Canada could see a resurgence of COVID-19 cases even if the country manages to fully vaccinate a majority of its population, according to experts.
University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine told Global News on Friday that the possibility of new or existing variants of COVID-19 spreading throughout Canada could lead to a possible resurgence in new cases.
As an example, Muhajarine pointed to the small East African island nation of Seychelles which had at least 60 per cent of its population fully vaccinated with either the Sinopharm or AstraZeneca vaccines.
With the majority of that country’s population having already had two shots, the island nation decided to open its borders to tourism — an industry it heavily relied on. That opening, according Muhajarine, eventually resulted in another surge of the virus that was “driven by variants.”
“So you know, we are seeing these cases of countries seeing a resurgence of the virus, and they in fact have lots of people fully vaccinated — and we will see that too, we will see that going forward,” he said.
Muhajarine’s warning comes as Canada itself just reached its milestone of 50 per cent of the population receiving at least one shot of the vaccine, while only about four per cent of the population has received two doses.
The B.1.1.7 variant, which first originated in the U.K., has, for the most part, become the dominant variant of the virus in Canada.
Shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have proven to be effective against that variant, according to a recent study, while Moderna itself said back in January that its shot appeared to be effective against the U.K. and B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa.
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Cases of the B.1.351 and the B.1.617 variant first found in India are still continuing to spread in Canada, albeit slowly.
Despite that, Muhajarine renewed calls for the federal and provincial governments to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible, and to double down on infectious disease monitoring and rapid testing.
That warning also comes just ahead of the long holiday weekend, which experts say will most likely contribute to another spike in new cases down the road.
Concerns over increased social gatherings during the Victoria Day weekend have led several public health officials and frontline workers to brace for a surge in cases.
Epidemiologists have cited an increase in new cases just about six to 10 days following almost all social events.
Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba, said that while he expects the surge in new cases from this weekend to be subdued due to several factors, including the country’s vaccine rollout, there still is uncertainty in predicting whether or not another wave of the virus could come in the future.
“It’s tough to say … What I can say is the virus continues to be unpredictable — we don’t have a blueprint for COVID-19,” said Kindrachuk, who pointed to the worldwide inexperience in dealing with the novel coronavirus. He said that it would also be difficult to draw from our experiences dealing with previous flu or coronavirus outbreaks as well, simply because the population hasn’t “been in this situation before” with COVID-19.
While he agreed that there was a potential for yet another wave, Kindrachuk noted that the possibility or severity of one hinges on several factors — like whether or not we could see new variants come into play or if vaccines continued to provide protection against such variants.
— With files from Reuters