About 633,000 invitations to book COVID-19 and flu shots have so far been issued to health-care workers, people deemed clinically vulnerable, and those 65 and older.
Pharmacists began administering vaccines Tuesday and invitations to book are expected to roll out incrementally throughout the month.
Nineteen thousand new appointments were booked on Sunday, with 94,000 booked for this week, according to the Health Ministry.
At a new conference in Vancouver on Tuesday to announce the transfer of $1.2 billion in federal health funding to B.C., Health Minister Adrian Dix encouraged people to book their appointments once invited and to get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza.
“I strongly encourage people to … take all the actions they can to limit the spread of respiratory illness in this winter, when we also will be delivering record numbers of surgeries and record numbers of diagnostics exams and see record numbers of people in our public hospitals,” said Dix.
Thousands of long-term care-home residents and health-care workers began receiving their vaccinations last week, said Dix.
The fall vaccination campaign comes as COVID-19 cases increase around the province.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported last week that hospitalizations rose 58 per cent over two weeks, new infections increased to 877 cases from 133 in the same period — most notably among people 60 and older — and 422 people were in hospital with COVID-19 on Oct. 5 compared with 267 on Sept. 21.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Horacio Bach, who advocates vaccination and masking, is concerned about growing vaccine fatigue or apathy after three years of the pandemic.
In an interview Tuesday, he stressed the importance of being immunized with the updated COVID shot, which was developed to fight the latest subvariants of Omicron.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have received Health Canada approval for their updated monovalent mRNA vaccine, which has been adapted to the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. The new formulation is expected to be effective against circulating Omicron strains EG.5 and XBB.1.16 as well as BA.2.86.
Bach, a clinical professor in the division of infectious diseases with the University of B.C. Faculty of Medicine, said if the SARS CoV-2 virus is given room to evolve, it will. As it mutates — a process that includes the virus’s surface proteins and antigens changing — our immunity and vaccines have to be updated.
By constantly updating the vaccine, we can keep down the number of cases, which reduces opportunities for the virus to mutate, he said.
“The issue we have is that not everyone wants to be vaccinated, and that is something that for the virus is the best we can give the virus to continue to mutate and produce more new subvariants.”
In addition to vaccination, Bach suggests people wear masks this respiratory season.
A provincewide mask mandate is in effect for all health-care settings, including hospitals.
Bach said a UBC lab has proven the efficiency of surgical masks and respirators “to stop the movement of the virus from the sick people outside and vice versa.” A peer-reviewed paper was published on the topic last year.
The study authored by Bach, with Ana C Lorenzo-Leal and Selvarani Vimalanathan, studied the layers of four N-95 respirators and one surgical mask contaminated with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant and concluded “these products have been demonstrated to be effective in reducing the transmission of the virus.”
Meanwhile, invitations for COVID-19 and flu vaccines in B.C. are being offered in a staggered fashion, starting with the most vulnerable.
Priority groups include people of any age in long-term care, those 65 and older, people with chronic health conditions such as cancer, HIV, hepatitis C and diabetes, Indigenous peoples, people who are pregnant, and health-care workers.
For influenza, infants and children are added to that priority vaccination list.
Those eligible to receive their next COVID-19 vaccine will receive an invitation for both COVID-19 and influenza vaccines at the same time, according to the Health Ministry.
Public health officials recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine at least six months from a previous COVID-19 vaccine dose or known infection.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has advised that COVID-19 vaccines can be given on the same day as other vaccines, or at any time before or after. B.C. health officials are encouraging to people to get their COVID and flu vaccines during the same appointment.
Vaccinations will be offered at most pharmacies in B.C. as well as public health units and some physician offices.
Those who are registered with the government’s Get Vaccinated website should receive an invitation to book based on their age and vulnerability to becoming seriously ill with a respiratory illness.
Those not yet registered for COVID-19 and flu vaccinations during previous campaigns can go to GetVaccinated.gov.bc.ca or phone 1-833-838-2323.
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