Omicron is the end? Peel’s Pandemic and Infectious Disease Experts Offer Hopeful Outlook for 2022

It’s been a long road to get here, but Peel’s chief doctor is feeling quite optimistic about the future.

“I think the game changer was vaccination, there’s no question about that,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, adding that in 2021, compared to the same time last year, life was completely different in Peel. “We have now delivered more than 2.5 million doses (COVID-19 vaccination).”

With the flood of Omicron cases, Loh believes the vast majority of the population will be exposed to the virus. It’s not yet clear how serious many cases of Omicron will be, but Loh believes that if the infections are less severe, this could mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic as we know it.

“I think there is a lot of reason for optimism,” he said, explaining that while officials await more data on the Omicron variant, trends in South Africa, the UK and Europe will give an indication of the best way forward.

Loh said that two doses of the vaccine protect against severe cases and that booster shots for the most vulnerable are the most important.

With nearly 90 percent of residents over the age of 12 vaccinated or partially vaccinated, the majority of the population has some level of immunity against the COVID-19 virus.

“Vaccines are clearly safe and effective,” he said, noting that in the second wave after older people in long-term care were vaccinated, deaths in his age group dropped dramatically.

For Trillium Health Partners Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, September was the true turning point of the pandemic.

Seeing the number of cases increase in other parts of Ontario, but less in Peel, told him something important.

Peel is building immunity.

“Everybody is obsessed with the case count,” he said, explaining that now, it’s not so much about how many people have COVID-19, but how sick they are getting.

With vaccines and a large number of people walking around with some immunity after recovering from COVID-19, Chakrabarti said Peel is better equipped to weather future waves than places that have not been hit by high infection rates.

He said that with the Omicron variant, he thinks it will probably spread, but “my feeling is that it won’t be able to take off.”

In studying viruses, Chakrabarti said these illnesses typically begin to lessen in severity or “lose their teeth” as infections spread over time.

Loh said the places where unvaccinated people come into contact with others where precautions are not being maintained are the places where Peel Public Health is seeing outbreaks.

He said that, at this time, there is limited information and data available on the Omicron variant, its ability to spread and the severity of cases, but public health is watching.

He said that regardless of its strength, Omicron will not be completely resistant to current vaccines.

“Vaccination remains the cornerstone of protecting our society,” he said.

Things are looking up, Loh said.

“I think what will ultimately happen is that we will reach some kind of endemic state,” Loh said.

Loh hopes that by spring, many children between the ages of five and 11 will also be vaccinated and that the unvaccinated population will be small enough to control the spread of the virus.

Loh believes that during the summer, spring and fall, most of the pandemic restrictions will be lifted. He said that depending on the setting, there could be masks and booster shots in the winter.

Over the next two years, he said, COVID-19 is likely to become less severe and mix with the usual cold and flu season.

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