Interior Health authorities struggling to find reasons for region’s low vaccination rate | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Interior Health authorities struggling to find reasons for region’s low vaccination rate

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic protesters gathered weekly in Kelowna.
July 12, 2021 - 7:00 AM

At 58 per cent, Enderby’s vaccination rate for COVID-19 among residents over the age of 12 is one of the lowest in B.C.

In fact, many communities in the Interior Health region are below the 70 per cent vaccination rate despite an overall 73% of eligible people over the age of 12 vaccinated, compared to a provincial average of 78.4 per cent.

And, while the number of new cases recorded has fallen in recent weeks, the Interior Health region makes up about 30 to 50 per cent of new daily COVID-19 cases in B.C., despite having less than 20 per cent of the population.

“It is a bit perplexing when you look at a community like Enderby where immunization rates are quite a bit lower,” Dr. Susan Pollock, Interior Health’s acting chief medical health officer, told “Every community is so unique. We’re working with local operations teams in the health authority to work with those communities to really try to understand what those communities' context might be.”

In the Central Okanagan, more affluent areas like Okanagan Mission have higher immunization rates (78 per cent) than lower income neighbourhoods like Rutland (66 per cent).

Kamloops Centre South has one of the highest rates in the region at 80 per cent while Kamloops Centre North is at 72 per cent.

“It could be socio-economic,” Pollock said. “It could be access. It could be just some misinformation that is circulating in some of these communities as well about vaccines and the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. These are things we try to manage all the time so it’s hard to say.”

Anti-mask and anti-vaccination rallies were staged weekly in Kelowna throughout the pandemic with one church and some businesses openly defying public health orders.

READ MORE: Further crackdowns on anti-COVID protesters may still be coming

What Pollock does know is that the cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health tend to occur amongst younger people – those in their 20s and into their 30s – who tend not to be vaccinated.

The vaccination rates amongst older people is much higher and that’s reflected in the fact that the rate of hospitalization and use of intensive care units is more stable.

Some cases seem to be attributable to travel, either Interior Health residents going to events like the Calgary Stampede or people from other provinces coming into the region. More study is going to done into those causes.

While most cases are now variants of concern, the new, more easily transmissible Delta variant does not seem to be playing a factor in the region’s infection rate, Dr. Pollock said.

Efforts are being made to encourage more vaccinations in rural communities and trying to target younger people.

“Maybe they’re hesitant to get vaccines,” Dr. Pollock said. “We’re trying to change that narrative in the community, trying education, trying to utilize local champions in the community to help with vaccine hesitancy.”

People who are just getting their first vaccinations now are being asked why they’ve delayed, Dr. Pollock said. That may help health authorities understand why so many residents seem to be hesitant about getting vaccinated.

“We just need to keep going at this throughout the summer,” Dr. Pollock said.

The lowest rate of vaccination in the province is in Peace River North, at 50 per cent. The highest, as of July 6, were Oak Bay, near Victoria, and Pender/Galliano/Saturna/Maine islands at 90 per cent.

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