As Canada continues its effort to vaccinate those most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, experts say what will be considered safe post-inoculation still has yet to be determined.
First and foremost, Canadians should follow the advice of public health experts, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based out of Toronto General Hospital, said.
“Whatever our public health leadership says, I’m going to listen to,” he said.
Currently, public health officials are asking all Canadians to continue to abide by the measures in place to slow the spread of the virus, including practising physical distancing, wearing a mask, practising good hand hygiene, and leaving home for essential trips only.
In a series of tweets on Saturday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said “stringent, strong and sustained community based public health measures AND consistent adherence to individual practices” is needed in order to protect against the new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus.
Tam urged all Canadians to limit their contacts to the fewest number of people, for the shortest amount of time, at the greatest distance possible while wearing a face mask.
However, by spring, Bogoch said Canada will likely see a “transitionary period” when the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and the elderly have been vaccinated, but the majority of the general public has not yet had access.
This will be sometime from the end of March to June, as Canada ramps up its vaccine rollout, Bogoch said.
If hospitals are decompressed and there is a downward trajectory in the number of new cases, Bogoch said the most stringent of public health measures could be lifted by spring, and small gatherings or “bubbles” could be allowed again in some areas.
By that time, more of the Canadian population will likely be vaccinated, and the Public Health Agency of Canada will have issued new advice for those who have been inoculated.
Bogoch said that is when people will have to make decisions on whether they feel comfortable seeing their grandparents or elderly friends who have been vaccinated, based on their own risk threshold.
“Some people might feel more comfortable doing this, and others won’t,” he said. “And that’s OK.”
Bogoch said it’s about making sure Canadians are making “good decisions.”
“This isn’t telling people what to do, this is (about) helping people make informed decisions for themselves because everyone’s going to have their own risk threshold and risk perception,” he said.
Bogoch said ultimately, the vaccines approved for use in Canada “work really, really well.”
“It’s pretty clear that they significantly reduce the probability of infection (and) if people are unlucky enough to get infected, they significantly reduce the probability of severe infection,” he said.
“And most people would agree that if people are unlucky enough to get infected (after vaccination), they reduce the likelihood of transmission to others.”
He added, though, that the vaccines are “not 100 per cent perfect.”
“So with that in mind, people can make informed decisions and work within their own comfort zone and their own risk threshold.”
University of Pennsylvania immunologist E. John Wherry told the Associated Press that not everyone receives an equal immune boost from vaccines.
He said someone with cancer or the frail elderly may not receive as much protection as a robust 70-something.
Wherry told the outlet, though, that most people should feel “more confident about going shopping, for example, or going to see your grandkids, or giving your daughter a hug,” after they are vaccinated.
Less than 2 per cent of Canadians vaccinated
According to Health Canada, as of Thursday, a total of 1,846,340 doses of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines had been distributed across the country.
Of those, 1,468,250 doses have been administered to date, meaning 1.97 per cent of Canadians have been inoculated against COVID-19.
While Canada’s vaccine rollout has been hampered by multiple delays from both Pfizer and Moderna, the federal government has maintained that the country is “on track” to receive six million vaccines — four million doses from Pfizer, and two million from Moderna — by the end of March.
Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will receive “many more millions of doses” in April.
“We’ll all be better off as we see doses coming into Canada getting into people’s arms helping our parents, grandparents and getting our essential workers vaccinated as we move into the spring,” he said.
“We’re going to get there and we’re very much on track to ensure that everyone who wants a vaccine will get vaccinated by the end of September.”
Even so, Canada has fallen considerably behind its closest allies when it comes to vaccine rollout.
Last week the U.S. was vaccinating an average of 1.7 million people a day, and by Friday 12 per cent of the country’s population had received at least one dose.
In Britain, over 17.2 million people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 604,000 people have received both shots.
On Sunday, the British government announced it is now aiming to administer a first dose to every adult in the country by July 31.
–With files from the Associated Press and the Canadian Press