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Interior Health leading the way in B.C. with latest COVID variant

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Image Credit: Flickr/Government of B.C.

As if Omicron and Omicron BA2 were not making far too many people sick with COVID-19, one of the newest and more contagious subvariants, BA2.12 has shown up in B.C. with the Interior Health region one of its primary targets.

“There have been slight variations in different areas of the province in the strains that we’re seeing and, yes we’re seeing some of the BA2.12 in the Interior,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a news briefing today, May 10.

The BA2 subvariant is much more transmissible than the original Omicron variant which, in turn, was more infectious than the earlier Delta and Gamma variants.

The BA2.12 is running rampant in some part of the U.S., particularly New York, and may be 25% more transmissible than earlier subvariants but may not be any more serious, especially for those who have multiple layers of vaccination.

Dr. Henry’s press briefing today was focussed on the vaccination levels for 17 of the 18 health care professional colleges in B.C. that were ordered to provide her with vaccination rates for their members.

The College of Nurses and Midwifes has not yet completed that compilation because of its shear size. It has 46% of licenced professional health-care workers in B.C., or about 63,000 members, Health Minister Adrian Dix said during the briefing.

Of the colleges reporting, 93.9% of members have received two doses of a COVID vaccine. That ratio is expected to go up once the nurses are counted in since they have a higher vaccination rate, Dix said.

Of those reporting, the most vaccinated is the College of Dieticians at 98%, followed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the same rate.

The least vaccinated are naturopaths at 69.2% followed by traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncturists at 79% and chiropractors at 79.1%.

The idea of disclosing vaccination rates for the different health-care professions is so patients can make informed decisions about whether they want to be treated by an unvaccinated professional.

It’s not yet clear how that is going to be done since, for privacy reasons, an individual's vaccination status will not be revealed, Dr. Henry said.

One option could be that, when a person calls in for an appointment, they can be offered a choice of being treated by a vaccinated versus an unvaccinated practitioner. Details on how that might be done have yet to be worked out.

The vaccination rates have not been compiled by health region. The Interior Health region lags about 5% behind the provincial average for all levels of vaccination for the general public.

READ MORE: Group suing Dr. Bonnie Henry can move forward with class-action case

Dr. Henry also took the opportunity to stress the importance of getting vaccinated, even though the worst of the pandemic seems to be over and life has returned closer to the pre-pandemic normal.

“The fact that we have vaccinations has led us to this place,” she said, but noted there’s a seasonality to COVID where it’s not as prevalent in the late spring and into the summer.

“I think we’re going to be in a period of relative ease for the next little while but we have to pay attention to what will happen in the fall,” Dr. Henry added. “Influenza will come back in the fall, now that we’re traveling more, now that we’re connecting more. And we’ll have, on top of that, the usual things that we see, like RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and also COVID. This virus is going to be with us for some time.”

At this point only those over the age of 70 or who have compromised immune systems are being offered a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine. It’s too early to say if immunity will wane in others and they will also need a fourth dose.

Dr. Henry is also hopeful that a vaccine for those aged six-months to five years will be rolled out as early as late summer.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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