Record broken last week for immunizations

Tests show B.C. residents with antibodies now 50%, up from 1% in March 2020

Outdoor, pop-up vaccination clinics like this one have been moved indoors, due to the heat wave. | Submitted

More than 78% of British Columbians have now been vaccinated at least once against COVID-19, as B.C. readies itself for a significant milestone in its phased reopening: stage 3.

The date for Stage 3 is July 1. This stage lifts group limits for indoor or outdoor dining and allows casinos, nightclubs and bingo halls to reopen, with some capacity limits. Masks will no longer be mandatory. Masks were a last line of defence that is no longer needed, said provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

"It is, in many ways, an incentive for people who have been immunized, have received two doses of vaccine, that masks are no longer that last line of defence that you need because your risk has changed so much," Henry said at a press conference Monday. "Now as we have protection through immunization, and we have decreasing transmission rates, it's really important for us to give that agency back to people."

Offices will be able to hold larger seminars and meetings. Gyms will also be able to hold indoor fitness classes at increased capacity. More details on phase 3 reopening will be announced Tuesday by the premier.

These phases of reopening are contingent on vaccination rates continuing to go up and daily COVID-19 infections continuing to go down. It’s estimated that 70% to 85% of a population needs to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity.

A total of 78.1% of British Columbians have now received at least a first dose of one of three available vaccines, and 76.8% of those 12 and older have been vaccinated, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said in a press conference Monday.

In some areas of the province, the vaccination rates are 80%, Henry said. A total of 25% of the population has received two doses.

"Things are looking really good in terms of getting to step 3," Henry said. She added that those who are fully vaccinated may soon be allowed to stop having to use masks in public.

A total of 4,886,709 doses of one of three vaccines have been administered, and 1,320,194 second doses have been administered. Last week a record was broken with 427,000 doses administered, despite recent disruptions from the heat wave.

British Columbians who planned to get a vaccination this week at a pop-up clinic are advised to check to see if the location has been moved. The current heat wave prompted the province to move outdoor pop-up clinics indoors.

The disprution has meant that some people who were booked for immunizations may have had their appointments cancelled.

"We'll get you rebooked and vaccinated as soon as possible," said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

A new epidemiological survey for June 16 to 22 was released today. It should be no surprise that it finds higher rates of COVID-19 infections among people who are unvaccinated.

The survey finds that, during the spring of 2021, when variants of concern were circulating in B.C., a single dose of mRNA prevented COVID-19 infections in seven out of 10 people.

Despite a few "pockets" in B.C. where COVID-19 has have spiked, overall there has been a "dramatic fall that we have seen in cases as we started to get critical mass of immunizations."

Early on, there were concerns than protection from the virus might wain over time. No one was sure how long immunizations would provide protection, or if they would be effective against new strains.

"The good news is we're not seeing that (waning of protection)," Henry said. "Even with a single dose of vaccine, we're seeing long lasting protection."

About 80% of the infection are from the various "variants," of COVID-19 that are more transmissible.

"Even with the newer strains that are more transmissible, we're not getting those widespread, explosive outbreaks that we saw even a few months agom," Henry said.

Serology sampling also shows that 50% of those tested now have COVID-19 anti-bodies, compared to just 1% in March 2020.

Of those who have now received two doses of vaccine, roughly half of those who received an  AstraZeneca shot received a second dose of that vaccine, while the other half got one of the two mRNA vaccines --  developed by Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) – for their second dose.

Henry has said the two mRNA vaccines approved for use in Canada are interchangeable.

Surrey remains B.C.’s hotspot for COVID-19 cases, with the highest number of case counts by health region. But those case counts are now down to 70 per week, compared with 220 per week in the last epidemiological survey for June 7.

Henry said virus "breakthroughs," in which people still become infected and even die after receiving their second dose is 2%.

She said a total of 9 people who received a second dose of vaccine have died in B.C. from COVID-19 infections, and about 65 who died after a first dose.

"The bottom line is that -- what showed here -- is your risk goes down by about 80% once you've been immunized with at least a single dose and goes down even more after your second," Henry said.

-- With files from Tyler Orton

(This story has been updated.)