Partially vaccinated Canadians can socialize outdoors this summer, Tam says

Canadians who have been vaccinated with one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can socialize with close family and friends outdoors over the summer months, Canada’s chief public health officer said today.

With the vaccine supply ramping up, virtually all Canadians will have access to at least one vaccine dose by June. Dr. Theresa Tam said that extra layer of protection will allow some of the more stringent social distancing measures to be relaxed — but Canadians must continue to avoid indoor gatherings altogether until more people are fully vaccinated.

Tam said a more social summer will depend on Canadians staying apart for the rest of the spring. The case count is still too high and vaccination coverage too low to do away with public health measures right now, she said. Even partially vaccinated people should stay away from others until there is broader vaccine coverage in the weeks ahead.

Tam said provinces should begin to lift public health restrictions only once 75 per cent of all adults have had at least one vaccine dose and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Some provinces are on track to do that before Canada Day — but reaching that goal will require most Canadians to roll up their sleeves when their turn comes. As of Friday, 50 per cent of Canadian adults have had one shot.

After reaching that 75 per cent milestone, she said, Canadians can safely enjoy camping, hiking, picnics, small backyard BBQs and drinks on a patio.

Tam said the “primary objective” for all levels of government is to create the conditions that permit provinces and territories to slowly ease the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders now in place.

But Canadians should still avoid all crowds, Tam said, and partially vaccinated people should continue to practise social distancing and wear masks in public for the foreseeable future.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“So, you actually have to be really careful as you slowly ease those measures. Vaccines will be a major help in keeping your rates low and point towards a future that includes some of these activities that we’ve longed for without a resurgence happening,” Tam said.

“Individuals with one dose should feel more confident that they’re better protected, but you’ve got to get that second dose for maximal protection.”

Asked why Canada has set the bar so high for doing away with some of the strictest public health measures, Tam said it ultimately will be up to the provinces and territories to decide when social and economic life can return to something closer to normal.

Tam said the U.K. is reopening with lower vaccination rates because it has been able to “crush” the third wave and has fewer cases than Canada. “Their epidemiological picture is completely different,” she said.

Beyond vaccine metrics, she said, jurisdictions should monitor their retransmission numbers — the figures that show how widespread COVID-19 is in their communities — before re-opening.

“You have to let the epidemiology and data drive the slow reopening measures at the local level,” she said.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just stated that fully vaccinated Americans can ditch their masks in most settings, Tam said Canada likely will take a more cautious approach.

“I think masks might be the last layer of that multi-layer protection that we will advise people to remove,” she said.

The U.S. is much further along in fully vaccinating its adult population; about 45 per cent of American adults have had two doses, compared to fewer than 4 per cent of all Canadians. Canada has delayed second doses by up to 16 weeks to give more people at least some level of antibody protection against COVID-19.

A U.K. study published Thursday suggests that waiting up to 12 weeks between first and second Pfizer doses could actually be beneficial.

A study led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with Public Health England found that antibodies against the virus were three-and-a-half times higher in those who had the second shot after three months compared with those who had it after a three-week interval.

In the fall — once vaccine coverage is more widespread and 75 per cent of all eligible Canadians have had the two necessary doses — restrictions on higher education, indoor sports and family gatherings can be dismantled, said Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

“We should be able to do more activities indoors with people outside our household,” she said. “More people need to be vaccinated so we can ease restrictions.”

Public health officials say Canadians will be able to enjoy more outdoor activities — like drinks on a patio — once they’ve received first doses of a COVID vaccine. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada’s vaccination campaign will get a big boost next week when Pfizer delivers more shots than originally planned.

A total of 4.5 million mRNA shots — 3.4 million from Pfizer, 1.1 million from Moderna — are now set to arrive before the Victoria Day long weekend.

“We are continuing negotiations with our suppliers to accelerate deliveries so that the provinces and territories can get vaccines into the arms of Canadians as rapidly as possible,” Anand said.

Canada received 665,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine Thursday. Those shots likely will be earmarked for people who already have had a first dose of this product, Tam said.

“I think obviously there may be less people who would take up the AstraZeneca vaccine as the second dose, but is it important to still have that option right now,” she said.

Most provinces have announced they will temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of the risk of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).

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