Wednesday January 10, 2024 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated January 11, 2024]
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
Today there was a push for people to continue getting vaccinated during this winter 2024 respiratory illness season to protect themselves against severe illness and hospitalization.
Vaccines are free in BC, available at pharmacies, health authority clinics, and primary care providers’ offices.
The COVID-19 vaccine target (latest version of the Omicron variation) was updated for the shots available starting October 2023.
Health Minister Adrian Dix seemed pleased with the number of vaccinations administered to date, but there was backup from Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry saying it’s not too late in the season for preventing illness.
“We are still in respiratory illness season,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “With people back to school and work after the holidays comes increased potential for transmission of illness. That is why we need to continue to practise healthy habits, doing our part to limit the potential spread of respiratory illnesses.”
COVID has not yet demonstrated a predictable behaviour pattern and the stronger flu type called H3N2 may show an upswing in February and March especially for older people. Most of the flu cases this season have been H1N1 which is a bit milder than H3N2 but does seem to impact younger people more.
Circulating strains of viruses are being tracked through wastewater sampling.
COVID, flu and RSV:
Based on the latest epidemiological data available from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), elevated Influenza A and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) activity continues throughout the province, at levels that are expected at this time of year prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 activity remains stable, generally decreasing since early November 2023, but with case counts on the rise at the end of December.
As of the last update from BCCDC (to January 4, 2024), there were 219 patients in hospital with COVID-19, 26 of them in critical care.
Overall, emergency department visits for respiratory symptoms and visits to community health-care practitioners for respiratory symptoms have continued to increase in recent weeks.
In cold weather people should dress to be warm outdoors, said Dr Henry in the context of snow and subzero temperatures not being a regular thing in BC. She suggests allowing adequate time to get places when roads have less optimal transportation conditions (whether by car, public transit or bicycle). Slips, falls and frostbite are seen when people are not prepared.
Immunization and infection:
Today Dr Henry said that the strongest immune response against experiencing COVID-19 infection occurs in people who have had both the vaccine and the infection itself.
Deaths related to influenza:
The BCCDC recently reported three pediatric-influenza-related deaths in British Columbia. These were deaths in which influenza was a contributing factor, but not necessarily the primary cause of death. One of the children was under age five, and two were in the age 5 to 10 age group; they were in different parts of the province. All their deaths resulted from secondary bacterial infection after coming down with the flu.
“I’m deeply saddened by the pediatric-influenza-related deaths and my thoughts are with the children’s families and friends,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.
“As the new year begins and as we are at the peak of the respiratory illness season, our government continues to work hard to ensure that people get the health care they need when they need it across our province. We appreciate everyone for taking action to avoid getting sick. There are still lots of opportunities to get vaccinated and I encourage everyone to do so for the protection of their loved ones.”
Deaths related to influenza happen every year. Dr Henry notes that the cause of death is almost always the secondary bacterial infections that can occur. She described the deaths from influenza as “preventable” (as in getting vaccinated) and that the secondary bacterial infections were “treatable” (with antibiotics).
Vaccine doses administered so far:
This year’s respiratory illness immunization campaign was launched for the general population on October 10, 2023.
At the end of day on January 9, 2024, BC had administered 1,519,606 doses of influenza vaccines and 1,390,508 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
Even though BC has the highest vaccination rates in Canada, it is crucial that people continue to get immunized, said Dix.
As of last week, only 17% of children in BC have received an influenza vaccine in this respiratory season, Dr Henry said today.
Dr Henry emphasized that the stronger COVID-19 vaccine dose for people age 70+ is highly effective at preventing illness and hospitalization.
Did BC overshoot vaccine supply this year?
The Province says that it “continues to make it convenient for people to get immunized with influenza and COVID-19 vaccines available at approximately 600 pharmacies throughout the province, as well as many health-authority clinics and primary-care providers’ offices”.
Vaccines remain free and available for everyone six months and older, including enhanced influenza vaccines for seniors.
Island Social Trends is awaiting confirmation of numbers as to how many doses were ordered vs how many have been used. It seems that perhaps the province may have overshot their supply purchase for this year.
British Columbians may be experiencing vaccination fatigue, or just overall fatigue response from dealing with things related to the pandemic period and being hyper-focussed on personal health in general.