Canada hits COVID-19 vaccine milestone as 75% receive one dose, 20% fully vaccinated

Click to play video: 'Overcoming Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination plateau to a return to normalcy'
Overcoming Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination plateau to a return to normalcy
WATCH: Overcoming Canada's COVID-19 vaccination plateau to a return to normalcy – Jun 19, 2021

Over 75 per cent of eligible Canadians over 12 years old have now received at least one jab of an approved COVID-19 vaccine while more than 20 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, the country hit its 75 per cent partially vaccinated threshold Friday evening with 25,029,378 Canadians receiving one dose of vaccine.

Hours later, on Saturday afternoon, the country had administered enough doses for 20 per cent of the eligible population to have received both shots.

To date, a total of 31,735,308 doses of COVID-19 vaccines having been administered across the country.

Click to play video: 'Could the Delta variant derail Canada’s summer reopening plans?'
Could the Delta variant derail Canada’s summer reopening plans?
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The achievement lands Canada squarely on the first goal laid out by the Public Health Agency of Canada in early May. At the time, federal health officials released what they described as a “roadmap” to earn more normalcy in the spring, summer and fall.

They said if Canada reaches 75 per cent single-dose coverage and 20 per cent full or second-dose coverage — including those 12 years old and above — provinces could safely begin easing restrictions on public movement without overwhelming hospitals and ICUs again.

Click to play video: 'Could the Delta variant derail Canada’s summer reopening plans?'
Could the Delta variant derail Canada’s summer reopening plans?

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, had said back then that if vaccinations go according to plan and if 75 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, people could “look forward to moving indoors together.” 

PHAC officials had said Canadians could even have the chance to get back to college classrooms, play indoor sports and hold family gatherings.

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However, speaking at a COVID-19 press conference last week on June 15, Tam said the variants used to develop those earlier models didn’t include the Delta variant, which is the most infectious one tracked in Canada to date and is believed to cause more severe illness. It is expected to become the dominant variant circling the country.

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“If we model the Delta variant now and put that into that model … it does mean that even higher vaccination coverage would be even better at protection against the hospitalizations and overwhelming the health system,” said Tam.

Tam said that knowing one dose is proving to be less effective against the Delta variant, but that two doses are doing very well, it is more important than ever to aim for full vaccination as quickly as possible.

“Should we aim for higher?” she asked. “Yes, I think we should. As I said, shoot for higher, shoot for gold, shoot for the stars. That gives us a better buffer for managing the COVID-19 situation.”

What do we know about the Delta variant?

The Delta COVID-19 variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first identified in India last fall but was only designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization in mid-May. On June 18, the health body cautioned against the B.1.617.2 becoming the globally dominant variant of the disease.

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Britain has reported a steep rise in infections with the Delta variant, while Germany’s top public health official predicted it would rapidly become the dominant variant there despite rising vaccination rates.

The Kremlin blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on reluctance to have vaccinations and “nihilism” after record new infections in Moscow, mostly with the new Delta variant, fanned fears of a third wave.

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NACI recommends Pfizer or Moderna for people who received AstraZeneca as first COVID-19 vaccine shot

New cases in Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda have doubled in the last week, WHO emergencies program head Mike Ryan said.

“It’s a trajectory that is very, very concerning,” Ryan said.

The variant has already made its way to 10 provinces and one territory in the country and has been listed as a variant of concern by Health Canada.

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According to a recent study from Scotland, the Delta variant of the coronavirus may double the risk of hospitalization among COVID-19 patients when compared with the Alpha variant first discovered in the U.K.

Researchers looked at 19,543 COVID-19 cases and 377 hospitalizations among 5.4 million people, including 7,723 cases and 134 hospitalizations in patients with the Delta variant, who tended to be younger and more affluent.

The risk particularly increased in those with five or more medical conditions known to contribute to more severe disease, the researchers reported June 14 in The Lancet.

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They found that two doses of the vaccines from Pfizer, BioNTech or AstraZeneca still provide strong protection, although not as strong as the protection provided against the Alpha variant.

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Two weeks after the second dose, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was found to provide 79 per cent protection against infection from the Delta variant, compared to 92 per cent against the Alpha variant.

With AstraZeneca’s vaccine, there was 60 per cent protection against Delta compared with 73 per cent for Alpha.

Can the Delta variant impact Canada’s reopening?

According to infectious disease physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch, the country’s reopening plan needs to be approached very carefully.

“We have to protect those who are not vaccinated until everyone has an opportunity,” he said.

“We have to really focus on second doses and really ensure that we have a smart prioritization of second doses such that we can really protect people who are either more vulnerable to this infection or communities that are disproportionately impacted by this infection,” he added.

Dr. Eric Arts, a professor at Western University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, reiterated Bogoch’s comments. Any vaccinated Canadian who becomes infected with the Delta variant, he said, is unlikely to need hospitalization or develop severe symptoms of COVID-19. However, he added, “that’s still not completely clear.”

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“The fact that you could get this variant circulating in those who are immunized puts those who haven’t been immunized at incredible risk,” he said.

According to Arts, vulnerable Canadians with already weakened immune systems could see severe symptoms so it might be wise for the Canadian government to consider making necessary changes to its vaccine rollout.

“If, for example, we try to finish immunization of the 12 to 18-year-olds before we go back to over 80-year-olds for a second immunization, we could be playing with fire,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun 

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