are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada at this time; if you must travel, be aware of current and rapidly evolving requirements for visiting other countries and for returning to Canada.
In addition to getting fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines and getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose as recommended, we can also stay healthier during the winter respiratory season by getting up-to-date with recommended vaccines, such as influenza and other routine vaccines for children and adults. 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.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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