As summer gives way to fall, a sense of déjà vu is settling in the air. Hospitalization numbers related to Covid-19 are on the rise, wastewater tests indicate increasing viral loads, and the dreaded word ‘wave’ is once again being whispered among experts. On August 29, 2023, Canada reported its first case of Covid-19 caused by the new mutated variant BA.2.86. This development raises important questions about the nature of this variant, the necessity of continued masking, and the effectiveness of vaccinations.
The emergence of the BA.2.86 variant has been closely monitored by health authorities worldwide. Like its predecessors, this variant is a mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. What makes BA.2.86 noteworthy is its unique combination of mutations in the spike protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells. Preliminary research suggests that BA.2.86 may be more contagious than earlier variants but is not necessarily more harmful. Based on current and previous studies, vaccination remains our most robust weapon against severe illness and death caused by Covid-19 and its variants.
The resurgence of Covid-19 and the emergence of new variants spark questions about the continued necessity of masking. While vaccination remains crucial, especially with the new variant in play, experts recommend that masking should also remain a part of our public health strategy.
However, a mask mandate remains highly unlikely. In a recent discussion with CBC, Dr. Fahad Razak, former scientific director of Ontario’s Covid-19 Science Advisory Table said, “Unless there is significant change in the nature of the virus, I think it’s very unlikely a mask mandate will be something any government in North America or Europe considers.”
One of the saving graces of the current situation is the high vaccination rate across many countries. As of September 10, 2023, 83.2 per cent of Canada’s population had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccines. Moreover, vaccine manufacturers have adapted quickly to new variants, including BA.2.86. Booster shots and variant-specific vaccines are being developed and administered to bolster immunity against these emerging strains. This proactive approach by the scientific community and healthcare systems demonstrates our ability to respond effectively to the ever-evolving nature of the virus.
It is important to note that breakthrough infections can still occur, but these cases are generally milder and less likely to lead to severe illness in vaccinated individuals. In the aforementioned discussion with CBC, Dr. Razak explained, “This is not the crisis we faced in year one, two, or three of the pandemic, but it can still be disruptive. Preventative steps are prudent.” Continued vaccination efforts, alongside adherence to public health measures like mask-wearing, will help us keep the virus in check and prevent the overwhelming of healthcare systems.
The emergence of the BA.2.86 variant serves as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over. While the virus’s behaviour may evolve, our response remains the same: prioritize vaccination, adhere to recommended health measures, and stay informed about the latest developments. By doing so, we can navigate this new potential wave of Covid-19 and work towards a future where the virus poses less of a threat to our day-to-day lives.