Unvaccinated Canadians have us heading towards a ‘Delta-driven’ fourth wave, Tam says

OTTAWA — Canada is seeing an increase in new COVID-19 cases, and thousands more infections are predicted if contacts aren’t contained, warns new national modelling released Friday.

The new picture on Canada’s pandemic trajectory shows the serious threat the highly-contagious Delta variant is posing, and the risk those who remain unvaccinated pose to the country being thrust into a fourth wave of the disease.

“The updated longer-range forecast shows how the epidemic trajectory may evolve through early September. It suggests that we are at the start of the Delta-driven fourth wave, but that the trajectory will depend on ongoing increases in fully vaccinated coverage, and the timing, pace and extent of reopening,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said.

After weeks of sustained decline in new cases, the Public Health Agency of Canada is warning that if community-wide contact rates increase too quickly with ongoing reopening efforts, the long-term forecast indicates Canada could experience a “stronger resurgence” of the virus.

Ultimately, factoring in the spread of Delta, hospital capacity could be exceeded this fall or winter if more people don’t get vaccinated, the modelling indicates.

The predominance of the Delta variant “underscores the need for high vaccination coverage and continued caution as restrictions are eased,” the modelling states.

The new data predicts that in the short-term, the case count will continue to increase, meaning the country could see between 2,700 and 11,800 new cases over the next week or so. As of midday Friday, there have been 1,429,937 reported cases nationwide, and by Aug. 8 that number could grow to between 1,432,555 to 1,441,610 cases.

One sign that Canada’s case counts are on an upward trajectory: the national “Rt” or effective reproduction number, recently started trending above one around mid-July, meaning there are “early signs of epidemic growth” in some regions. This comes after the “Rt” had remained out of a growth pattern since April.

“If the ‘Rt’ remains persistently above one for several weeks, with the predominance of the highly contagious Delta variant, we could expect to see a return to rapid epidemic growth, particularly as measures that slow the spread are eased,” said Tam.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says it saw a five-fold increase in the proportion of Delta cases in June, reminding that Delta cases have an increased risk for hospitalization, and has reduced vaccine effectiveness against a symptomatic infection.

The majority of the Delta cases in Canada are in those who are unvaccinated, or are partially vaccinated, PHAC said.

89.7 PER CENT OF CASES UNVACCINATED

In an indication that the vaccines are working, the modelling does not anticipate the rate of new deaths to increase along with the uptick in new cases.

The modelling shows that regionally, hospitalization rates remain low, with fewer than one per cent of reported cases and fewer than one per cent of hospitalized cases occurring in people who are fully vaccinated.

The flipside of this statistic though, is that 89.7 per cent of all cases are occurring in eligible, but unvaccinated people, and 84.9 per cent of hospitalized cases are people who are unvaccinated. Another 5.3 per cent of cases are in those who are not yet eligible for vaccines, and 4.6 per cent of infections are in those who are partially vaccinated.

Tam said it’s also mostly those who are unvaccinated who are dying after contracting COVID-19.

She is now pushing to see a marked increase in vaccination rates in younger populations, warning that if they don’t increase in the coming months, Canada could face a “serious resurgence” this fall or winter.

Generally speaking, the rate of vaccination decreases in each younger demographic. During the early stages of the rollout, older generations were often prioritized for vaccination ahead of younger ones.

As of last week, 89 per cent of those aged 70 or older have been fully vaccinated, while just 37 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17 have received both doses, 46 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 are fully immunized, and 54 per cent of those aged 30 to 39 have received both doses.

The data also breaks down which provinces have the lowest percentages of people unvaccinated: Newfoundland, P.E.I, and Alberta, while the Yukon and Northwest Territories continue to lead nationally.

More to come…

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