Low vaccination rates in Interior Health means third Omicron wave hitting harder | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Low vaccination rates in Interior Health means third Omicron wave hitting harder

FILE PHOTO - B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

B.C. is moving into a third wave of the Omicron variant of COVID as cases and hospitalizations increase.

While health authorities, at a news briefing today, July 8, urged everyone to not only get vaccinated but to get booster shots, the reality is that risks are greater in areas like Interior Health where vaccination rates are lower.

“The risk of hospitalization is five times lower if you’re vaccinated,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said in answer to a question about whether unvaccinated people were among those needing hospitalization because of COVID.

He said most people who need hospitalization, or die of the disease, are over 80 years old but there were others over 70 or those with compromised immune systems also getting very ill with the disease.

The minister did not say how many, if any, unvaccinated people required hospitalization.

READ MORE: B.C. to offer COVID-19 booster for 12-plus starting this fall

The Interior Health region is about five per cent lower in all vaccination categories than the B.C. average and that’s having an impact on health care in the region.

“In Interior Health it does have an impact for a number of reasons,” Dix said. “Overall, where the rate of transmission of the Omicron variant is higher – and right now that’s Interior Health, Vancouver Island Health and Northern Health – also, by definition, they will have the highest rates of health-care workers who are absent due to illness.”

That’s especially true in smaller communities where, having just a couple of people off sick, can make it difficult to deliver services.

The Clearwater and Merritt hospital emergency wards, for example, have been forced to have short-term closures because of staff shortages, although those have not been directly attributed to COVID.

READ MORE: Emergency room at Clearwater's hospital closed again

There are 1.3 million B.C. residents who are eligible for third dose but have not yet taken it. They were advised to wait until the fall to get that third dose.

“This is where we’re most exposed to respiratory illness,” Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan, said during the briefing. “We’re moving indoors through the fall and winter. Your risk is highest and you want to get your booster when your risk is highest.”

Vaccines are also being modified to better combat the Omicron variant so waiting for those is a better option as well.

For those who feel the urgent need to get that booster sooner, they can call the B.C. Vaccination line at 1-833-838-2323 and they will be accommodated.

There are also more than 200,000 people over the age of 70, or those with compromised immune systems, who have been notified that they’re eligible for a fourth dose but have yet to take advantage of that.

Nothing was said during the news briefing about lowering the age to qualify for a fourth dose.

A vaccine for children aged six months to four years is expected to be approved in Canada shortly and should be available in B.C. in early August, Dr. Ballem said.

As in much of the world, COVID cases are on the rise with the latest subvariant of the Omicron variant (B.A.5) and B.C. is likely going to be in its third wave of Omicron.

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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