Statement from the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health (CCMOH) on the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic response
As Canada approaches the two-year mark of the pandemic, it is important to recognize all that we have collectively accomplished. We recognize the strength of Canadians and the sacrifices that we have all made in these unprecedented times. Going forward, we are in a stronger position than ever before. Over one year into the largest vaccination campaign in Canadian history, we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with close to 84% of eligible people in Canada having at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination, together with all the public health measures and changes we have made to our way of living, working and socializing, has worked to minimize COVID-19 harms in Canada. These measures have saved lives but have come at a cost. As we emerge from the Omicron wave, it is an opportune time to take a broad perspective and map out our path forward as we look towards the spring and brighter days ahead.
The emergence of the Omicron variant in Canada and across the world was a reminder that as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves both globally and domestically, we must remain nimble in our response and ready to respond to new risks in an appropriate and proportionate manner. Our goal of minimizing serious illness and overall deaths, while minimizing societal disruption, remains unchanged. With the decline of the Omicron wave, and as we transition away from the crisis phase, it is now time to rebalance our collective efforts towards a more sustainable approach to long term management of COVID-19. As populations and health care capacities differ across jurisdictions, there will be variability in how each province, territory and community assesses risk and responds to the needs of their respective jurisdictions.
As we enter the transition phase, we should anticipate additional waves and outbreaks. Progress may not be linear. Future COVID-19 activity will depend on factors such as waning immunity, potential for repeated emergence of highly immune-evasive and/or more severe variants of concern, and seasonal dynamics.
Building off our experience and knowledge of the disease, we will need to have the capacity in place to cope with COVID-19, which should be more predictable and manageable in both the near future and if COVID-19 becomes endemic. In the longer term, we will continue to rely on the various tools in our toolbox, including vaccines, treatments, robust surveillance and public health and healthcare infrastructure. Public health authorities will provide general guidance and recommendations but there is less need to adjust and tailor COVID-specific population-based disease control measures once a disease is in an endemic state.
As public health authorities maintain a state of readiness, closely monitor for signals of concern, and adapt advice for rapid and appropriate response to surges or new variants of concern, we are now all more knowledgeable and better equipped to make informed risk-based decisions for ourselves and those around us. This includes keeping COVID-19 vaccinations up to date, being aware of personal and family risks, and maintaining individual public health measures such as wearing masks, staying home when sick, increased hand washing, and improving ventilation of indoor spaces so that we return to enjoying the things we love the most. And, as this pandemic has shown us, supporting communities to shape decisions and lead tailored solutions.
We want to move forward with hope and resilience. Through our recovery efforts, we must learn about and address the many broader health consequences and the impacts of interrupted health care, public health and social program delivery, which have occurred over the last two years. The pandemic has revealed and amplified deeply entrenched health, social, and economic inequities that exist in Canada – and we can see, more than ever before, the interaction of the social determinants of health in shaping negative health outcomes and driving health inequities. We need to address adverse outcomes from restrictions; in particular, the disproportionate negative impacts, including mental health impacts, the pandemic response has had on certain groups including children and youth; front line service workers; seniors; those in congregate settings such as long-term care, shelters and correctional institutions; those with intersecting risk factors such as newcomers to Canada; racialized communities; and Indigenous Peoples. While we continue to work together to create a more robust public health system, equity needs to continually be at the center of our efforts.
This pandemic has highlighted the need to take action as individuals and as a community to improve our health and wellbeing to make us collectively a healthier and more resilient society. As part of these efforts, public health officials will continue to work on improving inter-sectoral collaboration to strengthen social and economic policies that protect health, prevent disease, and build resilience.
The reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future and there will continue to be new and important roles for public health to play. A strong and resilient public health system is Canada’s best defense against future public health threats. Building the capacity of our health care systems to ensure enhanced surge capacity for future crises is equally important. Strengthening the interconnectivity of these systems and continuing to strive for a cohesive approach in our response to future crises will also remain a priority.
Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health continue to provide updated, evidence-based recommendations to help us all make informed decisions for our individual and collective circumstances. It is our shared responsibility to continue leveraging the tools that can help us get back to enjoying the things we love most and minimize disruptions to the services and activities that are important to individuals, families, and communities. As we gradually shift from public health mandates to guidance and recommendations, our collective actions will continue to ensure the health and safety of all those living in Canada. We would like to thank all Canadians, and in particular our public health and health care colleagues, for their immense and ongoing contributions to our country’s pandemic response.
The Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health includes the Chief Medical Officer of Health from each provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, the Chief Medical Advisor of Health Canada, the Chief Medical Officer of Public Health of Indigenous Services Canada, the Chief Medical Officer from the First Nations Health Authority, and ex-officio members from other federal government departments.
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