Friday March 10, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated March 11, 2023]
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends | Also see: BC Premier’s Statement on Three Years of Pandemic
It’s been three years since the official declaration of COVID-19 as a global public health emergency (as declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, followed in BC on March 17, 2020, after which a state of emergency was declared on March 18, 2020 and renewed every two weeks through to June 30, 2021).
Certain orders and regulations made during the state of emergency were extended to help with a gradual transition back to normal. Today the BC government announced that the mandatory vaccination policy has been rescinded for provincial public servants (effective April 3, 2023). Rescinding the vaccination policy means a small number of employees on administrative leave due to non-compliance will be provided the opportunity to return to the workplace.
“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recently issued guidance on additional booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry in their media session today. | BC news release March 10, 2023
“B.C. will be adopting this guidance; people at high risk of severe illness including individuals older than 80, all seniors in long-term care homes, Indigenous people older than 70 and people 18 and older who are moderately to severely immunocompromised can get a spring booster”.
“In addition to high-risk individuals, people 60 and older, or Indigenous people 50 and older, who have not previously contracted COVID-19, can also consider receiving a spring booster dose.
“We also continue to encourage everyone six months and older to get immunized with a primary series and, if they’re eligible, a booster dose, including anyone 18 and over who has not yet received a bivalent booster dose. Appointments are available across B.C. at pharmacies and public health clinics and can be made by phoning 1 883 838-2323 or going to: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine/register
Long haul for Dr Henry:
Today Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry was relatively subdued during a media session, finding herself choked up with tears by the end.
Regardless of what people may think about one or more aspects of her handling of the the COVID pandemic, no one doubts the tremendous strain and impact it has had on BC’s top doctor. As well as the rest of us, which she emphasized today.
When asked what she would look back on hope to have seen or done differently, the widely respected and mostly soft-spoken Public Health Officer said she would have hoped the spread of COVID would have been stopped “before it became global”.
In a statement that some might think is being too harsh on herself, Dr Henry also said about her own communications during the pandemic that there were times when she didn’t explain clearly enough what was happening and/or why certain requests were being made.
Premier John Horgan was behind Dr Henry all the way during his time in the top job, making tough decisions and seeing BC through the pandemic and only handing over the reins to Premier David Eby in November 2022.
Dr Henry today said the biggest challenge was “doing just enough” and to “find the balance” of what needed to be done to keep people safe while allowing for life to carry on. She reminded today’s media session listeners that there never were true lockdowns in BC during even the most difficult times of the COVID pandemic.
Regular rhythm with COVID vaccination:
We are just about through the 2022/2023 respiratory season where COVID as well as influenza and RSV have challenged most people in BC.
Today Dr Henry said that the bivalent vaccine that many people got in the fall of 2023 should hold through summer. Another COVID vaccine shot in the fall of 2023 is probably in the cards, she said, noting that the virus seems to have stabilized as well societal responses to dealing with it.
In fall 2023 a new vaccine product that combines COVID and flu might be available; the COVID component would be tailored to current strains just vaccines are for flu each year, she hopes.
She hopes the requirement for COVID vaccination — likely soon an annual thing — will eventually become a pan-vaccine that will only be required every five to 10 years.
Still time to get the bivalent vaccine:
Anyone who hasn’t yet had the Fall 2022 COVID bivalent vaccine shot may still do that in BC. “The bivalent vaccine gives longer, better protection,” said Dr Henry today.
That will help with people’s own individual immunity as well as everyone benefiting by the natural immunity that has built up in the population.
“There is still a higher risk of COVID spreading right now,” said Dr Henry, which won’t be a surprise to most people who have themselves come down with COVID in recent weeks or months (or know family or friends who have).
Decreasing immunity in people who are now about eight months past their fall 2022 shot “doesn’t mean no protection”, said Dr Henry today. And when people are outdoors more in summer, the risk of exposure is minimized.
Anyone who has not ever been vaccinated against COVID-19 is still invited to do so, said Dr Henry today.
The PAXLOVID COVID treatment drug by Pfizer was described by Dr Henry today as effective, and that people might inquire with their primary care provider or pharmacist about getting it as required.
PAXLOVID consists of two medicines co-packaged together:
- Nirmatrelvir (pink tablet): 150 mg in each tablet
- Ritonavir (white tablet): 100 mg in each tablet
According to Health Canada PAXLOVID is used in adults to treat mild to moderate coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in patients who:
- have a positive result from a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) viral test; and
- who have a high risk of getting severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.
People with kidney or liver problems or who have HIV infection are warned about the possible problems with using PAXLOVID.
Pfizer’s PAXLOVID website says the medication is to “help stop mid-to-moderate COVID-19 from becoming severe”. Pfizer lists risk factors as age over 50 years, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mental health conditions, and smoking.
Vaccine still required for health-care workers:
The requirement for health-care workers to be COVID-vaccinated remains in place, Dr Henry emphasized today, saying “that will not change”. That is for their own safety, and that of patients and others in the system, she reminded.
She noted that the number of physicians getting sick with COVID has decreased.
Thanking all of BC:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, “BC had the best response in the world”, said Health Minister Adrian Dix last month (on February 17, 2023) which he attributes to not just the health ministry and Dr Henry but “all of us… and what we’ve done together”.
Today Dr Henry thanked all British Columbians for their contributions to the success of how well BC did through the COVID pandemic.
COVID impact by the numbers:
In BC, the three years of the pandemic to date resulted in 5,249 COVID-related deaths, 33,648 people hospitalized due to COVID, and 396,817 lab-confirmed cases.
Of course, all of those totals are in reality higher, given that some deaths might be related to accidents or suicide due to COVID restrictions or impacts, people might have been hospitalized for other reasons and then found to have COVID, and especially once Omicron hit there have been countless cases of unreported COVID infections.
Across Canada, there have been 51,447 deaths in the last three years due to COVID-19.
Science not a focus of today’s session:
The BC Greens have pointed out that today’s COVID update by Dr Henry “continued to fail to properly education British Coumbians about the science of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, how the virus spreads, and how to best protect ourselves”, as stated in a news release by BC Greens Deputy Leader Dr Sanjiv Gandhi.
Dr Henry did say that she feels people pretty much know what to do now to protect themselves. It’s quite possible don’t want to ‘educated’ further, being in a state of exhaustion and wanting to move on (some call that COVID fatigue).
Dr Henry today said that she doesn’t expect there will be a COVID strain that cannot now be managed. She briefly explained hybrid immunity — a combination of protection from the vaccination as well as natural immunity from having acquired an active viral infection.
The BC Greens are emphasizing the need for a clean-air strategy and becoming prepared for “the next inevitable airborne virus”.
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. has covered news of the COVID pandemic in-depth throughout the three years (2020 to present). | See the Island Social Trends COVID archive.