BC making push on vaccine accessibility, hints that disincentives for holdouts loom

'Vax for BC' launches

The province is undertaking its boldest shift yet in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in a bid to reach those who are still without a single dose, while signalling disincentives are on the horizon for those who refuse to get vaccinated.

Mass vaccination clinics will be giving way to smaller outreach clinics, mobile vaccination clinics and pop-up clinics at popular spots such as farmers markets, among other locations as part of the Vax for B.C. campaign.

The new initiative unveiled on Tuesday will see the province rallying as many people as possible to get vaccinated at large clinics over the next two weeks before shifting to the new locations in early to mid-August.

And by late August and into September, the province will be drawing a bead on young people returning to classes at post-secondary institutes.

More than 900,000 British Columbians — or about 19% of the eligible population — remain unvaccinated.

In the Interior Health region, 26.2 per cent of the eligible public, 199,159 people, are unvaccinated. The Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region has the lowest proportion of unvaccinated people at 14.8 per cent.

The Northern Health region has the highest proportion of unvaccinated residents at 32.5 per cent — 84,573 of people who reside within its boundaries.

Second doses have greatly overtaken first doses in recent weeks.

For instance, 5,270 British Columbians received their first dose July 21, while 58,223 received their second dose. Exactly one week earlier, 5,766 British Columbians received their first dose, while 61,284 received their second dose.

Health officials have been attempting to get creative recently when it comes to facilitating vaccinations.

British Columbians have been able to drop in at any clinic within the IH region for their first dose since the end of June. IH also held a "vaxathon" at Kelowna Secondary School earlier this month.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also showed off statistics displaying the efficiency of the COVID-19 vaccine. Ninety-six percent of all new cases are coming in people who are not fully vaccinated. Seventy-eight per cent of people in the hospital with the virus have not been vaccinated at all.

Henry said the province has made "tremendous progress" in the rollout of the vaccine and thanked the millions of British Columbians who stepped forward to take the jab, giving them credit for the province allowing to reopen and return to normal.

Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of the province’s vaccine rollout, called the rollout the most significant program she's been involved with in her nearly 40 year career.

Health Minister Adrian Dix suggested it is "inevitable" that some unvaccinated people, especially in their interactions with the long-term care system, will see some type of disincentives for staying non-vaccinated.

Henry said there are still many people out there who have not been vaccinated simply because it has not been convenient, a segment of the population currently they are trying to reach, but long-term anti-vaccine holdouts will face hurdles down the road.

"It is a choice to be immunized, but there are consequences for those who are not immunized and that is going to become more important to us as we head into the fall and we know that this virus will increase."

She said the province must protect those who may not mount a full immune response from a vaccine, like the immunocompromised and people in long-term care.

"We will be looking at the measures that we need to put in place to protect people who are most vulnerable."

She said healthcare workers will likely be the first segment to face such disincentives if they don't want to be vaccinated, such as requiring masking or working in other areas.

“I have very little patience for people who are not vaccinated in healthcare," Henry said.

Dix noted that children who are currently unvaccinated for measles are excluded from school in the event of an outbreak, "so this is not new, there are consequences for not being immunized even though it is not mandatory in our province."

with files from Tyler Orton

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