With the accelerated roll out of the vaccine and the very realistic prospect that most Quebecers over the age of 18 will receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by June 24, the future looks better than it has for a long time. What can we expect over the next while?

As long as the vaccine supplies are reliable, it’s reasonable to expect that people will get their second dose on time. Do not be surprised or worried if, in the meantime, there are cases of people who received only a single dose of the vaccine coming down with COVID-19. For the most part these will be mild cases.

This is not completely unexpected as these first-generation vaccines were intended to prevent death and hospitalizations, not to stop someone from getting a mild case of COVID-19. This is also why mask wearing and social distancing — both under less cumbersome limitations — and hand-washing will need to continue. While some restrictions will most certainly be relaxed, others will need to stay in place until at least 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated — so called “herd protection”. This will be an elusive goal in many communities until we are also able to vaccinate children.

In this third wave, schools and school children have been a major source of community spread. Studies are already underway to enable Health Canada to approve our vaccines in younger age groups and I expect at least one to achieve that milestone. Hopefully, it will be soon enough to take advantage of the summer to vaccinate kids from 12-18 before they return to school. Once we’re able to do that life will be a lot easier.

Some things to be on the lookout for: As long as the virus is allowed to spread anywhere in the world the danger of variants is going to remain. Extreme vigilance on the part of the authorities is the only way to keep us all safe. If a vaccine resistant variant pops up, we will need to know about it and we will need to close our borders and establish effective travel restrictions and quarantine procedures. It took the authorities far too long to do this in the past. Hopefully, they’ll have learned their lessons by now.

Also, as long as the virus continues to spread elsewhere don’t be dismayed if we need at least one booster shot in the coming year to protect us from new variants. The good news is that all the vaccine manufacturers can modify their vaccines and obtain approval within a very short timeline and there are other, completely different vaccines on the near horizon.

With summer almost here, schools will soon close, the warmer weather will allow more outdoor time, reducing the risk of transmission of the virus which also doesn’t like warmer humid weather. This will give us our best shot at containing this virus once and for all. If we carefully ease off on restrictions while getting people vaccinated with both doses, we can do it. If we lift these restrictions too soon or enough people don’t get vaccinated or the virus develops significant resistance to our vaccines, then all bets are off. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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