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'This is the same reason why you wear shoes': Alberta ICU doctor on 'breakthrough' COVID-19 cases

CALGARY -

Reports of fully-immunized people contracting COVID-19, better known as ‘breakthrough’ cases, sounds alarming but according to a number of doctors in Alberta, it underlines the importance of getting vaccinated.

“This is the same reason why you wear shoes. If you walk over sharp enough stuff you’ll eventually hurt your feet, but shoes reduce the injury to your feet," said intensive care unit physician Dr. Darren Markland.

"Vaccination does the same thing in respect to reducing the severity of illness from the coronavirus."

In studies, the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna were around 95 per cent effective at preventing illness, so while the vaccines are very good at protecting us from the virus, it's still possible to get infected with mild or no symptoms.

Markland says vaccines aren’t fully effective against the highly-contagious Delta variant but are doing exactly what they should -- reducing severe illness or death.

“If you are double vaccinated you may get this. In fact, Delta has optimized itself to be able to infect people who have their vaccines, but very few people have gotten very sick from it," he said.

"And that’s because you already have defences in place to prevent the severity of illness that causes the catastrophic cascade of organ failure that we see with unprotected individuals.”

Alberta’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate rose to a seven-week high Tuesday with 176 people in hospital and 44 of them in intensive care. Of those, 22 patients being treated in hospital have been fully-vaccinated meaning 87.5 per cent of all patients in hospital have not been fully-vaccinated.

Active cases have seen a 900 per cent increase compared to a month ago, with 85 per cent of new infections among people who haven’t been fully-vaccinated

The provincial government paused plans to eliminate remaining restrictions until at least Sept. 27 after an unexpected rise in hospitalizations and emerging data from the United States on pediatric cases linked to the highly contagious Delta variant.

Markland worries about the increasing evidence suggesting the vaccines’ protective effect starts dropping within months and wants to see measures remain in place to avoid another uptick.  

“If studies out of Israel are correct and immunity wanes, then there may need to be more shots and then people become fatigued with the idea of having to have regular boosters, and that then will lead to a rise in endemic infection again,” he said.

"If we continue to take the easy road we’re going to be dealing with this for years to come so we need to take the vigor now and get it done properly.”

This also comes as Alberta’s vaccination rate stagnates, with 76.9 per cent of eligible Albertans having received one dose and 68 per cent being fully vaccinated. All rapid-flow clinics in city centres in Alberta have closed within the last three weeks and the Calgary Zone no longer offers walk-in clinics.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced changes to Alberta’s Vaccine Awareness Program, which allows all Alberta doctors to submit claims and be compensated for any vaccine education or counselling they gave to patients via telephone or videoconference since May 1.

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