Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on Jan 21, 2022 

Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer on Jan 21, 2022 

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.

Last week’s modelling update illustrated how the large surge in Omicron infections was likely to peak in January and then recede into February. In the week since the modelling update, there are early indications that infections may have peaked at the national level, including daily case counts, test positivity, Rt (or effective reproduction number), and wastewater surveillance trends. However, daily hospital and ICU numbers are still rising steeply, and many hospitals across Canada are under intense strain.

Nationally, the average daily case count has decreased by 28% compared to the previous week. Although there is a degree of underestimation due to current testing policies, the 7-day average of close to 27,000 cases reported daily as of January 19th shows continuing high rates of infection. As well, with over 22% of lab tests positive for the COVID-19 virus, disease activity remains widespread across the country.

Modelling also showed us that the high volume of Omicron cases was expected to result in an unprecedented number of new daily hospital admissions, exceeding historical maximums. Over the past week, an average of over 10,000 people with COVID-19 were being treated in our hospitals each day, surpassing peak daily numbers for all previous waves of the pandemic. This includes over 1,100 people in intensive care units, which is higher than all but the 3rd wave peak. During the same period there were on average 131 deaths reported each day.

Evidence continues to show that being vaccinated with two or more doses of COVID-19 vaccines lowers the risk of hospital admission. As well, having a booster dose, of either PfizerBioNtech or Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, helps improve protection that may have decreased since the second dose and results in better protection against severe illness from Omicron in particular.

With over 6.5 million eligible Canadians needing a first or second dose of the primary series and many others who are eligible for a booster dose, there are still more opportunities to enhance our protection, individually and collectively, with COVID-19 vaccines.

Among adolescent and adult age groups, vaccine coverage with two or more doses ranges from 83%-96%, with room for improvement particularly on booster dose coverage for adults, which ranges from 21-75%.

For children aged 5 to 11 years, who more recently became eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, the key opportunity is in getting more children on the path to vaccine protection by starting their primary series and raising vaccine coverage up from the present 51% with at least one dose. One of the ways we work to build confidence among this age group is through the Immunization Partnership Fund (or IPF). The IPF supports trusted organizations across Canada to share credible, timely COVID-19 vaccination information with their communities. These organizations can help reach underserved and undervaccinated populations with tailored outreach and interventions to fill information gaps and reduce vaccination barriers.

Next Thursday, a number of organisations, including IPF funding-recipients, Children’s Healthcare Canada and ScienceUpFirst, as well as experts from across disciplines will be coming together to promote vaccine confidence and highlight the importance of building up protection among children during National Kids & Vaccines Day. I encourage parents and guardians, together with their children, to take the opportunity to engage with experts and advocates that respect and support the need for informed and confident decision-making.

Though we still have some difficult weeks ahead and potential for more bumps along the way, our many months of efforts have given us better protection with vaccines and brought us several effective treatments that we remain hopeful will change the face the pandemic to reduce severity going forward. We can all help to ease the path to better days ahead by getting our COVID-19 vaccines up-to-date and continuing to reduce infection rates by layering personal protections, such as masking and limiting in-person contacts as much as possible.

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.

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