Is confusion being created by conflicting information about COVID-19 airborne transmission and vaccines?

CALGARY — An infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary says airborne transmission is not a key factor when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t think anyone is denying airborne transmission,” said Dr. John Conly to an expert round table on the issue earlier this month. 

“But to be able to come out and say it is the major and predominant mode of transmission, from my perspective, I would like to see a much higher level of scientific evidence.”

Conly, a Canadian advisor to the World Health Organization and professor at the University of Calgary, says close contact is the leading cause of spread. 

“It may take very little contact, a quick handshake and then somebody touches their mouth,” he said. 

“You can have transmission in 10 seconds.”

Conly says N95 masks also can cause harm. 

“I think to ignore them, you’re at your peril, there is acne, there is also issues with eczema, conjunctivitis, Co2 retention,” he said at the forum. 

“I think people who have lost family members and been sick themselves and health care workers would disagree with you too,” said Kimberly Prather an aerosol scientist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego who refuted Conly’s points. 

“Because acne versus death or long COVID?”

Prather believes WHO and many other health organizations need to seriously consider the impacts of air droplets. 

“I truly believe that we can end this pandemic, once airborne is fully acknowledged globally,” she said. 

The forum Conly spoke at was hosted by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health on April 9th as part of an academic series to encourage discussion around health and health care.

“Rigorous debate advances science and public health. We need healthy and respectful debate to continually rethink what we know and what we do to get through the pandemic and other health issues,” said Tom Stelfox, Director O’Brien Institute for Public Health in an email to CTV News on Wednesday afternoon.

“Scientific discourse on Twitter is difficult due to the character limitation. Respectful and meaningful discussion and debate over scientific findings is what matters. Consistent and correct use of masking is one important component of a “bundle” of public health measures that have been used throughout the pandemic. In addition to masking, this bundle also includes physical distancing, hand hygiene, avoidance of crowded settings, and cleaning and disinfection,” said Conly in the statement.

The World Health Organization recently published a review that said the evidence was inconclusive for airborne transmission, although some international studies have disputed that. 

Three top medical journals — BMJ, The Lancet, JAMA— all make the same point, that aerosols are the dominant mode of transmission.

As well, this comes at a time where some members of the UCP caucus continue to revolt against health restrictions and in some instances refrain from encouraging constituents to get a vaccine. 

Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt posted on her social media channels on Tuesday to encourage Albertans to do their own research before taking it. 

“You know what’s so great about freedom? Freedom. Get your vaccine or not and let others make this choice for themselves too,” said Pitt. 

“Do your research and do what’s right for you. This doesn’t need to be a polarized conversation about any individual’s private health life.”

Mount Royal University Political Scientist Duane Bratt says he isn’t surprised by this messaging from Pitt but it muddies the waters with conflicting messaging from the UCP caucus. 

“You don’t need ten years of medical training, a couple of hours on Google and Facebook should be sufficient,” said Bratt sarcastically. 

“Whether she believes this or is appealing to those that are hesitant around vaccine.” 

But the education and finance ministers both say they have received their first dose of vaccine and encourage all Albertans to do the same, when it is their turn. 

“People being vaccinated will be what leads us out of the pandemic right now,” said Adriana LaGrange. 

“I’m hopeful that if we can continue with the trajectory that we’re on, that summer of 2021 is going to be a good summer,” said Travis Toews. 

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