We have all heard the concerning news that case numbers are going back up in BC. Why is this happening now and how do we stay safe?
A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, Office of the Chief Medical Officer
The first four months of 2021 have seen a coordinated effort by countries around the world to immunize their populations against the COVID-19 virus. Despite the progress made every day, including the completion of first-dose vaccine clinics in First Nations communities in BC, case numbers continue to rise. These infections are occurring across age groups from 10 to 80 years in BC.
Unfortunately, “third waves” are expected in pandemics, as people become tired of restrictions. Staying apart from loved ones and not being able to do all the usual things that keep us well and connected is really hard – and we have been doing this for over a year now, which makes it even more difficult.
We may also be letting down our guard a bit because we feel safer now that our oldest and most vulnerable individuals have been vaccinated. But we need to remember that while vaccines are our best chance to get out of this pandemic, some people will still get sick, even when a vaccine is 95 per cent effective.
We also need to take the COVID-19 variants very seriously, as these are fueling some of the increase in case numbers. The strains we’re seeing in BC (B 1.1.7 and P.1) are known to spread more easily and increasing evidence shows they cause more severe illness.
Once variants arrive in a new place, they quickly become the strains that most often infect people. What this means is that although the increase in variants was first seen in the Lower Mainland, these are spreading and now cause the majority of all new cases in BC. As more people become infected, we will again see increases in serious cases, even in younger people.
That sounds like a lot of bad news, but there’s every reason to remain cautiously optimistic.
As the province’s vaccination program rolls out to lower age groups, we can expect fewer outbreaks and fewer people getting sick. There are now 85 per cent fewer cases among First Nations people across Canada since January thanks to high vaccination uptake and the hard work of First Nations communities. Older First Nations age groups that have a high rate of vaccination are still experiencing infections, but with less of an increase than in younger age groups, demonstrating the effectiveness of the vaccine.
We know that all of the vaccines that have been approved in Canada are safe and effective, and the FNHA’s Medical Officers recommend them for all Indigenous people who are eligible to receive them. Pfizer and Moderna are conducting large-scale vaccine trials in teenagers, and more recently, in infants as young as six months. Early results are promising and may soon allow our youth to be protected with vaccines as well.
The new orders handed down by the Provincial Health Officer last week will help bring down case numbers and give Health Authorities time to give more people their first dose of the vaccine. By following all recommended public health measures, even after getting vaccinated, and getting the vaccine as soon as it is offered to you, we will all be safer.
Most importantly, First Nations people know what to do to protect themselves against COVID-19. This hasn’t changed, even with the emergence of the COVID-19 variants: stay the course and stay safe by continuing to follow hand hygiene, masking and distancing recommendations. Find creative ways to focus on spiritual and cultural wellness now that spring is here, such as getting outside to connect with the land.
By drawing on culture, community and resilience, First Nations people will continue to lead the way in BC and come through this pandemic better, together.
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