The Grey Bruce Health Unit is monitoring reports that indicate more infectious strains of COVID-19 are circulating in the area and fuelling outbreaks in some long-term care homes.
This trend is likely due to the highly transmissible Omicron sub-variant BA.5, now the dominant strain of the virus in Ontario.
Public Health is reminding residents that getting up to date on their vaccinations as soon as possible remains the best defence against severe illness and death from the virus and is also the most effective way to curb the virus’s spread and prevent outbreaks in congregate care settings.
“Evidence shows that BA.5 is more infectious and is spreading faster than previous strains of Omicron. Vaccine offers strong personal protection from hospitalization, complications, ICU admission and death,” said GBHU Physician Consultant Dr. Rim Zayed.
“The only way to impede this spread is to increase vaccine coverage in the community – it’s the best, safest, and most effective way to get a handle on COVID-19.”
There are currently ten active COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes and in-patient units in Grey-Bruce. Some of the homes are experiencing high transmission rates.
Public Health is urging people to exercise extra caution when visiting residents in long-term care and retirement homes. Along with ensuring vaccinations are up to date, visitors can increase protection by wearing a well-fitted mask while indoors, practising proper hand hygiene, and using outdoor spaces or distancing when possible. Everyone should stay home when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
BA.5 is believed to be the most dominant strain of COVID-19 circulating in Grey-Bruce. Most of the virus specimens sent for genomic sequencing from GBHU in early August were BA.5.
The World Health Organization says BA.5 is the most transmissible strain of COVID-19 so far in this pandemic.
However, it does not appear to be more severe than previous strains of Omicron, with Public Health Ontario saying the risk of severe acute disease is low with a high degree of uncertainty. Vaccine effectiveness against BA.5 has been waning in individuals vaccinated more than four months ago, particularly in people who have received only two doses of vaccine. The risk of reinfection is also considered high.
As a result, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is recommending that individuals aged 12 and up who are eligible for a booster dose and had a recent COVID-19 infection get their next vaccine dose three months after the onset of their symptoms or a positive test, if asymptomatic.
Public Health is holding COVID-19 vaccine clinics throughout Grey-Bruce and partnering with GO-VAXX to provide supplementary clinics in areas with lower vaccine uptake.
Although a new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available this fall, Public Health is encouraging residents to get up-to-date on their vaccines as soon as possible and not wait until the new vaccine is rolled out. This is especially important for individuals aged 60 and over and those with underlying medical conditions.
Public Health has created a Frequently Asked Questions webpage (https://www.publichealthgreybruce.on.ca/COVID-19/Vaccines/About-COVID-19-Vaccines/COVID-19-Vaccine-and-Clinic-FAQ) with additional information regarding COVID-19 vaccines, clinics and eligibility.