British Columbia's first general, large-scale, mass-vaccination clinic has now opened in Prince Rupert with a goal of immunizing some 12,000 residents against COVID-19 by mid-April.
Eryn Collins, spokesperson for Northern Health, says as of Monday morning almost 4,800 appointments had been booked for shots at the town's Jim Ciccone Civic Centre.
The clinic vaccinated 280 seniors on Sunday as part of a "soft-opening" to work out the process of registering, confirming residency and vaccinating patients.
"It pays to be old," said 96-year-old Charlotte Rowse, one of the town's longest-lived residents and one of the first in line to receive a shot.
"It's been a real nuisance to have to stay home all the time. My kids won't let me go downtown or anything."
Infection rates drive special roll-out plan
City and health officials decided to open up vaccinations to the general population after reporting increasing, persistent rates of COVID-19 infection along B.C.'s North Coast.
"We've had a rough time in the last month or so," said Wade Niesh, Prince Rupert's interim mayor. "The province has recognized that, and the Northern Health authority, and they've put together this amazing event to try and get our town vaccinated."
WATCH | All adults in Prince Rupert, B.C., to be offered vaccine after spike in cases:
An outbreak at Prince Rupert's Acropolis Manor long-term care facility contributed significantly to high case counts in recent weeks. Last month, 33 residents and 23 staff tested positive for the virus with 14 residents eventually dying from their illness.
"Quickly vaccinating the entire community is a great way to protect everyone in Prince Rupert and keep them safe," said Northern Health's chief medical health officer, Dr. Jong Kim, in a statement released last week.
Northern Health has established a dedicated phone line for Prince Rupert and neighbouring communities including Port Edwards. Appointments are being staggered by age, but availability is changing on a day-to-day basis. The health authority is also making accommodations for multi-generational families, so that all members can get vaccinated at one time. Residents are being urged to visit the authority's website for updated details.
Interim Mayor Wade Niesh says officials are keeping a close eye on the results of the unusual vaccine roll-out.
"l'll have to see how the numbers go in the next couple of weeks," he said.
"But I think this is a good start to turning that corner by vaccinating as many people as we can in a short period of time, and hopefully [it] will stop more cases from coming."