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Opinion: 'No shot, no job' — holdouts forced to face new reality

There are eight communities in the Interior where the first dose vaccination rate is in the low 70s.
A sign directing the way to a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Still they trickle in, a few thousand every day, late to the party but ­welcome nonetheless.

Twenty months into the worst pandemic in modern history, 10 months into the biggest vaccination drive ever, people are still dropping into clinics around B.C. to get their first shots.

They withstood non-stop saturation messaging urging them to get vaccinated. They watched 90 per cent of their friends and neighbours get shots. By this point, it could be assumed they are simply anti-vaxxers. But one by one, some are flipping and getting shots. They are a fascinating group of people, as are the remaining 10 per cent still ­holding out.

Part of what makes the holdouts interesting is the fact they are potentially lethal to everyone else, given the virulence of the newer version of COVID-19 and the fact that even double doses don’t guarantee immunity. Thirty-two per cent of new cases in the past week (1,382) were double-vaccinated. Twenty-six per cent (101) of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past two weeks were double-dosed, according to a Tuesday update.

Those are the factors that adjusted expectations around community immunity. In the early going it was thought that a high immunization rate would curb the virus. The exact percentage wasn’t specified, but B.C. passed 75 per cent weeks ago and COVID-19 is still a threat.

The province is closing in on 90 per cent of adults vaccinated, and the case count is considered stable but still concerning.

B.C. health officials have been relatively gentle with the holdouts. It’s much more cajoling, than demanding. The consistent themes are enthusiastic urgings to get the shots, constant reassurance to ease any fears and continuing appeals that it’s best for the individual and everyone else.

None of the provincial leaders — at least publicly — have criticized the holdouts to any degree. Only lately has the official stance hardened, with mandatory vaccination orders for certain public sector workers.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday that workers in care homes refusing to get shots “will be subject to progressive discipline, up to and including termination.”

That’s about the toughest statement he’s made since the pandemic took hold in B.C. The mandatory orders are likely driving some of the remaining holdouts into clinics. No shot, no job has a way of ­grabbing your attention.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also on Tuesday applauded private sector vaccination mandates, saying she was pleased to see more and more ­businesses imposing them.

The other reasons for the belated walk-in traffic are less clear. Awareness dawns late for some. The Health Ministry cites “misinformation” as one reason for the hesitancy. Family pressures over time may have overcome that. The constant safety refrains over months may have worn them down.

The threat they pose and their regional distribution suggests the vaccination drive is going to take on a harder edge. It is trailing well below expectations in some areas, given how much went into it. That poses real danger.

There are eight communities in the Interior where the first dose vaccination rate is in the low 70s. The eastern Fraser Valley is still below 80 per cent.

In the Peace River region, the all-out immunization drive is failing. It’s still below 65 per cent. That prompted Henry on Friday to confirm a course change. “I think I can signal that we’re looking at that on a more regional basis now, so it may not as we had hoped in August, that we would have the same approach across the province.”

Part of that approach on Tuesday was to highlight how much stress those holdouts are imposing on the rest of the province.

Health Minister Adrian Dix took pains to note 55 northern patients have been transferred to south coast hospitals to ease the strain. Forty-three are COVID-19 patients and 42 of them are not fully vaccinated. Those 42 would have filled every regular critical care bed in northern B.C, he said.

He said two more aircraft were contracted by emergency health to fly 14 of those patients over Thanksgiving to Victoria and Vancouver hospitals.

People make bad decisions about their health all the time and no one criticizes them. When the consequences for others are so serious, and so fantastically expensive, it looks like it’s getting harder to resist that temptation.