British Columbia is at a turning point in this pandemic. The number of new COVID-19 cases is coming off pandemic highs, but hospitalizations continue to creep up. New enforcement measures are being implemented in response to travel-driven outbreaks. The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been made available to British Columbians age 30+. The coming weeks will test our resolve, and may be our biggest challenge yet, but we are in a far different place than we were at the beginning of our journey.
Healthcare workers are vaccinating the equivalent of a small city (as many as 45,000 people) in BC every day. That means tens of thousands of people are being protected against the most serious manifestations of COVID-19 daily. More than 1.3 million (30% of eligible adults) have already received their first shot.
The primary arm of our vaccine program is based on the most reliable indicator of risk--- age. Some vaccine doses are also being used strategically to quell outbreaks, protect extremely vulnerable people, and reach essential workers.
This is a critical time because there are still many British Columbians who are not vaccinated. That gap is quickly closing, but time is still needed for the vaccination campaign to have its greatest impact. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity.
It’s important to know that when people are vaccinated, even that first dose grants considerable protection against COVID-19 – once the first 2-3 weeks have passed. The vaccines lower your chance of getting COVID-19 if you come into contact with the virus that causes COVID-19. Just as importantly, the vaccines help prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
We have heard a lot of talk about the impact of ‘variants of concern’ and the effectiveness of the vaccines. It's not unexpected that variants have developed, given viruses mutate as they make copies of themselves to spread and thrive. While the current vaccines were designed around earlier versions of coronavirus, we have seen that in some cases protection levels against variants are reduced. This is why scientists around the world are already working on boosters to tackle the variants.
However, we know the vaccines are working, even in the presence of variants. The province’s long-term care homes were once a hotbed of COVID-19 activity, but since residents and staff were vaccinated outbreaks are now sporadic and deaths less frequent. The results have been just as good or better in priority populations such as Indigenous people, small communities facing serious outbreaks, and people living and working in confined quarters where the virus can spread easily. The number of COVID-19 cases declined within weeks of vaccination, and more importantly hospitalizations and deaths plummeted.
With each person vaccinated, we come closer to turning the page on this pandemic and returning to some degree of normalcy. Until that day arrives, there are important rules we need to keep in mind – even for those who have been vaccinated. These are based on the best available science, the real-world experience of our public health doctors who are tracking outbreaks and individual cases, and respecting that variants of concern are circulating in our communities:
In looking at other jurisdictions around the world, restrictions are being relaxed where substantial numbers of people have been vaccinated. Each British Columbian who is vaccinated brings us closer to turning the corner on these difficult times. When we each do our part by following the rules and getting vaccinated, we will all reap the benefits. Much better days are ahead.