High COVID-19 count prompts citywide vaccinations in Prince Rupert, B.C.

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PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. — Health officials say an entire northwestern British Columbia city will be vaccinated over the next three weeks as the community continues to face persistent outbreaks of COVID-19.

The first clinics for roughly 12,000 residents of Prince Rupert and nearby Port Edward begin Monday and continue until April 1, said Northern Health in a statement.

Prince Rupert has a high COVID-19 case and positivity rate and has not seen the improvements in recent weeks that are happening elsewhere in the region, said Dr. Jong Kim, Northern Health chief medical health officer.

"Quickly vaccinating the entire community is a great way to protect everyone in Prince Rupert, and keep them safe," he said in the statement.

Those eligible can dial a dedicated phone line and appointments will be assigned based on age, with vaccinations for the city's oldest residents starting March 15 and clinics for those aged 18 to 39 beginning March 29.

B.C. has adopted an age-based approach for most of the rest of province, with people 90 and up and Indigenous residents over 65 becoming eligible to book appointments this week. People 85 and up will become eligible next week, and 80 and up the week after.

But a whole-of-community immunization model is also being used in some remote areas with smaller populations, including on Haida Gwaii.

When communities are small, it doesn't make sense to break down vaccinations into five-year age categories, but some still have a staggered approach, said Northern Health spokeswoman Eryn Collins.

In Dease Lake, all community members over 18 can start calling to book appointments on March 15, while in Fort Nelson, anybody over the age of 60 can book starting March 22.

"What we're really encouraging people in the region to do is to check their community-specific information," said Collins. "The eligibility varies from community to community."

Prince Rupert is the only community with a dedicated phone number because of its high COVID-19 caseload — other Northern Health residents must call the general hotline for booking appointments, which has been overwhelmed this week, as have the call centres in other health authorities.

Collins said the health authority has heard questions from people who might be concerned that they missed their window of eligibility when it started. She stressed that once your age group opens up, you remain eligible permanently.

Island Health also said all residents of nearly 30 communities with populations under 4,000, or with accessibility challenges such as the Gulf Islands, will also be vaccinated together in one- or two-day clinics.

Those communities include Bamfield, Cortes Island, Denman Island, Gabriola Island, Galiano Island, Gold River, Hornby Island, Port Alice, Port Hardy, Port McNeil, Quadra Island, Read Island, Saturna Island, South Pender Island, Tahsis, Tofino and Ucluelet.

Island Health said details of those community clinics are still being arranged.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.

The Canadian Press