The Northwest Territories will now instruct anyone living with someone who has Covid-19 to isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.
According to the territory’s chief public health officer, full vaccination has proven no guarantee against infection when people spend prolonged periods at home with household members who have Covid-19.
“During the most recent Delta variant outbreak, household transmission illustrated that fully vaccinated household contacts get Covid,” Dr Kami Kandola said in a directive issued by her office on Wednesday.
“Household transmission is one of the highest-risk exposures in the NWT due to close and prolonged contact with the inability to safely self-isolate from the case.
“In some instances, 100 percent of household members became infected, including those who were fully vaccinated.”
Previously, the territory had been assessing households on a case-by-case basis and, in some cases, allowing fully vaccinated members of households with Covid-19 cases to continue without isolating.
The NWT government’s previous advice used softer wording, stating other household members were “encouraged to isolate in a separate location in the home.” The new wording is that all household members “must isolate, regardless of vaccination status.”
The change, which was first announced by the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency on Facebook, comes into force with immediate effect.
While it’s unlikely to significantly alter residents’ lives – in many cases, residents would have expected to be told to isolate if a household member contracted Covid-19 – the directive continues a trend in which the Northwest Territories has decided its measures must go beyond reliance on two-dose full vaccination.
Dr Kandola has for months been operating far ahead of national guidance on the use of third “booster” shots of Covid-19 vaccine.
On Monday, Canada’s chief medical health officers (a group that includes Kandola) issued a joint statement that read in part: “Given there is currently no evidence of widespread waning of protection against severe disease in the general population who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in Canada, boosters for this group are not required at this time, but we will continue to monitor vaccine effectiveness and other data to inform the need in the future.”
Kandola’s office had a different message on Tuesday, writing: “There is evidence of waning vaccine effectiveness six months after your second dose of the vaccine.” Unlike the chief medical health officers, she was not speaking specifically about severe disease.
Earlier, Kandola told Cabin Radio her own data in the NWT clearly demonstrates protection is waning in the territory’s adult population. Boosters are now available to all NWT adults as a result. (Acknowledging that the NWT and a limited number of other jurisdictions have already pulled the trigger on boosters, the statement from Canada’s chief medical health officers added there had been “some adjustments based on local epidemiology and unique circumstances.”)
Kandola says vaccination is still vital and makes a big difference, but its lasting effects in the NWT have not proven as strong as national data might suggest.
“Sometimes I have to look at my own data, look at our own unique circumstances, and realize we are eight to 12 weeks ahead of where Canada will be,” Kandola said last month.
“We gave the vaccines early, we gave them in a tight schedule. Our breakthrough cases are higher, our breakthrough severe outcomes are higher.
“The national picture would state that you’re 10 times more likely to be infected if you’re unvaccinated versus fully vaccinated. What we’re seeing is protection among the fully vaccinated, but the magnitude is two-and-a-half to three times instead of 10.”
Contacted regarding the change to isolation rules for household members, Kandola’s office did not immediately respond. The topic was not brought up by Kandola or others at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.