COVID-19: B.C. urging higher vaccination rates, especially within Interior Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry looks on while announcing expanded health restrictions for the Interior Health region on Friday afternoon. Global News

Three weeks after announcing health restrictions for the Central Okanagan because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, the entire Interior Health region is now under those same constraints.

In announcing the restrictions on Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, “unfortunately, we’ve also been seeing a steady rate of increase throughout the entire Interior Health Authority.”

Henry said the spike is “again in people primarily who are not yet vaccinated. This has been a particular challenge, as we are dealing with the displacement of people across the Interior Health region due to the ongoing wildfire situation, and it has strained health resources in a number of communities across Interior Health.”

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the Central Okanagan had 922 cases between Aug. 8-14.

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To put that number in perspective, that was greater than the combined rates of Vancouver (363), West Vancouver (10), North Vancouver (54), Burnaby (86), New Westminster (31), Richmond (57), Delta (45), the Tri-Cities (86) and Surrey (155). Combined, those cities totaled 887.

Henry said COVID-19 hotspots in B.C.’s Southern Interior included Nelson (117 cases), Creston (49), Vernon (109) and Kamloops (121).

“When we discussed what we needed to do to try and address some of the challenges that are being faced, and the pressures now on local health services,” said Henry, “we realized that we really needed to take in a regional approach that accounted for the fact that people are being displaced and are moving across and within the Interior region.”

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Along with discouraging travel to the Southern Interior, Henry noted that Friday’s news “will be disheartening for many in this area, who are not only living with the challenges of the pandemic, but also with the challenges of wildfires, heat and smoke.”

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However, she said there is positive news, as there’s been a levelling off of transmission rates in the Central Okanagan.

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Still, other areas are climbing. In fact, provincial health minister Adrian Dix said for Nelson, the immunization rate is 72 per cent, and 65.4 per cent in Creston.

The province says 83 per cent people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 74.3 per cent have received their second dose.

“It simply has to be higher,” Dix said of regions with lower than the provincial average.

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Within Interior Health, the number of people who have received their first dose is 76.8 per cent, with 68 per cent getting their second dose. Notably, in downtown Kelowna, it’s up to 80.5 per cent.

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Dix added “if you look at the numbers across B.C., you’ll see that people over 60, the numbers are pretty consistent across (all) health authorities. Where there is significant difference is under 50.”

The minister also said “that people can choose not to be vaccinated. But there will be significant things you will not be able to do if you’re not vaccinated.”

Dix did not elaborate on that statement.

“If you’re living in a community in the Interior Health Authority,” said Henry, “the best thing you can do to get us through these restrictions is to get vaccinated today, and encourage others in your life to do the same.”

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