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Apology offered for botched Coquitlam COVID-19 clinic as Fraser Health promises 'improvements'

CEO Dr. Victoria Lee offers apologies and promises to improve communication, control line-ups and get confirmation of age and residence in future drop-in vaccine clinics targeted to high transmission areas, such as Port Coquitlam
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The lineup for COVID-19 vaccines stretches around the corner at the Poirier Forum in Coquitlam on Monday. It grew several blocks longer on Tuesday when Fraser Health held a drop-in AstraZeneca clinic for people over 30. Mario Bartel photo

Fraser Health’s top doctor apologized for a poorly managed COVID-19 drop-in vaccination clinic in Coquitlam this week that drew heavy criticism for huge lineups, traffic gridlock and lengthy waits.

Dr. Victoria Lee held a press conference on Thursday, a day after B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix was quizzed outside the Victoria legislature, to explain why a clinic targeted for residents of high-transmission areas, such as Port Coquitlam, turned into a free-for-all.

Lee admitted to the “confusion and frustration” experienced by many people, and promised to improve procedures at future drop-in clinics; however, “the intent was to maximize vaccine delivery and get immunization to as many people as possible,” she said.

And while the Poirier Forum clinic in Coquitlam, and two more in Surrey, had problems with communication, Lee pointed out that they successfully vaccinated 6,000 people — many of them from neighbourhoods considered hot zones for COVID-19.

But while residents of Port Coquitlam — the only city in the Tri-Cities declared a “high transmission area” — weren’t prioritized at Tuesday’s clinic in Coquitlam, Lee said there was good “uptake” from people needing shots, and people can still register online to get their shots. 

Lee confirmed that people who attended the Coquitlam clinic weren’t asked to provide an address, postal code or identification so anyone who showed up could get a shot. 

Still, future drop-in clinics for high-transmission areas, if there are any, will require address confirmation.

Botched communication was among the criticisms levelled because vulnerable people needing shots were not contacted.

Instead, many people were informed about the clinic via social media.

The result was long lineups, with people waiting several hours for a shot.

Confusion also arose when doctors sent out emails to patients, even if they didn’t live in the city of Port Coquitlam, letting them know about the clinic.

Fraser Health issued a press release at about noon on Tuesday but it wasn’t clear that the Coquitlam clinic was for Port Coquitlam residents only. Calls to clarify who the clinic was for were not immediately returned to the Tri-City News.

Lee promised to beef up communication and put in more controls:

• Subsequent drop-in clinics in high-transmission areas will seek proof of residence 

• Fraser Health will work with municipalities “to have additional people that can work with the people that are waiting to minimize wait time, make sure people are aware of how long they might wait in terms of supply.”

In future, there will be more communication channels such as information on a website, Lee said. 

“There’s quite a few brainstorming sessions from the experience we have had over the last four days,” she said.

At this time, however, no future drop-in clinics are planned.

Still, the Coquitlam and Surrey clinics are only a small part of the effort to suppress the virus, according to Lee, who said first-responders, teachers, businesses with high-transmission and vulnerable communities are being targeted for shots.

She noted that the clinics are seen as a way to increase uptake for 20% of people in high-transmission areas who haven’t been registering for shots for one reason or another.

Meanwhile, the vaccination program, along with contact tracing and isolation, provincial restrictions and enforcement may be making a difference in the Tri-Cities.

According to the latest case counts from the BC Centre for Disease Control, there were 341 cases in the Tri-Cities last week, down from 411 the week previous — a 20% reduction.

Lee said a multi-pronged approached to reducing infection seems to be working in the region as COVID-19 cases drop.

“Public health measures that have been introduced and enhanced by Dr. [Bonnie] Henry and the minster [Adrian Dix] and certainly the immunization clinics, and enhanced case management and testing” are making a difference, she said. “It’s a reminder we can get ahead of the virus but we need to do what’s in front of us right now: Follow health measures, get registered and get immunized as quickly as possible.”