COVID-19 and the flu: Canada preparing for first surge of other respiratory infections during pandemic

·2 min read
Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam speaks at a news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, warns that this could be the first season where Canada is truly combatting both COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses that usually spread during the cooler months.

"This could be the first season - or the return of the other respiratory infections since the start of the pandemic...and we’re beginning to see some of the usual respiratory viruses returning, including respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, which can be quite severe in younger children," Dr. Tam said at a press conference on Friday.

"Paediatrician, paediatric hospitals and others have been preparing for potential incursions of more than one virus. But I think by maintaining some of these routine hygienic measures, including not sending sick children to schools or daycares, for example, could certainly help, and all the measures that we’ve learned over the course of this pandemic can help."

Canada's 'latest challenge' with COVID-19

Dr. Tam also stressed that it's important for Canadians to keep up with their routine vaccinations, including the measles vaccine and the annual flu shot.

When asked about the vaccine uptake required to essential put an "end" to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada's chief public health officer indicated that with the more transmissible Delta variant, increased vaccine coverage is required to achieve community immunity, or herd immunity. 

"That has been the latest challenge, which means that you have to have very high vaccine coverage," Dr. Tam said. "But the vaccine coverage level required is also dependent on your local epidemiology...and also the contact dynamics of the population, whether you’re densely [populated] or a sparsely populated population."

"This is not a static estimate but can be different for different communities and populations across the world, but certainly even within Canada."

She went on to say that one target would be 80 per cent vaccine coverage in the total population but provinces and territories should aim for 100 per cent coverage.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser with Health Canada, confirmed that Health Canada is expecting to receive information from Pfizer's clinical trial on use of the vaccine in the five to 11 year-old age group early next week. Then the company will file their formal submission with Health Canada, doing so in the U.S. first, likely before mid-October.

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