Ty Rillorta // Staff Reporter
Variants of COVID-19 have spread to B.C. right after the second doses of vaccines are delayed from 3 weeks to 4 months.
246 cases of COVID-19 variants have been reported as of March 4, 28 being B.1.351 from South Africa and 218 being B.1.1.7, first reported in the United Kingdom. The cases seem to be limited to travellers’ social circles, but the origin of about 20% couldn’t be accounted for. There have only been two known deaths from the variants and 16 active cases as of March 4, but this number will increase once proper testing is finalized.
“Since this new screening technology will have been implemented throughout British Columbia, we may in fact see an increased number of identifications of variants,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, during a news conference on February 22.
The currently authorized vaccines in Canada are Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, alongside the newly approved AstraZeneca and Janssen which to be distributed during March. The effectiveness of the vaccines against the variants is still not fully certain, but studies have shown that the current vaccines have about the same efficiency rate against variants; except for variant B.1.351 which has been observed to decrease the effectiveness of most vaccines.
The second doses of vaccines have been delayed in order to get more people vaccinated. “…the decision we made over the past weekend to extend that interval is the best one based on the science and data that we have to maximize the benefit to everyone in B.C.,” said Henry on March 2. “That dose you didn’t receive … is now being administered to a community member, to another member of our family, our community here in B.C. to protect them.” The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) predicts 80 percent of Canadians over 16 will get one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
At first, Pfizer reported a 52% efficiency rate for the first dose and a 95% after the second one, but Dr. Danuta Skowronski realized that the tests were being done before the vaccine could be fully active. “What we found was that they were underestimating the efficacy of the first dose, and rather than the efficacy being 52 per cent, it was actually 92 per cent,” said Skowronski in a CBC interview. “For us, that was a game changer.”
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