COVID-19 in B.C.: Vancouver Coastal and Interior Health differences; AstraZeneca and second doses; and more

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      Once again, Interior Health is reporting more new cases than Vancouver Coastal Health.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed several questions about these regional differences, as well as issues about vaccinations, second doses, and transmission in gyms. 

      AstraZeneca and second doses

      Today (June 17), Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) provided updated guidance that an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) is considered preferable as a second dose for those who received AstraZeneca for a first dose.

      NACI stated that this recommendation is “based on emerging evidence of a potentially better immune response from this mixed vaccine schedule and to mitigate the potential risk of [vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia] VITT associated with viral vector vaccines”.

      NACI stated that those who have or are receiving two doses of AstraZeneca“can rest assured that the vaccine provides good protection against infection and very good protection against severe disease and hospitalization”.

      She said that she reviewed the statement and that it is based on preliminary data based on a study from Germany involving a small number of people that revealed that those with an mRNA vaccine after AstraZeneca had “good or better” immune system responses. 

      However, she said that we don’t know yet if this translates into better protection in the real world, and added that, based on information from B.C. and the U.K., vaccine effectiveness is good for both AstraZeneca and mRNA vaccines.

      Meanwhile, Henry announced that B.C. received notification that the deliveries of Pfizer scheduled for the first two weeks in July have been reduced.

      While she called it “disappointing”, she said it’s “not unexpected”, considering the global efforts underway. 

      “We don’t expect this to affect our timelines,” she said, adding that the decrease will be compensated by increased deliveries in the last two weeks of July.

      Some good news is that Moderna shipments will be increased, starting this week, Henry said.

      Whether or not a third booster dose will be required is being studied at the moment, Henry said, with effectiveness of vaccines over time being currently monitored.

      Interior Health and Vancouver Coastal Health

      When Henry was asked about why Interior Health’s decrease in cases has been slower than other regions, she said that she and her Interior Health colleagues have been discussing this to try and determine what are some of the contributing factors.

      She said there’s not just one reason, and that there have been some clusters of cases in smaller communities and hotspots in the Central Okanagan.

      She added that sometimes complacency in some areas can be an issue, “particularly in communities where immunization rates aren’t that high yet”. She pointed out that as convenience of getting vaccinations is an issue that they're trying address so that vaccines can be easier to obtain.

      Dix said that Interior Health has been making concerted efforts to increasing first doses and he encouraged everyone in the B.C. Interior to visit the Interior Health website and get vaccinations.

      So far, Interior Health has administered approximately 675,000 doses of vaccines.

      Today, Interior Health announced that it is accelerating the schedule for second doses in the health region, with expanded drop-in hours and mobile clinics.

      Meanwhile, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) announced today that changes will occur at the Vancouver Community College clinic.

      While testing will no longer be offered at this site as of June 19, it is expanding vaccinations to 1,200 vaccinations per day, starting on June 21. VCH stated that the volume of testing at the site had decreased from 360 tests per day in November 2020 to about 150 tests per day this month.

      Four other test centres in Vancouver remain open

      When the Georgia Straight asked Henry what VCH has been doing that has been effective in sharply reducing cases in the region (VCH used to have the second most cases in the province but has recently been reporting fewer cases than Interior Health), she said that there have been a number of things. 

      She said VCH made efforts to work with specific communitites to address various challenges, such as recent increased case numbers in the Downtown Eastside and low immunization rates in Richmond. 

      In addition, she said that getting vaccinations to people who couldn’t work at home, from first responders to grocery store and hospitality workers, was particularly effective. She noted that includes places like Whistler, which is part of VCH and was considered a hotspot earlier this year.  

      On a related note, she explained that concerted efforts to administer vaccinations among young people, which tends to lead to spillover into older age groups (as has been seen in many examples around the world), in VCH and Fraser Health was also effective in preventing transmission to vulnerable populations.   

      Gyms and exercise

      Several gyms have been listed amongst the businesses temporarily closed by regional health authorities due to COVID-19 over the past few months. With high-intensity exercise starting up again, the Georgia Straight asked Henry about transmission at gyms or exercise facilities, and whether there is anything gym users should be aware of.

      Henry said that with the rise of new, more transmissible variants, the “level of risk went up so dramatically” and the virus spread more quickly amongst high-intensity workouts in small, enclosed areas or where ventilation was poor.

      With more immunizations, Henry said that we still remain “a little bit at risk”—she emphasized that anyone who isn’t feeling well or who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should not be going into high-risk environments.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      B.C. update: June 17

      Henry said that there are 120 new cases in B.C. today. By region, that includes:

      • 53 in Fraser Health (44 percent);
      • 43 in Interior Health (36 percent);
      • 13 in Vancouver Coastal Health (11 percent);
      • 5 in Northern Health (four percent);
      • 5 in Island Health (four percent);
      • 1 person from outside of Canada.

      Currently, there are 1,451 active cases, which is only three fewer cases than yesterday. 

      Hospitalized cases decreased by three cases since yesterday—there are 131 people in hospitals today, with 44 people in intensive care units (three fewer than yesterday).

      Sadly, one person has died—Henry said that this person, who was in their 80s, was not immunized. B.C. has had a total of 1,739 people who have died of COVID-19-related reasons during the pandemic.

      With 130 recoveries since yesterday, a cumulative total of 143,579 people have now recovered.

      B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 146,794 cases during the pandemic.

      In B.C.’s immunization program, 76.5 percent of all adults, and almost 75 percent of those 12 years and above, have received their first doses.

      A total of 4,231,871 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines have now been administered, and 768,008 of those have been second doses. 

      Outbreaks and exposures

      Today, Fraser Health announced that the outbreak at Cherington Place in Surrey has been declared over (but did not state how many cases or deaths were involved). 

      Henry said there are currently three active outbreaks in longterm care facilities. Some good news is that there aren't any active outbreaks in acute care facilities. 

      None of the five regional health authorities announced any new healthcare or community outbreaks, public exposure events, or businesses closed due to COVID-19.

      Loblaw listed one employee who last worked on June 12 at Joti's No Frills (310 West Broadway) in Vancouver as testing positive.