Statement from Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on June 19, 2021

From: Public Health Agency of Canada

June 19, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. At the same time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing Canadians with regular updates on COVID-19 vaccines administered, vaccination coverage and ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety across the country. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to reduce infection rates, while vaccination programs expand, including acceleration of second dose programs, to better protect people and communities across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,407,269 cases of COVID-19 and 26,023 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. They also tell us, together with results of serological studies, that a large majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. However, as vaccination programs expand at an accelerated pace, there is increasing optimism that widespread, stronger and longer lasting immunity can be achieved by fully vaccinating a high proportion of Canadians over the coming weeks and months.

As immunity is still building up across the population, public health measures and individual precautions remain crucial for COVID-19 control. Thanks to public health measures in place and people across Canada continuing with individual precautions, the strong and steady declines in disease trends continues, with reported active cases down by 84% since the peak of the third wave in Canada. The latest national-level data show a continued downward trend in disease activity with an average of 1,137 cases reported daily during the latest 7 day period (June 11-17), down 27% compared to the week prior. Until vaccine coverage is sufficiently high to impact disease transmission more broadly in the community, it is important to remain vigilant and not ease restrictions too soon or too quickly.

With the considerable decline in infection rates nationally, the overall number of people experiencing severe and critical illness is also steadily declining. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 1,481 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (June 11-17), which is 22% fewer than last week. This includes, on average 651 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 18% fewer than last week. Likewise, the latest 7-day average of 20 deaths reported daily (June 11-17) is continuing to decline, showing a 36% decrease compared to the week prior.

Overall, variants of concern (VOCs) represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases across the country. Four VOCs (B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), and B.1.617.2 (Delta)) have been detected in most provinces and territories. While the Alpha variant continues to account for the majority of genetically sequenced variants in Canada, the Delta variant is increasing in some areas. As Canada continues to monitor and assess genetic variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including impacts in the Canadian context, we know that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, are working to reduce spread of COVID-19.

As vaccine eligibility continues to expand, Canadians are encouraged to get vaccinated and support others to get vaccinated as soon as they are able. As well, with provinces and territories accelerating second dose programs, those who are eligible are urged to get fully vaccinated, including getting the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series. The second immune-boosting dose substantially lowers our personal risk of infection and serious harms, provides stronger protection against certain variants of concern, including the Delta variant, and may make immunity last longer. Canadians are reminded that it is safe and effective to receive one vaccine product for your first dose and a different vaccine product for your second dose to complete your two-dose vaccine series for optimal protection from COVID-19.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has provided updated guidance on the use of mixed vaccine schedules in COVID-19 vaccination programs. NACI’s latest guidance, released this week, considered a range of factors from emerging scientific evidence to safety concerns through vaccine supply to provide recommendations on first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. This advice provides provinces and territories with safe and effective options to manage their vaccine programs, specifically advising that:

  • For first doses:
    • An mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, should be offered to start the COVID-19 vaccine series, unless there is a contraindication, for example an allergy to one of the mRNA vaccine or its ingredients.
  • For second doses:
    • While people who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine can receive either an mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) or AstraZeneca, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are preferred for their second dose, unless contraindicated.
    • People who received a first dose of an mRNA, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, COVID-19 vaccine should be offered the same mRNA vaccine for their second dose if readily available. If the same mRNA vaccine is not readily available at the clinic, another mRNA vaccine is considered interchangeable and should be offered to complete the vaccine series.

The change to preferring an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for the second dose is based on emerging evidence indicating a potentially better immune response from this mixed vaccine schedule and to avoid the potential risk of Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) associated with viral vector vaccines. However, people who received two doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine can rest assured that the vaccine they received provides good protection against infection and very good protection against severe disease and hospitalization.

Regardless of our vaccination status while COVID-19 is still circulating, it is important to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer, even as the positive impacts of COVID-19 vaccines are building: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, think about the risks and reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask as appropriate (including in shared spaces, indoors or outdoors, with people from outside of your immediate household).

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.