Vaccines still best shot despite 'breakthrough infections' on the rise, Calgary expert cautions

It doesn't matter how good a goalie is, the more shots they face, the more likely some will get by them. That’s the message an infectious disease expert hopes will resonate with vaccine-questioning Albertans as COVID cases among the fully-vaccinated start to rise.

Getting COVID after vaccination is called a breakthrough infection, but it's complicated

Roughly 2,000 people attended a protest rally and march in downtown Calgary on Sunday to voice their opposition to COVID-19 vaccines, mandatory vaccinations and vaccination passports. An expert says, however, that vaccines remain Albertans' best shot. (Brooks DeCillia/CBC)

It doesn't matter how good a goalie is, the more shots on goal, the more some will get in. That's the message an infectious diseases expert hopes will resonate with vaccine-questioning Albertans as COVID cases among the fully-vaccinated start to rise.

"The vaccines work remarkably well, but nothing is perfect when the virus is surging and raging through the community," Craig Jenne told CBC News in an interview Wednesday.

The associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Calgary says we shouldn't sugarcoat language around COVID in the province.

"In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a transition from 'serious concern' to really no other way to describe it today than 'crisis.'"

Craig Jenne is an associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary. He says perspective and context are critical in the face of so much misinformation about the pandemic. (CBC)

He's talking about breakthrough infections. That's what it's called when people who are fully vaccinated get COVID.

"We use the analogy of a hockey game. You could have a really good goalie, but if there is only a handful of shots on net, it's going to work out very well," Jenne explained.

"Even if that goalie remains really good — vaccines are really good — if that goalie is now experiencing 50, 60, 100 shots in a game, something is going to get through."

His comments echo those of the province's chief medical officer of health. Dr. Deena Hinshaw didn't mince words addressing doctors in a webcast this week.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says Alberta is in a crisis as COVID cases spike. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

"We have a crisis. That's clear. I think everyone is well aware of that," Hinshaw said Monday.

"Sixty per cent of our total population including children — this isn't eligible, this is total — are fully vaccinated, with another seven per cent with one dose. About one-third is completely unvaccinated. Although the unvaccinated individuals in the population are the minority, they are the majority of those who end up with COVID or who end up hospitalized."

But it's no time to take our foot off the vaccine pedal, she added.

"Vaccines still greatly, greatly reduce the risk of severe outcomes."

With misinformation swirling — which in part may have contributed to large anti-vaccine protests — Jenne says perspective and context are critical.

"If we were to let this virus run entirely through the province of Alberta with no vaccinations or 50 per cent of the population getting infected, we could expect to lose Albertans equivalent to the population of Lethbridge. Although it is a small percentage [now], when we get into big numbers, broad infection, and thousands of new cases every day, those small percentages add up."

With files from Jennifer Lee


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