Canada looks to ramp up mass inoculation of the COVID-19 vaccine beginning in February 2021.
Over a year ago, the thoughts of a COVID-19 vaccine was hard to imagine, but with the commitment of governments and scientists from around the world, multiple vaccines have been produced and mass inoculation has begun.
As Canada’s top medical experts continue the fight to keep Canadians safe and coordinate efforts to ensure a steady supply of vaccines make it to Canadians, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, provided the following update on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last month, the authorization of two COVID-19 vaccines offered many Canadians hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. This hope comes nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time when the days are short and cold.
At this stage of the pandemic, many of us are experiencing mental fatigue and exhaustion, which is certainly normal and expected. The past year has been challenging and a lot has been asked of Canadians – to stay home, wear a mask, limit gatherings, and adopt new ways of living and working, among others. Yet, you have risen to the occasion knowing that these measures protect your family and your community, and ensure that our hospitals and health care providers are able to care for those who get sick.
I know that this has not been easy and that these choices have contributed to real hardships for many of you – things like loneliness, isolation, anxiety, financial challenges and loss of employment. Your efforts have not been in vain. Your commitment to following these public health measures is so important to all of us who are trying to manage this pandemic, so thank you – and please keep up the great work! We still have a ways to go to get this pandemic under control.
Being a runner myself, you have heard me compare the COVID-19 pandemic to a marathon. Right now, we are at a critical point in the race. We are part-way though, but with the current momentum of the epidemic and continued high rates of infection in many areas of the country, now is the time to strengthen our resolve, regroup and make sure that we have the stamina to keep our pace and make it across the finish line.
To ensure that we can reach the end of this marathon, I am asking everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, to continue to follow COVID-19 public health advice. That means following local public health guidelines, staying home when required, isolating if you have symptoms of COVID-19, wearing a face mask as appropriate (including in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household, practicing physical distancing and frequent hand washing, and avoiding non-essential travel). Everything we do to reduce transmission makes a difference in our fight against COVID-19. It is not forever, but it is for now.
I am often asked why it is so important to follow these measures even after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a good question and there are a couple reasons. First, it can take up to 14 days after receiving the vaccine for it to start being effective. Additionally, while the two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are between 94-95 percent effective, for 5-6 percent of people who are fully vaccinated, they may still develop symptoms.
The second reason is that we are still learning about the role of vaccines in preventing transmission of the virus. While current data indicates that the COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from getting sick with COVID-19, researchers are continuing to study whether or not they also prevent people from spreading the virus to others. Once we have more research on the role of these vaccines in preventing transmission, our recommendations may change.
Finally, public health measures currently reduce the risk of contracting all strains of the virus that cause COVID-19. The Chief Medical Officers of Health in the provinces and territories and I remain deeply concerned about the new variants of the virus that have been identified in the UK, Brazil and South Africa and continue to monitor the situation closely in Canada and abroad. We need to do everything we can to protect Canadians, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, by reducing the opportunity for the virus to mutate. This means preventing transmission of the virus from person-to-person, by diligently practising our proven public health measures.
With vaccines rolling out in Canada and across the world, I am hopeful that the finish line will soon be in sight. In the meantime, we must dig deep, continue to follow public health advice every day, and keep focused on our goals – so we can all finish this marathon and get back to enjoying the things that we did before the pandemic. Thank you again for your commitment and efforts to stay healthy and keep your families and communities safe. Together we can win this race.