Ontario sees 966 new COVID-19 cases as questions over vaccine timing linger

Ontario reported another 966 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as debate continues around whether the province should expand the time between vaccine doses to speed up its immunization efforts.

Province exploring extending time interval between first and second doses of vaccines

Kelly Stepto shields her 91-year-old mother, Patricia Nind, from the wind and snow outside as they wait outside a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Richmond Hill yesterday. (Evan MItsui/CBC)

Ontario reported another 966 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as debate continues around whether the province should expand the time between vaccine doses to speed up its immunization efforts.

The new cases include 253 in Toronto, 223 in Peel Region and 99 in York Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Ottawa: 64
  • Waterloo Region: 46
  • Thunder Bay: 39
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 36
  • Durham Region: 34
  • Halton Region: 32
  • Hamilton: 23
  • Windsor-Essex: 23
  • Sudbury: 19
  • Brant County: 13
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 13
  • Lambton: 11

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)

The seven-day average of daily cases fell slightly to 1,098.

The cases come as Ontario's lab network processed 30,767 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.9 per cent.

Seven more cases of the virus variant first found in the United Kingdom were confirmed through whole genome sequencing, bringing the total in Ontario so far to 542. However, coronavirus variants remain tied to several outbreaks, including one at a Toronto school.

The Ministry of Education also reported 262 further school-related cases: 231 students, 30 staff members and one person who was not identified.

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 677 people with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals. Of those, 284 were being treated in intensive care, four more than yesterday, and 189 required a ventilator to breathe.

With 11 additional deaths in today's update, Nearly 7,000 people with COVID-19 have now died in Ontario. As of yesterday evening, the official death toll stood at 6,997.

The seven-day average of deaths, however, has decreased in the wake of the province giving out first doses of vaccines to residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes.

Health units administered 22,326 shots yesterday. A total of 264,896 people have now received both doses of a vaccine and are considered fully immunized.

Ontario explores extending time between vaccine doses

Public health officials in Ontario are currently exploring whether the interval between doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be extended. The move would allow for more first jabs to be given out more quickly, and single doses of both have been shown to impart considerable immunity to the virus.

Yesterday, British Columbia's provincial health officer said that the province would extend the time between doses to four months, with the goal of giving all of its residents who want one a first dose by July (B.C.'s population is just over five million.) 

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the change is based on the "miraculous" protection offered by a single shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which can be up to about 90 per cent.

Quebec has similarly increased the interval between shots to 90 days. Internationally, both the United Kingdom and Israel have also allowed for more generous timing between shots.

Other jurisdictions, such as the U.S., are for now sticking with the recommended 21 and 28 day intervals dictated by clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, respectively.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones released a joint statement Monday, saying the province has sought guidance from the federal government and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on whether it should follow B.C.

WATCH | Vaccine task force member Dr. Isaac Bogoch on extending time between doses:

Public needs open, honest discussion to maintain trust in vaccines, says specialist

7 months ago
Open communication about evolving decisions around COVID-19 vaccinations is very important to keep public trust, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario's COVID-19 task force. 8:14

Throughout Phase 1 of Ontario's ongoing vaccination campaign, second doses were delayed up to 42 days for some cohorts.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of Ontario's vaccine task force, said that given the urgency of the vaccination effort, people should expect to see more discussion about how long a second shot can wait.

"Quite frankly, this is a public health emergency and that's why many jurisdictions are starting to delay that second dose and that's why I think you will see the debate raging around how far we can extend that second dose," he told CBC News Network.

Bogoch added that there is "emerging data" from multiple places and sources to support increasing the interval.

Seniors wait to enter a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Brampton. Peel Region is one of several public health units that began offering first doses to people 80 years and older this week, ahead of the provincial government's official start date. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park today, Elliott said her ministry is "anxiously awaiting" the results of NACI's review of Ontario's request. 

"We've been following the recommendations of NACI and Health Canada at every step along the way. We want to make sure that the decisions that Ontario makes are based on science," she continued.

Re-visit guidance on AstraZeneca vaccine, expert says

Meanwhile, there is also continued debate over NACI's guidance on the recently-approved AstraZeneca vaccine. NACI said late last week that it is not recommending the vaccine for those 65 years old and above. The committee argued that AstraZeneca's clinical trials did not provide enough data on the efficacy of the vaccine for that age group.

Evidence from the U.K. however, suggests that a single dose of the Astrazeneca vaccine is "extremely effective" at limiting severe illness and death from COVID-19 for those aged 65 and older, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning,  Chakrabarti said he believes NACI's decision is short-sighted and could actually contribute to vaccine hesitancy for those offered the AstraZeneca product.

"People have it in their minds that AstraZeneca is an inferior vaccine and I don't blame them because the messaging around this has been very poor," he told host Ismaila Alfa.

LISTEN | Infectious disease expert on NACI's AstraZeneca guidance:

Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, explains the reasoning for the National Advisory Committee on Immunization advice and why he believes its short-sighted. 6:39

In Europe, France and Germany had previously announced they would also limit AstraZeneca doses to those younger than 65. Yesterday, however, France reversed it's decision, citing evidence from other jurisdictions.

Getting a first dose of vaccine to as many people as possible is "our ticket out of the pandemic," Chakrabarti said.

"Right now, as it stands, I would get any vaccine that is offered so that we can vaccinate as many people as possible," he added.

That includes the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite limited data from the clinical trials themselves.

"We're in a public health emergency and I think that sometimes a little bit of uncertainty is going to be there."

Elliott said she anticipates Ontario's first doses of AstraZeneca to begin arriving next week, though she could not say how many are expected in the initial shipment.

With files from Mike Crawley


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