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Race between vaccines and variants is back on as B.1.617 takes hold in Canada

Prioritizing 1st shots leaves us vulnerable to B.1.617, but vaccination rollout is ramping up

A new coronavirus variant is taking hold in Canada, leaving experts divided over whether it will expose the weaknesses in our strategy to prioritize first doses of COVID-19 vaccines and jeopardize reopening in much of the country.

Some worry that’s the case, but with Canada’s vaccine supply ramping up and second doses accelerating across the country, others believe fears over B.1.617 may be overblown.

So how at risk are we from B.1.617, the variant first identified in India also known as delta, and how concerned should Canadians be as we inch closer to reopening much of the country?

That depends on who you ask and the uncertainty the next few weeks hold. But there’s no doubt we’re in a much better place than we were when B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in the United Kingdom also known as alpha, hit Canada hard at the beginning of this year.

“I’m taking it very seriously, it’s a variant of concern for a reason. It’s clearly more transmissible,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.

“There are a lot of similarities in how this is taking over to be the dominant variant, much like we saw B.1.1.7 do several months ago. So you can’t ignore this, it’s something that warrants close attention.”

But Bogoch hasn’t lost hope that the pace of our vaccine rollout and the protection the shots provide could avert potential disaster — even if research shows one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are only about 30 per cent effective against it.

New data from Public Health England is also discouraging, finding that two doses are more effective than one against B.1.617 and that not only is it more transmissible but it also appears to cause more significant illness as well.

“All this tells me is that we need to really work on getting second doses out faster, especially among vulnerable populations,” he said.

“But if this is a race between the variants and the vaccine — the vaccine is going to win this round in Canada.”

Prioritizing first doses could ‘fall flat’ with B.1.617

The U.K.’s reopening strategy is in jeopardy as it battles a rise in B.1.617 cases, mostly among unvaccinated individuals and those with one dose, raising fears that Canada’s decision to delay second doses by up to four months could leave us more vulnerable.

“This is really the big risk with the one dose strategy,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon.

“The real issue here is making sure that since it is more transmissible, that you have as many people with as much immunity as possible and this is where the delayed second dose strategy can fall flat.”

Source: CBC

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