We are bored, horny, and ready to re-launch our social lives. Welcome to Hot & Bothered, our guide to safely and stylishly getting out there (and getting off) this summer.
If you watched that Extra gum commercial a few weeks back, you’d be forgiven for assuming that summer 2021 was going to be one giant orgy — a no-holds-barred bonkfest to make up for the 16 months of government-enforced prudishness. The good news: We’re getting there. A huge spike in vaccination rates and decreasing case counts across the country mean a (late) summer sexplosion is still entirely possible. The bad news: We’re not there yet, and the emergence of the new and super-contagious Delta variant means one or two more cold showers may be in order.
“With everything we’re learning about Delta, it makes sense to bring our guards back up,” says Dr. Samantha Yammine — aka Instagram’s @science.sam — a molecular biologist and science communicator, who has spent the last year translating complicated data into digestible info. Here, she talks to R29 Canada about the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (NACI) new guidelines on mixing and matching vaccines, and what the new variant means for your summer make-out plans.
Let’s start with a crash course in the Delta variant: What is it? Why does it matter? What does it mean for my hot vax summer?
Like all of the previous variants, Delta is a mutation of the original COVID-19 virus. This one was first discovered in India in October of last year. More recently, it has been behind a huge spike in case rates in Britain and we are starting to see the same thing happening in Canada. There are a couple of key concerns about Delta. The first is that all signs point to it being more contagious than previous variants — initial research suggesting about 40% more transmissible. And then the other thing is that initial data out of the UK suggests that one dose of the vaccine is less effective against Delta than it has been against previous strains.
How much less effective?
There is a study out of the UK that shows the first dose of both AstraZeneca and Pfizer are only about 30% effective against the Delta variant. It’s important to note that most of the research has been around symptomatic COVID, meaning both more and less serious cases. When it comes to severe COVID outcome like hospitalization and death, we believe a single dose offers somewhere in the region of 70% protection. This is based on emerging data and also on the fact that they have seen a huge spike of cases in the UK, but their hospital and death numbers have not shot up in the same way as with previous waves.
Given what we know, is it best to put my libido on ice for a few weeks?
I think for anyone who has gotten the first vaccine, which is a lot of Canadians in their 30s and 40s, the new realities with Delta means it’s a good idea to put our guards back up. Especially because we are so close to being at the end of this.
Delta sounds like the scene near the end of the horror movie where the bad guy pops back up for one more attempt at total annihilation.
Pretty much. Only in this case the best thing we can do to fight back is to get vaccinated. And we are in a really good position to do that with the increase in vaccine supply and also the updated NACI recommendations that mean that regardless of what your first dose was, it’s okay to mix and match.
So if my first dose was AstraZeneca, what is my best option for dose two?
Let’s start with the most important takeaway on second doses, which is that you need to get one. That was always true and is now even more true with Delta. In Canada, we are extremely fortunate to have choices, but the most important choice is to get that second shot, regardless of what it is. The other day, I made a joke on my Instagram Stories for Spice Girls fans saying, “don’t let 2 become 1.” For people whose first dose was AstraZeneca, the updated NACI guidelines say you can either get a second shot of the AZ or either one of the mRNA vaccines (i.e Pfizer or Moderna).
What are the pros and cons of each option?
I recently co-authored a paper on this in consultation with other doctors, scientists, pharmacists, and patients, so anyone who wants a more detailed explanation can check that out. I have heard from people who decided to get their second dose of AstraZeneca because that was the course they started on and they just felt more comfortable seeing it through. And also people who went with AZ because it was the first one offered to them.
That makes a lot of sense, particularly if you live or work in a higher-risk setting, but it probably won’t be happening a lot moving forward, just because of how much Pfizer and Moderna we will be getting over the next few weeks. So, that would be one reason to choose one of the mRNA vaccines for your second dose — supply. Other people may want to avoid the extremely small risk of VITT blood clotting that comes with AstraZeneca. And then there is also some early research that tells us that Pfizer or Moderna after your first AZ shot provides an even better immunity boost than two AZs.
What if my first dose was the Pfizer or Moderna?
In that case NACI recommends getting a second dose of the same vaccine assuming it is available. If availability is an issue, mixing and matching is also okay.
Not to question the experts, but just a few weeks ago we were hearing that vaccine mixing may not be safe. It’s a bit hard to trust the science when it keeps changing.
I know that so much new information can be overwhelming, but what feels like the science changing is actually the science developing as we learn more. When answering a question from a scientific standpoint, we’re only going to say what we know for sure. That means that often the answer is “we don’t know yet,” but that doesn’t mean no. So with vaccine mixing, it was never that it wasn’t safe, it was just that we didn’t have enough data to make a call. And often when there is an absence of data, you have people making assumptions, filling in the blanks.
With all of the uncertainty around Delta, does it make sense that most provinces are moving ahead with reopening plans? Ontarians will be able to eat on patios as of Friday — is that safe?
I think this is absolutely the right move, even in light of the latest developments. I know there have been different circumstances in different parts of the country, but here in Ontario we have been under a broad-strokes lockdown for a long time. I have always said that a more targeted or surgical approach makes more sense. We know that people doing things outside has not been a major source of infection, so I think being on a patio withe members of your own household is great. If you're spending time with people outside of your household — possibly meeting up with someone for an outdoor date — you need to remember that all of the public health recommendations are still in play: practise social distancing if you’re meeting up with friends in a park, if you’re getting too close, put a mask on.
So it’s okay to hang out, but save the makeouts until we’re all double-vaxxed?
I think that definitely the best and safest course, just because obviously making out involves close contact and probably being inside. Once everybody has their second shot and once we have waited an additional two weeks (and ideally four weeks) to make sure it is effective we will be able to get back to everything you’re talking about. That’s probably August at this point and I know that that feels like a long time.
These lockdowns have been extremely hard on single people and younger people and I don’t think that they have really been the focus of a lot of the public health messaging. Most people are trying their best, but if you do make a mistake — if you have exposed yourself by having close contact with someone outside of your household, there is still a lot you can do to protect yourself and others. Get a rapid test and avoid being in close contact with other people for the usual two-week quarantine period.
This story has been updated with new information.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.