The province is undertaking its boldest shift yet in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in a bid to reach those who are still without a single dose.
Mass vaccination clinics will be giving way to smaller outreach clinics, mobile vaccination vans and pop-up clinics at popular spots such as Playland and farmers’ markets, among other locations as part of the Vax for B.C. campaign.
The new initiative unveiled on Tuesday will see the province rallying as many people as possible to get vaccinated at large clinics over the next two weeks before shifting to the new locations in early to mid-August.
And by late August and into September, the province will be drawing a bead on young people returning to classes at post-secondary institutes.
Health officials will be holding a “Walk-in Wednesday” on Aug. 4, just after the B.C. Day long weekend, whereby 20,000 shots will be available across the province at all clinics without any need for an appointment to get vaccinated.
“Vax for B.C. is really about that last push to make for the next few weeks to make sure that we’re capturing everybody that needs to participate in our vaccination program,” Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.’s immunization plan, said during a Tuesday briefing.
“We want to reach these people. They’re across the province.”
More than 900,000 British Columbians — or about 19% of the eligible population — remain unvaccinated.
The Vancouver Coastal Health region has the lowest proportion of unvaccinated residents at 14.8% — 166,123 of people who reside within its boundaries.
The Northern Health region, meanwhile, has the highest proportion of unvaccinated residents at 32.5% — 84,573 of people who reside within its boundaries.
A July Research Co. poll reveals that 88% of Canadians would get a vaccine when it becomes available to them, while 8% would not and 4% remain unsure.
Back in April, as the vaccine campaign was ramping up, only 73% of Canadians said they would get vaccinated.
This new campaign comes as second doses have greatly overtaken first doses in recent weeks.
For instance, 5,270 British Columbians received their first dose July 21, while 58,223 received their second dose. Exactly one week earlier, 5,766 British Columbians received their first dose, while 61,284 received their second dose.
Ballem said the province needs to make the vaccination process “convenient” and “fun” to reach those who have not yet received their shots, noting B.C. is no longer constrained by the lack of doses that were commonplace in the early goings of the vaccination campaign.
Health officials have been attempting to get creative recently when it comes to facilitating vaccinations.
British Columbians have been able to drop in at any clinic within the VCH region for their first dose since June 30.
And VCH has been launching pop-up clinics at summer hot spots like the Trout Lake farmers' market in Vancouver or North Vancouver’s popular Shipyards District. First doses will be prioritized, but second doses will also be permitted if there’s capacity.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, was hopeful five weeks ago that 75% of the eligible population on the West Coast would be fully vaccinated by the end of July.
But with less than a week to go and just over half the province’s eligible population fully vaccinated, that target looks almost guaranteed to fall short.
“I think it should be achievable to get maybe 85[% fully vaccinated], maybe a bit more,” Dan Coombs, a University of British Columbia mathematics professor and an expert in modelling pandemic growth and control, told BIV prior to Tuesday’s announcement.
“Maybe as high as that goal of 90%.”
Henry said during Tuesday’s briefing that there are many reasons why many people have not yet been vaccinated, ranging from issues over convenience to confidence over the vaccines.
“I encourage everybody right now to get to know somebody who hasn’t been immunized, to talk to them, talk to them about your experience about why you did it,” she said.
Heidi Tworek, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs who specializes in health communications, told BIV prior to Tuesday’s announcement that vaccine hesitancy has been receding across the country.
She said factors such as trusted members of the community getting and encouraging vaccinations, and government ensuring there’s an easy pathway to receive a jab are far more effective at reaching immunization goals than incentives.
“Those things are in the end going to persuade a greater number of people potentially than just a lottery without answering all of those other sorts of questions,” she said.