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Immunizations will help keep people safer this holiday season

December 11, 2023 at 1:07 pm  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

As people in British Columbia gather to celebrate the holiday season, the Province encourages everyone to book an appointment to receive their free influenza and updated COVID-19 vaccines now to protect themselves against severe illness and hospitalization.

“We want everyone in B.C. to be safe as they gather this holiday season,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “That is why continuing to practise healthy habits is so important, so people can focus on connecting and celebrating during the coming weeks.”

Based on the most recent epidemiological data available from the BC Centre for Disease Control, influenza levels continue to increase throughout the province, primarily the H1N1 strain. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) activity also continues to increase, and test positivity remains high among children.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 test positivity, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased since early October. As of Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, there were 182 patients in hospital with COVID-19, 17 of them in critical care.

“Even if you have caught a flu or COVID-19 in recent months, getting immunized with an updated influenza and COVID-19 vaccine if you haven’t had one is still the best way to protect you from the current strains of respiratory illnesses that are circulating right now,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Since the launch of the immunization campaign in October, almost half (46%) of the provincial population of people aged 80 and older have their updated COVID-19 vaccination. We encourage those who have not received it yet to book their immunization appointment now. It’s easy, convenient and free to get immunized in B.C. We can all do our part to support each other and the health-care workers who are working hard to keep our communities healthy and safe during the holiday season.”

This year’s respiratory illness immunization campaign was launched to the general population on Oct. 10, 2023. As of end of day of Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, B.C. had administered 1,443,752 doses of influenza vaccines and 1,289,849 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

B.C. has the highest vaccination rates in Canada. However, it is crucial that people continue to get immunized:

  • Interior Health has administered 236,649 influenza vaccines, compared to 244,285 last year, and 212,316 COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 176,388 last year;
  • Northern Health has administered 56,381 influenza vaccines, compared to 58,969 last year, and 48,161 COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 42,341 last year;
  • Fraser Health has administered 466,313 influenza vaccines, compared to 494,293 last year, and 395,868 COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 404,582 last year;
  • Vancouver Coastal Health has administered 370,704 influenza vaccines, compared to 390,971 last year, and 336,461 COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 310,604 last year; and
  • Island Health has administered 313,697 influenza vaccines, compared to 321,701 last year, and 297,043 COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 246,308 last year, including year-over-year comparison.

The Province continues to make it convenient for people to get immunized with influenza and COVID-19 vaccines available at more than 850 pharmacies throughout the province, as well as many health-authority clinics and primary-care providers’ offices. Vaccines are free and available for everyone six months and older, including enhanced influenza vaccines for seniors.

Vaccine-appointment capacity is available in all regions. People who want a notification to book an appointment, or who are not yet registered, are encouraged to do so by visiting: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine/register.

To continue ensuring hospitals have capacity in the event of increased demand during the respiratory season, plans are in place to add hospital beds and improve patient flow as needed. This includes daily co-ordination planning between the Province, health authorities and the BC Emergency Health Services, and continuing efforts to strengthen the health-care system through B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy.

Health authorities have identified which hospital beds can be made available on a temporary basis. More Hospital at Home beds are being added, and initiatives are underway to ensure patients who no longer require acute care can receive alternate level of care in settings that include long-term, transitional or community care. Health authorities also have 2,281 surge (additional) beds, which, if needed, could be activated through the fall and winter.

In May 2020 the Province launched the Commitment to Surgical Renewal. B.C was one of the first provinces to take action to catch up on surgeries and over the past three years the delivery of surgeries has been changed. Year over year, more surgeries continue to be delivered than ever before. In 2023, health authorities reported 7,781 surgeries were performed for the week of Oct. 22-28. This is the highest surgical weekly volume reported this fiscal year.

Last year the equivalent of more than 15 operating rooms were added by opening unused or new operating rooms, extending days, performing surgeries on weekends, maximizing during typical slowdowns to increase our surgical capacity.

“We can all take important preventative measures with holiday meals and parties, especially those held indoors,” Henry said. “This means staying home if you’re sick, frequently cleaning your hands, and following proper respiratory etiquette, such as covering your coughs and wearing a mask when appropriate. This is critically important if you’re gathering with friends and loved ones who may be at risk of more severe illness.”

Quick Facts:

  • More than 4.4 million people have received at least one invitation on the Get Vaccinated system and nearly three million people have received a reminder.
  • All 2.3 million doses of influenza vaccine and more than 2.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) have arrived in B.C.
    • The remaining 173,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are arriving this week.
  • Novavax, a protein-based COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 12 and older, received Health Canada approval on Dec. 5 and is expected to begin arriving in the province this week (Dec. 11-15).

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