There is a great deal of evidence proving that COVID-19 vaccines help to significantly reduce hospital admissions, particularly admissions to critical care, and deaths.
Currently, almost 400,000 people have received their COVID booster at an Island Health mass immunization clinic or pharmacy, with nurses, pharmacists, physicians, firefighters, nurse practitioners and midwives joining the Island Health booster campaign.
“We’ve ramped up our booster capacity significantly, going from delivering approximately 14,000 COVID-19 vaccinations per week to 70,000, which is really exciting,” says Marko Peljhan, Vice-President, Pandemic Planning.
“So far, one third of COVID boosters are being administered at 175 pharmacies, while our mass immunization clinics are being staffed by an amazing roster of immunizers which include non-nursing staff.”
One of those immunizers is Brent Craven, a firefighter with Comox Fire Rescue.
When his team was approached about working at the mass immunization clinic in Comox, Craven and a number of his colleagues jumped at the opportunity to serve their community.
So far, he estimates that he has vaccinated several hundred people.
“Back in April 2021 when I received my first COVID vaccine, I remember growing very emotional thinking about how this pandemic has influenced the world,” he says. “My hat goes off to anyone who is supporting the vaccination campaign. I feel lucky to be working alongside so many great people during these clinics.”
In addition to first responders and others who have stepped up to offer their services as immunizers, a number of retired nurses have also joined the booster campaign.
Connie Eligh worked for many years as a public nurse with Island Health, coming out of retirement last year when she realized she could once again put her nursing skills to use.
“I strongly believe in vaccinations and wanted to be a part of that process,” she says. “Working at the booster clinics has been wonderful. People are choosing to get their COVID-19 booster, they are extremely positive, and they are thankful.
It’s heartwarming to see the number of people coming in to get boosted.”
Something that both Craven and Eligh have noticed is the tremendous amount of work and planning that has gone into ensuring the clinics run smoothly day in and day out.
This is thanks to a dedicated team of staff from Island Health who have been working tirelessly to plan for these clinics, alongside community partners such as the Canadian Red Cross which provide staff to fill administrative and ambassador roles, as well as Island Health volunteers.
“The majority of our clients say “wow, this is an amazing process,” says Eligh. “I can’t say enough about the teams. Everyone working at the clinics has been excellent and clinical team leads have been well organized, well informed and a great source of support to immunizers.”
A key component of the COVID-19 vaccination and booster campaigns has been offering access to Island Health residents living in rural and remote communities.
These ‘whole-of-community’ clinics ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, can be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Island Health is also working alongside the First Nations Health Authority to provide vaccine access to Indigenous community members, and with local governments and community agencies to offer vaccines to vulnerable populations including people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Some clients at the booster clinics have expressed concern about transmission of the Omicron variant, particularly among those who have been vaccinated.
However, because vaccines are not 100% effective against symptomatic infection, it is important to note that breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals will happen.
“There is evidence that the level of protection against symptomatic infection decreases over time after the initial vaccination series, especially for people who got their two COVID-19 vaccines less than 5 weeks apart, those with immunocompromising conditions, and older individuals,” says Dr. Michael Benusic, Medical Health Officer.
“However, the vast majority of these infections are expected to be mild. People who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated.”
“On any given day, between 80 and 100 percent of people who are COVID positive in critical care in Island Health hospitals are unvaccinated,” says Marko Peljhan.
“Once you get your invitation to book your booster, it is important that you arrange for your appointment as quickly as possible. Vaccination remains our primary defense against COVID-19.”
For more information about COVID-19 boosters, visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine/booster.