For all of us with two shots in the deltoid, making dinner reservations and booking summer travel plans, a reminder: The pandemic isn’t over.
We may feel more than done with it, but it isn’t quite done with us. Not yet.
Yes, the number of positive cases is plumbing depths not seen since last September. Yes, we are winning. And yes, Canada can win – if the right steps are taken, in the right order.
As has so often been the case since the beginning of the pandemic, Atlantic Canada, and in particular Nova Scotia, is once again leading the way.
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia moved ahead of Quebec as the province with the highest percentage of its eligible population vaccinated with at least one shot – nearly 80 per cent of residents aged 12 years of age and older.
Also on Tuesday, Nova Scotia announced that it was reopening for quarantine-free travel from Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, while maintaining quarantine obligations for travellers from New Brunswick – because that province is more quickly opening up to travellers from across the country.
Nova Scotia has the broad strokes of the right two-step strategy: Vaccinate as many people as possible and, as vaccination rates rise, gradually lower public-health restrictions – as quickly as possible, and as cautiously as necessary.
There are indications that vaccination rates – first shots and second – must go higher still if we want to prevent the pandemic from rising from the grave in the fall.
All three vaccines that Canada is offering against COVID-19 are effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization after a first dose, and highly effective after a second dose.
The good news is that, among Canadians 12 years of age and older, 75 per cent have had at least a first shot. But looked at another way, it also means that nearly 25 per cent of us have had zero shots.
The glass is one-quarter empty.
The consequences of that are illustrated by what’s happening now in the Yukon. The territory of 42,000 reports that, as of Tuesday, 82 per cent of adults were partially vaccinated, and 74 per cent were fully vaccinated. That means the Yukon is more highly vaccinated than any province.
It is, nevertheless, in the midst of its worst-ever COVID-19 outbreak. There have been more cases in the past 14 days than over the previous 15 months. There have been 144 people who have tested positive since June 1, and five have been hospitalized.
“I want to prepare you all that we are going to see more cases,” the territory’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Hanley said on Wednesday. “Our case counts will continue to grow for a while.”
The outbreak appears to be driven by two things: People not getting vaccinated, and people not following public-health rules on gatherings.
The vast majority of those who have tested positive – 85 per cent, according to Dr. Hanley – are unvaccinated. Just 8 per cent are fully vaccinated, and they also tend to experience only mild symptoms.
All of which further illuminates Canada’s path for turning COVID-19 from a pandemic into one more controlled and controllable virus that humans can mostly live with, and rarely die from.
Getting there depends, above all, on a vaccination campaign that aims as high as possible. Alternatively, the path to a pandemic that never quite ends is to leave behind large numbers of unvaccinated people.
Across Canada, there remain significant pockets of our fellow citizens who, for whatever reason, still haven’t been given a first shot.
In Toronto, fewer than 70 per cent of residents in their 30s or 40s have their first jab, even as millions scramble for second shots. In Quebec, 73 per cent of kids aged 12 to 17 have a first dose, which is good, but that’s a higher rate than among people in their 20s and 30s, which is not good. Saskatchewan, the country’s worst performer, has given a first shot to less than 70 per cent of eligible residents. Many rural areas of Alberta have a first-shot rate of less than 40 per cent.
And in the Yukon, some regions are stubbornly low-vaccination zones. While 86 per cent of adults in the territory’s west and north have taken their first shot, the figure is just 61 per cent in the central region.
It’s like kindling for the next wave.
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