COVID-19, “a cold, more or less”? Not really

“Even if you catch it, it gives you a cold, more or less.” This is what Prime Minister François Legault launched in a press briefing on Monday, describing the low intensity of the symptoms he felt after contracting COVID-19. Can we really make this comparison? We take stock.

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The Prime Minister maintained that being triple vaccinated had helped him experience symptoms similar to those of a cold, adding that one must “learn to live with the virus” as Quebec’s vaccination coverage is big.

The comment has not been ignored on social networks, both among health professionals, who see it as an affront to their awareness-raising work over the past two years, and among anti-maskers, who find in it confirmation of their arguments against sanitary measures.

“This is what we have been fighting for since the start of the pandemic, it is to make it understood that COVID is a disease to be taken seriously. For two years, everything we’ve been through, we don’t do that because it’s a cold, “said the DD Amélie Boisclair, intensivist internist at Pierre-Legardeur hospital, in an interview with QUB radio.

The data proves it

The data reported daily by Public Health also leaves no doubt about the seriousness of COVID-19: there are currently 1,540 hospitalizations linked to the virus in Quebec. Although their proportion is less than that of unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated people, triple vaccinated people are no exception.

And that’s something you don’t see with colds, says Benoit Barbeau, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UQAM.

“If you are lucky and are properly vaccinated, your symptoms may be similar to the common cold. But I would never compare COVID-19 to the common cold,” he insists.

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The professor clarifies that none of the viruses causing the common cold, among which are the coronaviruses, are responsible for symptoms as severe as COVID. “For this reason, it must be considered that SARS-CoV-2 remains pathogenic and can cause significant and serious symptoms, especially in immunosuppressed or elderly people.”

Moreover, even if the BA.2 variant seems less virulent than the previous ones, it still causes serious symptoms.

“We must continue to be vigilant”

For Benoit Barbeau, the message launched by François Legault deserves to be rectified. The population should not have the impression that the health measures were imposed for nothing, he continues.

“You have to be clear and separate the two,” he said. We must continue to consider that we are in a pandemic and that even if the sanitary measures are withdrawn, we must not be lax.

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“There needs to be better control of transmission, to be better equipped to predict the arrival of new variants and to use all the options at our disposal to better treat infected people and prevent transmission among healthcare workers. We must continue to be vigilant,” concludes Mr. Barbeau.

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