When will the pandemic be over in Ontario? Here’s what scientists say

More than 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and, with the possibility that vaccines will be offered to young children in the coming months, the pandemic’s familiar wave-after-wave pattern of new infections could soon calm.Scientists believe that as more people increase their immunity to the virus either through vaccination or infection, cases in Ontario are on track to drop to endemic levels as early as spring, provided of course that a more transmissible and vaccine-evasive variant doesn’t rear its head in the meantime.The implication of COVID-19 becoming endemic — that is, infections of the virus occurring at some consistent baseline level in the population — is that we will simply have to learn to live with it. “Unless we can vaccinate beyond the level of herd immunity, then we’re always going to have cases around,” said David Earn, professor of mathematics and faculty of science research chair in mathematical epidemiology at McMaster University. “Herd immunity is this wonderful goal which seemed plausible early in the pandemic but with The Delta variant being so contagious and the vaccines not being absolutely perfect at preventing transmission, I think it’s an unattainable goal at the moment.”Living with an endemic prevalence of COVID need not be a life sentence for our work and social lives, nor our economy; to date, vaccination against the virus has proved incredibly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. Experts harbour a beacon of hope that COVID will become much like other endemic diseases we have grown accustomed to, such as influenza and the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, that neither result in widespread negative health outcomes nor serious public health restrictions.In other words, we accept some risk but we don’t let it ruin our lives. “That’s kind of the goal with the vaccines — to make it so that we turn a very serious illness into a mild illness,” said Dr. Jeff Kwong, professor of public health and family medicine at the University of Toronto. “You get COVID and it’s like a cold ... you’ll be sick for a few days, you’ll recover and then you can carry on with your life.”While the hope is that we could reach some level of COVID-19 endemicity in Canada sometime early next year following the vaccination of children between the ages of five and 11, such an aspiration could be tempered by the emergence of a variant even more potent and transmissible than the formidable Delta, a scenario experts say is not out of the realm of possibility.Already a new variant, dubbed Mu, has spread to about 50 countries, including Canada, since it was first detected in Colombia in January. Mu, which was added to the World Health Organization’s list of variants of interest in August, is thought to be better at evading immunity than Delta but does not seem to be as transmissible. Still, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, maintains that Delta, which is on the WHO’s more serious list of variants of concern, remains dominant worldwide. “In countries that have both Mu and Delta, Delta outcompeted Mu,” Verkove said this week during a WHO media briefing, noting that Delta has now spread to over 185 countries. “It is more transmissible and it is outcompeting” other variants, she added.While endemicity seems like the least worst option given that there will remain pockets of unvaccinated people across all age groups, getting there could take longer if, through its continued transmission, Delta mutates into something stronger.The more a virus reproduces, the more opportunities there are for random mutations to be introduced. Most mutations amount to nothing, but occasionally a virus will evolve a “gain-of-function” mutation which can make it more transmissible and resilient. In the worst case, Delta mutates to the point where it can get around our immune systems and the vaccine.“Unfortunately SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that is demonstrating that it can have evolution that is relevant in this way,” noted Earn. “We have to get to the point where most of the world is vaccinated in order to reduce the number of opportunities for new evolution.”On that score, Ontario has done well, relatively speaking. More than 86 per cent of adults in the province have now received at least one dose, while nearly 81 per cent have been fully vaccinated. And with Pfizer-BioNTech announcing this week that it was planning to submit encouraging data on a trial of its vaccine in children aged five to 11 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sometime next month, approval in this country could come before the end of the year. Just this week, British Columbia’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said her province was “actively preparing” to inoculate children between the ages of six and 11 with the Pfizer vaccine if Health Canada approves it.Dr. Andrew Morris, infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Ho

When will the pandemic be over in Ontario? Here’s what scientists say

More than 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and, with the possibility that vaccines will be offered to young children in the coming months, the pandemic’s familiar wave-after-wave pattern of new infections could soon calm.

Scientists believe that as more people increase their immunity to the virus either through vaccination or infection, cases in Ontario are on track to drop to endemic levels as early as spring, provided of course that a more transmissible and vaccine-evasive variant doesn’t rear its head in the meantime.

The implication of COVID-19 becoming endemic — that is, infections of the virus occurring at some consistent baseline level in the population — is that we will simply have to learn to live with it.

