The Northern Inter Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) is urging people to remain vigilant as the holidays approach and with the emergence of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.

NITHA Medical Health Officer Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka explained the emergence of the Omicron variant makes it all the more important for people to get vaccinated. He added it is especially important for parents to ensure younger children get their shots.

“Their might be potentially severe outcomes of this variant among the pediatric population, so its really important we get the five to 11 year olds vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.

The most recent vaccine numbers show that 10 per cent of those between the ages of five and 11 have got their first dose of vaccine. Ndubuka said these numbers are gradually increasing.

The recently discovered Omicron variant is of concern as it is more contagious than previous variants and according to Ndubuka once it is present in a community it can spread fairly quickly. He explained this has been seen in communities in Ontario and others around the world where the virus has been found.

“It has a doubling time of about two to three days, suggesting that once it is identified in a location it could quickly increase in number [of] cases within a very short period and could result in community transmission,” he said.

No cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in any NITHA communities. For the past several weeks the number of active COVID-19 cases has been trending downwards and as of Dec. 15 there were just four active cases of COVID-19 in NITHA communities.

“No new outbreaks have been declared in over one month,” said Ndubuka.

However, Ndubuka said with the holidays approaching it is important for people to continue to observe public health orders and other precautions. Ndubuka added with bigger groups of people coming together there is an overall increase in risk when it comes to the virus.

“There’s still a potential for outbreak, just recognizing that now we do have the new Omicron variant and the Delta variant continues to be the dominant strain in the province and we also have pockets of populations that are unvaccinated,” he said.

On the vaccine front, Ndubuka said uptake is trending in the right direction. NITHA’s most recent numbers show 80 per cent of those 12 years and older have received their first dose, while 67 per cent have got both doses. For those 50 and older over 90 per cent of people have got both doses of vaccine, while 18 per cent of the same age group has got a third booster dose.

Currently everyone over the age of 18 living in the north or on a First Nation is eligible for a third does and Ndubuka is encouraging everyone to take NITHA up on the opportunity.

“[We’re] Really working on that booster dose and encouraging those that are eligible, 18 plus to get the booster dose,” he said.

(File Photo)