Ontario must speed up COVID-19 vaccination to avoid fourth-wave lockdown, says science table

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Published September 1, 2021 at 7:05 pm

About 76.4 per cent of Ontario's eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The province's science table says that needs to get to 85 per cent, and quickly. (Pexels)

Modelling compiled by Ontario’s COVID-19 science table shows the province is in the early stages of a “substantial” fourth wave of the pandemic.

The science table’s first point of emphasis are that vaccination needs to increase to above 85 per cent of the eligible population to avoid a lockdown this fall, due to the highly contagious delta variant. It is also emphasizing that Ontarians will need to reduce contacts to about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, until vaccination levels are high enough to protect the population.

The fourth wave hasthe potential to exceed intensive-care-unit capacity, which happened in Ontario in the spring. Unvaccinated people will be the most affected by the spread of the delta variant, which is at least twice as transmissible as the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Vaccination offers substantial protection against severe health outcomes,” a summary of the table’s key findings states. “We do not expect to see the same proportion of severely ill cases in the vaccinated. Among the unvaccinated, we do expect to see a rapid increase in the number of seriously ill people needing hospital care as workplaces and education re-open in September.

“The fourth wave will affect all age groups with the potential to exceed ICU capacity.”

In a tweet, the science table said that Ontario is “plateauing” at about 76 per cent vaccination coverage. Only people born before Jan. 1, 2010 are eligible to receive a vaccine.

The science table’s new modelling was released hours after Premier Doug Ford announced a forthcoming proof-of-vaccine requirement for Ontarians to enter certain businesses that will take effect on Sept. 22. It also came out just after The Canadian Press reported that Ontario has issued new guidance for post-secondary institutions that lifts distancing and capacity rules for most classrooms, although masks are still required indoors.

To reduce contacts, the table recommends:

  • Reducing indoor density, maintaining physical distancing, limiting large gatherings.
  • Continuing indoor mask policies and working from home.
  • Implementing policies that accelerate vaccination, such as vaccine certificates, vaccine mandates and outreach.

Ontario last went into lockdown in April and stayed there until June 11, when it entered Step 1 of its reopening plan. It went into Step 2 on June 30, and entered Step 3 on July 16.

Earlier this week, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, who is the acting medical officer of health in Niagara Region, said that the province made a “strategic error” by moving to Step 3 after just 16 days at Step 2. He stated that allowed the delta variant to spread faster.

“We weren’t able to manage the reopening and there were surges of cases as a result,” Dr. Hirji said during a Niagara Public Health Services media briefing on Monday (Aug. 30).

The new science table modelling also showed vaccine uptake by age groups in Ontario, starting with youths age 12 to 17, young adults aged 18 to 29, and so on with people in their 30s and 40s.

The youngest age group to have reached that 85 per cent threshold are people in their 60s. Females also have higher vaccine uptake than males in every age group from youths 12 to 17 to people in their 60s.

Lastly, but far from leastly, the modelling also shows that unvaccinated people are who contract COVID-19 are 48 more times likely to end up in the ICU than people who are fully vaccinated.

The modelling would appear to support what Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has said about the province facing a grim fall and winter. It can be viewed at covid19-sciencetable.ca.


— With files from The Canadian Press

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