'Virus just runs into walls' in high-vaccination communities: Henry

What vax rate slows spread?

B.C.’s vaccination rate is grinding slowly towards 90 per cent, amongst the highest in the world, but the province is still grappling with daily case counts that health officials say are “too high” while some hospitals remain overwhelmed.

When the first COVID-19 vaccinations rolled out, experts suggested between 70-90 per cent of the population would have to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity and stop transmission of the virus.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked during Tuesday’s news conference if she is surprised that the virus is still spreading widely despite B.C.’s one-dose vaccination rate of 88.8 per cent.

Calling B.C.’s vaccination rate “very high rate across the board,” Henry acknowledged that the required level of vaccination to slow the spread of the virus in the community has been “higher than what we originally thought when we would need.”

“That is a reflection of the change in the virus, and the increased transmissibility has meant that it spreads more rapidly and there's less leeway in breaking precautions,” she said.

The more-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has quickly taken over as the dominant strain in Canada and most of the world, leading some health experts to suggest herd immunity is now an impossibility. Dr. Henry said the vaccine passport system is an attempt to mitigate that ongoing risk from the virus that we are unable to get rid of entirely.

From Oct. 4-10, British Columbians not fully vaccinated accounted for 68.1 per cent of cases and from Sept. 27-Oct. 10, they accounted for 73.7 per cent of hospitalizations.

Henry noted that the parts of B.C. hardest hit by the fourth wave are in regions with lower vaccination rates.

“If we look at some of the communities where [vaccination rates are] high, areas where we've had a lot of transmission in the past — like in parts of Surrey and in Vancouver Coastal — where we are seeing good protection, this virus just runs into walls when we have those layers of protection that include most people being immunized.”

With vaccination rates varying as widely as Enderby at 70% and Revelstoke at 93% within the Interior Health region, Henry says health officials now need to address each lagging community’s individual concerns.

“It really is looking at those communities where there's issues, where there may be an increased level of suspicion that where there's concern about whether we're overreaching the government response and tackling the individual issues for people in those communities,” Henry said.

She said that approach has been successful in getting the vast majority of healthcare workers and care aides vaccinated. “Thankfully, most of them are making the right decision.”

Henry said COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the province, but “where it's not taking off, is where we are protecting ourselves and each other by being vaccinated.”

New Canadian data released last week suggested B.C.’s decision to delay second doses of the vaccine early in its vaccine campaign, a controversial decision at the time, has resulted in vaccinated people having longer standing immunity than those who were vaccinated with the manufacturer's recommended 3-4 week interval. But still, Henry said B.C. is now considering third booster doses for wider segments of the population.

Meanwhile, data from countries like the U.S. and Israel, which followed a 3-4 week interval, has shown an increase in breakthrough cases in vaccinated people. But even in those countries, the vaccine is showing a strong ability to prevent hospitalization and death.

With a flu season approaching that some believe will hit populations hard after missing last year, Henry admitted “it’s going to get harder before it gets easier.”

“We know that we have influenza coming in, we know that we are starting to see other respiratory viruses causing illness and when people come together, that's what's going to happen.”

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