How will a 4th wave of COVID-19 affect kids in Canada?

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2021-08-17 06:00

Case counts rising, but things are still under control


Is Canada heading into a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases?

With case counts starting to rise all across Canada, some experts are saying that the fourth wave is already here.

“We're absolutely in the fourth wave,” said Dr. Peter Juni, who is the scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, in early August. “There's no doubt about that.”

Experts say that the fourth wave will largely be driven by unvaccinated Canadians, a group that includes kids under 12, who are not yet eligible for any of the vaccines.

This has been the case in the U.S. for months now, where a fourth wave has been driven by those who have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

In fact, reports show that COVID-19 cases among kids and teens in some parts of the U.S. have never been higher.

But does that mean that kids, particularly those who are unvaccinated, should be concerned about the same thing happening in Canada?

Thankfully, experts say that the situation in Canada is a lot different and that kids still aren’t getting as sick as adults are, but here’s what you need to know.

What makes the 4th wave different from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd?

The first thing that makes the fourth wave different is the new delta variant, which experts say is the most contagious yet.

Graph shows 4 waves, the first small, the second and thirs large with the 3rd more dramatic, and the small beginning of a 4th.

(Image credit: Philip Street/CBC)

However, scientists are unclear about whether the delta variant makes you more sick than previous variants.

Another difference in this wave is the fact that 63 per cent of all Canadians are now fully vaccinated.

Since Canada started dishing out vaccines, nine of every 10 COVID-19 cases have been in unvaccinated people, and only one in 200 cases have been in fully vaccinated people, according to the latest available federal public health data.

Experts say that this shows the vaccines are working, and that a fourth wave of cases will come mostly from those who are unvaccinated.

“This is going to overwhelmingly be a disease of unvaccinated Canadians and under-vaccinated populations,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force.

Clinical trials are currently underway to test the COVID-19 vaccines in kids under 12. Experts hope they will be approved for this age group in the coming months. (Image credit: Radek Mica/AFP/Getty Images)

Unlike previous waves, the fact that the majority of Canadians are fully vaccinated means that the chance of hospitals being overwhelmed and outbreaks occurring in long-term care facilities is lower. 

“We can effectively have more cases in our population without having as severe an impact on our health-care system,” explained Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health in Ontario.

This is what also makes the U.S. different from Canada — many of the U.S. areas with surges of COVID-19 cases among kids are areas where many adults also have yet to be vaccinated.

In some of those areas, only around 30 per cent of the population is vaccinated.

Should kids be concerned?

Experts say that, right now, Canada isn’t seeing the same surges among kids as in the U.S.

Experts say the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in kids are mild when compared to adults.  (Image credit: LM Otero/The Associated Press)

Take the Hospital for Sick Children — or SickKids — in Toronto, Ontario, for example.

“SickKids has not seen any increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations or disease severity due to the delta variant,” a spokesperson for the hospital said in an email to CBC News.

Likewise, experts say they’re also not seeing an increase in hospitalized cases among Canadian kids, the way there has been in the U.S.

It’s also important to remember that, according to experts, kids still aren’t getting as sick from COVID-19 as adults are.

Dr. Jeff Burzynski, a pediatric intensive care and emergency physician at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital in Manitoba, said the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in kids are still mild.

In fact, some experts say that the majority of kids who get COVID-19 have no symptoms at all.

How can I protect myself?

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are currently doing clinical trials to determine whether their vaccines are safe and effective for those under 12.

Experts say rising vaccination rates, alongside public health measures like mask-wearing, may ward off the worst outcomes of a fourth wave, even as delta spreads. (Image credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Experts hope the results from those trials will come in the next few months.

Until then, Burzynski said the most important thing to protect young people is for adults, particularly those who spend time around kids, to get their vaccines.

“I think that's a message that needs to be very clearly said: That the higher our community vaccination rates, the lower the burden of illness will be in children,” he said.

In places where community transmission is high and COVID-19 cases are on the rise, kids can also protect themselves by continuing to wear masks, particularly indoors or in crowded areas.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, social distancing and proper handwashing are also important in stopping the spread.

With files from Nicole Ireland/CBC, Alana Cole/CBC, Lauren Pelley/CBC and Adam MIller/CBC

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