COVID-19 variants cause for concern

By Natali Trivuncic
Staff Writer

Pfizer vaccine could be arriving in region, as supplies of Moderna becoming less reliable

Since January, the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) region has had 44 cases of COVID-19 variants of concern, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU said.

Of those variants, 23 have been in the Dryden health hub, 13 in the Kenora health hub, four in the Sioux Lookout health hub, three in the Fort Frances health hub and one in the Red Lake health hub.

Young Hoon said all positive test results are sent to the laboratory to be screened for variants of concern and mutations, adding that results can take up to two weeks or even longer and it is not available for every specimen.

“Therefore, variants of concern results may not be timely or complete enough to inform our case and contact management and policy decisions,” Young Hoon said. “We treat every case as a variant of concern out of precaution.”

Young Hoon said at this point, they are only aware of the UK variant in the NWHU catchment area, except for one sample where they are still waiting for the genome sequencing results to confirm which variant it is.

All variants are concerning, but for different reasons, Young Hoon adds.

“The UK variant is concerning because it has increased risk of transmission, increased risk of death and increased risk of being admitted into an intensive care unit,” Young Hoon said.

Young Hoon said the South African variant and the variant from Brazil are also an increased risk of transmission and there is evidence that the vaccine is less effective against those two variants.

There are currently 70 active cases in the region, 12 in the Emo health hub, five in the Dryden health hub, 17 in the Fort Frances health hub, 29 in the Kenora health hub, one in the Rainy River health hub, two in the Red Lake health hub and four in the Sioux Lookout health hub.

The outbreaks at Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program and Calvary Baptist Church have been declared over.

The outbreak at New Gold Mine and McMunn and Yates are still being investigated, Young Hoon said.

During the week of April 19 to April 25, the NWHU catchment area had 59 new confirmed cases, 28 in the Kenora area, 15 in the Fort Frances area, four in the Sioux Lookout area, four in the Dryden area, four in the Emo area, three in the Red Lake area and one in the Rainy River area.

Of the 59 new cases, 14 were related to an outbreak, 14 were close contacts of previous cases and one was related to travel. The source of exposure remains unknown for 30 of these new cases at this time, Young Hoon said.

“It’s generally concerning when people are not following public health measures and we’ve seen some evidence of that already where individuals are not staying home when they’re sick and they are not appropriately physically distancing and following the control measure that have been put in place,” Young Hoon said. “That is leading to spread in a number of different communities.”

Young Hoon said people not following restrictions is problematic.

“At this point the numbers aren’t strongly indicating a decline, it’s just been a steady set of numbers over time, so it is really important for everyone to follow public health measures. These are legal restrictions, and they are required for people to follow them so that we can prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Young Hoon said.

The NWHU has distributed 24,676 doses of the vaccine. Thirty-nine per cent of the population aged 18 and older in the region have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Last week, the NWHU began giving the Pfizer vaccine at some of their vaccine clinics. Up until then, they had only been given the Moderna vaccine to administer, Young Hoon said.

“These two vaccines are very similar in their rates of effectiveness and their components as well, they’re both mRNA vaccines,” Young Hoon said. “With the Moderna supply being less reliable at this time, we will begin getting more of Pfizer in some of our clinics.”

Young Hoon said she highly recommends that those scheduled to receive their vaccines accept whichever one is offered to them.