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Thomas Carrique
View Thomas Carrique Profile
Thomas Carrique
2022-06-21 19:30
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am joined here today by OPP deputy commissioner of field operations Chris Harkins and the chief superintendent, Carson Pardy, who was assigned to the integrated planning process.
Under the Ontario Police Services Act, the OPP has a unique dual mandate, providing frontline policing services to 328 municipalities across the province, as well as providing assistance and/or specialized support to municipal police services upon request.
As it relates to the “freedom convoy” and the associated illegal blockades in the city of Ottawa, the OPP's provincial operations intelligence bureau commenced reporting to our policing partners on January 13, 2022. As of January 22, daily intelligence reports focused on the convoy headed to Ottawa and the anticipated protest movements across the province. The intelligence reporting was shared with more than 35 Canadian law enforcement and security agencies.
As the convoy crossed the Manitoba-Ontario border and travelled across the province until it arrived in Ottawa on January 28, OPP officers professionally fulfilled their duties without incident. In support of the Ottawa Police Service, throughout the occupation, an increasing number of OPP officers and specialized resources from various services became engaged, ultimately contributing to an integrated plan and the establishment of a unified command.
Simultaneously, our members responded to many other convoys and demonstrations that consistently and repeatedly emerged in communities across Ontario, including but not limited to the critical blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, the blockade of Highway 402, and multiple other attempts to block Canada-U.S. land border crossings and demonstrations that posed a risk to the area of the Ontario legislature. In addition, from day one, when the convoy entered Ontario, we were responsive to requests for assistance from other municipal police services.
This was a provincial and national emergency that garnered international attention. In response, the OPP and more than 20 other police services from across the country—
View Sean Casey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Sean Casey Profile
2022-06-20 17:06
I call the meeting back to order.
We will now proceed to our briefing from Public Health Agency of Canada officials under our study of the emergency situation facing Canadians in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We're pleased to welcome, from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Kathy Thompson, executive vice-president; Cindy Evans, vice-president, emergency management branch; Stephen Bent, vice-president, vaccine rollout task force; Kimby Barton, acting vice-president, health security and regional operations branch; and Dr. Guillaume Poliquin, vice-president, national microbiology laboratory.
Thank you all for taking the time to appear today.
I understand, Ms. Thompson, that you're going to be delivering opening remarks on behalf of the agency, so you have the floor for the next five minutes. Welcome to the committee.
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:07
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting the Public Health Agency of Canada back to provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in Canada.
We continue to monitor COVID-19 epidemiological indicators, so that we can quickly detect, understand and communicate any emerging issues of concern.
As Dr. Tam reported on Friday, COVID‑19 disease activity indicators, from daily case counts and lab test positivity to waste water signals, are stabilizing at the national level, with most areas continuing to decline.
Severe illness trends are also declining in most jurisdictions. However, the virus is still circulating in Canada and internationally, and factors such as virus evolution and waning immunity could have an impact on COVID‑19 activity moving forward. At this time, we are observing early signals of increased activity in some areas.
As we and Dr. Tam have said on a number of occasions, we are not expecting our progress to be linear. We need to continue to prepare in case there is a resurgence in COVID‑19 activity. This means we need to keep up with our personal precautions, including staying up to date with our COVID‑19 vaccines and wearing a well-fitted mask. This is especially important as summer approaches, and Canadians get together more and participate in larger events like fairs and festivals.
The steady improvements we have been seeing in epidemiological indicators have allowed us to continue to relax and pause some of our measures.
Last week, the Government of Canada announced it is suspending the vaccine mandate for federally regulated transportation sectors and federal employees. In Canada, we now have better levels of immunity from vaccination and infection, antiviral drugs are more widely available, and our hospitalization rates are lower, relative to when the mandates were first introduced. This means we're now better equipped to effectively manage the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce the pressure on the health care system.
The suspension of vaccine mandates reflects an improved public health situation in Canada at this time. However, the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve and circulate in Canada and globally. COVID-19 remains a public health threat. Our best line of defence against serious illness, hospitalization and death is staying up to date with vaccinations, including booster doses.
