Third doses not high enough in Ottawa, health board hears

The city's board of health has asked Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches to talk to provincial officials about requiring third doses for vaccine passports.

Elizabeth Payne 4 minute read January 25, 2022

Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health, Ottawa Public Health. Errol McGihon / Postmedia

With less than a week until businesses begin reopening across the province, Ottawa Public Health is being urged to do everything possible to get more booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines into people’s arms.

Among other things, the city’s board of health has asked Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches to talk to provincial officials about requiring third doses for vaccine passports.

Premier Doug Ford has said the province is not considering making third doses mandatory in order to get into restaurants, bars and other public places. Currently, people are required to show proof that they have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine to get into many public spaces. Restaurants, bars and other locations will begin reopening at 50 per cent capacity as of Jan. 31.

Etches told a special board of health meeting Monday that just 59 per cent of eligible Ottawa residents have received a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

“We would like to see that number higher,” said board chair Keith Egli. “I am a little concerned that, as we reopen, people are going to feel we are over the hump.”

The board passed a motion asking Etches to have discussions with provincial officials about making third doses part of vaccine passports. It also asked Etches to urge caution as the province reopens.

The motion came at the end of a special board meeting during which Etches asked Ottawa residents to continue to maintain public health measures such as wearing masks and limiting contacts even as the Omicron wave begins to recede.

“There are reasons for hope that the situation is improving, but not enough signs that we can reduce precautions,” she said. Among other things, she said, the health system cannot withstand the pressure of having too many people infected with COVID-19 at the same time.

Etches said higher third dose coverage is needed to protect the still-fragile health system. A third dose of COVID-19 vaccine reduces risk of hospitalization by 90 per cent, compared to 70 per cent with two doses.

“It is an important way to decrease pressure on the health-care system as well as keeping people safe from serious illness.”

Omicron appears to have peaked in Ottawa, but case numbers are not dropping as quickly as they rose when it began spreading in December.

“It is plateauing right now. I would like to see some ongoing evidence of decline before I can say if it has hit the peak.”

Even as the daily case count appears to be slowing, there are unprecedented numbers of outbreaks in hospitals, long-term care homes and other congregate settings across the city. There have been recent hospitalizations and deaths associated with those outbreaks.

The board also heard from doctors and community members, including several with concerns about the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“COVID is going to be a multi-generational recovery,” Ottawa epidemiologist Dr. Doug Manuel told the board.

He said the mental health impacts on children will have a long-term impact on individuals and society.

“There is no perfect way out of this pandemic,” he said. “There is no way to eliminate direct mental-health impacts for kids.”

Manuel said COVID-19 is one of the most infectious viruses known: “There is no avoiding this. This is reality, so we have to figure a way through this.”

The only way, he said, is to build community immunity — either through vaccination or by infection.

Manuel said it is important to get third-dose coverage as high as possible to reduce the severity of illness when people do get infected.

Dr. Kashif Pirzada, a Toronto emergency physician who is co-founder of Masks for Canada, which has pushed for mask mandates and airborne precautions, said precautions must continue to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

He said there are so many unknowns about COVID, including its long-term impact on some, that society must keep protections in place.

“Omicron is highly transmissible, but it is not inevitable that all of us will be infected.”

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, who is head of the intensive care department at The Ottawa Hospital, warned school closures have been “catastrophic” for children.

“We have seen the catastrophic impact our policies have had,” especially on our youth.

He said the way forward should include “reverse engineering COVID” by focusing on those most likely to land in hospital and intensive care with therapeutic interventions and boosters.


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