Only two months into Canada’s nationwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, officials say there are early signs the precious drug is having an impact on infection rates.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, acknowledged that the evidence is still premature, but appeared cautiously optimistic.
“The early indications are that it’s starting to have an impact,” he told reporters at a virtual news conference on Thursday. “The rates of infection and obviously, subsequently, the hospitalization and deaths as a result of COVID-19… are starting to go down.”
Researchers around the world are eagerly watching for early signs that the global vaccination effort is tipping the pandemic scale in the right direction.
Last week, Israeli researchers reported preliminary figures showing that not only does the vaccine reduce severe illness by 92 per cent, but also that vaccinated people are also about one-third less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than people who have not received a shot.
But experts around the world say there are many factors that will determine how effective vaccines are on the pandemic and that the widespread effects will take time to become clear.
Njoo echoed that Thursday.
“I think I would wait,” he said. “Certainly, as time goes on, we’ll have more robust data to be able to present to all of you.”
Reported daily coronavirus infections have been falling across the world for about a month.
In Canada, hospitalizations are also gradually trending downward.
The national tally of total cases since the onset of the global health crisis surpassed 830,000 this month. Federal data shows Canada has logged more than 21,000 deaths. But some of the hardest-hit provinces — including Ontario and Quebec — have reported drops in hospitalizations in recent weeks.
Hospitalizations and death rates are “lagging indicators,” Njoo said, but they can be interpreted slightly differently.
“Before vaccination, we would always say that it usually takes several weeks after exposure and (infection) before we see whatever happens with hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.
“In our case now, with the vaccinations, they’re rolling out quite well across the country.”
But health experts are warning against apathy, even as vaccines are being rolled out.
The World Health Organization said Thursday that reductions in infections and deaths will also coincide with lockdowns and severe curbs on movement and gatherings.
“Now is not the time to let your guard down,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing in Geneva.
“We cannot let ourselves get into a situation where we have cases rise again.”
As of Feb. 18, more than 1,341,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Canada, the vast majority in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.
— with files from The Canadian Press and ReutersView link »