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UPDATED: Vaccinations begin on the Coast

Case counts drop after sharp rise in first half of December
Health-care worker Valerie Morrison became the first Sunshine Coast resident to receive a vaccine, Wednesday, Jan. 13. The registered nurse has worked at Totem Lodge for 30 years.

Registered nurse Valerie Morrison was the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on the Sunshine Coast.

The health-care worker, who has supported long-term care residents at Totem Lodge in Sechelt for 30 years, received the vaccine at the Coast’s first COVID-19 immunization clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) director Gerry Latham had said Jan. 9 the health authority was ready for the vaccine that was tentatively expected mid-week.

“As soon as we get it, we’ll be immunizing,” Latham told Coast Reporter, adding residents, staff, physicians and essential visitors for Totem Lodge, Shorncliffe Care Centre and Christenson Village would be the first to receive the vaccine.

Eligible workers
Eligible employees include people who regularly work at long-term care facilities during the pandemic and who provide direct care, as well as support staff, a statement from VCH said. 

Six long-term care facilities in the VCH region that experienced outbreaks were the first to receive the approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 23. Since then, Health Canada has approved the Moderna Vaccine. 

There have been no outbreaks at Sunshine Coast long-term care facilities as of Jan. 13.

On Jan. 9, Latham clarified the rollout of vaccinations on the Sunshine Coast had not yet started after Coast Reporter received a statement from VCH earlier in the week indicating the immunization program was already underway.  

The statement read: “Our COVID-19 immunization program continues to prioritize those most vulnerable to COVID-19, including residents, staff and essential visitors at long-term care homes; this includes those located on [the] Sunshine Coast.”

So far the Sunshine Coast health region has maintained a relatively low daily rate of between 0.1 and 5 infections per 100,000 people, but cases have been on the rise this winter.

On Jan. 7, data released by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) showed the lower Sunshine Coast had 96 cases of COVID-19 in 2020, with more than two-thirds of those cases occurring in the last two months of the year. Cases rose sharply between Dec. 6 and 19, with 34 new infections.

By comparison, neighbouring regions Powell River and Howe Sound, which includes Whistler and Squamish, had 53 and 503 cases in 2020, respectively. 

The latest numbers also show case counts have dropped recently, with three cases confirmed from Dec. 20 to 26 on the lower Sunshine Coast and another three from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2.

B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said Jan. 7 plans are underway to vaccinate 70,000 long-term care residents and staff in the province by month’s end, as well as 13,000 people in assisted living.

By the end of January, health officials expect to oversee the vaccination of 30,000 frontline health-care workers, such as paramedics and hospital staff working in intensive care units and emergency departments. 

As of Jan. 12, more than 62,000 British Columbians had received their first dose.

Following priority populations, immunizations will be available for people above the age of 80, followed by doses for descending five-year brackets, with 792,000 doses expected to be administered by the end of March.

Even as the immunization program rolls out, Henry has extended restrictions on all gatherings in people’s homes and in public venues and all events and sports activities until Feb. 5 at midnight.

“We need to hold the line with the public health orders for the next two incubation periods – one month – to ensure we are doing all we can to keep everyone in the province as safe as possible. These orders enable our health-care system, schools and essential workplaces to continue to stay open, which is important for all of us,” said Henry.

– with files from Tyler Orton