The Interior has “room for improvement” in regards to COVID-19 vaccination rates — a key factor in preventing transmission of the virus, according to a medical health officer for Interior Health.
Dr. Fatemeh Sabet provided an overview of immunization status and COVID-19 case numbers in the region at the Thompson Regional Hospital District meeting on Thursday.
“In Interior and Northern Health, they continue to need to improve the vaccination rate, especially in the younger population,” Sabet said.
“We see that specifically at 12 to 17 years of age we have lower vaccination rates, that needs to be improved. And that is partly contributing to higher number of cases in the younger population, specifically at schools.”
According to the BC CDC, 69 per cent of youth in Interior Health ages 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated, compared with 81 per cent in Fraser Health, and 88 per cent in Vancouver Coastal Health.
In total, 81 per cent of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated in Interior Health.
“Vaccination continues to be one of the most important factors to prevent transmission and prevent the cases of COVID,” Sabet said.
Sabet said across Interior Health, the number of COVID-19 cases are generally decreasing, but there are some areas seeing higher activity — generally speaking, the areas with lower vaccination rates.
“At the beginning of August, we saw a sharp increase in the number of cases again, that started to decrease slowly at the end of October. However, the numbers in Thompson Cariboo Shuswap continues to be stable at a high level,” Sabet said.
According to the BC CDC, from July to November 2021, the rate of new daily COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated is an average of 25 per 100,000 people. Among fully vaccinated, this number drops to 4 cases per 100,000.
“The incidence rate in unvaccinated individuals is significantly higher compared to the fully vaccinated individual,” Sabet said.
Sabet said data shows those who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 are 55 times more likely to be hospitalized if they contract the virus than those who received both doses of the vaccine, while the death rate is 45 times higher in unvaccinated people.
“You are 10 times more likely to get infected if you are not vaccinated compared to fully vaccinated individuals,” Sabet said.
“Even if you get infected, if you’re fully vaccinated you are less likely to develop severe consequences of infection, which are hospitalization and death.”
Denis Walsh, acting director for the TRHD, asked about B.C.’s vaccination goal, noting that when Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry first discussed herd immunity in relation to vaccines, the goal was to vaccinate between 70 and 80 per cent of the population.
“When are we going to declare we have herd immunity?” Walsh asked.
Sabet said initially, there were some numbers reported as a target for vaccination rate, but virus variants have changed the game.
“The herd immunity number is calculated based on R naught [R0], which is the regeneration number, or the number of infection from one person who is infected. So that constantly changes. That is why the threshold for having herd immunity for vaccination that keeps changing and now there is no threshold,” Sabet said.
She said the target is now to have the highest possible vaccination numbers among all age groups to limit the spread of the disease.
Walsh, a Kamloops city councillor, has spoken out against vaccine mandates. He is unvaccinated.
Ward Stamer, TRHD director and mayor of Barriere, asked if there was any tests being developed that could determine if an individual who has previously been infected with COVID-19 has the same level of protection against the virus as someone who has been vaccinated.
Sabet said this is “a great idea,” and something teams are currently working on, but there hasn’t been an accurate test developed thus far.
“That's why we continue to rely on the complete vaccine series to consider individual's immunity against COVID,” she said.