Walk-in clinics across British Columbia are being allowed to provide COVID-19 vaccines to residents as the province shifts its immunization campaign into a higher gear, hoping to reach those who remain unvaccinated while case counts rise.
The province announced its latest immunization plan on Tuesday. Shots will be available at walk-in clinics to British Columbians who haven’t had their first shot yet, or those who’ve waited at least 49 days since their first dose.
Officials also announced a vaccination blitz called “Walk-In Wednesday” will take place on Aug. 4. The province said 20,000 doses will be available at clinics, with no appointment necessary.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of B.C.’s immunization rollout team, unveiled the plan Tuesday to encourage as many people as possible over
the next two weeks to get immunized at places that are convenient.
“We know a lot about the vaccines. We know how they work. We know how safe they are, so now is the time to step up so we can get back to our lives,” said Dr. Henry.
The seven-day rolling case average in B.C. has increased by 154 percent in three weeks. The majority of cases are among those who have not been immunized.
Dr. Henry said Tuesday 78 percent of COVID-19 patients hospitalized between June 15 and July 15 were “completely unvaccinated.” Eighteen percent had had one dose.
Fewer than five percent were fully immunized.
The province released further vaccination data to the public on Tuesday, offering a clearer look into which British Columbians are being vaccinated and wherein the province they live.
Rural communities remain challenging to reach. There are roughly 900,000 eligible people who have not yet had their shot, with those people largely living outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Just over 32 percent of eligible residents are unvaccinated life in Northern Health, while roughly 26 percent are in Interior Health.
Dr. Henry said surveys conducted by the province show most people either have outstanding medical questions or problems with convenience.
“There are some pockets of people [in those regions] who are hesitant about the vaccine, don’t yet have the confidence in the vaccine … and part of it is about having the resources and access to the vaccine,” said Dr. Henry.
Vaccination rates are lagging among younger adults. Fewer than 40 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have had two doses, with the rate dropping under 20 percent for those aged 12 to 17.
As for people who never get vaccinations of any kind for ideological reasons, Dr. Henry said they only account for one to two percent of the province’s population. The number could be as high as five percent for COVID-19 shots.
B.C. has so far avoided a punitive approach to vaccines, trying instead to tap into residents’ desire to “put the pandemic” in the past and protect their loved ones. The new approach is officials’ effort to remove barriers to access and convenience, switching from mass clinics that might require travel to mobile clinics that meet patients in their community.
“Basically, [we want to] make it as easy as possible,” said Dr. Ballem.
As part of the province’s vaccination push, “vax vans” and mobile clinics will be up and running in dozens of communities in B.C. for the next two weeks. Clinics will also be held at community events and places like beaches or farmers’ markets “to make it easier and more fun to get vaccinated.”
Officials recorded 267 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, as well as one more death.
Active cases rose by nearly 100 over the weekend to reach 695. Hospitalizations were down to 43 — the lowest level since Sept. 10, 2020, though the number of hospitalizations typically lags behind the number of new cases.
Unvaccinated residents could be barred from businesses
People who are unvaccinated could be barred from establishments in future, Henry said, adding she supports such a move by any business because outbreaks could sicken staff and shut down operations.
“We absolutely can say ‘To come in here you have to be immunized.’ And that gives people a level of comfort that they’re in a safer environment,” she said, adding outbreaks have occurred at crowded indoor events like weddings and funerals as well as at nightclubs where unvaccinated people introduced the virus.
While immunization is not mandatory, it’s particularly important for health-care workers, Henry said, noting unvaccinated staff at long-term care homes must wear masks and be regularly tested at work.
“I have very little patience for people who aren’t immunized in health care. We’ve had a vaccination policy for influenza. We will have a very similar policy that if people choose not to be immunized and you work in health care, then you will not be able to work in certain settings without taking additional measures. There will be consequences for that decision.”
Among the biggest unknowns for the future of the pandemic remains the highly transmissible delta variant now circulating in Canada — though a recent study has shown that two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca-Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccines are nearly as effective against the delta variant as they are against the previously dominant alpha variant.
Registration and booking through the province’s Get Vaccinated portal is still encouraged, even though walk-ins are available. British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
- Online through the Get Vaccinated portal.
- By calling 1-833-838-2323. Translators are available in 140 languages.
- In person at any Service B.C. location.
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