A new variant of the COVID-19 virus and its sub-variant, BA.2.86 and JN.1, are spreading rapidly in Quebec. As Christmas approaches, the national director of public health, Dr Luc Boileau urges people aged 70 and over to be vaccinated against this disease, but also against the flu. He fears that influenza cases will skyrocket in the province, as is currently the case in Alberta. The doctor warns that the strain circulating, H1N1, “is going to be harder on children.”
In interview at Dutythe Dr Boileau specifies that BA.2.86 and JN.1 are “no more virulent” than their predecessors, according to “all scientific indices accumulated in the world”. However, he points out that older people are more likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, be hospitalized or even die from the disease. It indicates that the vaccine currently administered offers “robust protection” against these new variants and sub-variants.
According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS), 51% of Quebecers aged 70 and over have so far received a booster dose against COVID-19 as part of the fall vaccination campaign. This proportion rises to 55% for influenza. Quebec’s target is 60%.
The Dr Boileau notes “vaccine fatigue”, even among the elderly. ” We see it. Our data supports that,” he says. According to a survey conducted in mid-November by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ), 13% of those aged 60 and over are “hesitant” about vaccination in general. This figure rises to 23% among adults, all ages combined.
“There are things that can worry people, like strikes [des employés dans le réseau de la santé]said the Dr Boileau. But our services [de vaccination] are there. The pharmacists are there. »
People have every interest in rolling up their sleeves soon so that the vaccine takes effect by Christmas. “To have full effectiveness, you must benefit from the vaccine for two weeks,” he specifies. But it is never too late. A few days after vaccination, it starts to be quite effective. »
H1N1 is circulating
The Dr Boileau is closely following the flu virus, whose season began two weeks ago in Quebec. The national director of public health fears a sharp increase in cases like that observed in Alberta. “In the space of a month, a month and a week, the positivity rate in Alberta went from 3 to 33%,” he reports.
In the space of a month, a month and a week, the positivity rate in Alberta went from 3 to 33%
In Quebec, this rate stood at 7.3% during the week ending December 9, according to the INSPQ. It was 3.9% the previous week. In hospitals, the effects of influenza are being felt. “This morning, there were five cases of adults in intensive care at the Quebec University Hospital,” says the Dr Boileau.
He believes that the flu is likely to hit children and people over 70 hardest. “We know that the virus is H1N1,” he explains. In 2009, we had an H1N1 “pandemic”, but it was not at all the scale of COVID-19. Most adults have previously been in contact with this virus. » But not the children, who will fight him for the first time. “The most likely to be hospitalized are toddlers, because their vulnerability is greater. Also premature children, those who suffer from asthma problems, who have a heart condition or a chronic illness. »
Public Health recommends flu vaccination for people aged six months and over who have a chronic illness as well as for pregnant women. The vaccine protects the mother and the newborn in the first months of life. The Dr Boileau also recommends it to those living under the same roof as an infant. He emphasizes that it will be effective against H1N1 since this strain is part of its composition.
No to “Stanley Cup” babies
The Dr Boileau implores the population not to take infants as a “Stanley Cup” during holiday gatherings so as not to infect them. “We take it, we kiss it, we pass it to the other,” he illustrates.
The national director of public health invites people to wash their hands frequently, wear a mask when they have symptoms of a respiratory infection — even if it is not COVID-19 — and to Refrain from participating in gatherings if they have a fever. “Let’s help everyone. We know that it will be more difficult in the coming weeks. »
If the number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus begins to plateau, those of COVID-19 and influenza will inevitably increase, he observes. However, emergency rooms in pediatric and adult hospitals are already overflowing. At the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center and the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the stretcher occupancy rate was 175% at the end of the day Monday. The average rate was 128% on average in Quebec. It exceeded 200% in some hospitals.
According to the MSSS, 2,181 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized on Monday. Quebec does not, however, specify the number of patients hospitalized in intensive care due to a change in the data entry method.