“Unless we can vaccinate beyond the level of herd immunity, then we’re always going to have cases around,” said David Earn, professor of mathematics and faculty of science research chair in mathematical epidemiology at McMaster University. “Herd immunity is this wonderful goal which seemed plausible early in the pandemic but with The Delta variant being so contagious and the vaccines not being absolutely perfect at preventing transmission, I think it’s an unattainable goal at the moment.”

Living with an endemic prevalence of COVID need not be a life sentence for our work and social lives, nor our economy; to date, vaccination against the virus has proved incredibly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. Experts harbour a beacon of hope that COVID will become much like other endemic diseases we have grown accustomed to, such as influenza and the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, that neither result in widespread negative health outcomes nor serious public health restrictions.

In other words, we accept some risk but we don’t let it ruin our lives.

“That’s kind of the goal with the vaccines — to make it so that we turn a very serious illness into a mild illness,” said Dr. Jeff Kwong, professor of public health and family medicine at the University of Toronto. “You get COVID and it’s like a cold ... you’ll be sick for a few days, you’ll recover and then you can carry on with your life.”

While the hope is that we could reach some level of COVID-19 endemicity in Canada sometime early next year following the vaccination of children between the ages of five and 11, such an aspiration could be tempered by the emergence of a variant even more potent and transmissible than the formidable Delta, a scenario experts say is not out of the realm of possibility.

Already a new variant, dubbed Mu, has spread to about 50 countries, including Canada, since it was first detected in Colombia in January. Mu, which was added to the World Health Organization’s list of variants of interest in August, is thought to be better at evading immunity than Delta but does not seem to be as transmissible. Still, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, maintains that Delta, which is on the WHO’s more serious list of variants of concern, remains dominant worldwide.

“In countries that have both Mu and Delta, Delta outcompeted Mu,” Verkove said this week during a WHO media briefing, noting that Delta has now spread to over 185 countries.

“It is more transmissible and it is outcompeting” other variants, she added.

While endemicity seems like the least worst option given that there will remain pockets of unvaccinated people across all age groups, getting there could take longer if, through its continued transmission, Delta mutates into something stronger.

The more a virus reproduces, the more opportunities there are for random mutations to be introduced. Most mutations amount to nothing, but occasionally a virus will evolve a “gain-of-function” mutation which can make it more transmissible and resilient. In the worst case, Delta mutates to the point where it can get around our immune systems and the vaccine.

“Unfortunately SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that is demonstrating that it can have evolution that is relevant in this way,” noted Earn. “We have to get to the point where most of the world is vaccinated in order to reduce the number of opportunities for new evolution.”

On that score, Ontario has done well, relatively speaking. More than 86 per cent of adults in the province have now received at least one dose, while nearly 81 per cent have been fully vaccinated. And with Pfizer-BioNTech announcing this week that it was planning to submit encouraging data on a trial of its vaccine in children aged five to 11 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sometime next month, approval in this country could come before the end of the year.

Just this week, British Columbia’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said her province was “actively preparing” to inoculate children between the ages of six and 11 with the Pfizer vaccine if Health Canada approves it.

Dr. Andrew Morris, infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said while most parents will be keen to get their kids vaccinated, some won’t be.

“It’s important we don’t alienate those honestly worried about the lack of data, especially because we know the sample size of the study, roughly 1,500 getting vaccinated, is insufficient to assure us of safety,” he said. “That being said, for COVID, vaccine is always better than infection.”

Getting jabs into the arms of young children won’t stop the pandemic, stressed Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, but could change its face insofar as we can be less concerned with the risk of transmission in schools. This would translate into reduced odds of being forced to close classrooms or schools due to outbreaks, as well as making it less likely that Ontario’s limited number of pediatric ICU beds become overwhelmed with infected children.

“The threats to five-to-11 year olds in this pandemic have never been as high as now. For children, unlike all the other age groups, there is no vaccine protection that compensates partially for the increased risk associated with Delta ... there is increased pressure because of higher contact rates in society in general and between kids,” Juni said. “The point is, once we’ve vaccinated kids, we will have one less parameter that we need to consider when controlling the pandemic.”

For its part, Pfizer Canada says it plans to file its trial data to Health Canada to support a potential authorization but could not provide specific timelines.

