Despite an increase in vaccinations and continuing public health measures, the COVID-19 Delta variant, which was first detected in India, has arrived in Muskoka.
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) has reported the first two cases of the variant in Muskoka this week; 19 cases of the Delta variant have been reported in Simcoe County to date. The health unit doesn’t specify in which municipality variant cases are located.
The Delta variant is more transmissible than the other COVID-19 variants, and is more than twice as likely to result in hospital admission. It is quickly becoming the dominant strain in Simcoe Muskoka. In the past week, 54 per cent of Simcoe Muskoka cases were confirmed or presumed Delta variant, compared to between 12-14 per cent in the three weeks previous.
About half of the COVID-19 tests undergo whole genome sequencing to determine if they are a variant of concern, while the rest undergo screening for mutations of concern. Of those that don’t undergo whole genome sequencing, they are presumed to be the Delta variant “if they otherwise lack the genetic markers that are used for screens for the other variants,” said Dr. Gardner, SMDHU medical officer of health.
Simcoe Muskoka has been designated a Delta hotspot, and as a result has been provided with more vaccine than non hot-spot areas, Gardner added. He urged residents to get first and second doses of a vaccine as soon as they are eligible and to accept the first vaccine available.
He noted that they have approval from the province and support from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to provide either of the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer or Moderna, for a second dose, regardless of the brand of the first dose.
“That interchangeability is very important for us now because it is imperative that people get fully immunized as quickly as we can manage,” he said. Such mixing of brands is common practice in general vaccine use, Gardner added.
Vaccine responsiveness to the Delta variant is lower than for the other COVID-19 variants, making it all the more important for people to be immunized as soon as possible, said Gardner. A single dose of all of the COVID-19 vaccines is just over 30 per cent effective against infection, and about 80 per cent protective against more severe outcomes like hospitalization. Two doses of the mRNA vaccines are just over 80 per cent effective for preventing cases, while two doses of AstraZeneca are just over 60 per cent effective in preventing cases. Two doses of any vaccine provide more than 90 per cent
“For those who haven’t had any immunization at all, you do get protection against severe infection by getting a single dose of vaccine, but to get full protection in avoiding becoming a case at all you do need two doses of vaccine,” said Gardner.
“Even among the vaccinated, their protection is better if you have a high [vaccine]coverage rate…because you just get less of the virus circulating and therefore it’s less likely that virus can find the small minority among the immunized who haven’t responded well to the vaccine. They are highly effective vaccines but they are not perfect.” Gardner noted that the ability of the province to reduce public health measures “will be challenged if we don’t achieve herd immunity. The greater the degree of herd immunity, the greater we would be able to back off of these control measures.”
The following Muskoka municipalities have active cases of COVID-19: Huntsville, seven; Lake of Bays, two; Muskoka Lakes, six; Bracebridge, five; Gravenhurst, three.
To date, 42,826 Muskoka residents (64.6 per cent) have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 10,776 (16.2 per cent) have received a second dose.
The province has accelerated its vaccination rollout. As of June 23, Simcoe Muskoka residents who received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine on or before May 30 can book or rebook their second dose. Starting the week of June 28, 2021 all Ontarians aged 18 and over who have received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine will be eligible to book their second dose appointment, which will be scheduled at least 28 days after the first dose. Effective June 14, 2021, individuals who received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine are also eligible to receive a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at an interval of eight to 12 weeks, including a second dose of AstraZeneca or an mRNA vaccine.
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