Three fully vaccinated residents of an Ottawa long-term care home have died of COVID-19 in recent weeks, the company that operates the long-term care home has confirmed.
“We are saddened to confirm that three residents at Extendicare Medex recently passed away,” said Extendicare spokesperson Laura Gallant.
The three residents of the long-term care home, which is located in Nepean, were all vaccinated in January and had received two doses, Gallant said.
Gallant said the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa was detected in all three residents.
“We have been in close contact with each resident’s family to offer our support and share in their grief,” said Gallant. No other details about the residents were released.
The deaths were part of an outbreak at the home that included nine residents and nine staff members. The outbreak began on April 11 and was declared over by Ottawa Public Health as of May 14, said Gallant. There are no other outbreaks at Extendicare homes in the province.
Since the COVID-19 vaccination rollout began, deaths in long-term care homes have plummeted dramatically. The vast majority of long-term care residents across the province have received two doses.
Research done by Public Health Ontario between Dec. 14, 2020, and April 17, 2021, found no so-called “breakthrough” deaths among people who had been fully vaccinated in Ontario. Breakthrough refers to infections after complete vaccination.
Of the almost 3.5 million vaccinated individuals, only 0.06 per cent (2,223 individuals) became infected when they were partially vaccinated or fully vaccinated, Public Health Ontario found. Most of them were not fully protected when they acquired their infection.
In a statement, Ottawa Public Health noted that no vaccine provides 100 per cent efficacy against COVID-19 and said people need to continue to follow public health guidelines “until the viral circulation in the population is reduced by a considerable amount.”
Since mass vaccination of long-term care residents was complete earlier this year, there have been few large and fewer deadly outbreaks in homes across the province, in stark contrast to the first and second waves of the pandemic during which nearly 4,000 long-term care residents died.
Two residents of Sarsfield Colonial Home died of COVID-19 between February and March, according to OPH data. It is not known whether they were fully or partially vaccinated. There have been no other long-term care deaths recorded by OPH since winter.
“Vaccination has reduced the rate of COVID infection in older adults in long-term care and retirement homes significantly and will help keep individuals from getting seriously ill if they contract COVID-19. This includes reducing the rates of hospitalizations and deaths among people who are greatest risk of these outcomes,” OPH said in a statement.
Real world research from Israel suggests the variant first identified in South Africa may be more successful at breaking through the protection provided by Pfizer vaccines, although all existing vaccines are generally effective at stopping severe illness.
Like other variants of concern, including B117 first identified in the U.K. and now dominant in Ontario, B1351, first identified in South Africa, is more transmissible than the original variant of COVID-19.
Gallant of Extendicare said the company is working to prevent any more outbreaks.
“We continue to be vigilant by testing all staff and visitors to our homes with rapid, on-site testing. We will continue to do so until the threat of variant strains has passed.”
OPH works with facilities experiencing outbreaks “and supports them with the implementation of appropriate infection prevention and control measures to reduce the severity and duration of the outbreak until it can be declared over”. These measures may include isolation for those testing positive and high-risk contacts, increased cleaning and sanitation protocols, and educational reminders about effective mask use, hand hygiene and personal protective equipment, OPH said.