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Hamilton ICU doctor believes his bout with COVID could’ve been worse if not for vaccines

A Hamilton Health Sciences ICU director believes his bout with COVID would have been worse if hadn't gotten his three vaccine doses. Don Mitchell / Global News

After dodging COVID-19 working in a high-risk setting for close to two years, a Hamilton doctor says he feels fortunate to have been vaccinated when the affliction caught up with him in March.

Dr. Sunjay Sharma couldn’t believe it when his rapid antigen test turned up positive on the 10th after having followed prevention protocols for years and dodging the affliction during some of the pandemic’s darkest days.

“I got home that evening and I wasn’t feeling well. I thought it maybe just had a cold or some allergies,” the medical director of Hamilton General’s intensive care unit (ICU) told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

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“So when we did the test and tested positive, I kinda had to do another one because I couldn’t believe that I had it. It was definitely a surprise.”

Sharma, 42, says COVID confined him to a bed for about three of four days with a fever of 104 C, sore muscles and headaches and spread to family members including his wife and two young children.

Read more: U.S. gives full approval to 1st COVID-19 drug for young children

“My wife also had the same symptoms, but she’s also lost her sense of smell and taste, so that’s only slowly starting to come back now,” said Sharma.

“But certainly one of my younger children, we were on the cusp of taking him to the emergency department because his breathing was so bad.”

The onset of the doctor’s infection came just days after the province ended its COVID-19 vaccine passport system and relaxed capacity limits in indoor public settings despite concerns from the health community over the rise of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant.

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In the second week of March, close to 200 of Sharma’s Hamilton Health Sciences colleagues were off work isolating with COVID – eventually increasing to about 500 a month later.

Although bed-ridden for a few days by COVID, Sharma believes he his three COVID vaccine doses were paramount to avoiding a stay at an ICU.

“It really kind of brought home how sick you can get from this,” Sharma said.

“I’m pretty convinced had I not had the vaccines, I probably would have ended up in the hospital.”

Read more: Feds invest $6.7M on research project looking at impact of COVID-19 on youth

Staff isolation cases have begun to decline across Hamilton from the over 700 reported by both networks on April 6 to 478 as of Monday.

Even so, Sharma says that’s still a significant number that could be “trouble” in terms of maintaining service in city’s hospitals with anticipated increases in trauma visits due to better weather and residents spending more time outdoors.

“So it is very concerning that people are getting it and although they may not be getting sick, they have to stay home from work, which kind of impairs the hospital’s ability to provide care,” said Sharma.

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Hamilton’s hospital networks reported 148 total COVID-related admissions as of April 25 — almost 100 more patients compared to the same date in March.

Week over week, both Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joe’s have seen about 30 more COVID patients check-in with 11 in ICU as of Monday.

Read more: Ontario COVID numbers: 1,455 people in hospital, 219 in intensive care

Ontario has 1,455 people in hospital with COVID as of Monday, with 219 in intensive care.

That’s 93 more compared to Sunday and an increase of seven in ICUs.

Last Monday, Ontario had 1,301 hospitalizations with 202 in ICU —  a 12-per cent and 8-per cent increase, respectively, this week.

Sharma says those numbers show the virus will not be gone anytime soon and he hopes residents will remain vigilant during the spring and summer months.

“If we start celebrating … and become too relaxed too early, there’s a real possibility that we’re going to end up back like we were six months ago,” said Sharma.

“Nobody wants that, particularly physicians and the nurses and the hospitals. But we run the risk.”

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Over 300 COVID cases connected to 27 institutional outbreaks

Institutional outbreaks across Hamilton are up over the last seven days to 27 confirmed surges involving 307 total cases as of Monday.

A month ago, there were just 45 cases connected with six outbreaks.

Over 220 of the current outbreak cases are at homes with seniors. Long-term care homes account for 138 of those.

Public health reported one new COVID-related death — a person in their 60s — over the past seven days, putting the city’s pandemic total at 541 in the past week.

Hamilton has had 18 COVID-related deaths in the past 30 days, according to city data.

City wastewater samples being tested for COVID are showing the highest amounts of viral signal seen since the data has been coming in from a research group at the University of Ottawa.

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Samples have show consistent increases since April 11 and are on par with data being reported in a number of Ontario communities.

Hamilton Public Health COVID-19 Wastewater monitoring table as of April 20, 2022. City of Hamilton

Last week, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table suggested the data may be revealing a “peak” in the current wave fueled by the rise of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant.

The table said wastewater signals have “increased substantially” but growth has slowed down, adding that it “may have crested.”

Despite those indications from the modelling, Ontario is expected to see a rise in hospital occupancies with “uncertainty in the timing and height of the peak.”

Over 88 per cent of Hamiltonians 12-plus fully vaccinated

More than 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Hamilton as of Monday which includes around 472,000 second doses and 295,000 third shots.

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The city’s 832 average shots per day through April are up compared to March’s average of 404 every 24 hours but distant compared to January’s average of about 4,500 shots per day.

Public Health data estimates a 12-per cent increase in vaccinations week over week.

Hamilton lags behind the provincial average, with Ontario reporting 93 per cent of those aged 12 and older as having at least a single dose and 91.1 per cent fully vaccinated.

Just over 88 per cent of Hamiltonians aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. First-dose coverage stands at 90.5 per cent. Third-dose immunization is at 54.5 per cent.

Read more: List of participating pharmacies in Ontario dispensing COVID antiviral pill Paxlovid

Fifty-three per cent of children aged five to 11 have had at least one dose of a vaccine in Hamilton, with second doses at just over 38 per cent. The numbers are on par with the provincial rates in that age group, which stand at 56.1 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.

Youth in the 12-17 age bracket represent the group with the second-lowest of the vaccination rates, according to city data. Just over 86 per cent have had a single dose, 83 per cent have had a second shot and just 15 per cent have had a third.

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