Because vaccination rates and virus control in other countries vary significantly, our vaccination requirements remain in effect at the border. This includes an existing vaccination requirement for most foreign nationals entering Canada, and the quarantine and testing requirements for Canadians and some travellers who have not received their primary vaccine series. These requirements will help reduce the potential impact of international travel on our health care system. They will also serve as added protection against any future variants of concern.
The Government of Canada is transitioning to a model in which testing occurs outside of airports for both random testing and testing for unvaccinated travellers. Random testing will continue to occur at land border points of entry across Canada, with no changes.
While we continue the fight against this virus, we are taking every opportunity to improve. We continue to learn from both our past actions and our evolving knowledge of the virus.
Although the agency was able to rapidly mobilize, and adapt and respond to the evolving COVID‑19 situation, as we move forward, we will look to strengthening our pandemic preparedness by building on the lessons we have learned.
As we look to the future, we are optimistic; however, we also need to prepare for various scenarios. In doing so, we will use science and data to help inform our response to new or evolving situations—just as we have done from the beginning of the pandemic.
We would be happy to answer any questions you have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Stephen Ellis Profile
CPC (NS)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for coming, and thank you for your opening remarks, Ms. Thompson.
The data you're talking about, this elusive data we've heard a lot about, can you tell us what metrics you're using?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:12
There isn't one specific metric. We were really looking at a number of factors. For example, when I looked at the situation when the vaccine mandates were first put in place, there was strong scientific evidence, at the time, that the vaccines were preventing infection. They were working against transmission, against delta and alpha, and protecting against serious illness. There was a rapid acceleration of the delta variant. Hospitalization and ICU rates were very high, and the modelling was showing a strong resurgence at the time.
When we look now, comparatively, we have high immunity, both from vaccinations but also from infection rates. We have significant availability of antivirals. I mentioned the vaccination rates. Over 82% of Canadians are fully vaccinated with a primary series. We have lower hospitalization rates, and we're effectively in a better position now to manage the pandemic. That's why the decision was made to remove the vaccine mandates for public servants but also for the domestic federally regulated transportation sectors.
View Stephen Ellis Profile
CPC (NS)
The question is, as we've asked multiple times before, would you table that information with those metrics here with this committee? Since you have it at your fingertips, that would be great, within the next two weeks, please.
That being said, we talked about vaccine and vaccine effectiveness. Certainly, we know that the vaccines that are developed are against the original variant. With new variants of concern and vaccine effectiveness waning over six months, the health minister talked briefly about three doses being a fully immunized Canadian.
Does it make sense to continue to use these old vaccines?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:14
The Minister of Health, Minister Duclos, did indicate last week that the primary series is going to need to include three doses, but we do know, from the vaccine science, that vaccines continue to be very effective, particularly against fighting the severity of the virus. There is also some protection offered in terms of transmission, but we do know that, unlike delta, it does wane over time. The vaccines are still very effective to prevent severe illness and death.
In terms of the vaccines, we continue, along with Dr. Tam, the public health officer, to encourage Canadians to be up to date in terms of their vaccination. It's still the best protection that's available to Canadians.
View Stephen Ellis Profile
CPC (NS)
I understand that. Since we know that it is really not preventing transmission, and we know that even the Prime Minister has had three doses of vaccine and has had COVID twice.... This is more of a comment than a question. It really befuddles me how you could possibly require Canadians to get a third dose of that particular vaccine. That doesn't seem sensical to me. It seems nonsensical, in fact.
Anyway, that being said, I think that's certainly something that bears looking at.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to give notice of the following motion:
That the committee undertake a study into the domestic and international roles of the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg; that this study include discussions into the research being done at this facility, the safety and security measures in place, and the implications of recent international media stories regarding its scientific integrity; and that the committee report its findings and recommendations to the House.
Thank you, and I'll cede the rest of my time.
View Brendan Hanley Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Brendan Hanley Profile
2022-06-20 17:17
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to all of the representatives from the agency for attending today.
