A message from Dr. Shannon McDonald, Acting Chief Medical Officer
Hello, everyone. I hope you're all keeping safe and well out there.
On March 8th, I was privileged to receive my Pfizer vaccine at Tsawout First Nation. Unfortunately, a little more than two weeks later, my husband and I both developed cold-like symptoms, then received the news that we'd tested positive for COVID-19. We had been exceedingly careful – masks, hand sanitizers, no gatherings, no visiting – but we still got infected.
As a medical doctor, I knew that this could happen. It takes time to build sufficient immunity to prevent infection – at least 14 to 21 days after the immunization. Even though the vaccines are a powerful tool against the virus and prevent about 80 per cent of infections after just one shot, the other tools – including the protective public health measures we are taking – are still just as necessary as before. Some transmission will still happen in people who are vaccinated, especially if we are exposed to lots of virus circulating around us. This is more of a worry with increasing numbers of cases and spread of the variants of concern in BC.
Most vaccinated people will not get COVID-19, but if they do, they will not become as sick as people who haven't been vaccinated. As more and more people are vaccinated, we expect fewer outbreaks, fewer people getting sick, and fewer people requiring critical care.
In my case, because I had been vaccinated, my experience with COVID-19 was relatively mild. My household has been following public health guidance very carefully – keeping to our household bubble, going out only for necessary groceries and other supplies, sanitizing frequently – yet I still got sick. This is a reminder that anyone can get COVID-19, even if they're doing everything “right." So, while we all need to be as careful as we can, we also need to be kind and compassionate and support community members who do get sick with it.
Here are some of the facts about why we can still get sick and why we need to keep up public health measures even after being vaccinated.
Although the COVID-19 vaccines are not 100 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 itself, they are very effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19. Since the rollout of the first vaccine began, Health Canada data shows that there are 85 per cent fewer cases in First Nations across Canada due to high rates of vaccination in First Nations communities. (Congratulations to everyone!)
Your body starts building immunity when you receive the COVID-19 vaccine and it takes about two to three weeks for your body to build good protection. This means that if you contracted COVID-19 before getting the vaccine, or contract it within the two-week period following the vaccine, you may still get sick from it. (If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 after you have been vaccinated, use the BC self-assessment tool to determine if you need to be tested.)
While vaccines protect you from getting ill, they do not always stop you from spreading the virus. Even after getting vaccinated, you can still be a carrier of COVID-19, so it's important to continue to practise public health measures, especially wearing masks and physically distancing (and especially if someone is singing or shouting).
Keep up the good work! We're almost there!
We are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the vaccine rollout and our combined efforts to follow public health measures. As the situation evolves, these measures will be updated and adjusted. Meanwhile, it is important to keep informed and keep following them.
To do your part to help protect BC First Nations communities, get vaccinated, practise physical distancing, wear your mask, sanitize frequently, follow all public health measures – and above all, be kind, calm, and continue to hold each other up! The more we do this, the sooner we'll be able to get back to more normal connections with our loved ones and communities. We can do it! We are in this together.
Dr. Nel Wieman - COVID-19 Effects on Mental Health (FNHA podcast)