More must be done to convince B.C.’s unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves

Click to play video: 'B.C. plans for possible health care staff shortages' B.C. plans for possible health care staff shortages
After some Canadian provinces relaxed their COVID requirements for health care workers in order to keep more people on the job, the B.C. government says it is looking at ways to ensure the health care system doesn't buckle under the strain of the Omicron COVID-19 surge. Kamil Karamali reports. – Dec 29, 2021

There seems to be a rising chorus out there calling for harsher measures aimed at those who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

And as the omicron variant speeds around the world with remarkable speed and as hospitalization and ICU cases climb in number, do not be surprised if the screws are tightened further on the unvaccinated.

We are heading towards a situation in which less than 10 per cent of the population (the unvaccinated) will take up more and more resources in a health-care system that is near capacity. Surgeries are being rescheduled and front-line health-care workers are burning out, all because of COVID-19.

Last month, almost 70 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and almost 80 per cent of ICU cases involved unvaccinated people (these percentages have begun to shrink somewhat; at the beginning of this week 60 per cent of those in ICUs were unvaccinated). That is a lot of beds, nurses and doctors diverted from treating vaccinated individuals requiring health care that may have nothing to do with the virus.

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Now, I do not think we should stop providing health care for unvaccinated people, nor do I support forcing people to be vaccinated.

But surely more must be done to convince more people to get the jab and to relieve growing pressure on our health-care system, for the benefit of the vast majority (i.e. those vaccinated) of our population.

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COVID-19: B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix provides update on pandemic surgery postponements

Read more: Quebec to impose a tax on people who are unvaccinated from COVID-19

While the percentage of unvaccinated in B.C. remains small, even a small percentage of a large number can yield a very large number.

Consider this: as of last Wednesday, 369,081 British Columbians over the age of 12 had yet to receive even a single dose of vaccine. That number is declining by less than 1,500 a day.

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These people are spread around the province. While it is true that vaccination rates are significantly lower in many parts of the Interior and the North, keep in mind that even in a highly vaccinated place like Surrey (more than 90 per cent have had at least one dose) there remain more than 55,000 unvaccinated residents there.

Now, I do not think very many of this group are the aggressive, menacing, scientifically illiterate conspiracy theorists you see at sparsely attended anti-vax rallies. I am sure most are just regular folks who need to step up and perform what is essentially their civic duty.

But what will it take convince them to do that?

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New report outlines impact on health care from COVID-19 pandemic – Dec 1, 2021

Read more: B.C.’s kids have been rolling up their sleeves for the COVID vaccine but uptick is slow

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Quebec will soon require proof of vaccination for anyone wanting to purchase liquor or cannabis. Interestingly enough, first dose vaccinations there quadrupled (from 1,500 a day to 6,000 a day) almost immediately after the new restrictions were announced (that province also just announced it would charge unvaccinated people a “significant” tax to help fund health care services).

While BC will not financially penalize unvaccinated people trying to access public health care wider vaccine mandates remain a possibility (for example, more health care professionals will soon be required to be vaccinated in order to continue working).

The vaccination net is tightening. Gradually the ability to enjoy much of life will be severely constricted for the unvaccinated as mandates expand in number and scope and as our health care system increasingly feels the pinch from those who refuse to get a slight pinch in the arm.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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