I'd like to start with Dr. Poliquin. It's good to see you again. I know you've spoken previously to this committee on updates. One of the subject areas is around genomics.
Could you update the committee on how genomics has helped us respond to the pandemic in its more recent phases, and maybe you could comment on the modelling exercises you are currently undertaking?
Guillaume Poliquin
View Guillaume Poliquin Profile
Guillaume Poliquin
2022-06-20 17:18
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On the question of genomics, the national microbiology lab continues to work very closely with provinces and territories under the guise of the “variant of concern” strategy. Under this initiative, we have seen a significant acceleration in the capacity to do genomics studies in Canada, going from a capacity of approximately 3,000 sequences per month in December of 2020 to 25,000 to 30,000 sequences per month currently.
Canada has become the fifth-largest contributor of sequences to the global database, with approximately 400,000 sequences coming from Canada. What that translates to in real terms has been the ability, in essence, to monitor viral evolution in close-to-real time here in Canada. Through that, we have been able to look at the arrival of the delta wave. We were able to detect the arrival of omicron within days of its arrival in Canada. We have been able to use that information, in partnership with public health authorities, to help with decision-making.
Moving forward we continue to use this capacity to monitor for the emergence of new variants. We have seen more recently the sublineages of omicron—BA.4 and BA.5, for example—and we are able to track these very closely to inform public health decision-making.
On the issue of modelling, genomics modelling and other monitoring activities work hand in hand. Through our modelling programs we have two main thrusts of work.
The first is on short-term forecasting, for which we use real data from cases, from vaccinations, and we are able to provide an estimate of the trajectory of the pandemic in the coming weeks. We supplement that with dynamic modelling, in which we are able to add new science about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, transmits and evolves. These dynamic models give us a longer-term view of expected changes in the pandemic. Through these models, for example, we continue to look for what may come in the fall, which reinforces the need for Canadians to stay up to date with vaccination and to be mindful of their health choices as we navigate the pandemic.
View Brendan Hanley Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Brendan Hanley Profile
2022-06-20 17:20
Thank you.
I wonder whether, on that note, you can give us any inkling of what you are anticipating. We're always looking towards the next season, whether that's the summer season of travel and gatherings or the fall return to school or the winter of being back inside. There's always another season coming. What are you seeing in terms of patterns for late summer into fall at this point?
Guillaume Poliquin
View Guillaume Poliquin Profile
Guillaume Poliquin
2022-06-20 17:21
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
At this time we are seeing overall in Canada a stabilization in rates of transmission, though as Ms. Thompson indicated, we are seeing some early signs of increased activity in some regions, which we are following closely.
It is notable that we have seen, for example, an atypical flu season with higher than expected transmission rates currently. As a result we are looking forward to a fall with a potential recurrence in activity driven by people moving inside, closer contacts and the return to school, but also due to the interplay of additional viral pathogens, more traditional, making a bit of a return.
View Brendan Hanley Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Brendan Hanley Profile
2022-06-20 17:22
I wonder.... I forget what my question was. There are so many questions.
It's for whoever can jump in, but maybe this would be back to Ms. Evans. Just on that note, I wonder about your strategies for getting Canadians to get their doses—we know that we have a lag in third dose uptake—in anticipation of what might be coming at us in the fall.
Stephen Bent
View Stephen Bent Profile
Stephen Bent
2022-06-20 17:23
In terms of encouraging Canadians to take the third dose as we continue to work very closely with our provincial and territorial partners in the context of communication to Canadians, Dr. Tam is out frequently reminding Canadians of the importance of keeping their vaccinations up to date, including third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Our intention is to continue to work with our provincial and territorial colleagues over the summer and into the fall, with joint planning and communications strategies and outreach to encourage Canadians to take their third dose.
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:23
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Bloc Québécois has argued that decisions about vaccine mandates, restrictions at airports and the lifting of those restrictions should be made by government scientists, not politicians or the House of Commons. After all, the considerations are highly scientific.
The Minister of Transport recently announced that some airport restrictions would be lifted, so I would like to know what the experts at the Public Health Agency of Canada provided in terms of new data prompting the minister's decision.
