With only 28 per cent of the Smithers Local Health Area (LHA) population aged 18 to 49 having received a booster, or third COVID-19 immunization, uncertainly looms regarding the next wave of the virus expected in the fall.
“Bracing is the word everyone has been using. We are all bracing for the fall. We don’t know what it is going to look like,” said Julia Pemberton, chief administrator for Northern Health Prince Rupert Regional Hospital and Haida Gwaii.
“Many people have the two doses that were mandated for travel, but we have literally half of that who have not had their booster dose,” she said.
“I wish I had a crystal ball and could understand people’s rationale,” she said regarding the low numbers of triple vaccinated in the age group.
The B.C. provincial COVID-19 website message is clear and states if people have not had a booster or a third shot, they are not protected from severe illness related to COVID-19; therefore, they are not up-to-date with the best protection.
Seventy-four percent of residents five years and older in Smithers have had two vaccine doses.
The province of B.C. plans to offer everyone aged 12 and above a fall booster dose.
“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has been clear this approach will provide the best protection in the fall and winter when we’re all spending more time inside and respiratory illness is passed around our communities,” the provincial website stated.
If you’ve had COVID-19, you still need a booster, the information page also states.
There have been several waves of COVID-19, Pemberton said, with Delta being the region’s largest and most felt variant. When the virus mutated, numbers and tracking for Omicron were not as precise as with Delta because Omicron hit at the same time personal and home testing was made available and health authority tracking could not be controlled.
“Definitely, we had Omicron here … those are the cases you don’t see in the hospital for the most part. Most of Omicron was a community-based illness,” Pemberton told Black Press Media on July 21.
“But our numbers of COVID cases after Delta admitted to hospital definitely declined. It’s not impossible that someone with Omicron was in the hospital, but we saw the highest rates of hospitalization during the Delta wave,” the medical professional explained.
“When people received the first two doses, COVID was killing people, and there was some fear that ‘I can get really sick’, which encouraged people to become double vaccinated,” she said.
Despite health restrictions being lifted and social engagement on the increase, she said COVID-19 is not gone.
“… We’ve been benefiting from the ability to travel, the ability to go to concerts, and to be in big groups again — which is wonderful. But, we really need to be ensuring those basic public health measures. I want us to be responsible.”
“We all still carry the responsibility of being safe as we engage with our greater groups and with our recreation activities, and the things we desperately missed during the more significant restrictions of the pandemic. We have not lost any of the accountability.”
Pemberton said we all know by now that COVID-19 is highly transmissible.
“The best way to prevent that transmission is to wash your hands. Stay home when you’re sick, get vaccinated and wear masks in crowded and indoor public spaces. That’s the best thing you can do. I think whether people are doing that or not is between them and their own conscience.”
Summer has seen very limited numbers in the Northwest.
COVID-19 numbers, confirmed for the week of July 17 to 23 show that Smithers had just one case. Terrace and Prince Rupert both had five while Haida Gwaii had two and Kitimat had zero.
The COVID-19 online dashboard shows there have been more than 378,291 confirmed cases throughout the province since January 2020, with 921 new from July 17 to 23. Since the start of virus tracking, more than 3,908 people infected have died from the virus, with 363 of those in the Northern Health Authority (NHA) region. Three people died in the health region between July 17 and 23.
New cases for the same time period are listed at 62 in the NHA, with 11 currently in hospital, two of whom are in critical care.
To brace for a potential fall wave, the health authority is encouraging people to get vaccinated.
The Smithers Health Clinic on Alfred Avenue (provincial courthouse building) is open for booked appointments for first and second doses. Pharmacies are also still vaccinating people.
“We will continue to rely on our community partners in pharmacy and locally to provide vaccinations as well … they are going to be an important partner in rolling out the fall vaccine campaigns.”
– With files from Thom Barker