“We share the urgency to provide the data that could help support the decision by regulatory authorities to make the vaccine available to school-aged children as early as possible,” said Pfizer Canada spokesperson Christina Antoniou.

Why won’t vaccinating children end the pandemic? There are just too many people in other age groups who continue to remain unvaccinated, Juni explained. Endemicity will come instead through more painful means.

“There is this bumpy transition to endemicity that includes the majority of those people who are unvaccinated getting infected and therefore developing immunity,” he said. “The last frontier is actually reached once probably more than 95 per cent of the entire population has reached immunity one way or another.”

Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: kwallace@thestar.ca

Source : Toronto Star More   

What's Your Reaction?

like
0
dislike
0
love
0
funny
0
angry
0
sad
0
wow
0

Next Article

Peter Frumusa was no double murderer. Why would police trust a drug dealer nicknamed ‘The Snake’?

When Peter Frumusa heard he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a Niagara Falls couple as they slept, he collapsed face-first in the prisoner’s dock, wailing, “I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing.”It took five minutes for his lawyer Leo Adler to pull him to his feet.It took another nine years to prove that Frumusa was telling the truth and set him free.At the time of Frumusa’s trial in Niagara Falls in the fall of 1989, he was a 29-year-old cocaine addict with some shady associates.The murdered couple was retired autoworker Richard (Hop) Wilson and his wife Annie.The Wilsons had been married for less than five months in August 1988, when someone broke into their home on Niagara Parkway clubbed them to death in their beds. Theirs was a marriage of convenience. The Wilsons met in a Niagara Falls nursing home, where Richard, 70, was a patient and Annie, 48, one of his nurses.Marriage meant Richard, a widower with no children, could live out his years in his family home on the Niagara Parkway with round-the-clock medical care. He had been using a wheelchair after undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery and suffering several strokes. Annie’s marriage to him mean she was guaranteed more than $50,000, plus a home for herself and her daughter, Brenda Smith, who was in a relationship with Frumusa. All Annie had to do was bathe, dress and take care of Richard until he died.Not long after their marriage, one of the groom’s friends dropped by for a visit and Richard sadly asked, “How could I have been so stupid?”On the morning of Aug. 23, 1988, Smith couldn’t reach her mother on the phone and so she dispatched Frumusa to check out the house.No one answered the door, and Frumusa called police. He was waiting in his car outside when officers arrived.Within hours, Frumusa was told he was under arrest. “Don’t say that,” he told arresting officers. “Don’t tell me that. You can’t tell me that.”No physical evidence was presented at Frumusa’s trial that linked him to the slayings; not one trace of blood was found on Frumusa or his clothing, experts told the court.That’s despite the fact that Annie Wilson’s blood was splattered on the eight-foot ceiling of her bedroom, on the walls and on a mirror three metres from her body, Const. Terry Ward of Niagara region police testified during the trial. Blood was also sprayed on the ceilings and walls of Richard’s bedroom, as well as on a television screen about two metres from his body. Nothing at the murder scene — including fibres, fabrics or fingerprints — linked Frumusa to the crime site, Ward testified. Adler, Frumusa’s lawyer, said this was inconsistent with the personality of his cocaine-addicted client. “Would a slob not leave forensic clues?” he asked the court. Testifying against Frumusa was a 29-year-old Niagara Region cocaine and heroin dealer nicknamed “The Snake.”The Snake was in a detention centre facing break-and-enter charges when Frumusa was charged.The Snake claimed that Frumusa confessed to him over the phone that he killed the couple, even though he and Frumusa didn’t know each other particularly well.The Snake’s story started to unravel after Frumusa was sent to prison.Four years after the murder, a cook in a Niagara Falls restaurant run by a mobster, told the Star the murder was carried out over Annie Wilson’s debts.The cook said he heard the murders being plotted, and that he attempted, without success, to alert police.Frumusa “got railroaded all along,” the cook told the Star, shortly before going into hiding from his old associates. The Niagara Falls mobster who ran the restaurant where the cook decided to make an example of Annie Wilson over her debts, the cook said. “She’s going to pay the ultimate price,” the cook recalled one mobster connected to the restaurant saying.Richard Wilson was killed because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — namely in his own home, the cook said. Robbery charges against the Snake were dropped after he testified against Frumusa.A former girlfriend of the Snake later told court in the murder trial of prostitute Monique Cloutier of Hamilton that she had doubts about the Snake’s story about Frumusa.“I asked him why he testified against Peter Frumusa,” she testified. “Why would Pete confide in him when they weren’t even friends? He said, ‘Pete didn’t.’”“He was lying to try and work a plea with the cops so he didn’t have to go to jail,” she explained. “I asked him why he would do something like that. He said, he ‘couldn’t go to jail because he’d be NG, no good, a stool pigeon.’” The Snake admitted in testimony in the same Hamilton trial in April 1990, that he had been medicated and on psychiatric care since early childhood because of his violent behaviour. Frumusa later told the Star that he was almost stabbed to death on his first day in general population at Millhaven penitentiary near Kingston.“I came out of my cell, made a left and — bang — I felt this sensation, a sort o

