For more than a week, Yellowknifers who came into contact with a new cluster of Covid-19 cases have been ordered into a form of isolation much stricter than many were used to experiencing.
Many NWT residents have become familiar with two-week isolation periods after travelling outside the territory. During those 14-day spells, residents are told they can still go outside to get exercise as long as they remain well away from others.
Yet more than 1,000 contacts of this month’s NJ Macpherson School Covid-19 cluster – which stands at just under 50 cases as of Monday afternoon – have instead been told their two-week isolation period must be served entirely on their property, even if the people in question are fully vaccinated.
On Monday, the NWT’s chief public health officer explained one reason why.
Dr Kami Kandola said that while vaccination undoubtedly prevented serious illness and death from Covid-19, there were already documented instances in the NWT of vaccinated residents contracting the disease.
“We can confirm that there are partially or fully vaccinated people in the NWT who contracted Covid-19,” a spokesperson for Dr Kandola’s office told Cabin Radio on Monday morning. The number of such cases was not given, the spokesperson said, as it was small enough to raise “issues around protecting patient confidentiality.”
That news should not be a surprise. The vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech – the only two in use in the NWT so far – are each credited with efficacy rates of around 95 percent that make clear they are not, and never have been, considered 100-percent effective.
Kandola says that’s one reason why the current isolation rules for the NJ Macpherson cluster, designed to systematically eradicate the possibility of the outbreak spreading, are so severe. Even fully vaccinated people may still spread the virus. It’ll happen far less frequently, and the consequences will be less severe for anyone vaccinated, but it can still occur, the chief public health officer argued.
“Fully and partially vaccinated individuals can still get sick and transmit the virus,” Kandola said in a broader statement released to newsrooms on Monday afternoon.
“Throughout the vaccine rollout, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer has consistently communicated that Covid-19 vaccines prevent a very high proportion of infections, but not all. Both vaccines prevent severe illness and death from Covid-19,” that statement read.
“At present, with large numbers of unvaccinated people (like school-aged children) in the Northwest Territories, and the demonstrated increased transmissibility of new variants, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer believes it is important that even contacts who are fully vaccinated must isolate.”
Kandola characterized the risk of infection for fully vaccinated people as “likely about one-tenth the risk for non-vaccinated individuals.”
She urged residents to maintain hand-washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing indefinitely after vaccination in order to help protect themselves.
On Monday, the NWT government’s latest vaccination figures showed 27,310 people had received their first vaccine dose in the territory, a significant leap of around 1,000 people on the previous week. That was understood to be explained in large part by the opening of Pfizer vaccination to youth aged 12-17.
So far, 22,501 people have received both vaccine doses in the NWT – an increase of 827 on last week.