TORONTO — About 35.6 per cent of COVID-19 infections in Ontario over the past two weeks have been in individuals that were fully vaccinated against the disease, however experts say this trajectory is normal considering the increasing number of people getting their shots.
According to data provided by the government, 1,760 people who had received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine contracted COVID-19 since Oct. 15.
At least 2,959 cases were logged in people who were unvaccinated and 227 infections were in people who were partially vaccinated.
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist with Trillium Health Partners, stresses that it is normal that some fully vaccinated individuals contract COVID-19 and that most do not experience serious symptoms. The majority of positive infections, he said, are found in search testing.
Search testing is when officials find positive COVID-19 infections in contacts or in people who have been in close proximity to a case.
“When you look closely, these people, they have a runny nose, they have a little bit of a cough and that’s it,” Chakrabarti told CTV News Toronto.
Ontario officials have said that about 10.9 million people, or about 77 per cent of the province’s population, are considered fully vaccinated, something experts say has to be taken into consideration when analyzing infection data.
“That’s the denominator,” Chakrabarti said. “Whereas unvaccinated people, at this point in time, are a much smaller number.”
Dr. Anna Benerji, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said that sometimes the numbers on their own can be misleading, as the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated people are “not equal groups.”
“There’s a much larger group of vaccinated people so you’re going to get, even if the risk is the same, you’re going to get much higher rates of infection because there’s just more people to infect. You have to look at the proportion.”
She also noted that Ontario is in the midst of lifting numerous COVID-19 safety measures that would impact physical distancing. As a result, Banerji said, more people will get COVID-19.
Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table noted on Oct. 28 that there is an approximate 83 per cent reduction of COVID-19 cases per million as a result of vaccination.
IS VACCINE DATA CONTRIBUTING TO HESITANCY?
Cases among fully vaccinated individuals that occur at least two weeks following a second dose have been dubbed “breakthrough infections,” a term Chakrabarti doesn’t like as it creates a connotation that the vaccine didn’t work.
“I tried to coin a phrase previously, saying breakthrough infection of concern,” he said, noting that vaccines are preventing serious illness but that no amount of medication can completely prevent infection.
“We want to prevent serious disease, but we can’t prevent people from getting the common cold, if that makes sense.”
The number of hospitalizations in Ontario as a result of COVID-19 has dropped over the last few months as more and more people are vaccinated.
Over the past two weeks, there has been an average of 70.6 unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in Ontario intensive care units (ICU).
An average of 5.8 ICU patients since Oct. 15 are partially vaccinated and an average of 19.2 patients are fully vaccinated.
Chakrabarti says that most of the double vaccinated individuals in intensive care were not fully healthy when they contracted the novel coronavirus.
“They’re all people who have, you know, advanced cancer, bone marrow transplant, very elderly. So I think it’s important to differentiate the two,” he said, adding that the vast majority of patients either have advanced age or some type of significant comorbidity.
The province began reporting vaccination data in August, providing statistics on how many daily infections are in people who have been vaccinated, as well as hospitalization information.
Health experts generally applauded the new measure, but said that context is crucial—a fact that has not changed three months later.
As more and more people get the vaccine, experts add that it’s important to provide the full story when it comes to the numbers released by the government every day.
Chakrabarti said that while presenting this information at the beginning made sense, now the “numbers are being given without any context.”
He worries that people may see the number of fully vaccinated individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and think the shots don’t work.
“That’s clearly not the case,” he said. “But to be honest with you, in our profession, we have not been really good at kind of anticipating these things and then messaging that to the public.”
Minister of Health Christine Elliott posts COVID-19 case numbers and deaths, including select vaccination information, on social media every day. When her office was asked if they plan to continue presenting that data as the number of vaccinated individuals increases or if they were concerned it could confuse those hesitant, CTV News Toronto did not receive a direct answer.
In a statement, a spokesperson said that while COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and severe illness, “no vaccine is 100 per cent effective and breakthrough infections will occur.”
“However, thanks to the strong protection offered by vaccines, cases will be milder and are less likely to cause hospitalization or death. We also know that people that are older and those who are immunocompromised tend to have a less robust immune response even when they are fully vaccinated,” the statement said while adding that the province is offering booster shots to vulnerable populations.
“It’s important for everyone to get vaccinated to prevent possible breakthrough infections for those who are particularly vulnerable.”
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