'A race between the variants and the vaccines': Alberta’s top doctor highlights rising variant cases
CALGARY -- As Alberta’s COVID-19 variant cases rise the top doctor is encouraging vigilance in public health measures and a continued press on vaccinations.
The province’s chief medical officer of health said that active variant cases of concern made up about 11 per cent of the active cases in Alberta as of Tuesday.
“While we've prevented any significant spread in Alberta so far, the percentage of variants in our active cases is rising,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“The toll that variants have taken on the U.K., Italy and other countries are a cautionary tale that we must continue to take very seriously.”
She explained that every positive case is being screened for variants of concern, which include strains identified in U.K. (the B.1.1.7 strain), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) which appear to spread faster.
“There is a race between the variants, and the vaccines,” said Hinshaw, adding that other measures are being used to address the concern.
“Our aggressive screening, dedicated contact tracing and other measures have been buying time for the vaccines to work.”
She said that the vaccines Alberta is currently using are expected to protect against the major variant so far detected in the province.
“We do know that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7. variant of concern that is most common in Alberta. The Moderna vaccine functions in an equivalent way to Pfizer so is also expected to be effective.”
The province now includes new variant data on its online dashboard to help keep Albertans informed.
By Wednesday, 1,097 variants of concern had been identified in Alberta – 535 remain active and 14 people had died of mutated strains.
“It seems to be gaining momentum,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Craig Jenne.
“A week ago we were probably looking at three weeks or so for doubling cases, now we're looking at just over a week for doubling.”
In Alberta, it's not travel but community spread now causing most cases.
“The variant originally identified in the U.K. –- that variant has become established in the community,” said Hinshaw on Wednesday.
“It is spreading in all zones in our province.”
The highly infectious strains have also been transmitted outside when restrictions haven't been followed.
“We have seen cases recently where variant COVID-19 has been transmitted outdoors where people are not distanced or masked so please continue to apply precautions, even outside,” said Hinshaw.
Indoor gatherings are especially concerning.
Hinshaw gave an example where one person who didn't even know they had COVID-19 met inside with a few friends. Days later, more than a dozen people all had that variant.
“From one case to 14 cases in just 11 days, driven largely by indoor gatherings.”
Hinshaw also continued her call for people to wash their hands, wear masks, limit in-person interactions and stay home when sick.
“The health measures in place work against variants, it's just up to us to keep on following them.”