Canadian Covid Society launches to address long-term effects, prevent further illness

By Nicole Ireland, The Canadian Press

A national non-profit group called the Canadian Covid Society launched on Wednesday, with co-founders saying the organization is needed as public health agencies have pulled back on COVID-19 prevention measures and awareness campaigns.

“I feel in some ways we’re filling a gap where public health has left open,” Dr. Joe Vipond, one of the society’s five co-founders, said at a news conference.

In his home province of Alberta, “there’s basically no mention of COVID. There’s no mention of long COVID. It’s really fallen off the radar for a lot of public health at this point,” said Vipond, who is an emergency physician in Calgary. 

“While the acute phase of the pandemic has ended, the virus continues to cause significant chronic illness,” the Canadian Covid Society’s website says. 

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death across Canada in 2022, behind heart disease and cancer, it says. 

“It still continues to be a stressor on our health system up to this present day. It is contributing to poor health and excess deaths,” said Dr. Kashif Pirzada, another co-founder of the society.

But as many Canadians want to leave COVID-19 behind, public health agencies are in a difficult position, he said. 

“(In public health) one foot is in politics, one foot is in medicine. But right now, the public doesn’t want to think about this. Politicians don’t want to think about this. And public health has to respond to that,” said Pirzada, who is an emergency doctor based in Toronto.

The society’s mission is to “protect the health and safety of people in Canada against the harms of COVID and long COVID through education, engaging and empowering the public and organizations with scientific knowledge,” a slide presented at the news conference said. 

It also aims to support people with long COVID, which afflicts 2.1 million people in country, according to Statistics Canada 

“We have foundations for heart disease. We have foundations for cancer, but we need a group dedicated to fighting COVID-19,” said Pirzada. 

The three other society founders are Nancy Delagrave, a physics professor specializing in air quality in Montreal; Cheryl White, an engineer in Toronto dedicated to reducing disease transmission; and Chris Houston, a governance expert based in Bancroft, Ont., who worked with Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization.

The move creates a formal organization that can build on the grassroots work that volunteers have done throughout the pandemic, Vipond said. 

The society hopes to generate funding through donations and grants that will pay staff members. It has not received any government funds to date, he said.

The Canadian Press requested comment from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Alberta Health about the Canadian Covid Society’s position that COVID-19 has fallen off the radar for public health agencies. 

“Alberta’s government is committed to making sure Albertans have a strong and resilient public health system that protects the health and well-being of Albertans,” said Andrea Smith, spokesperson for Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, in an email. 

“Our government continues to manage the virus in an endemic state. Albertans are encouraged (to) speak with their primary care provider if they have questions and concerns related to COVID-19 and other personal health matters.”

Hannah Jensen, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones, said in an email that the provincial government is “taking action to strengthen all aspects of health care and have increased provincial funding to our public health units by an average of 16 per cent since 2018 to help them connect people to programs and services they need in their communities. 

“This is in addition to the nearly $100 million we provided to public health units in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jensen said. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada was not able to provide a response by deadline. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024. 

Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.

Nicole Ireland, The Canadian Press

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