June 16th, 2024

Vaccination rates key to getting handle on COVID transmission, SACPA told

By Tim Kalinowski on September 17, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Infectious disease expert, Jason Kindrachuk, says increasing vaccination rates are imperative to getting a handle on transmission of COVID-19 in Alberta to reduce the health-system burden.
“The more we stop transmission,” Kindrachuk told attendees at this week’s Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs weekly YouTube livestream speaker series, “the better the chance we have of halting the further emergence of variants.
“Delta is the real deal,” he added. “We are seeing 40-60 per cent more transmissible than the last more transmissible variant which was Alpha, which was already around 50 per cent more transmissible than the prior circulating strain. So Delta has figured out a way to really move through the human population very quickly.”
And while it is true that COVID Delta variant does have a lower mortality rate than other deadly viruses such as Ebola, which Kindrachuk worked with in Africa, it has a much higher rate of transmission. And with more people infected, he said, that also increases the number of those who are likely to die from the disease.
Kindrachuk acknowledged that at some point in time COVID must start being treated as endemic; however, he said, with the rapid rise in cases and ICU admissions in Alberta and Saskatchewan in recent weeks threatening to overwhelm the public healthcare system clearly the time is not yet. He said he too was frustrated with the fact Alberta and Saskatchewan moved too quickly to reduce public health measures which has led to the recent out-of-control transmission numbers amongst the unvaccinated.
“Saskatchewan had gotten control of Alpha (variant) very quickly, but then decided to open things completely, and certainly Alberta followed that strategy,” stated Kindrachuk. “We already knew Delta had ravaged many areas of the U.S. that had gone through re-openings, and also areas that had decent vaccine coverage. So certainly feeling that Delta was somehow going to miss us; that was built on a fallacy.
“My reflection on this was I wish they would have followed the Manitoba strategy where we tried re-opening and within about a week or couple weeks we backtracked very quickly. There was pushback from the community, there was pushback from public health and infectious disease experts across the province, including myself, saying it’s not the time to do it.”
However, Kindrachuk said, hindsight is 20/20, and none of it can now be changed. Alberta must, he said, do everything in its power to reduce transmission numbers now in the face of a potential healthcare system collapse.
“When we think about herd immunity we can’t think of it as just this ideal number we have to reach, and then the virus just stops transmitting,” he explained. “It is more complex because it takes into account the transmissibility of the virus, how the virus has changed over time, and how effective is immunity with the length of that protection.
“What this means for us is that we need to get as many people vaccinated or immune as possible because the fact is we will not be able to counter that unless we reach a very high level for Delta.”
Kindrachuk said he worries that as more chronic infections set in among Alberta’s unvaccinated, thereby extending the period of time the virus is active in the human body, will lead to the emergence of even more infectious and highly transmissible variants as has been seen in other parts of the world.
He acknowledged current vaccines were not 100 per cent effective against the Delta variant, but the science was showing they were “holding their own,” even against new and emerging variants like Delta.
“The vaccines are still protecting people in spite of this variant that has really changed the world, certainly, for the unvaccinated population,” he said.
Kindrachuk said by fortunate accident those in Alberta who took AstraZeneca (AZ) first because there was not enough vaccine to go around earlier this year, and then later took a mRNA vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna for their second shot, are showing longer lasting immunity than those who took the mRNA shots by themselves.
“The mixed dose actually ended up getting a superior vaccine schedule than any of us who just got the normal two-dose same vaccine schedule,” he confirmed. “We have seen robust (immune) responses in those groups (who took AZ). Mixed dosing actually worked.”

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