Public health guidelines will need to evolve as more Canadians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but we’re not yet at that point, Canada’s top doctor said Tuesday.
Dr. Theresa Tam said measures will adapt “when it is safe to do so … based on evolving scientific evidence and expert advice.”
It will be about “balancing risk and benefits,” she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday released new guidelines for vaccinated individuals, saying they can safely meet indoors without masks in small groups.
The recommendations also say that vaccinated people can come together in the same way — in a single household — with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.
However, they should still don masks in public and avoid large gatherings altogether.
The guidance is designed to address a changing landscape, the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said Monday, as more adult Americans get vaccinated.
Canada still lags the U.S. in fully vaccinating its population.
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As of Monday, the U.S. had fully vaccinated about 31 million Americans — or about nine per cent of the population — whereas Canada sits around 1.42 per cent of its population.
When asked about the guidelines Tuesday, Tam said there will come a time where health officials at the federal and provincial levels will look at these kinds of adjustments but that it’s just not safe to do so yet.
“We have considerable community transmission at the moment, although things have improved. We don’t know what the variants are about to do and whether we can keep control of their spread. At the same moment, the vaccine coverage is just beginning,” she said.
She said Canada’s eventual approach needs to be “thoughtful, noting that the CDC’s new tweaks are “quite precautionary.”
“It is important that we evolve our public health approach as more Canadians are getting vaccinated.”
But taking caution remains warranted, even if you are fully vaccinated, said Tam.
Scientists are still studying the vaccines’ effectiveness against other variants of the coronavirus and whether the shots themselves make a sizable impact on transmissibility.
In other words, it’s not totally clear whether vaccinated people can still spread the infection to others, which is why Tam and the CDC maintain that even those who have received the shots should continue to wear masks and practice physical distancing in public.
“I think our key message is to keep up your current personal protective measures for now,” Tam said.
“Together with other chief medical officers and experts we will provide evolving recommendations.”
The key part, she said, will be getting as many people in Canada vaccinated as fast as possible.
“That has got to be our real focus,” she said.
“Over time, we will have more information that shows what we can do in the context of people who are fully vaccinated.”
–With files from the Associated Press and Reuters