Montreal Gazette

COVID is still with us, so get vaccinated

Cases and hospitaliz­ations are on the rise, writes Mariane Saroufim.

- Mariane Saroufim is a student in the master of science in public health program at Mcgill University. This commentary is co-authored by fellow MSCPH students Meghan Pritchard, Gabrielle Gosselin and Charlotte Serrano.

We all remember when the COVID -19 pandemic was at its peak — the lockdowns, the restrictio­ns, the daily death count. After the vaccinatio­n campaigns, it was easy to believe we had entered a POSTCOVID world. Unfortunat­ely, that is not the case.

With new cases rapidly increasing in Montreal and globally, and the old vaccines no longer offering complete protection, it is important for all of us to get the latest booster to protect ourselves and those around us.

The latest Omicron subvariant — known as JN.1 — started circulatin­g in the fall and demonstrat­ed that COVID-19 is still very much present. Yet vaccinatio­n numbers show abysmally low adherence to the most recent recommenda­tions by Quebec health authoritie­s.

Since the beginning of the fall immunizati­on campaign — meant to prepare for winter COVID -19 surges — only 17.8 per cent of Quebecers received the latest boosters protecting against all variants, including JN.1.

Meanwhile, COVID -19 cases have increased rapidly in Montreal and globally.

According to the World Health Organizati­on, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitaliz­ations have been rising globally by four per cent and 40 per cent, respective­ly, from Dec. 11, 2023, to Jan. 7, 2024, compared to the previous 28-day period.

In the U.S., an estimated 35,000 people were hospitaliz­ed with COVID -19 during the last week of December.

Moreover, JN.1 is spreading rapidly through the Quebec population. While the proportion of COVID -19 cases attributab­le to JN.1 was 45 per cent in early December, it had increased to 93 per cent by the end of

January. This rapid spread is in part due to the low number of vaccinated people, in addition to the virus being different enough that our immune system doesn't recognize it as well.

Beyond the symptoms, the new variant is a cause for concern because the combinatio­n of rising flu, RSV and COVID -19 cases places an increased burden on our health-care system. “When you look at the numbers across the province, you're seeing that the emergency rooms everywhere are very full,” noted Dr. Christophe­r Labos, epidemiolo­gist, cardiologi­st and Gazette contributo­r.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizati­on (NACI) and Quebec's Ministry of Health and Social Services are specifical­ly recommendi­ng boosters for all persons who are 65 and older, those living in long-term care homes or seniors' homes, and those who are six months or older and immunocomp­romised.

However, the general population is also eligible and should get vaccinated. A single dose of the new vaccine is sufficient for a person to be considered adequately protected.

As a community, Montrealer­s must take care of each other. Getting the latest booster helps protect vulnerable members of the community, slow the spread of new variants, lower the chances of serious illness, hospitaliz­ation and LONG-COVID symptoms, and reduce the burden on our health-care network.

Let's not allow the spread of COVID to become normalized. Get your vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer-biontech) at your nearest CIUSSS with or without an appointmen­t.

More informatio­n on vaccinatio­n in Montreal is available on the Santé Montréal website.

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