A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Cottonwoods Care Centre, a long-term care facility in Kelowna, British Columbia on Monday, sparking concerns around vaccine efficacy.
The outbreak occurred after an estimated 65% of staff and 82% of residents had received up to two vaccine doses, according to data from the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed that two staff members and 10 residents had tested positive for COVID-19.
While a source of concern for residents and their families, health experts have underlined that this new development should not be taken as a sign that vaccination is ineffective in the fight against COVID-19. They also highlighted the need to remain vigilant while an investigation is underway to determine how the virus first entered the facility.
Dr. Sue Pollock, an interior health medical officer, told reporters that most staff members had only recently been inoculated and that immunity usually takes around two to three weeks to kick in after receiving two vaccine doses.
While vaccines do not fully prevent the virus from spreading, they might help reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections.
“You can have transmission even when people are fully vaccinated,” Pollock said. “The illness seems to be milder and doesn't transmit as much [and we] won't see rapid explosive outbreaks.”
These comments seem to echo preliminary research findings of a study carried out by the University of Tel Aviv, which indicates that COVID-19 viral loads could be four times lower in people who have been vaccinated.
Similarly, the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has stressed the importance of vaccines in keeping individuals and their families protected from severe forms of COVID-19.
“This is why it is so important for everyone to get vaccinated — because even if you are infected [by] COVID-19, you [will likely] have a better outcome and avoid hospitalization,” Sabina Vohra-Miller, a pharmacology graduate from the University of Toronto and founder of Unambiguous Science, told Global Citizen via email.
But to get to a point where everyone is vaccinated, mistrust in the health care system must also be taken into account, Naheed Dosani, a Toronto-based palliative care physician, told Global Citizen.
“This is a reminder of why we need people across the board to get vaccinated,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a supply of vaccines, and it’s another to win people’s hearts and minds over … There’s still vaccine hesitancy among health care workers and racialized communities, and we need to do a better job not only at understanding it, but addressing it.”
The health care justice activist added that now was not the time for people to let their guard down — and that additional preventive measures and health recommendations should be taken seriously by all Canadians.
“This [outbreak] is a reminder that this pandemic is not over and that we have to stay on guard,” Dosani said. “Vaccination isn’t a panacea in and of itself — we must continue to uphold individual precautions. We won’t see the end of the tunnel if we don’t look at it from a multifaceted perspective.”