Are some decisions rooted in science or only politics?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:24
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
As I said a few moments ago, the data and studies were carefully examined. We are also in contact with scientists all over the world and experts in Canada. We work very closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts, indigenous peoples and other partners to ascertain where the situation stands. We examine the data rigorously. We collect data in a number of ways, including waste water analysis and the collection of data at the border, vaccination rates and so forth. We also pay attention to hospitalization rates.
For example, if we look at how many people were hospitalized during the first week of May, we see that they were unvaccinated in many cases. That's why we continue to promote vaccination—
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:26
Sorry to cut you off, but I'm quickly running out of time.
My question for you is this. Was last week's decision by the Minister of Transport based on new information or new recommendations provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada?
Did something happen prompting the Minister of Transport to take action when he did?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:26
The Public Health Agency of Canada regularly provides evidenced-based advice. You asked me whether the data had changed. The data have certainly changed since the vaccine mandate was introduced in the fall of last year. The situation has changed since. That's the type of information we generally provide to the government when we deliver advice. That's what we provide, in consultation with the experts—
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:27
Forgive me for cutting you off.
What I gather, then, is that, on the basis of that evidence and expertise provided to the minister, the decision could have been made the week before, two weeks before, three weeks before or what have you.
I'm just trying to understand what role science played in the decision. Clearly, the restrictions were introduced a long time ago. The decision could have been made three weeks ago, four weeks ago or two weeks ago.
The Public Health Agency of Canada did not say that it was time to lift or ease airport restrictions. That's not what happened.
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:28
The information continues to evolve. We always have studies to examine or understand and other experts to consult. The information is constantly changing. I would say that the government's decision is in line with the data we examine and the direction in which the pandemic is headed right now.
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:28
Was that same decision in line with what you were seeing three weeks or five weeks earlier, or a week later?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:28
As I said, the data changes constantly. There are always studies in progress. It is a very dynamic field. On an ongoing basis, we analyze studies, consult experts, and gather advice. The government definitely needs time to assess the information provided to it.
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:29
I understand. The minister has been less dynamic than the studies, that is for sure.
Are officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada still very worried that variants that have developed elsewhere, in places where fewer vaccines are available or the vaccination rate is low, could show up in Canada and cause damage, new waves, and new complications?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:29
We are of course studying the new variants very carefully. We have implemented border measures in part because of that.
I will let Dr. Poliquin speak about the new variants.
Guillaume Poliquin
View Guillaume Poliquin Profile
Guillaume Poliquin
2022-06-20 17:29
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
With regard to the variants, we note that SARS‑CoV‑2, the virus that causes COVID‑19, continues to evolve. It is not really possible to predict how it will evolve in the short and long term.
We have however developed our genomics capacity and, together with our science experts and academics, we have a network to study the variants, to understand their potential impact as quickly as possible and, to advise our public health colleagues on the measures to be taken or planned.
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to start by thanking all of our witnesses for their work over the past years in what have been some pretty extraordinary circumstances for our country.
I'd like to pick up where my colleague, Mr. Garon, left off on talking about the travel mandates. This issue has affected a lot of people in the riding I represent. I know that several of those measures have since been lifted, but at the same time, people are frustrated by the lack of explanation as to what the criteria were and how the decision-making process worked.
I'd like to start by going back to earlier in the pandemic when the vaccine became widely available and the government chose to put the vaccine mandate for domestic travel in place. These were rules that prevented unvaccinated people from travelling on airplanes and trains within the country.
Ms. Thompson, could you speak to how those rules were designed to work? I'm trying to get at the heart of this. What is the mechanism or what was the specific risk that was being managed when those rules were first brought in?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:32
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
With respect to vaccine mandates, the national and also global epidemiological situation was very different from what we have today. Modelling showed the possibility of strong resurgence. We were in between alpha and delta variants.
