Ten people confirmed to have the COVID-19 Delta variant linked to two outbreaks at the Foothills Medical Centre were fully vaccinated with two doses before they contracted the illness.
As of Tuesday, 16 patients and six staff on two separate units had tested positive for the variant.
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On Thursday, Alberta Health Services reported four more health-care workers had contracted COVID-19 linked to the two outbreaks, however, officials could not confirm whether they were Delta variant cases.
“As of Tuesday… we did see in one of the outbreaks that there were 10 individuals who had completed their second dose and still, unfortunately, ended up becoming infected,” Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.
Hinshaw said she didn’t have any updated statistics on the outbreak numbers Thursday.
“What we’re monitoring now is whether or not they had, as we would expect, a milder course of illness. I don’t have data on the number that either had a single doses or no dose at all.”
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Hinshaw said officials have seen “a small number of people who have completed their immunization who can still go on to get ill.”
“As we’ve talked about before, the vaccines are about 70 to 80 per cent effective after the first dose, 90 to 91-92 per cent effective after the second dose,” she said.
“With the Delta variant in particular, we are watching very closely our experience.”
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Experts say the variant can get past the first dose of vaccine, however, those with two doses are supposedly protected up to 90 per cent.
“It’s quite a red flag, honestly,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta.
“We were expecting one dose vaccine might be suboptimal protection, but I think I would have been hoping for better from two-dose vaccinations.
“I think a lot of details would be useful to know about, like how long ago were the second doses received and whether or not they actually had any symptoms at the time. But, you know, even if those things are the best possible scenario, it’s still a very concerning finding, I’d say.”
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Saxinger said the Delta variant’s lack of protection through vaccines shows basic health measures like hand washing, masking and physical distancing need to “remain firmly in place.”
“We are going to have to try to suppress and keep this variant from spreading further,” she said.
“And that sounds like it could be a bit of a challenging job. So it really does signal that we might not be able to rely on two-dose vaccination as much as we wanted to.”
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Saxinger said it’s crucial that officials keep watching evolving evidence about the variant and its spread, and keep pushing the importance of getting fully vaccinated, as it will protect against severe infection as well as contracting the illness.
‘Shadow of doubt’ on reopening
Alberta moved into Stage 2 of the Open for Summer plan on Thursday, and the government is hopeful the province is only a few weeks away from Stage 3 — which would see many public health restrictions, including social gathering limits, lifted.
However, Saxinger said if the Delta variant starts showing spread within the community, it could mean those plans need to be revisited.
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“I think that it really does kind of cast a shadow of doubt on the likely success of the reopening, if we see community spread of this variant,” she said.
“Isolated outbreaks can often be contained, but if we start to see this popping up in other places, I think the reopening plan would definitely be very threatened.”
As of Tuesday, the Delta variant represented about five per cent of Alberta’s new case count.
Saxinger said because there are still so many unknowns about the Foothills outbreaks, it’s difficult to determine whether the rate of spread in that facility would be the same in the broader community.
“I do think people need to kind of just see how the story evolves, but also be very, very cautious and really try to get vaccinated,” she said.
“If you’re not vaccinated, get your second dose as soon as you’re eligible and still pay attention. And even if you’re vaccinated and you have symptoms, you still have to isolate and get tested.”
Albertans who received 1st COVID-19 vaccine in April or earlier can book 2nd dose
Alberta expanded its second-dose vaccine eligibility on Thursday to include anyone who received their first dose in the month of April.
More than 3.2 million doses of vaccine had been administered in Alberta as of Thursday, with 67.8 per cent of those 12 and older having received at least one dose. Just over 16 per cent of the total population of eligible Albertans had been fully vaccinated with two doses.
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