With B.C. nearing the end of the fourth and final phase of its COVID-19 immunization plan, health officials provided an update on where the province is at with vaccinations and what it will do next.
At a news conference in Vancouver today (July 27), B.C. immunization rollout team executive lead Penny Ballem, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided updates about vaccination data and announced the launch of a new campaign that reflects a shift from mass vaccinations to reaching those who haven’t yet received vaccinations.
"With more than 80 percent of eligible people in B.C. vaccinated with their first dose and more than 60 percent fully vaccinated, we have made tremendous progress in our vaccine rollout," Dix said.
Over 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have now been administered in B.C. As of July 26, 3,736,651 people (80.6 percent) who are 12 years and above have received their first dose and 2,840,194 (61.3 percent) have received their second dose.
While Dix, Henry, and Ballem thanked everyone who has received their vaccinations, and those working in the immunization program, all note that more vaccinations still need to be done.
“We now know that the majority of our new cases, some of which have increased in the last little while, are among people who have not yet received their vaccine,” Henry said.
According to data from the B.C. Centre of Disease Control (BCCDC), there were 1,210 COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people from June 15 to July 15 while there were 499 cases among people who had only received one dose.
In comparison, there were 65 cases, or less than five percent of COVID-19 cases, from June 15 to July 15 were among fully vaccinated people.
During that same time period, Henry pointed out that there has been a “high rate” of unvaccinated individuals—137 out of 176 hospitalized cases, or 78 percent—who have been hospitalized in B.C. with COVID-19, and an additional 18 percent of those who have only received their first dose.
Henry also cited her colleagues in the U.S. who are seeing a “new pandemic” among those who are unvaccinated.
Ballem presented data about unvaccinated population numbers by regional health authorities.
In total, there are 906,722 British Columbians, or 19.6 percent, who have not yet been vaccinated.
The largest number of unvaccinated individuals is in Fraser Health 315,748—but that represents 18.4 percent of the population in that region.
Northern Health has the highest percentage of unvaccinated people, with 84,573 individuals, or 32.5 percent of its population.
Interior Health follows Fraser Health with 199,159 unvaccinated individuals, but follows Northern Health percentage-wise with 26.2 percent of its population unvaccinated.
Vancouver Coastal Health has 141,169 unvaccinated individuals, or 18.1 percent, which is about the same percentage as Fraser Health.
Island Health has 166,123 unvaccinated individuals but that represents the lowest percentage in the province at 14.8 percent of its population.
Henry explained that there are vaccination challenges in Northern and Interior Health where there are small communities that are physically distant from each other, have lack of access to vaccines, or have been affected by wildfires.
Measures against unvaccinated people
When asked if the province will take any punitive measures against those who are unvaccinated, Dix said that although vaccinations aren’t and won’t be mandatory in B.C., but “measures will be taken” to protect people from those who are unvaccinated, such as in longterm care facilities.
Henry explained that based on a survey, people have expressed a range of reasons why they remain unvaccinated, ranging from inconvenience of accessing vaccinations to lack of confidence in vaccines.
“It is choice to be immunized, but there are consequences for people who are not immunized,” Henry said, “and that’s going to be more important for us as we head into the fall, as we know that this virus will increase, as we know that we’ll likely see other respiratory viruses, and—incredibly important from my perspective—is protecting those people who we know may not mount as good an immune response from vaccine.”
Of the latter group, Henry said that includes seniors and elders, and those in longterm care and the healthcare sector.
As previously announced, Henry said that those working in healthcare who choose to remain unvaccinated will need to take additional prevention and control measures, such as wearing masks and regular testing, and that they won’t be permitted to work in specific settings.
“I have very little patience for people who are not vaccinated in healthcare,” Henry said, with a self-effacing chuckle.
Henry said that the number of anti-vaxxers in the province remains low, at about one to two percent of the population, which she said is a “very small percent” but that they are very organized and vocal.
Dix cited the example of measles immunizations amongst students in 2019, and that if there is an outbreak of measles, those who aren’t immunized will be excluded from school. Accordingly, he said that there will be similar consequences for not being immunized for COVID-19.
However, he also pointed out how young people responded to the measles immunization program and that he expects that those aged 18 to 24 will be more immunized than any other age group because of their willingness to participate in the program.
Citing the examples of recent clusters connected to nightclubs and gatherings in indoor settings with poor ventilation such as weddings or funerals, Henry said she is in support of businesses opting to require anyone to only admit people who are vaccinated.
“That gives people the level of comfort that they are in a safer environment,” she said. She added that if transmission occurs at a business, health officials will temporarily shut down the business.
New vaccination campaign
The Vax for B.C. campaign, which will be aimed at reaching people who still need vaccinations, begins today and will continue throughout August, and will involve community events, vaccination vehicles, and mobile clinics across the province. More focus will be placed on local public health clinics, community outreach efforts, mobile programs, and pop-up clinics.
These events will permit all eligible individuals to drop in for vaccinations without appointments (although registration and booking with the provincial Get Vaccinated system is still encouraged).
The first provincewide Walk-in Wednesday will be held on August 4, which will make 20,000 doses available for drop-ins for anyone who is 12 years and above and is eligible for their first or second doses.
A complete list of Vax for B.C. events throughout the province is available online.
For today's B.C. COVID-19 update, see this article.