There was no shortage of questions for B.C. health officials in a virtual town hall meeting on COVID-19 hosted by Northern Health (NH).
Providing answers Wednesday, July 28 were provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix.
“We need to do better,” Dix said. “We need to encourage more people to get vaccinated.”
As of Thursday, July 29, the B.C. Government said 81 per cent of eligible people 12 and older in the province have received their first dose of vaccine, and 64 per cent have received their second dose.
Also attending the town hall were NH chief medical health officer Dr. Jong Kim, NH vice-president pandemic response Tanis Hampe and MLAs John Rustad, Shirley Bond and Mike Morris.
“I can tell you being vaccinated is the best thing we can do to be able able to help each other, to be able to help our communities and to be able to help our economy,” said Rustad.
“I’m really happy that we’re doing these town halls. I think it’s a great opportunity to have this conversation.”
Vivian from Prince George said she works in a big box store where she sees hundreds of customers daily and asked why a mask mandate recently returned to the Central Okanagan where a COVID-19 outbreak has been declared, would not be implemented province-wide.
Henry said because community transmission in the Central Okanagan is high, it was critical to have an extra layer of protection.
“We all should be continuing to wear masks in indoor public places where we can’t keep our distance from others until we’re at that point where all of us are vaccinated, and that’s the difference right now,” Henry said.
“We have a lot of protection through immunization, and we have very low rates of transmission in communities in the north right now, so it becomes much more important when you have a lot more community transmission.”
Health officials are trying to understand why people are not getting immunized, Henry added, noting two doses provide excellent protection against circulating strains.
Various COVID-19 vaccine immunization clinics, including walk-in, drive-thru and booked appointments, continue across the region.
A Vax Van will be out in Dawson Creek on Aug. 7.
Prince George caller Laura suggested incentives such as gift cards for groceries and fuel and sending nurses to rural communities to do home vaccination visits for people finding it difficult to get out and attend clinics.
Dix said they have sent health staff to homes across B.C., particularly where individuals receive home care.
“But you’re right,” he said. “
“There’s a lot of people for example who might work in a fairly isolated place or agriculture, and taking the day off and driving into whatever town they’re closest to would be too much for them, and we’re absolutely looking at ways to increase immunization rates in communities such as Burns Lake.”
Another caller asked if there would be a need for a third shot, which Henry said remains unclear.
World studies are ongoing around if a third dose will make any difference for people who did not develop a robust antibody response.
“Does a third does make a difference, or is it much more important that all the rest of us get our doses so that we reduce the risk of transmission in the community overall? That is the real question,” she said.
“We don’t have all of the answers yet, but we are prepared to be able to give people a booster dose whether it’s a small group of people or whether we all need one.”
About 1 in 100 tests return positive for COVID-19 in the NH region, according to Dix, who said he has personally spoken to people who live in Fort St. James and have lost a loved one from the virus he described as “nasty and vicious.”
“I really encourage everyone to get vaccinated and to get vaccinated as soon as they possibly can.”
A caller from Vanderhoof, identifying himself as Mitch, said he has heard much information about the vaccines and that some have argued against them.
“We’re in line with what we’re talking about,” Henry said, noting global studies as well as a number of federal processes and protocols on Canadian soil.
Anti-vaccine activists, she said are well organized and have been intentionally spreading misinformation, especially on social media, in ways that sound truthful or have some degree of truth to it.
“Science is the most credible source of information that counters that misinformation,” Henry stated.
Dix noted there were 49 coronavirus outbreaks declared in long-term care homes across B.C. in January. Vaccination efforts for staff and residents resulted in virtually no outbreaks a month later.
“We went from losing people in long-term care to not losing them, and now we have visitation in long-term care return to normal,” he said.
“We’ve gone from family members not being able to visit their loved one, and lots of outbreaks, to no outbreaks essentially …and family members able to visit their family in their rooms and touch each other—that’s the vaccine.”