When it comes to the ongoing and evolving COVID-19 pandemic, there are still a number of outstanding questions to be answered by healthcare officials.

How long will the pandemic last? When will a vaccine be available? When can we ‘return to normal’?

One question that healthcare officials have been hesitant to answer, has been if the COVID-19 outbreak will return next year - similar to the annual outbreak of influenza, otherwise known as ‘the flu.’

“That’s one of the $64,000 questions,” said Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Ian Gemmill, during a conference call with regional media outlets last week.

“We know that influenza doesn’t go away. It’s in ‘idle’ between April and August. The motor hums but it doesn’t go anywhere. But we’ve had influenza around for millennium. And there are many people out there who have a natural protection against influenza.”

The influenza virus or ‘the flu’ has long-been known as a pathogen that often mutates as it moves through and gets passed between residents. It thrives in colder weather, making it nearly a winter tradition in northwestern Ontario.

“But what’s going to happen with the Coronavirus? Well this is a brand new entity in which everyone is susceptible. If you took off all of our safe guards and restrictions, this thing would go rampant.”

“But it is a Coronavirus. And other Coronaviruses do subside in the winter months like influenza. That is quite possible, but we will not know until we have at least one year to see how it behaves.”

“I’m hopeful that we may see less activity and maybe even hardly any activity over the winter, but we would be very foolish to think that its going to go away. We need to be very prepared for whats going to happen in the next wave and next winter. Now is the time to get prepared for that,” added Gemmill.

In February, the World Health Organization said the first COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t be available for 18 months, or roughly by August of 2021. The European Medicines Agency said a vaccine could be approved in roughly one year.

On May 15, the W.H.O. said there were 110 possible vaccines that would be tested in preclinical (non-human) evaluations around the world. One of those vaccines is being tested in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

However, during public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Canada is able to order special authorizations for vaccines that aren’t yet approved in Canada.

Once again, Gemmill is reminding all northwestern Ontario residents to always practice social distancing at all times, to always practice proper hand hygiene, and to only travel within or outside of the region if for essential purposes.

For more information:
Ontario’s reopening a positive sign, NWHU
No COVID-19 in local long-term care homes so far, NWHU