Peter Frumusa was no double murderer. Why would police trust a drug dealer nicknamed ‘The Snake’?

When Peter Frumusa heard he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a Niagara Falls couple as they slept, he collapsed face-first in the prisoner’s dock, wailing, “I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing.”

It took five minutes for his lawyer Leo Adler to pull him to his feet.

It took another nine years to prove that Frumusa was telling the truth and set him free.

At the time of Frumusa’s trial in Niagara Falls in the fall of 1989, he was a 29-year-old cocaine addict with some shady associates.

The murdered couple was retired autoworker Richard (Hop) Wilson and his wife Annie.

The Wilsons had been married for less than five months in August 1988, when someone broke into their home on Niagara Parkway clubbed them to death in their beds.

Theirs was a marriage of convenience. The Wilsons met in a Niagara Falls nursing home, where Richard, 70, was a patient and Annie, 48, one of his nurses.

Marriage meant Richard, a widower with no children, could live out his years in his family home on the Niagara Parkway with round-the-clock medical care. He had been using a wheelchair after undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery and suffering several strokes.

Annie’s marriage to him mean she was guaranteed more than $50,000, plus a home for herself and her daughter, Brenda Smith, who was in a relationship with Frumusa.

All Annie had to do was bathe, dress and take care of Richard until he died.

Not long after their marriage, one of the groom’s friends dropped by for a visit and Richard sadly asked, “How could I have been so stupid?”

On the morning of Aug. 23, 1988, Smith couldn’t reach her mother on the phone and so she dispatched Frumusa to check out the house.

No one answered the door, and Frumusa called police. He was waiting in his car outside when officers arrived.

Within hours, Frumusa was told he was under arrest. “Don’t say that,” he told arresting officers. “Don’t tell me that. You can’t tell me that.”

No physical evidence was presented at Frumusa’s trial that linked him to the slayings; not one trace of blood was found on Frumusa or his clothing, experts told the court.

That’s despite the fact that Annie Wilson’s blood was splattered on the eight-foot ceiling of her bedroom, on the walls and on a mirror three metres from her body, Const. Terry Ward of Niagara region police testified during the trial.

Blood was also sprayed on the ceilings and walls of Richard’s bedroom, as well as on a television screen about two metres from his body.

Nothing at the murder scene — including fibres, fabrics or fingerprints — linked Frumusa to the crime site, Ward testified.

Adler, Frumusa’s lawyer, said this was inconsistent with the personality of his cocaine-addicted client. “Would a slob not leave forensic clues?” he asked the court.

Testifying against Frumusa was a 29-year-old Niagara Region cocaine and heroin dealer nicknamed “The Snake.”

The Snake was in a detention centre facing break-and-enter charges when Frumusa was charged.

The Snake claimed that Frumusa confessed to him over the phone that he killed the couple, even though he and Frumusa didn’t know each other particularly well.

The Snake’s story started to unravel after Frumusa was sent to prison.

Four years after the murder, a cook in a Niagara Falls restaurant run by a mobster, told the Star the murder was carried out over Annie Wilson’s debts.

The cook said he heard the murders being plotted, and that he attempted, without success, to alert police.

Frumusa “got railroaded all along,” the cook told the Star, shortly before going into hiding from his old associates.

The Niagara Falls mobster who ran the restaurant where the cook decided to make an example of Annie Wilson over her debts, the cook said.

“She’s going to pay the ultimate price,” the cook recalled one mobster connected to the restaurant saying.

