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No vaccine passports in B.C's future: Dr. Bonnie Henry

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Province of B.C.
May 25, 2021 - 3:50 PM

Vaccine passports aren’t something B.C.’s top doctor sees in this province’s future.

“This virus has shown us that there are inequities in our society that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and there is no way that we will recommend inequities be increased by the use of things like vaccine passports for services with public access here in British Columbia,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

She said that it’s her view, but it also has support from the Premier, the health minister and others.

“I do think it will be something that will be necessary to support international travel,” she said.

“That is something we're working with our colleagues at the Public Health Agency at the federal level to make sure that Canadians have access to travel in the same way that other countries do as well. But it would not be my advice that we have any sort of vaccine passport within British Columbia.”

READ MORE: Indoor dining and games for outdoor sports teams among things to restart in B.C. today

Vaccination rates are what much of the restart plan announced today, May 25, is based on and that gave way to questions about whether it was enough to have people with just one shot under their belt as restrictions loosen.

To date, 60 per cent of British Columbians have one COVID-19 vaccination which provides 80% protection but Dr. Henry explained that individual protection is only one part of overall picture.

“With the vaccine effectiveness data that I presented last week, and the breakthrough data that we presented the week before, we know in the real world effectiveness, it is getting as many people as possible that first dose that gets us to the point where we can reduce transmission in the community to the point where it's manageable, and we can start lifting restrictions,” she said.

“That is independent of the personal protection that we get from a second dose of vaccine. So for example, it bumps it up from about 80% to 90% vaccine effectiveness as an individual, but as a community, the most important thing is to have more people with that 80% protection.”

Dr. Henry said it has been shown in the UK, with both for Pfizer and AstraZeneca, that if you get to that level, you can reduce the probability that the virus will transmit in the community.

“That's why this plan is based on the amount of community protection we have from a single dose of vaccine,” she said. “It is absolutely important to have the second dose so that we can have that individual protection. That extra 20% of potential risk means that we won't pass it to those who we are closest to and if a new strain arises…we can stop it by having additional personal protection for that one on one transmission or that transmission in an outbreak or in a small cluster.”

She also spoke to how effective one shot would be against variants of concern, including the variant that originated in India.

There are currently 500 cases of it in the province, according to BC CDC data and a UK study indicate that it’s two doses of a vaccine that offers best protection from it.

“Vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant is similar after two doses compared to the B.1.1.7 (Kent) variant dominant in the UK, and we expect to see even higher levels of effectiveness against hospitalization and death,” reads the public health study out of the UK.

The study found that for the period from April 5 to May 16 the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant two weeks after the second dose, compared to 93% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant. Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were 60% effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant compared to 66% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant and both vaccines were 33% effective against symptomatic disease from B.1.617.2, three weeks after the first dose compared to around 50% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant.

“Obviously, the different strains of the virus are something we watch really carefully and that information is posted on the BC CDC website,” she said.

Dr. Henry said it is a cause of concern and it’s being watched carefully, but measures that are taken to reduce transmission work against all of these variants of concern, all of the strains that are circulating in our community.

“Decreasing case rates and the importance of taking those preventive measures right now more than ever, continued to be part of the plan, and that's why we're going slowly,” she said.

“So yes, for all strains, having two doses, gives us greater personal protection, but more importantly is the overall protection we have in the community. And we've shown that for all strains all transmission, having everybody with a single dose is the most important single factor to get us to reducing community transmission, overall.”

That said, the aim is still to boost everybody's individual protection with the second dose, starting with those who are more likely to have severe illness or death from COVID-19.

“We are moving up the second dose for everybody, but particularly for people who are older people who have immune compromising conditions,” she said.

Calls to those people will start being made this week.


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