With COVID-19 case counts spiking in some smaller East Kootenay towns, expanding community vaccination programs similar to what is underway in the Columbia Valley following higher case counts is not under consideration, according to Interior Health officials.
Kimberley has tallied 30 COVID-19 cases between April 4-17, according to weekly data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, however, transmission isn’t at the point yet where a community-wide vaccination program is necessary, according to Karen Bloemink, Vice President, Pandemic Response for Interior Health.
Bloemink said Interior Health is always watching COVID-19 activity in communities, noting that the health authority has a vaccination plan for each one in the event that high case counts suddenly saturate the area.
“It is a constant surveillance that is happening and we are not at that stage for this community,” Bloemink said.
In Kimberley’s case, the city saw two consecutive weeks of sharp increases at 13 and 17 cases respectively, after weeks of lower case counts.
As for what is causing Kimberley’s sudden increase in case counts, Dr. Albert de Villiers, the Chief Medical Officer for Interior Health, didn’t point to any one specific event or cause of community transmission.
“We don’t necessarily find out all the exact reasons, we don’t have the resources to go in and investigate every single community where every case came from, but we just know it is spreading in the community,” said Dr. de Villiers. “Like influenza in the regular season, it’s spreading through people connecting with other people and that’s why the public health orders and the recommendations are in place so we can actually prevent that.”
In the case of moving into the Columbia Valley and vaccinating everyone over 18 years of age, Dr. de Villiers said case counts in the Windermere region were the highest in the region, a key factor in the decision-making process.
Interior Health does have a community vaccination program for approximately 47 smaller, rural communities within the jurisdiction, as it makes more logistical sense to immunize everyone at once, rather than follow the age-based cohorts, Dr. de Villiers added.
“If we go in and do the age cohort and we do 10 people every time, it’s just not going to work. It’s just much more logistically practical to go in and do the whole community at one time,” he said.
“That’s one piece; the other piece is if a community has limited health care services, just a few cases might actually overwhelm them so they have a higher risk.”
AstraZeneca supplies dry up
All AstraZeneca vaccine doses that have been distributed to Interior Health have been administered, according to Bloemink.
Pharmacies in the Okanagan have been booking public appointments for people 40 years of age and older to immunize with AstraZeneca.
“The doses that Interior Health has received have all been administered,” Bloemink said. “We have had really really good uptake of the AstraZeneca vaccine that we did receive and when the time comes, we will be keen to receive more.”
During Thursday’s provincial COVID-19 update, Health Minister Adrian Dix said AstraZeneca 180,000 doses will be administered through the pharmacy network in most areas of the province. Additionally, Dix noted that 18,000 appointments have been booked through the community or neighbourhood hot spot program.
Dix said he expects all the province’s AstraZeneca supply to be used up in the coming week.
Through the lens of Interior Health, Bloemink says officials are constantly monitoring supply day-over-day and week-over-week to coordinate the logistics of vaccine distribution in conjunction with the provincial immunization programs.
While Health Canada has approved four vaccines — Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson — Pfizer currently has the most reliable delivery schedule well into July, as production increasing ramps up to larger volumes.
“What we want to make sure, as well as understood,” said Bloemink, “is that we are motivated to deliver the vaccine that we do have on hand, so that creates a little bit of very specific planning that needs to be done as well as a need for some flexibility and potentially some adjusting based on our delivery schedules and replenishment of vaccine supply.
“So we are working with the information we have and we are planning according to that, and we do have our clinics established looking forward based on the vaccine we know is coming into the system.”
Province to unveil travel restrictions Friday
The provincial government will announce a formal order on travel restrictions between health authorities on Friday.
Questions remain on how the orders will apply and how the orders will be enforced amid a broader conversation on the impact it will have on preventing COVID-19 transmission.
Enforcement of out of province travellers is one such matter that should be clarified once Solicitor General Mike Farnworth releases the order.
“We’ve always known that we’ve had imported cases from Southern Alberta specifically and if you look at the north, in Northern Health as well, they’ve had some imported cases into Dawson Creek and some of those areas as well,” said Dr. de Villiers. “We know it’s an issue. We have not seen a huge rush of cases or people starting outbreaks because of that but we are always concerned that we don’t want people to come share their disease from other provinces or other countries or other places.”
Travel should be restricted to essential reasons, he said.
“”Stay as close to home as possible. So that means if you can stay in your own community, do that,” Dr. de Villiers said. “If you have to travel a little bit outside of your community, do it safely. If you need to go from Fernie to Kamloops, do it for a very good reason and just essential travel.”
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