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Race to vaccinate continues as variants of concern surge globally

Last Updated Jun 2, 2021 at 8:52 am PDT

The Associated Press

Despite falling daily case counts, experts are warning that now is not the time to slow down in the race to vaccinate against COVID-19 as variants continue to surge in parts of the world.

Canada is poised to eclipse the U.K. this week and become the G20 leader in getting first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine into arms as provinces across the country are now ramping ramp up second doses.

There is growing concern that the vaccine effort could all be undone due to the spread of variants of concern (VOCs) abroad and with millions of people around the world still unvaccinated.

Experts are keeping a close eye on the B.1.617 strain first detected in India. The strain is estimated to be as much as 50 per cent more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant that fueled the third wave of the pandemic in Ontario.

Public health data of the province’s variant screening test, which checks for a gene found in B.1.1.7, has revealed a ten per cent drop in that variant. But those tests don’t check for a sub-branch of the B.1.617 strain called B.1.617.2.

An epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health spoke with the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Ashleigh Tute says the sub-branch variant is gaining speed in the U.K., adding that it may already account for one in 10 cases here in Ontario.

RELATED: Why Canada must pay attention to quickly evolving B.1.617 variant 

Dr. Isaac Bogoch hopes given the current pace of vaccination in Canada – the country will be able to stay ahead of this latest variant.

“We lost the B.1.1.7-vs-vaccine race in Canada before we even knew there was a race,” said Bogoch in a tweet on Tuesday evening.

“But with the rapidly spreading B.1.617, we are well in the lead with mass vaccination and can (hopefully) stay ahead with a smart/fast first and second dose strategy.”

The chair of infection prevention and control at the Mayo Clinic tells the CBC that the more opportunities the virus has to spread, the more likely it is to mutate.

On Monday, Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said they were tracking an outbreak involving this latest VOC at a mining site in Nunavut.

“Anyone who has returned to Ontario from that mine since April 30 is considered at high-risk contact,” says Yaffe. “There are concerns that not all the mineworkers have been identified and they may not be aware of their high-risk status.”

Infectious diseases expert Colin Furness tells the Toronto Star he believes if there is a fourth wave, it will be lead by B.1.617, among people not yet vaccinated.