COVID-19 vaccination rate must rise above 85% to avoid fall lockdown, Ontario modelling shows

New modelling released Wednesday by Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table says more than 85 per cent of the eligible population needs to be vaccinated to avoid a lockdown this fall due to the highly contagious delta variant.

The table said Ontarians also need to reduce contacts to about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels until vaccination levels are high enough to protect the population. To reduce contacts, the table recommends:

  • Reducing indoor density, maintaining physical distancing, limiting large gatherings.
  • Continuing indoor mask policies and working from home.
  • Implementing policies that accelerate vaccination (e.g. certificates, mandates, outreach).

The table confirmed that Ontario is in the fourth wave of the pandemic and it said its modelling predicts the resulting spike in cases will be “substantial.”

“Vaccination offers substantial protection against severe health outcomes. We do not expect to see the same proportion of severely ill cases in the vaccinated. Among the unvaccinated, we do expect to see a rapid increase in the number of seriously ill people needing hospital care as workplaces and education re-open in September,” the table said.

“The fourth wave will affect all age groups with the potential to exceed ICU capacity.”

The table said if Ontario cannot reduce transmission and accelerate vaccination, the number of people in intensive care units suffering from COVID-19 could exceed that of the third wave by October.

In its modelling, the table notes that public health measures, together with vaccination, can help to control the fourth wave. 

Vaccination will make the difference, it says.

“Unvaccinated people have a 6-fold higher risk of symptomatic COVID-19 disease, a 30-fold higher risk of being in the hospital and 48-fold higher risk of being in the ICU compared to the fully vaccinated,” the table said.

‘Continued vigilance’ needed, province says

Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the pandemic continues to pose challenges for the provincial government.

“There’s no question the months ahead will require continued vigilance as we confront the fourth wave,” Hilkene said in a statement.

Several Moderna vaccine syringes are seen on a table during a COVID-19 vaccine drive-thru clinic at Richardson Stadium in Kingston, Ont., on May 28. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Hilkene said the government believes that Ontario is doing better than other jurisdictions because it has kept public health measures in place.

Those measures include indoor masking and capacity limits and its “last mile strategy” to bring vaccine doses to those not yet vaccinated or fully vaccinated.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, advised the province to reopen cautiously and, as a result, Ontario has reported one of the lowest rates of active COVID-19 cases at 40 per 100,000, she said. Both B.C. and Alberta have higher active case rates, she added.

“We are confident that Ontario is currently trending between the projected medium- and best-case scenario,” Hikene said.

The province’s new vaccine passport system, revealed earlier in the day, will “further improve” Ontario’s situation, she said. 

According to the province, the table’s modelling provides a range of forecasting, from a best- to worst-case scenarios.

“Due to Ontario’s cautious approach and continued adherence to public health measures, we have never experienced the worst-case scenario,” the government said.

The modelling comes after Dr. David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, resigned from the table because, he alleged, it delayed publication of its pandemic projections for the fall due to political interference. The table has denied the allegation.

In a series of tweets, the table explained the reasoning in its modelling.

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