Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer, April 12, 2022
April 12, 2022 | 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. PocketWell, a free companion app to the WTC online portal, provides another way to help Canadians access online mental health and substance use resources, and measure and monitor aspects of their mental well-being.
In the weeks since public health measures were eased across the country, an increase in our in-person contacts - together with spread of the more transmissible BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron and some waning of immunity - have all likely contributed to the rising levels of disease activity we are seeing now. Multiple indicators from average daily case counts to lab test positivity and wastewater signals indicate increasing transmission in recent weeks. Unfortunately, we are now beginning to see rising severity trends as well.
While some degree of increased transmission was expected, we are once again reminded that we need to maintain a Vaccinesplus approach, with layering of precautions to help lower infection rates, protect vulnerable populations, and dampen the impact on the health system.
Up-to-date vaccination continues to be the strong core of this strategy. Experts across Canada and worldwide continuously monitor safety and effectiveness data and adapt vaccine recommendations to provide people with the best possible protection over time, and as the virus continues to evolve. Reassuringly, the latest evidence tells us that getting an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine booster dose can provide longer-lasting protection and better effectiveness, even if you have been previously infected. This is why, Canada's Chief Medical Officers of Health are urging people to keep up-to date with all recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccines including booster doses.
Because the Omicron variant is immune evasive, two doses of COVID-19 vaccines offer less protection against this variant than against previous variants. The good news is that boosters can help increase antibody levels that wane over time after the second dose. Although vaccine effectiveness against infection decreases over time, evidence shows that two doses of mRNA vaccines generally maintain good effectiveness against severe outcomes across variants, and a booster further increases vaccine effectiveness to over 90% against severe outcomes.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization or NACI has updated guidance on the use of first booster doses, which they strongly recommend for adults aged 18 years or older, and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years who are at higher risk of severe outcomes or exposure. In addition, NACI recommends a first booster dose may now be offered to anyone aged 12 years or older in the context of heightened epidemiological risk. Given our immune system is less able to maintain robust protection as we age, I would especially urge all people, aged 50 years or older, to get booster doses as recommended, with the first booster dose at least 6 months after the primary series.
At this time, NACI recommends that second booster doses be rapidly deployed and prioritised for those who are expected to benefit the most, namely - residents of long term care homes or other congregate living settings for seniors as well as seniors aged 80 years or older living in the community. NACI also recommends that jurisdictions may choose to offer a second COVID-19 booster dose to adults 70 to 79 years of age living in the community.
There is still a lot we can do to dampen down the current trajectory. We know that using personal protective measures like masking helps reduce transmission. Likewise, getting a booster dose doesn’t just protect you against severe illness, it also provides a level of protection against infection, which in turn helps to reduce transmission. The more of us that get up-to-date with our COVID-19 vaccines with booster doses, the greater the effect to lessen the overall impact of the wave - which can help protect vulnerable populations and preserve health care capacity for everyone. So getting a booster dose matters, and I urge every eligible person who hasn’t yet updated their vaccinations to check in with your health provider or local public health authority to see what additional doses you are eligible for.
It is not too late to get up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines now. However, with disease activity very high and still rising in many communities, it’s important to use other precautions like masking, improving ventilation or opting for outdoor settings and staying home if we have symptoms or have tested positive. As Ramadan continues, and with Passover, Easter and other long weekend celebrations and opportunities to gather before us, let’s keep doing our best to protect each other!
While uncertainties remain, we also need to be prepared for resurgence of COVID-19 in the Fall and Winter, and the potential need for additional COVID-19 boosters at that time.
Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources, including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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