While we did have a high vaccination rate even back then, there were pockets and subpopulations that were not vaccinated, including younger individuals. At that time, the government made the decision to increase the uptake of vaccines with the vaccine mandate to offer some additional protection and ensure that there was additional protection through the vaccine mandates at the time, particularly with respect to travel and small conveyances.
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
Can I take it, from your response, Ms. Thompson, that the key objective of the vaccine mandate for domestic travel was to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated, as opposed to preventing transmission in a travel environment?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:33
It was certainly to encourage vaccination, but at the time we were also looking to protect Canadians from COVID-19, severe illness and hospitalization. There was very strong evidence to show that the vaccines were very effective for all of those risks that we were facing at the time.
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
Can I take from your response that reducing transmission in a travel environment, that is, on an airplane or on a train, was not one of the original objectives of the vaccine mandate for travel?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:34
The objective of all of the measures that are in place is really to protect Canadians and the health of Canadians, and, in particular, people who are vulnerable and immunocompromised. That is the first objective in all of these measures in addition to promoting vaccines, because we had very good evidence that vaccines were very effective, particularly against alpha and delta, and because we knew that there were some regions of the country and some populations where we didn't have the protection that we were looking for and that was necessary.
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
I have to say, Ms. Thompson, I'm frustrated at the generality of your responses. I think what Canadians are looking for is a very specific explanation of how these rules work, and that is what we've been failing to get for so many months now. It's incredibly frustrating.
I'm a layperson. I'm not an epidemiologist. I'm not a health professional of any kind. I studied glaciers in university, but I feel like I should be able to understand what we're trying to do with these rules, and the explanation is not making sense. Can you try again to tell us how keeping people off of airplanes and off of trains very specifically protected them or protected the people around them?
I'm failing to see it. I thought I understood the mechanism, which was, if you are unvaccinated and carrying the virus, there is less chance of you transmitting it to people around you. I think that's how most Canadians understood those rules to work. In addition, there is this piece around trying to convince people to get vaccinated. However, the piece around transmission is particularly interesting because of what we've been told about how the virus evolved and the changing impact on transmission.
I'm looking for something here, because I'm not clear on how these rules were supposed to work.
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:36
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Certainly we want to be as clear as we can with Canadians. Dr. Tam always makes sure, during her briefings, that she communicates to Canadians what the situation is in Canada, as well as do other departments that have imposed measures, whether it's Transport Canada for a domestic vaccine for federally regulated sectors, or the Treasury Board for the public service.
With respect to the federally regulated sector, as I indicated, there was strong evidence from international and domestic sources to conclude that vaccines were very effective at preventing infection and, consequently, transmission of the COVID-19 variants that were circulating at the time, namely alpha and delta, and protecting against severe illness and hospitalization and death. That is one of the reasons why we were indicating that the evidence was there to support a vaccine mandate at the time.
View Laila Goodridge Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to all the witnesses.
Ms. Thompson, my question is a little bit along the same vein. Earlier in your testimony, you were talking about how, under alpha and delta, in terms of the transmission of the virus, there were studies to show that it was less so with those who were vaccinated, but then you said that things changed with omicron.
As we know, omicron became the variant that was probably dominate in and around December and January. Was the interest in keeping the federal vaccine mandates for travel in place from January onwards mostly about trying to get more people vaccinated?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:38
We were facing a very strong resurgence. The science was still emerging with respect to omicron. Although it happens very quickly in pandemic time, it still takes a while for the pandemic science to emerge on the effectiveness of vaccines against certain variants and to understand how a particular variant is presenting.
In terms of the omicron surge, there was evidence to support that we were in a surge—it was happening not only in Canada but globally as well—and that we should be maintaining efforts to encourage individuals to be as protected as possible from the vaccination perspective, as well as through personal protection measures—
View Laila Goodridge Profile
CPC (AB)
All right. Thanks, Ms. Thompson.
Unfortunately, we don't have much time, so my question becomes.... It's relatively clear.
At a certain point, it became pretty clear to Canadians and to science around the world that the vaccines did not change whether people could get or transmit the omicron variant. Our Prime Minister has now been infected with the omicron variant for the second time in about six months.
