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In JMIR public health and surveillance

BACKGROUND : There is mounting evidence that the third wave of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) incidence is declining, yet variants of concern (VOCs) continue to present public health challenges in Canada. The emergence of VOCs has sparked debate on how to effectively control their impacts on the Canadian population.

OBJECTIVE : Provincial and territorial governments have implemented a wide range of policy measures to protect residents against community transmission of COVID-19, but research examining the specific impact of policy countermeasures on the VOCs in Canada is needed. Our study objective was to identify provinces with disproportionate prevalence of VOCs relative to COVID-19 mitigation efforts in provinces and territories in Canada.

METHODS : We analyzed publicly available provincial and territorial level data on the prevalence of VOCs in relation to mitigating factors (summarized in three measures: 1. strength of public health countermeasures: stringency index, 2. the extent to which people moved about outside their homes: mobility index, and 3. the proportion of the provincial/ territorial population that was fully vaccinated: vaccine uptake. Using spatial agglomerative hierarchical cluster analysis (unsupervised machine learning), provinces and territories were grouped into clusters by stringency index, mobility index and full vaccine uptake. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to compare the prevalence of VOC (Alpha, or B.1.1.7, Beta, or B.1.351, Gamma, or P.1, and Delta, or B.1.617.2 variants) across the clusters.

RESULTS : Three clusters of vaccine uptake and countermeasures were identified. Cluster 1 consisted of the three Canadian territories and was characterized by a higher degree of vaccine deployment and fewer countermeasures. Cluster 2 (located in Central Canada and the Atlantic region) was typified by lower levels of vaccine deployment and moderate countermeasures. The third cluster which consisted of provinces in the Pacific region, Central Canada, and the Prairies, exhibited moderate vaccine deployment but stronger countermeasures. The overall and variant-specific prevalences were significantly different across the clusters.

CONCLUSIONS : This 'up to the point' analysis found that implementation of COVID-19 public health measures, including the mass vaccination of populations, is key to controlling VOC prevalence rates in Canada. As of June 15, 2021, the third wave of COVID-19 in Canada is declining and those provinces and territories that had implemented more comprehensive public health stringency measures showed lower VOC prevalence. Public health authorities and governments need to continue to communicate the importance of socio-behavioural preventive measures, even as populations in Canada continue to receive their primary and booster doses of vaccines.

CLINICALTRIAL : Non applicable.

Adeyinka Daniel, Neudorf Cory, Camillo Cheryl A, Marks Wendie, Muhajarine Nazeem