On B.C.’s north coast, the port city of Prince Rupert managed to rid its reputation as a COVID-19 hot spot in just over one month thanks to wide uptake on mass immunizations.
While the province is not offering everyone priority access to the vaccine, experts say Prince Rupert’s success story is an example of how community buy-in can combat the virus.
In mid-March, the city of 12,000 had some of the highest COVID-19 transmission rates in B.C., but officials are now looking towards the post-pandemic future.
“It’s a massive sigh of relief,” Prince Rupert Coun. Blair Mirau told Global News.
“If we had not been prioritized in this way, it’s difficult to project what may have happened.”
The community lost 16 long-term care home residents during a COVID-19 outbreak at Acropolis Manor earlier this year.
In a bid to stop persistent clusters of the virus, the province began immunizing all adults in Prince Rupert and Port Edward on March 15.
Mirau said more than 85 per cent of those eligible took the shot at immunity.
As a result, new COVID-19 case numbers plummeted.
According to BC Centre for Disease Control statistics, Prince Rupert saw weekly cases peak at 117 between March 7 to 13 and then drop to just three from April 11 to 17.
“I think we’re living proof in Prince Rupert that vaccinating hot spots as they emerge is really a proven strategy,” said Mirau.
Dr. Kevin McLeod, who works in the COVID-19 ward at North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital, stated on Twitter that Prince Rupert’s turnaround exemplifies what gets us back to normal and is “why we need the most people vaccinated in the quickest timeframe.”
Doctors of BC is also encouraging all eligible British Columbians to take the first vaccine they are offered.
“The faster we get up to a large proportion of the adult population vaccinated, the faster that we can turn the page on this,” Doctors of BC president Dr. Matthew Chow told Global News.
As of Friday, more than 28 per cent of British Columbians had received the shot.
Dr. Anna Blakney of UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories said she estimates about 60 to 70 per cent of the population needs to get the vaccine in order to achieve herd immunity.
“I think that’s really what’s gonna start to bring normalcy back,” Blakney, who is also a professor at UBC’s school of biomedical engineering, said.
“The way that we’re going to get there is by embracing these vaccines and having the immunity within the population.”
Blakney believes education is the best cure for vaccine hesitancy among adults and is sharing science on social media via her popular TikTok account, in order to debunk misinformation and address vaccine rumours.
“All of the safety profiles from the clinical trials looked great,” said Blakney.
“Most of the participants, if they have side effects they are mild to moderate, and they go away within 24 to 48 hours.”
Prince Rupert, now one of the first communities in Canada with the majority of adults vaccinated, saw more than 9,000 shots administered during the eight-day clinic at its Jim Ciccone Civic Centre.
Those numbers are expected to rise as residents who were unable to make it to the mass vaccination clinic are still getting immunized in the community.
“We’ve seen the results that vaccines do work,” Mirau said.