While Omicron spreads, B.C. vaccine clinics are closing for the holidays

·5 min read
Prince George's only community vaccine clinic for adults, in the Uda dune Baiyoh (House of Ancestors) building, will be closed from Dec. 20 to Jan. 4. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
Prince George's only community vaccine clinic for adults, in the Uda dune Baiyoh (House of Ancestors) building, will be closed from Dec. 20 to Jan. 4. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

While the Omicron variant rapidly spreads, community vaccine clinics across British Columbia are closing for the holidays — some for as long as two weeks.

In Prince George, the northern city's only vaccine clinic for adults will be closed from Dec. 20 to Jan. 4.

The same goes for clinics in Prince Rupert and Terrace in the northwest, while those in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek in the northeast are closed from Dec. 22 to Jan. 3.

In the Interior, there are no clinics scheduled in Kamloops from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, while Vancouver has no clinics open from Dec. 24 to 28.

Meanwhile, many British Columbians are anxiously waiting for their opportunity to book an appointment for a third shot, as growing research indicates the threat posed by the Omicron variant even to those fully vaccinated.

'We need to do things a little bit more quickly'

"They're playing with our lives," said Jean Fares, a 62-year-old Coquitlam resident frustrated over his efforts to book an appointment for a third shot, which he is still unable to do after receiving his second one more than six months ago, on May 31.

"I'm not going out, not seeing anyone ... I want my vaccine."

Earlier this month, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization strongly recommended all Canadians over the age of 50 to get a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine six months after their second, and suggested those age 18 to 49 do so as well.

That was before the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the country, which has prompted Ontario to open third dose appointments to everyone age 18 and older, and Alberta to those age 50 and up.

"Nothing matters more than getting these third shots into arms," Ontario premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Wednesday.

Dr. Brian Conway of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre said given the threat posed by Omicron, this ramped-up approach is the right one.

"We need to do things a little bit more quickly," he said. "This is how we got around outbreaks in June and July, we accelerated the pace of vaccines and that was very helpful."

B.C.'s rolling average of new cases since Omicron became variant of concern

Pharmacies being used for more bookings

Speaking Friday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said even with public clinics closing down, there are still many opportunities for people to get vaccinated through community pharmacies.

British Columbia is involving more community pharmacies in administering COVID-19 vaccines, although that process will not be complete until mid-January.

Dix focused on the Northern Health region when speaking about pharmacy bookings, saying there are 1,800 appointments available with just 450 slots booked over the next two weeks.

"I believe we can move to fill those up," he said.

However, only people who have received invites through the province's Get Vaccinated system are allowed to book a booster shot or third dose.

When asked whether the province would send invites to more people eager for a third dose if there are 1,350 appointment slots going unused, Dix simply said the booking system is working.

"We're sending out lots of invitations to book across B.C.," he said.

No news about 3rd shots, some in priority groups say

He also said the province would not be adjusting its booster schedule, which for now is focused on administering third doses of the vaccine to priority groups, including health-care workers, Indigenous people age 18 and older, and seniors age 65 and older.

"Our approach, as always, has been on where the risk is," he said Wednesday.

Elliott Brown, 30, says she isn't sure if that includes her, but hopes it does. In 2019, the Vancouver resident was treated for Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and is still in recovery.

"When vaccine rollouts happened, I was top of the list, kind of high priority, getting vaccinated with people three or four times my age," she said.

But more than six months on, she says she has yet to be contacted about a third dose.

"I'm definitely anxious," she said.

Even among those who qualify for a third dose, there are delays: Norah Curtis is a 67-year-old Nanaimo resident who was vaccinated June 25.

She says with the new threat of Omicron and no invitation to get a booster, she's cancelled Christmas plans to see her family.

"It doesn't have to be this way. The government could roll out vaccines and boosters faster and save lives," she said.

B.C. will 'follow the science': Dix

In an interview with CBC, Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said with Omicron the six-month delay between second and third doses no longer makes sense.

"If you have been double vaccinated, second dose more than three months ago, your risk of getting an infection is probably nearly as high as somebody who has never been vaccinated," he said. "You're still much better protected against hospital admission, as far as we know, but not against infection."

Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan have all moved up eligibility for boosters in recent days, with people able to book a third dose appointment just three months after their second.

Dix, though, said B.C. will not be adjusting its six-month guidelines, instead sticking to the recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

"We follow the science," he said.

But six months may not even be the maximum wait: Dezene Huber, 50, and his wife both received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which some research indicates could be less effective against Omicron.

But as the six-month mark following their second shot approached, they still have not received any information around booking an appointment for their third dose, so he called B.C.'s vaccine booking line to make sure they were still on the list.

"I was told we were, but I was also told not to expect anything at six months, and that was the end of that conversation," he said.

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