Ottawa – COVID-19 disease activity indicators, including weekly case counts have been declining for the past few weeks and many areas of the country appear to be at or past the peak of their current wave activity. However, some regional variability in disease and severity trends is being observed, including in wastewater signals and hospitalisation numbers. Similar to previous waves, lagging severity indicators are slower to decline, but are expected to stabilize and decline following infection rates.
As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to circulate worldwide, we must prepare for renewed activity and potential new variants of the virus in the months ahead. In particular, as part of readying ourselves for the fall, with more people returning to in-person work and children going back to school, getting vaccinations up-to-date is a top priority. This applies for COVID-19, as well as for other vaccine preventable diseases, given outbreaks and circulation of measles, polio and meningococcal disease in other countries.
In the almost two years since COVID-19 vaccines first became available, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (or NACI) have been closely monitoring vaccine safety. With more than 87 million doses administered in Canada and billions worldwide, COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to have very good safety profiles. Evidence continues to demonstrate that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines outweigh any risks, across all age groups. Vaccine effectiveness data show that COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection against the most severe outcomes of the disease, including reducing the risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. Although protection from vaccines and from previous infection decrease over time, particularly against Omicron variants, we know that COVID-19 booster dose(s) are effective in activating our immune response to improve protection against severe outcomes up to 90%.
Today, Health Canada authorized the 10 mcg Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine for use as a booster dose in children aged 5 to 11 years and NACI released national guidance for its use in Canada. This booster dose provides a great option to restore protection for this age group, especially for those who are at high risk of severe illness.
Specifically, NACI recommends that:
- Children 5 to 11 years of age who have an underlying medical condition that places them at high risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, including children who are immunocompromised, should be offered a first booster dose of the 10 mcg Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine, at least 6 months after completion of a primary series.
- For all other children in this age group, NACI recommends the 10 mcg Comirnaty vaccine may be offered as a first booster at least 6 months after completion of a primary series in the context of heightened epidemiological risk.
Although there remains much to be learned about post COVID-19 condition (also known as PCC or Long COVID), several studies have now shown that COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of developing PCC, if a person who is vaccinated with two or more doses later becomes infected. Ongoing research will help strengthen the evidence on this important issue.
COVID-19 prevention strategies, including maintaining up-to-date vaccination, remains the foundation of our protection individually and collectively. While less than half of 5-11 year olds have completed their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, NACI continues to strongly recommend a primary series with an authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccine as a top priority. Although the timing and severity of future wave is uncertain, NACI recommends that a fall booster dose should be offered to eligible people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness and may be offered to all other eligible people, regardless of the number of booster doses previously received.
Many of the good personal protective habits we have honed over more than two years of managing COVID-19 can also reduce your risk of getting infected and spreading other diseases, including monkeypox and influenza. Keep up with handwashing, wearing masks in poorly ventilated places, and staying home if you have symptoms. As we make plans for the fall, it is good time to stock up on good quality face masks and rapid tests as well as to book an appointment to check indoor ventilation or HVAC systems to optimise clean air flow.
While remaining vigilant for COVID-19, we are also closely monitoring the monkeypox situation in Canada and internationally. As of August 19th, a total of 1168 confirmed cases of monkeypox, including 30 hospitalisations, have been reported nationally, with New Brunswick reporting its first confirmed case this week. Nationally, there has been a slowing trend in the increase in new cases reported in recent weeks. Over 99% of reported cases are male and the median age was 36 years. Among confirmed cases for whom additional information is available, the majority reported intimate sexual contact with other men. To date, PHAC has distributed over 105,000 doses of Imvamune vaccine to provinces and territories, with over 59,000 people vaccinated with at least one dose as of August 14th.
At this time, to lower the overall risk of getting infected and spreading the monkeypox virus, PHAC recommends practicing safer sex. Having fewer sexual partners, particularly anonymous partners, even when they don’t have symptoms, can also reduce your risk of getting infected.
Read my backgrounder to access COVID-19 Information and Resources, including information on vaccination and ways to reduce your risk of infection and spreading the virus to others.
Access more information on monkeypox, including symptoms to be aware of, and ways to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community: Monkeypox: Risks.