Was our keeping vaccine mandates in place in Canada for federal travel done in order to encourage more people to get vaccinated? A simple yes or no would be great.
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:40
It was, as I indicated, to ensure that Canadians had the protection during this latest wave of COVID.
We know that the effectiveness was demonstrated through studies to still be present, even during the omicron wave. Yes, it wanes over time—probably more quickly than with delta—but it still prevents transmission.
I'll see if Mr. Bent wants to add anything.
Stephen Bent
View Stephen Bent Profile
Stephen Bent
2022-06-20 17:41
Thank you.
I would add that, as it was stated earlier, two doses of vaccine still offer considerable protection in terms of severe disease. Fundamentally, in the context of our objective of reducing hospitalizations, severe illness and death, two doses perform well.
We know, as well, that three doses perform better, and that's why we're encouraging Canadians to get their booster.
View Laila Goodridge Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
As a follow-up, was keeping federal mandates and restrictions a way of encouraging more Canadians to get vaccinated—yes or no?
Stephen Bent
View Stephen Bent Profile
Stephen Bent
2022-06-20 17:41
I would offer that we've consistently communicated to Canadians that vaccination is one of the most important measures to protect themselves and to protect others.
View Laila Goodridge Profile
CPC (AB)
One of the complicated pieces around all of these vaccine mandates is that there has been so much politicization. A lot of Canadians have lost trust. They don't understand what is different today compared with yesterday in terms of being able to get on a plane. What magically changed so that now, today, it is safe, whereas yesterday it was unsafe?
You have a whole amount of fear. There hasn't been a lot of communication with the general public, who perhaps thought that those mandates were in place for some specific reason. We don't have any answers about metrics for why these mandates were kept in place for as long as they were.
We didn't follow any of our G7 partners. While travel and so much is a global phenomenon, Canada stayed on its own, keeping a very different.... We were out of step with our U.S. partners. We were out of step with our European partners. We were out of step with just about everyone in the world. Now, Canadians who believed that Canada was doing this...they're confused as to how, somehow, it's now safe.
What would you tell those Canadians about why there was an overnight change in these mandates and restrictions?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:43
I would assure Canadians that this is based on the data and the engagement with experts. As I said earlier, we are constantly engaging with experts on the world stage and nationally. We're engaging with provinces and territories—
View Laila Goodridge Profile
CPC (AB)
Ms. Thompson, what data and which experts are you referring to?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Chair.
I too would like to thank the witnesses for being here today.
This is my first appearance at the health committee. I'd like to ask questions that I know are top of mind for residents in my riding.
First of all, there's monkeypox. Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen an increase in cases. I know that it's very concerning in Montreal. As well, in Quebec we've seen some cases on the rise. Can you tell us what the agency is doing to actively work with public health partners to investigate reports of suspect cases of monkeypox in Canada?
Guillaume Poliquin
View Guillaume Poliquin Profile
Guillaume Poliquin
2022-06-20 17:44
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to reassure Canadians that the Public Health Agency of Canada is taking the monkeypox situation extremely seriously. We have had a number of concrete actions with respect to monkeypox.
First, following the international reports from the U.K. on May 17, the national microbiology laboratory relaxed instantly its criteria for testing to remove the need for travel to make sure that all Canadians were able to access the testing they needed. In addition, there was an emergency meeting of the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network on May 19, prior to the confirmation of the first two Canadian cases, to ensure there was readiness on the laboratory side.
In addition, we have been working hand in glove with our provincial and territorial partners to provide guidance. Within eight days of the first cases being detected in Canada, we issued guidance on the prevention of infection, as well as recommendations to prevent spread. Through the national emergency stockpile, we have made available vaccinations—third-generation vaccines intended for smallpox but also with an indication for monkeypox—for a targeted vaccination campaign to help reach those most at risk.
