Sixteen months into the pandemic that began in December, 2019, COVID-19 continues to raise havoc around the world. Kim Parlee speaks with Tarik Aeta, Healthcare Analyst, TD Asset Management, about whether the “third wave” of infections may delay Canada’s reopening timeline.
- Yeah. Yeah, thanks again for having me on. So taking a look at the big picture, on global level, the number of new COVID cases continues to make all-time highs, with over 800,000 daily cases recently. We've also seen the epicenter of the pandemic shift since January away from the US and UK, and towards emerging markets, where India and Brazil now make up half of all the cases globally. But with the vaccination campaigns set to accelerate meaningfully in the months ahead, the trajectory from here will get materially better in the second half of the year. Globally we're still very much in the early innings of the vaccination campaign, so only 7% of the world has been vaccinated, but as more manufacturing capacity comes online, production will more than double by the end of the year.
In terms of the sequence of events, looking south of the border, the US will likely be the first major country to complete their vaccination campaign by July. Canada and the European Union are just a few steps behind, and we'll be done our vaccination campaign early in the fall, and emerging markets will likely complete their vaccination campaign last, towards the end of this year, as well as early next year.
- It all seems a bit surreal for all of us living through it, of course, because even though-- I think we've been hearing it's coming soon, but sometimes it's hard to believe when we're in the midst of it. I want to talk about some of those timelines again in a second. But maybe you could just bring us up to speed on some of the variants. We've had variants from the UK, South Africa, Brazil, and now India. How big are a threat of these variants? Do we know yet? And specifically, in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccines against those variants.
- Right. So when it comes to the variants, it's good and bad news. The bad news is that since January, the data has confirmed that some of these variants, like the UK strain, B.1.1.7, are not only more infectious, but the risk of hospitalization is also higher. But that said, the good news is that the vaccines continue to work well in preventing against severe disease, even when it comes to the variants, and continue to prevent hospitalization.
However, it's important to note the vaccines don't protect fully against mild disease, as effectively, when it comes to the variants. A good data point to show this is a Novavax trial back in January. Overall, their vaccine was 96% effective against the original virus. So quite similar to Pfizer, Moderna, but their vaccine was a little bit less effective, at 86%, against the UK strain, and it was only 55% effective against the South African strain, which is that same ballpark that J and J reported as well. When it comes to the Indian and Brazilian strain, we still don't have good data there. But given the Indian and Brazilian and South African strains all share the E484 mutation, in theory we should have lower efficacy in the same ballpark as the South African strain for the Brazilian and Indian strains as well.
- So it's fascinating that we feel impatient, but yet, of course, there's a pandemic that just started 16 months ago, people are already getting vaccinated, which in itself is somewhat of a miracle. But can we just review the timelines again? You're saying for Canada, you expect the vaccination campaign will be underway. Does that mean an opening, as it were, would be happening in the fall? Is that what you see?
- Yeah. Here in Canada, the slow roll of the vaccine has definitely held us back, number of COVID-19 cases recently hitting all-time highs, and a lot of that is really being driven by the UK variant, which accounts for the majority of cases in Canada. But, yeah. As said, I'm fairly confident we're approaching a turning point in the upcoming weeks, and this is being driven by the combination of lockdowns and the acceleration of the vaccination campaign. So we now have 29% of Canadians having received at least their first dose, and 300,000 more Canadians being vaccinated each and every day.
As we enter the summer, that pace should accelerate, as many of the doses that are currently going to the US under Operation Warp Speed will begin being redirected here to Canada, once the US has done their vaccination campaign. And looking at the data, it's clear the vaccines will have a major real-world impact. When you look at the US, cases are down 75% from their highs. When you look at the UK cases, they're down 95% from their highs, and in Israel, cases are down a whopping 98%. So I think Canada will follow the same playbook over here. It just is going to take us a bit longer over the next few months.
- When you look ahead, Tarik, do you see anything that's either going to accelerate reopening, or the flip side, delay it? I mean, when you think about we talked about variants, maybe vaccine supply disruption, or conversely, could there be new vaccines and/or more coming out faster than we expect? Is there anything that could change that trajectory?
- Yeah. So in terms of on the delay side of things, I'm not too concerned there. For the Astra vaccine, for instance, out of the 13-plus million doses Canada received thus far, only 500,000 of those have been AstraZeneca doses from India. So it's been a small part of our vaccine mix, and instead most of the Astra dose we will be receiving shortly will really be coming from the US instead. And then, when it comes to Moderna's shipments, there have been some delays. But with Pfizer set to more than double the rate of shipments beginning next week, in early May, to two million doses per week, I think that will allow us to continue to keep the strong momentum on the vaccination campaign, even if we get delays with the other manufacturers.
And in terms of what can accelerate the vaccination campaign, I think the end of the US vaccination campaign probably will be the one thing I'd watch for that would really accelerate it because, again, once we hit June, July, the US will have a lot of doses and there will be a lot of doses to go around to other countries that want them at that time.