B.C. pop-up vaccine clinics not successful, face challenges, say health officials

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VICTORIA — Pop-up vaccine clinics in Metro Vancouver COVID-19 hot zones are an experiment that didn't work, British Columbia health officials said Thursday.

Apologies were offered for the anger and confusion caused by the program, which was meant to reach as many residents as quickly as possible but resulted in lineups where many waited for hours and still didn't get vaccinated.

"Yes, there were some operational things that were done or not done that caused a lot of frustration and I can see that, and I absolutely apologize to people for the miscommunications and for the confusion," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news conference.

She said attempts to reach people in areas of high COVID-19 counts using drop-in-type clinics in Surrey and Coquitlam faced challenges as people lined up for hours waiting for vaccines.

"It got a life of its own that was not anticipated, in social media in particular," said Henry. "That was certainly not the intent."

Dr. Victoria Lee, the president of Fraser Health, said no more pop-up clinics are planned as the health authority learned from the experience where people who were eligible and ineligible for immunization waited in long lineups for limited amounts of vaccine.

Health Minister Adrian Dix faced pointed questions in the legislature about the massive confusion over the pop-up clinics.

"The premier's pop-up clinics are somewhat out of 'Hunger Games,'" said Liberal health critic Renee Merrifield. "The confusion, anger and the lineups continue today in Surrey."

Dix said the rollout of the clinics did not work.

"I think it's fair to say they were not a success, certainly from a communications or a confidence perspective," he said. "Fraser Health is taking lessons from that."

B.C. reported 853 new COVID-19 cases and one death on Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths during the pandemic to 1,577 people.

Henry said the number of people in hospital continues to remain high with 503 COVID-19 patients, of whom 178 are in intensive care.

More than 1.7 million people have received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose, with more than 90,000 getting their second shot, she said.

Despite the problems at the pop-up clinics, thousands of people still got first doses of a vaccine, said Henry, adding officials must now regroup and find other ways to distribute vaccines to those living in high-case areas.

"Hopefully we've made the point today that the best way to guarantee your spot and your vaccine is to register and it will be there for you, so you don't have to worry whether there's a pop-up clinic in your community or not," she said.

B.C. is expecting to receive more than one million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the next month and the first shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected next week, said Henry.

It's expected that every adult in B.C. will have received their first vaccine dose by mid-June, she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press