In addition, ongoing communication has been occurring both through provincial health authorities and through a number of community organizations in order to ensure that messaging is out but respectful, so that we do not enter into an area of engendering unnecessary stigma. The Public Health Agency stands firmly against stigma generation. As such, our communications strategy has been very mindful both to reassure Canadians and to also get the message out to those who need to hear it.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
My constituents are also worried about long COVID. I understand that there have been some studies recently about the syndrome's origins, the risk factors and the treatments. Can you tell us, Ms. Thompson or anyone on the team there, what steps the Public Health Agency of Canada is taking to learn more about this post-COVID condition? In terms of the factor of being fully vaccinated, how does that impact subsequent long COVID?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:47
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Maybe I'll take those in that order.
We at the agency are working to monitor and build an evidence base to inform public health decision-making with respect to post-COVID or long COVID. We are working closely with a number of partners to make sure that we build that evidence base, starting with Statistics Canada. We are going to be launching a population-based survey on post-COVID conditions to look at and identify some evidence gaps and try to estimate what percentage of the Canadian population is currently experiencing post-COVID conditions. Then we would propose to do a follow-up survey, a second survey with Stats Canada.
We're also working with the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and with the Canadian Paediatric Society to look at some options for studies looking at the impact on children. I think we'll be in a position later this fall to be able to detail the full scope of the work that's under way. We're also monitoring a number of systemic reviews that are happening worldwide.
In terms of the evidence and how it relates to vaccination, the evidence review by the agency found that the prevalence of post-COVID-19 conditions is approximately 30% to 40% in individuals who were not hospitalized for their initial COVID infection. The current evidence suggests that the prevalence is even higher for those who were hospitalized during the acute phase compared to those who weren't. There is a strong indication that vaccination helps to prevent long-term or post-COVID conditions.
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:49
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I have another question for Ms. Thompson about long COVID‑19. We were talking about it earlier.
What is the situation in Quebec. You are somewhat familiar with the epidemiology of long COVID‑19 symptoms. At this time, how many people have symptoms that last more than six months and that could be incapacitating? Do you have an answer to that?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:50
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
That is part of the challenge we are facing. We do not have exact figures, but I will check with Dr. Poliquin for further information. In any case, I know it is difficult to estimate the number of such cases.
Guillaume Poliquin
View Guillaume Poliquin Profile
Guillaume Poliquin
2022-06-20 17:50
We are in the process of refining the definition or defining criteria of the post-COVID‑19 syndrome.
We do not have any specific figures right now, but with our partners we are refining the definition and conducting surveys and studies to better determine the prevalence of the syndrome.
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2022-06-20 17:51
From what you said, I understand that we have some information about the symptoms, but the clinical definition for diagnostic purposes has not been finalized. That is consistent with what the experts told us at our meeting last week.
For your part, are you worried about the impact that long COVID‑19 could have on the work force in the longer term, specifically in the health care system? We know that workers may have been exposed to the virus before they were vaccinated, and that that is a risk. Many of our health care workers were exposed to the virus early in the pandemic.
Does that worry you?
Guillaume Poliquin
View Guillaume Poliquin Profile
Guillaume Poliquin
2022-06-20 17:51
We do of course take the post‑COVID syndrome very seriously. We are investing in this area and working with partners to conduct studies on the syndrome. It is too early to say exactly what the long-term effects will be. Yet a study published a few days ago indicates that the risk of developing long COVID‑19 is much lower after being infected with the Omicron variant than the Delta variant. So there are a number of processes, and we are studying various permutations of the problem in order to address it.
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Thompson, continuing with questions regarding the vaccination mandate for domestic travel, there are two government decisions that are of particular interest. The first was the decision on June 1 to extend the travel mandate, and the second was the decision two weeks later, on June 14, to lift the travel mandate.
Were both of those government decisions consistent with advice from your department?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Of course, I can't speak specifically to advice provided to the government and to ministers as part of the cabinet process, but I can say, as I've stated before, that the science and the assessment of the Public Health Agency supported the decision to lift the vaccine mandate.
As I said earlier, we appreciate that.... It's also required on the part of the government to be able to appreciate and consider the information that they receive from different sources, so the—
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
Ms. Thompson, did the evidence that your department collects also support the decision on June 1 to extend the mandate?
