The unpredictability of COVID-19, and its variants, makes it difficult heading into the summer months to make any sort of hard or fast pandemic predictions.
The hope, said Niagara’s acting medical officer of health, is with the good weather, and people spending more time outdoors, the virus won’t be able to spread as quickly, and the end results will look similar to what the region experienced the past two summers.
But the weather also doesn’t guarantee Ontario won’t see another wave, with warmer climates, such as Florida and Middle Eastern countries, showing it hasn’t been immune to COVID-19 spread.
“I think we need to be cautious going forward and we shouldn’t let our guard down completely,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji.
The steps remain the same — wear a mask, stay home when sick to limit to risk of spreading the virus to vulnerable populations and get vaccinated. Hirji said vaccination continues to be the most crucial element to control COVID-19 and allow society to stay open.
Part of what has been a barrier to people getting vaccinated is the belief that getting the infection provides natural protection, similar to the result of a vaccine — but Hirji said that is not how it works.
A person infected with COVID-19 who has not received a dose of the Pfizer vaccine has 66 per cent protection from hospitalization. Someone with one dose of the vaccine has 75 per cent protection from hospitalization. Getting three doses, the number goes up to 89 per cent protection against hospitalization.
The belief that getting an infection offers natural immunity better than a vaccine may be true of some illnesses, but there are many others, like HPV infection in women and diphtheria in young children, for which the vaccine itself provides “far better immunity” than any protection from infection.
Not only does the vaccine ensure there’s less risk of hospitalization, getting long COVID-19, or passing on the infection to someone vulnerable — or, at the very least, stopping someone from getting sick and having to isolate — it is the “far preferred” option.
Hirji said immunity from a vaccination is “stronger if you get the vaccine and it seems to actually also be immunity that is better protecting you against other variants.”
“People who say that getting infected is the equivalent of getting vaccinated — it is absolutely not. The vaccine gives you much better protection from being hospitalized,” said Hirji.
It is also significant that people who are infected can get re-infected, as new variants and subvariants of COVID-19 emerge. People who’ve had the Omicron variant are being infected with the new subvariants, so Hirji encourages people who have the virus to wait the recommended 90 days after infection and then “go out and get your next dose you’re scheduled to get.”