A slight cough, a fleeting headache or a mild sore throat may be the only sign the virus that causes COVID-19 has infected someone fully vaccinated against the disease.
"Most people who are vaccinated and get infected experience (symptoms) like a cold," Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine task force, said Wednesday.
"They feel unwell for a few days, have a sore throat, maybe a fever," she said. "Many of them have very little symptoms at all."
That was the case for Darren Ridgley, a father of two, when he tested positive for the novel coronavirus in mid-September.
Following an exposure at daycare before the Labour Day weekend, his son had some sniffles, which prompted the test that ultimately came back positive.
“They feel unwell for a few days, have a sore throat, maybe a fever. Many of them have very little symptoms at all." — Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine task force
Ridgley and his wife — who were both fully vaccinated — tested negative at the time, while their young daughter also tested positive for the virus.
"It’s a scary thing... because on the one hand you know that COVID-19 doesn’t hit kids as hard, but you also know of the stories where it did hit them hard. So you’re worried for them," said Ridgley, who works for the Free Press as a copy editor.
Both Ridgley and his wife wore masks in their house, kept their distance as much as possible, and frequently sanitized their home, "but there’s only so much you can do."
"You have a five-year-old who has the virus that he’s been hearing about since he was three and he’s scared. How are you not going to give him a hug?" Ridgley said.
At the end of the two-week isolation period — the children did not run a fever and seemed to be back to normal after four days — Ridgley said public health cleared him and his wife to go back to work and into the community, based on vaccination status and because they did not have symptoms.
However, to be extra cautious, he went for a COVID-19 swab anyway. After three days, the result came back positive.
“You have a five-year-old who has the virus that he’s been hearing about since he was three and he’s scared. How are you not going to give him a hug?” — Darren Ridgley, father of two, who tested positive for coronavirus in mid-September
Ridgley said when public health asked about symptoms, he struggled to identify any worth mentioning. However, eight days prior, he did have a very slight cough that lasted an evening.
"Luckily, I was fine. I didn't feel a thing. No temperature, no respiratory problems, and now finally, five weeks or so later, we’re all free again," Ridgley said.
On Tuesday, the Free Press requested statistics from Manitoba Public Health on the types of symptoms experienced by people who are fully vaccinated, including how many reported none, and how many people were infected by household contacts. Those details were not made available Wednesday.
According to the province, there were 271 active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba among people who were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, or about 32 per cent of all active cases. Since the vaccine became available, just 0.11 per cent of all fully vaccinated Manitobans have caught COVID-19.
However, as the proportion of fully vaccinated Manitobans increase, it can be expected they will make up a greater number of infections, Reimer said.
As of Wednesday, nearly 70 per cent of the population was considered fully vaccinated, but made up just 32 per cent of active cases. Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated Manitobans made up 31.1 per cent of the population, but 69 per cent of infections.
“Luckily, I was fine. I didn't feel a thing. No temperature, no respiratory problems, and now finally, five weeks or so later, we’re all free again.” — Darren Ridgley
"We really encourage people to consider the bigger picture and also consider that when we look at hospitalizations, that number goes down, and when we look at ICU admissions, there’s almost no one who is fully vaccinated who ends up admitted to ICU," Reimer said.
University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk said when looking at the number of fully vaccinated people who test positive, it’s also important to consider whether the virus is spreading widely in the community.
"If there’s high community transmission, certainly what that tells us immediately is that there’s more virus around and more opportunity for us to be exposed," he said.
"Vaccination is about a community and it’s about a population, so the higher number of people across that population that are vaccinated, the less ability and opportunity there is for the virus to transmit," he said.
"We have to think about this moving away from being individuals who are vaccinated and thinking about the importance of the population."
Following his brush with COVID-19 and experiencing the protection provided by the vaccine, Ridgley said he’s hoping children under the age of 12 — like his own — will soon be able to benefit from immunization.
"Most kids are fortunate not really getting too sick from this thing but that’s not always the case," he said. "And if we can create that same certainty for them, I’m all for it."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.