Richard Wilson was killed because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — namely in his own home, the cook said.

Robbery charges against the Snake were dropped after he testified against Frumusa.

A former girlfriend of the Snake later told court in the murder trial of prostitute Monique Cloutier of Hamilton that she had doubts about the Snake’s story about Frumusa.

“I asked him why he testified against Peter Frumusa,” she testified. “Why would Pete confide in him when they weren’t even friends? He said, ‘Pete didn’t.’”

“He was lying to try and work a plea with the cops so he didn’t have to go to jail,” she explained. “I asked him why he would do something like that. He said, he ‘couldn’t go to jail because he’d be NG, no good, a stool pigeon.’”

The Snake admitted in testimony in the same Hamilton trial in April 1990, that he had been medicated and on psychiatric care since early childhood because of his violent behaviour.

Frumusa later told the Star that he was almost stabbed to death on his first day in general population at Millhaven penitentiary near Kingston.

“I came out of my cell, made a left and — bang — I felt this sensation, a sort of numbness, not realizing at first there was blood,” Frumusa told reporter Tracey Tyler.

While behind bars, Frumusa enlisted Toronto defence lawyer James Lockyer, who worked on the case with co-counsel Michelle Levy.

A new trial was ordered on the basis of the fresh evidence from the Snake’s old girlfriend and the cook.

Lockyer argued in court that the Snake might have been involved in the double-murder of the Wilsons.

He “received extreme favours from police in exchange for his testimony,” Lockyer said.

Lockyer noted that the Snake also testified for the Crown at Hamilton murder trials in 1992 and 1993, each time having charges against himself dropped. That included charges for robbery, assault and uttering threats.

Prisoners like the Snake are known in jailhouse circles as “priests” — they seem to constantly be hearing confessions.

Lockyer called the Snake a prime suspect in one of those murders before he testified for the Crown.

“The odds against the same person having crucial information from the mouth of the killer in three murder trials must be extremely high,” Lockyer said.

Lockyer described the Snake as a violent drug addict who had amassed 37 convictions by 1993 and “had killed at age 15 during the course of a robbery.”

The Cook said the Snake also bragged about cutting off a man’s leg with a chain saw.

The Snake “was almost in a position where it seemed he had a licence to commit crimes,” Lockyer told the court. “He has, in essence, played with the justice system like a child with a toy.”

Ultimately, the lawyer said, the Snake “was put into the witness protection program at the expense of the Ontario taxpayer.”

In June 1998, at the age of 39, Frumusa finally got a judge’s apology and his freedom. “To you, Mr. Frumusa, on behalf of the court and our justice system, I apologize for what you have gone through,” Justice Paul Forestell told him in a Welland courtroom.

“You’re free now. Go on and enjoy life. Accept our apologies,” the judge said.

Forestell told Frumusa that he was lucky to have the help of lawyers Lockyer and Levy. The judge also praised Crown attorney Michael Quinn’s “courage” in withdrawing the charges and accepting blame.

Quinn then apologized himself.

He also told the court that Frumusa wouldn’t have been prosecuted for the double murders if the recommendations made by retired Quebec judge Fred Kaufman at the inquiry into the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin for the 1984 murder of Christine Jessop had been in place at the time.

After the Kaufman inquiry, there were also new guidelines for Crown attorneys regarding the use of jailhouse informants.

Those guidelines call for a registry of when jailhouse informants are used, and supervisory approval before an informant is used as a witness by a crown attorney.

Kaufman also warned that jailhouse informants, like the Snake, must be handled with care.

“The systemic evidence emanating from Canada, Great Britain, Australia and the United States demonstrated that the dangers associated with jailhouse informants were not unique to the Morin case,” Kaufman warned. “Indeed, a number of miscarriages of justice throughout the world are likely explained, at least in part, by the false, self-serving evidence given by such informants.”

So who beat the Wilsons to death, if it wasn’t Frumusa?

The cook said there were four men involved, including the Snake, and they stripped off their bloody clothes in the Niagara Falls restaurant when the job was done.

One of them compared the violence to getting rid of unwanted puppies, the cook said.

“It’s finished,” another of them said.

The whereabouts of the cook and the Snake are unknown.

The murders remain unsolved.

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime for the Star. Reach him via email: pedwards@thestar.ca

Source : Toronto Star More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.