This is my 19th weekly COVID-19 update. Subscribe to Dr. Dina
I hope you and your family and loved ones are healthy and safe!
This is my 19th pandemic update, and I am excited to share more positive news this week!
As we do each week, let’s review the bad news, followed by the good news, my most common question of the week, and finally, my silver lining.
What’s the bad news this week?
Canada had reported almost 900,000 cases of COVID-19. Over 22,000 people have died. Internationally, more than 120 MILLION cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with over 2.5 million deaths attributed to the illness.
The race to vaccination around the world is leading to some drama. A shipment of more than 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from Italy to Australia was blocked in a move that was supported by the European Union. Many have become concerned that shipments to Canada may be blocked as well, but Prime Minister Trudeau says, “the flow of vaccines to Canada should not be interrupted. Particularly given that the vaccines we receive from Europe at this time are Moderna and Pfizer.” We are not due to receive AstraZeneca doses from Europe for “a number more months.”
Brazil has a significant problem on its hands with the world’s second-highest death toll, after the United States. You may have seen the unimaginable photos of mass graves in the city of Manaus. In May 2020, studies found that a whopping 70% of the population had antibodies to COVID-19. We usually consider this to be the level to reach ‘herd immunity.’
However, despite so many positive cases and this presumed level of ‘herd immunity,’ public health guidelines were relaxed, and opposition to masking and distancing increased. And what happened? The number of people who have died in their second wave far exceeds the first wave. So much for herd immunity.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been openly downplaying the pandemic’s gravity and minimizing (even attacking) the need for distancing measures and masking. And around 2000 people are dying there every day. Devastating and preventable.
Why have more people died? Perhaps waning immunity, which we know to be a real risk with coronaviruses in general (we don’t have long-term immunity from the common cold, right?). But likely, the reason is the increase in a variant of concern, P.1 (commonly referred to as the ‘Brazilian variant’ as it was identified in Brazil). This variant is far more transmissible and can reinfect people who have already had the ‘wild type’ or ‘original’ COVID-19 virus. We do not yet know if this variant can be prevented with the current vaccines—much more to learn.
Public health experts are cautiously watching the variants of concern, we do not currently have a big problem, but they can become more prevalent and lead to a dramatic third wave. If the story in Brazil teaches us anything, it should be that we need to remain conservative and cautious and follow public health guidelines, even if we are vaccinated (or previously infected).
What is the good news?
Ontario will begin to loosen restrictions in Toronto, North Bay, and Peel this week as the stay-at-home order lifts. Toronto and Peel will go back to the strictest “grey lockdown” category starting today. North Bay will be placed in the red zone, the second-most restrictive level.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said we would receive 1.5 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine delivered this month, and another two million doses will arrive by May. “We have reasons to be optimistic.”
Who will receive these vaccines?
The next phase of the vaccination plan will see vaccines given based on risk factors, including age, neighbourhood, existing health conditions, and inability to work from home.
We now have a fourth vaccine approved by Health Canada.
The single-dose COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson and Johnson was approved last week, and I am thrilled! We now have four approved, effective vaccines. Within a year of the pandemic. Truly incredible!
The week’s most asked question is around the benefits of the non-mRNA vaccines (AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson).
I was asked countless times this weekend if it is worth it ‘to get these vaccines when they aren’t as effective as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine’? Absolutely!
Let’s look at what we are trying to achieve with vaccination. We are trying to prevent severe illness and death. Mild COVID-19 is a victory. Severe COVID-19 and death are a catastrophe.
We need vaccines that will prevent us from getting very sick or dying. And these non-mRNA vaccines do just that. They avoid any illness in 65%+ but prevent severe disease and death in 100%. That’s a huge win! And to boot, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is one single dose. One-shot provides impressive immunity. So, we can get more vaccines into more arms and prevent death in more people. This is something to be excited about.
Studies are ongoing, and an additional Johnson and Johnson booster may increase the efficacy even more. But one dose is excellent to start.
Remember, coronaviruses circulate all the time. They cause the common cold and other mild viral infections. We will never be rid of them completely. And that isn’t the goal. The goal is to prevent death and severe illness.
So, if you are offered any of these four vaccines, should you take them?
Yes, yes, yes!
Be thankful you have the option to take a life-saving vaccine.
Yes, you may get a mild cold-like illness if you are exposed. But you won’t die.
My silver lining of the week
This week every morning, I heard birds chirping. Snow is melting. Temperatures were above zero a few times. That Spring smell is in the air, and I can feel my mood improving. I LOVE Summer. I have been a ‘water baby’ since I could swim, and I prefer warmth to cold.
As the snow melts, I am feeling a sense of relief. We are not out of the woods yet with the pandemic, but with more vaccine options and more shipments, I have a renewed sense of hope. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If we remain cautious and make smart decisions, we can live more normal lives sometime soon. But we do need to be patient. We can’t rush this. In a few short weeks, we can begin to spend more time outside (distanced and masked when needed), but outside, more comfortably. That means more runs, more bike rides, more soccer games with my kids, and swimming. Sun and activity make me happy, and it makes our kids happy. That is something we can all look forward to!
Have a wonderful week, friends, and thanks for joining me again.
Till next week,
Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.