Just four per cent of the Central Okanagan's recent spike in cases were among fully vaccinated individuals.
Data released by the BC Centre for Disease Control Wednesday showed 450 residents of the Central Okanagan tested positive for COVID-19 between July 23 and 31 – the highest single week case count in the region since the beginning of the pandemic.
And while the spike in cases is concerning, Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema says the data shows the COVID-19 vaccines are effective.
“Of all the cases we are having here in the Central Okanagan, about four per cent are fully vaccinated,” Dr. Mema said, noting that a person is considered fully vaccinated one week after receiving their second dose.
“So 96 per cent of the cases, almost all of the cases, are among people who are not fully vaccinated.”
While vaccination rates in the Interior are somewhat lower than the rest of the province, Dr. Mema believes there are a few factors responsible for the recent spike in Okanagan cases.
“One is yes, we have low vaccination rates. The second is that we have a lot of social events happening here in the Central Okanagan,” Dr. Mema said. “Last year, we also had an outbreak in July because this is where many people come meet. People coming from other parts of the province or from other provinces, this is the point where people gather, so lots of social activity.”
Additionally, she noted the recent heat wave and widespread wildfire smoke drove people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. The more easily transmissible Delta variant now makes up the vast majority of new cases in the Interior as well.
While COVID-19 hospitalizations remain relatively low across the province, rates are rising in the Okanagan.
“Last week when we declared the outbreak, we were at about five cases at the KGH hospital. And now we are at about 15, 16 hospitalizations,” Dr. Mema said. “So we have seen quite an increase in the past week in the number of hospitalizations and we are getting concerned about about that.
“I can tell you that most people that are in the hospital are not fully vaccinated ... there are some people that are not vaccinated at all, and there are some that may have had one dose.”
Throughout the pandemic, hospitalization and death rates have lagged behind spikes in cases. Dr. Mema expects hospitalization rates to remain lower moving forward than would have been the case without widespread vaccinations.
“Yes, we are seeing hospitalizations increase, and we are concerned about that, because we don't want people to be sick,” Dr. Mema said.
“But at the same time with vaccine, we are in a much better place than we would be if we didn't have it. And that's why we are able to keep society open and continue with the restart plan and not put lots of restrictions in place because we know that the hospitalization increase is not expected to be to the degree that we would expect if we didn't have vaccine.
“But that said, we are monitoring this very closely. And if we need to put other restrictions [in place], we will do it in order to preserve [hospital] resources.”
Testing remains focused on people exhibiting symptoms, and the 450 new cases in the region is people with symptoms.
“There may be others that are asymptomatic that are spreading the disease, so that's why we put the mask order on to make sure that we cover that piece,” Dr. Mema said.
Since the outbreak was declared in the Central Okanagan last week, people in the region can receive their second dose of vaccine 28 days after their first dose. A full list of drop-in vaccination clinics in the Interior can be found here.
“It's very important that people get vaccinated because that is the single most effective strategy that we have,” Dr. Mema said.