Breakthrough COVID-19 deaths are happening in Saskatchewan, so what does it all mean?

Nine of the 22 people who died from COVID-19 in Saskatchewan in August were fully vaccinated. Most of those who died despite their vaccinations were over the age of 60, as per the provincial government. (Mikaela MacKenzie/The Canadian Press)

New data from the Saskatchewan government is providing us with a better understanding of COVID-19 cases in the province.

The data gives the province a glimpse into so-called breakthrough cases — fully vaccinated individuals who were diagnosed with the virus — that occurred in August.

It also provides some hard data on breakthrough COVID-19 deaths in the Saskatchewan.

In August, 22 people died after contracting COVID-19. Twelve of those deaths were among people who were unvaccinated or had received their first dose less than three weeks before dying, and therefore hadn’t received the full benefits of the jab

One person who died received their first dose one week before their death. That individual was also in the 80-plus age range.

The other nine people — 40 per cent of last month’s deaths — were among those who were fully vaccinated.

Most of those who died despite being doubly vaccinated were over the age of 60, according to the provincial government.

Andrew Cameron, a biology professor at the University of Regina, says those over the age of 60 are often the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“There’s no question the vaccines are very protective against the disease, and death rates have dropped significantly in those most at risk once they have received two doses of the vaccine,” he told CBC Saskatchewan on Wednesday.

“But there will always remain some people, particularly within that older age group, who remain vulnerable.”

Comorbidities, or pre-existing health issues, also play a factor in deaths among those who catch COVID.

“When your body is of ill health for any number of reasons, it’s less able to fight off an aggressor. In this case, a potentially deadly virus,” Cameron said.

Vaccines provide significant protection

Cameron says breakthrough deaths may sound scary but they are a fact of life during a pandemic.

“It is not that the vaccine is failing at all, it’s that we’re, as a society, allowing the virus to continue to spread and to put people at risk because it’s spreading and it’s deadly.”

Breakthrough cases are not an indication that vaccination isn’t working, he said.

It remains one of the most important tools Canadians have in ending the pandemic.

It’s important to remember that vaccines don’t provide an immunity against COVID-19 but they do provide significant protection against contracting the virus, curbing its worst symptoms and limiting the spread.

Vaccinated individuals also provide a barrier against the spread of the virus, according to experts.

As CBC Saskatchewan previously reported, it’s better to think of the cases being reported as a fraction or part of a larger population of unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or fully vaccinated people.

There are currently hundreds of thousands more people vaccinated than unvaccinated in Saskatchewan and that means number of breakthrough cases is dramatically smaller than the number of new cases among the unvaccinated.

Case counts

Saskatchewan reported 4,596 new COVID-19 cases in August.

About 74 per cent or 3,416 of the cases were unvaccinated or had received their first dose less than three weeks before getting sick. Nine per cent or 424 of the cases were people who had received a first dose more than three weeks before getting sick.

Officials say 16 per cent or 756 cases were people who had received two doses of a vaccine, and are thus referred to as breakthrough cases.


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