The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has resulted in a drop in the number of infections in people over the age of 80, Canada's chief public health officer said Sunday as several provinces prepared to further expand their immunization rollouts.
Dr. Theresa Tam said on Twitter that the reduction in cases among older adults, along with fewer outbreaks in long-term care settings, "reassure us that vaccines will bring more (and) greater benefits in the weeks to come."
Her statement came as several provinces prepared to expand their immunization campaigns in the coming days.
Ontario is lowering the age of eligibility for shots in the general population from 80 to 75 on Monday, while New Brunswick is stepping up a program to vaccinate high school teachers.
It's expected that 4,500 staff from high schools provincewide will receive a first dose at a clinic in one of 16 locations, the New Brunswick government said.
Quebec, meanwhile, is expected to begin giving vaccines to people 65 and up in Montreal-area pharmacies on Monday, one week after the provincial booking system opened for reservations.
Despite the positive vaccine news, Tam sounded a note of caution over case counts, which are back on the rise after declining earlier this year.
She said infection rates are highest among those aged 20 to 39, who are less likely to get seriously ill but who can spread the virus, including the more transmissible variants, which are gaining steam across the country.
"Circulation of COVID-19 in younger, more mobile and socially connected adults presents an ongoing risk for spread into high-risk populations and settings," she said in a statement.
"The emergence and spread of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants heightens this concern."
The highest case count on Sunday was in Ontario, which reported 1,791 new COVID-19 infections, and 18 added deaths related to the virus.
In Toronto, officials marked one year since the first death linked to COVID-19 in the city at a sunset vigil, where 2,753 candles were lit -- one for each Torontonian who has died of the virus.
Mayor John Tory said the year will forever mark the city and those who live in it.
"We must take time to reflect and mourn each and every person who is no longer with us and use light to help guide our city through these tragic times," he said.
In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dube raised the prospect of a future third wave of infections, even as he lauded the province's "encouraging" numbers -- including 648 cases Sunday -- and the increased pace of vaccine delivery.
"It's above all not the time to relax our efforts," Dube wrote on Twitter.
"We have to do everything we can to avoid a third wave."
Saskatchewan had a setback in its vaccine delivery plans on Sunday as health officials reported the province would get 5,850 fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine due to a damaged thermal shipper.
The province reported 178 new COVID-19 cases, driven in large part by 105 new cases in the Regina zone where variants of the virus have been spreading.
Manitoba, meanwhile, counted 90 new cases and seven deaths, while Alberta logged 555 new cases of the virus and two deaths.
Things looked brighter farther east, with New Brunswick recording only one new case of the virus, and Newfoundland and Labrador reporting none.
Nova Scotia logged six new diagnoses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2021
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press