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'Concerning' delta B.1.617 variant most predominant in Peel Region, top doctor says

Last Updated Jun 2, 2021 at 5:10 pm EDT

Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health says the B.1.617 variant first detected in India is growing across the province revealing that Peel has the highest proportion of the delta variant.

Dr. Lawrence Loh said Wednesday that while Peel Region’s vaccination rollout has helped limit the spread of the virus, there are growing concerns about the B.1.617 variant and its presence in and across the community.

“We have only just started getting back preliminary lab results and analysis from our provincial laboratory partner and the trends being observed are concerning,” said Loh.

“B.1.617 is quickly replacing B.1.1.7, which was the alpha variant originally detected in the UK, and which drove our third wave across Brampton and the Region of Peel.”

Loh confirmed that there are 97 cases of the delta variant in Peel Region, including some that were transmitted in the community.

“Preliminary analysis from the Science Table suggests that in one month, the delta variant will be the dominant strain in our region with the rest of Ontario weeks behind,” he added.

As a result, Loh stressed that Peel Public Health is attempting to speed up the administration of second vaccine doses across the region with hopes of limiting the spread, perhaps significantly, of the B.1.617 variant.

RELATED: Why Canada must pay attention to quickly evolving B.1.617 variant 

“With initial signals suggesting that the delta variant is also more transmissible and severe on top of the Alpha variant, this means we very much welcome the province’s continued, cautious reopening as one component in preventing a fourth wave. Caution is essential.”

Loh says the other component is, of course, to continue vaccinating.

The Ontario Science table estimates B1.617.2 (Delta) makes up 23 percent of current infections in the province.

“The variants without N501Y mutation (N501Y-) include Delta (B1.617.2); Delta is likely the most frequent N501Y- variant in Ontario,” the Science Table said on Tuesday.

On a more positive note, the Scien Table’s latest update pegs Ontario’s reproduction number R(t) – which corresponds to the average number of additional infections caused by 1 infection – currently at 0.72.

An R(t) of greater than 1 indicates exponential growth.

Experts are warning that now is not the time to slow down in the race to vaccinate against COVID-19 as variants continue to surge in parts of the world, particularly the UK, which continues to report high detection of the B.1.617 variant.

Public health data of the province’s variant screening test, which checks for a gene found in B.1.1.7, has revealed a 10 per cent drop in that variant, first detected in the UK and considered the most predominant strain in Ontario

But those tests don’t check for a sub-branch of the B.1.617 strain called B.1.617.2.

“We lost the B.1.1.7-vs-vaccine race in Canada before we even knew there was a race,” said Infectious Diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch in a tweet Tuesday evening.

“But with the rapidly spreading B.1.617, we are well in the lead with mass vaccination and can (hopefully) stay ahead with a smart/fast first and second dose strategy.”

Premier Doug Ford’s reluctance to reopen schools and parts of the province ahead of its targeted June 14 date centers on the spread of the B.1.617 variant.

When Ford issued a letter to educators and doctors asking whether or not the province was ready, based on science and data, to reopen schools safely, a few of his questions touched on the B.1.617 variant.

“There are a growing number of cases in Ontario of the variant first identified in India (B.1.617). Does this mutation pose an increased risk to students and education workers,?” was one of the questions Ford asked.

Though the Science Table published a response concluding it is safe to reopen schools, some health experts disagree, saying the risk of B.1.617 is too high for students and staff to return to a classroom.

Dr. Loh says science is clear that with the delta variant growing, Peel Region must move quickly to two vaccine doses for maximum protection.

The top doctor compares similar actions taken in Bolton, England where they rushed in second doses in an effort to get ahead of the virus and the evergrowing B.1.617 variant.

“… There is discussion underway to see what it would mean in terms of accelerating second doses, in regions such as Peel, where the delta variant is becoming increasingly predominant,” Loh said.

“Slowing the variant in such areas as Peel is critical to ensuring that all of Ontario is protected and that we can continue to move forward in confidence with reopening.”

“… Get your second dose as soon as you are eligible. We’re hopeful that with supply, we might be able to accelerate second doses to get ahead of the delta variant in our community,” Loh added.

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