Opinion: COVID is still with us, so go get vaccinated

Only 18 per cent of Quebecers have received the latest booster — while cases and hospitalizations mount in Montreal and globally.

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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 post-COVID 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.

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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 booster 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.

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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-19 to become normalized. Get your vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech) at your nearest Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (CUISSS) with or without an appointment.

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

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.

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