‘It’s normal to be infected’ Official’s comment not helpful in COVID fight, Winnipeg doctor says

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A suggestion from Manitoba’s deputy provincial chief public health officer that ‘it’s okay to be infected’ with COVID-19 raises eyebrows among some medical professionals, including a Winnipeg doctor who says messaging is not helpful.

On Friday, Dr. Jazz Atwal announced that some Manitobans — including anyone 65 and older and Indigenous people 18 and older — will be among the first in the province eligible for an updated vaccine from Moderna that targets at the both the original strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and its Omicron variant.

When asked to describe the current spread of COVID-19 in the community, Atwal said the focus should be on the serious consequences of the disease, rather than the number of active infections.

He drew a comparison with common colds to make his point.

“Before COVID … colds were circulating. Most people were fine. Some people still ended up in hospital at the time. It was a serious outcome,” he told a conference. press Friday.

“There’s such a focus on infection right now, but it’s normal to get infected,” Atwal said. “You build your natural immunity, so that’s good.”

Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy provincial chief public health officer, announced initial eligibility for Moderna’s new bivalent vaccine on Friday. He also cautioned against focusing too much on the number of COVID-19 infections in the province, saying “it’s normal to be infected.” (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba doesn’t see the level of severe consequences from COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant compared to previous variants, according to Atwal — in part because vaccination in the province has been good.

Focusing on the number of people with active infection in Manitoba rather than the serious consequences “doesn’t help the situation at all,” he said.

But Dr. Jillian Horton, a hospital-based internal medicine specialist in Winnipeg, says there is a risk when health officials downplay COVID-19 infections.

“The problem I have with phrasing it that way is that it doesn’t really give people the full picture,” she said in an interview with CBC News on Saturday.

The province has encouraged vaccination against COVID-19, she notes, and “reassurance, where appropriate, is certainly an important part of communicating with the public.”

But, she said, “the big picture is that it would be a lot better if you hadn’t gotten this infection in the first place.”

A Winnipeg epidemiologist said while COVID-19 infection can bring some immunity, it’s always best to avoid getting infected at all.

Responding in an interview Friday to the province’s recommendation that people wait to receive boosters until the bivalent vaccine is available, Cynthia Carr, the founder of EPI Research in Winnipeg, noted that “the vast majority of us have probably been infected with Omicron at the very least”, which leads to some level of immunity.

“It’s not a recommendation at all to get infected – but it’s a fact, especially if you’ve had… at least two or three vaccines with that, you have hybrid immunity,” she said. declared.

‘Infections matter’: Stanford researcher

Horton said she’s taking some hope from a well-vaccinated population in Manitoba and that more vaccine developments are likely on the horizon.

But infections will certainly rise once children return to class, she said, and indoor masking and improving indoor air quality should continue to be a top priority at the fall is approaching.

She worries that Atwal’s comment downplays the risk of COVID-19 infection, which is not “helpful for people as they try to navigate personal decisions that are right for them, especially knowing that we’ve really abandoned large-scale public health strategies to try to mitigate the spread of COVID.”

The comments could have a negative effect on people’s behavior, she said.

“So you’ve got people who were worried before… maybe they walk away from that and say, ‘Well, why should I upgrade my ventilation at my own expense, in my business or at my place? working, if all goes well? my child continues to hide inside if it’s ok?

Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician and medical researcher at Stanford University, also took issue with Atwal’s comments during an exchange with Horton on Twitter.

“Infections matter,” he tweeted in a response to Horton.

There are still significant risks associated with the disease for vulnerable people, according to Karan, and it is “best to be humble” about the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, especially in public communications.

“Comparisons with colds [are] not too helpful either,” Karan tweeted. “Investing in public infrastructure for clean air is key.”

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