Greek seniors briefed on COVID-19 during HCGM-sponsored web seminar

‘Variants’ expected to be the dominant COVID-19 virus by April, says infection expert

Senior citizens from the Montreal and Laval Greek communities were offered a better understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 10 during an hour-long webconference and briefing on the situation provided by several epidemiology and microbiology experts.

Sponsored by the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal with assistance from Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette, the presentation featured director of public health for Laval Dr. Jean-Pierre Trépanier, CISSS de Laval infection-prevention officer Dr. Olivier Haeck, and Dr. Stephanie Susser, medical coordinator for environmental health at the CISSS de Laval.

A better understanding

“We are trying to reach out to as many people in the Greek community as possible,” said Ouellette in opening remarks, adding that information coming from experts would help to reassure a large segment of the population.

Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette is seen here during the HCGM’s web conference on COVID-19 issues.

HCGM president Andreas Crilis thanked Ouellette for helping to bring the panel together “to give us a better understanding of what we’re living during this pandemic that is crippling the world. I expect this will be a very informative session to give us the necessary knowledge and information to transmit back to our people in need.”

Laval has been hard-hit

According to Dr. Trépanier, Laval has been an especially hard-hit region in Quebec for transmission of the coronavirus, despite preventions such as face masks and social distancing. There have been more than 25,000 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Laval since the beginning of the pandemic more than a year ago, although the trend has been downward since January, he added.

Dr. Trépanier said that 440,000 tests for COVID-19 infection have been conducted in Laval since last August, averaging 1,600 tests per day. However, as of March 6, there had been 871 fatalities in Laval from COVID-19, although most who became infected eventually recovered.

The ‘variants’ threat

Regarding the recent emergence of COVID-19 variants, Dr. Trépanier said, “They are expected to replace the original strain. That’s what happened in the United Kingdom and other countries where variants were found, and hence the importance for public health to follow the tracing of these variants.”

If a variant emerges which proves to be resistant to the current vaccines, “it may be a problem,” said Dr. Olivier Haeck, the CISSS de Laval’s infection-prevention officer

While initially public health officials estimated that variants accounted for 3 to 5 per cent of all COVID-19 cases, by the end of the first week of March variants accounted for up to 20 per cent of cases “and it’s going up,” added Dr. Trépanier, while also noting that “it is expected that these variants will become the principal strain as of the beginning of April. And so, we have to be prepared for that.”

On the vaccines

On the issue of vaccines, Dr. Haeck said researchers have found that the available vaccines take a little longer to take effect in older individuals. “It takes three weeks instead of two weeks, but it’s almost as effective,” he said, while pointing out that the vaccines can be less effective in persons with weakened immune systems.

Andreas Crilis, president of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, is seen here during the HCGM’s web conference on COVID-19 issues.

Still, he said it remains just as important to be vaccinated if your immune system isn’t normal, “because you’re going to have at least a little protection against this virus which can be very dangerous for you or for other people.”

A potential problem

Regarding the variants, Dr. Haeck said that if a variant emerges which proves to be resistant to the current vaccines, “it may be a problem. That’s why right now we want to vaccinate as many people as we can to prevent any third wave with the variant.”

Dr. Susser explained that in the absence of an influenza season this past winter, flu-like symptoms now could easily be a sign of COVID-19. But because COVID-19 symptoms are often unspecific, the government created a decision-making tool for non-experts who are concerned they may be infected. And it is available on the web in a variety of languages – including Greek.