VCH officials urged UBC to drop some virus restrictions last month

UBC was urged to end rules

Health officials with Vancouver Coastal Health appear to be significantly out of step with current advice provided by B.C.'s top doctor.

In a letter to the University of British Columbia last month, VCH chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly and three other medical health officers urged the school to discontinue some of its virus-related restrictions.

The letter explains that the Omicron variant has rendered two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine ineffective at reducing the spread or transmission of the virus. It remains effective at preventing severe illness.

“There is now no material difference in the likelihood that a UBC student or staff member who is vaccinated or unvaccinated may be infected and potentially infectious to others,” the letter says.

The health officials go onto state that mandatory rapid testing for unvaccinated students and staff and related employment and academic sanctions “and not useful for preventing the transmission of COVID-19 on campus.”

The letter adds rapid antigen testing of asymptomatic people is unreliable at identifying infection.

About two weeks after receiving the letter, UBC announced the end of its rapid testing program on Feb. 28, ending the school's rapid-test-or-vaccine program on March 1.

“We have no evidence that those who have not complied with UBC policies have posed any public health risk to their fellow students, faculty or staff even during circulation of other variants.”

The health officials apparently penned the letter in response to UBC considering de-registering students who have not declared their vaccination status.

“We strongly advise against implementing such a program,” the letter states.

The doctors refer in the letter to a study that looks at the impact of mandatory vaccination policies. The study concludes that such policies “may lead to detrimental long-term impacts on uptake of future public health measures, including COVID-19 vaccines themselves and routine immunizations.”

“Restricting people’s access to work, education, public transport, and social life based on COVID-19 vaccination status impinges on human rights, promotes stigma and social polarization, and adversely affects health and wellbeing,” the study abstract continues.

The positions outlined in the letter by Dr. Daly and her colleagues were a significant break from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has urged employers and school boards to implement vaccination mandates.

The Central Okanagan School District board approved a rapid-test-or-vaccine policy earlier this year, similar to UBC's program, just a few weeks before the VCH letter was penned. The Kamloops-Thompson School District approved their own policy on Feb. 8.

On Feb. 9 Dr. Henry, speaking in support of the continued use of the vaccine passport in B.C., batted aside questions about the program's purpose now that Omicron has reduced transmission protection of two doses of the vaccine so dramatically.

“The difference in spread between somebody who’s vaccinated and (somebody who’s) unvaccinated is like saying (Canadian soccer star) Christine Sinclair and I both play soccer,” Henry said.

The letter notes that universities are “low-risk settings” for COVID-19 where minimal restrictions should be in place. It does not appear similar recommendations have been made to B.C. school districts.

It is expected Dr. Henry will be making an announcement related to vaccine passports and masking on Thursday. The province previously committed to reviewing virus restrictions this month.

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