You spoke of the lifting of the mandate. Did the evidence you were collecting and the science you were reviewing also support extending the mandate on June 1?
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:54
As I said, we are constantly reviewing the studies and the evidence, and the information that was provided to the government is consistent with what we were seeing at the time when the mandates were being lifted. The advice that was provided was constantly evolving—
View Taylor Bachrach Profile
NDP (BC)
We talked about the lifting already. We're talking about the extension of the mandates now.
I'm just frustrated because I'm asking different questions, but you're giving the same answer to every question. What I want to know is whether the information PHAC was looking at was supportive of extending the travel mandates on June 1.
Kathy Thompson
View Kathy Thompson Profile
Kathy Thompson
2022-06-20 17:55
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I don't mean to repeat the information, but I can only share with you that the evidence fully supported the decision to implement the mandates. With respect to the timing, as I said, the evidence is constantly evolving. New studies are coming out. Dr. Poliquin was talking a moment ago about a study a few days ago on long COVID.
The information is very fluid in this pandemic that we are all living in, and we are constantly considering and reconsidering the data.
What I can say is that at the time when the government lifted the mandate, the public health evidence supported the lifting of the mandate.
View Sean Casey Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Sean Casey Profile
2022-06-20 17:56
Thank you, Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bachrach.
To all of our witnesses from the Public Health Agency of Canada, we appreciate your being with us. We appreciate your patience and your professionalism. I don't know that the work of the Public Health Agency of Canada has ever been more visible than in recent times. We certainly appreciate your being here with us and so patiently and professionally handling the questions that were posed to you today.
I wish you all a good evening.
Colleagues, I have a very pleasant task for you before we wrap. Today is the last meeting for our analyst Sonya Norris. Sonya will be retiring in exactly nine days.
I'll say little bit about Sonya. She earned a master's in biochemistry and spent almost a decade in clinical research. She started with the Library of Parliament 24 years ago, in 1998, and was assigned to this committee. Her first study on this committee was on natural health products. Some of the other studies she has penned include organ donation and transplantation, and assisted human reproduction.
From 2012 to 2019, she worked in the other place—on the social affairs, science and technology committee. She wrote a number of reports, including a series on pharmaceuticals, as well as healthy eating, dementia and robotics. In all, she has drafted about 26 committee reports.
I can tell you that, as the chair, I get to meet weekly with the analysts from the Library of Parliament and the clerk to plan the business of the meetings. Sonya has always been professional, pleasant and good-humoured to deal with. I'm sure that you join me in wishing her a happy and productive retirement.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
The Chair: To Sonya's left is Kelly Farrah. Kelly is going to be attempting to fill the large shoes left by Sonya. She certainly has the credentials, including a Master of Science in epidemiology, as well as a Master of Library and Information Science, and 15 years of experience working in the field of health technology assessment. Prior to joining the Library of Parliament, she was a pharmaceutical review manager with Canada's Drug and Health Technology Agency.
As I read it, she sounds very much like a witness as opposed to somebody who will be on our side.
She has worked with PHAC as a research analyst and with the NACI secretariat. Areas of expertise include clinical and economic evaluation of drugs, vaccines and medical devices, and methods for knowledge synthesis in the health sciences. Please join me in welcoming Kelly to our committee as the analyst.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
An hon. member: She only has 24 years to go.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Chair: Is it the will of the committee to adjourn the meeting?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: We are adjourned. Thank you.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
I call this meeting to order.
Thank you all very much.
I apologize to our witnesses for the delay, but you know how it is.
Mr. Lewis, happy birthday. Since I missed congratulating you for your bill, I didn't want to miss your birthday, at least.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, June 6, the committee is beginning its study of the potential impacts of the ArriveCAN application on certain Canadian sectors.
In the first panel, we have with us, from Canada Border Services Agency, Denis Vinette, vice-president of the travellers branch. From the Public Health Agency of Canada, we have Marie-Hélène Lévesque, director general of the centre for compliance, enforcement and exemptions.
Welcome to you both.
We will start with opening remarks of no more than five minutes, please.
Mr. Vinette, the floor is yours.
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