The provincial government must abandon its plan to end all masking mandates on April 27, says the head of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) .
The Doug Ford government plans to lift “all remaining measures, directives and orders” including masking mandates in long-term care homes, hospitals, and public transit at the end of the month.
RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun warned last week’s move to expand the Ontario government’s fourth dose vaccination program won’t be enough to prevent COVID-19 spikes.
“The masks and the vaccines always have been different angles of public health measures,” Grinspun said. “The vaccine prevents hospitalization… the mask prevents you from catching the virus, very different.
“We will be mid-May with the numbers up and up and up,” she said.
Ontario expanded its fourth dose vaccine program last Thursday to residents aged 60 and older.
This move followed the release of new recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) that fourth doses be provided to individuals 80 and older and possibly as young as 70 years old.
When for the scientific reasons for extending fourth doses to all Ontario residents as young as 60, health ministry officials asked said the decision was based on the recommendation of Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
“Booster doses are being offered to these groups (including Indigenous and Metis people) based on the latest evidence showing gradual waning immunity four to six months after their last dose, as well as a higher risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, especially in the context of highly transmissible variants of concern,” the MOH said.
Dr. Anna Durbin, international health professor and director of the Center for Immunization Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States, said in an email that vaccines and the body’s immune system are not designed to prevent infection but to mitigate disease .
The current vaccines for COVID-19 continue to provide a very high level of protection against severe disease, hospitalization, ICU admission and death even with Omicron, she said.
When asked about the value of third and fourth doses, she said booster doses increase the concentration of COVID-19 antibodies to a level high enough to prevent infection — “for a time, maybe two months” — but naturally fall over time, she said .
“The effect of these booster doses is short-lived and not really necessary, with the exception of a few subpopulations… I would recommend a second booster dose only for a small group of individuals; the elderly and those with immunocompromising conditions,” Durbin said.
The booster doses need to be timed correctly — done too early and the antibodies will have declined by the time of potential heightened exposure, she said.
The current vaccines were designed to protect against the Wuhan strain, she added.
“I believe we need a bivalent vaccine that contains a strain more divergent from Wuhan (like Omicron) to broaden the immune response and would potentially induce antibodies that more readily recognize Omicron and would therefore prevent infection for a longer period of time,” she said . “I am hoping we will have such vaccines in the fall. ”