Skip to content

Dr. Henry urges vaccination as COVID-19 rates rise

The unvaccinated account for highest per capita infection and hospitalization numbers
Dr. Bonnie Henry1
Dr. Bonnie Henry is the provincial health officer for British Columbia.

As high rates of COVID-19 infection continue across B.C., the province's top doctor is again urging people to get vaccinated to be protected and limit the impact on the province’s health-care system.

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, an unprecedented transmission rate has been seen in B.C. and elsewhere.

The rise in case rates has now led to an increase in hospitalization rates, with B.C. reporting a sharp increase to more than 430 people in hospital with COVID-19 as of Monday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said those who are unvaccinated are being infected at a rate of about 35 per 100,000, compared to about four per 100,000 for those who are vaccinated.

Henry said the high case rates are likely to continue for the next few weeks, but for the time being, may have levelled off.

"Looking at other jurisdictions ahead of us, we may soon be entering a place where we'll see a decline," Henry said.

Like other sectors, the surge of Omicron is also having an effect on health-care facility staffing levels, according to B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix.

Dix said from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, health-care workers missed 27,937 shifts. Dix noted that one week off for one person would mean five missed shifts. Interior Health accounted for 4,713 of those missed shifts. Elsewhere, there were 7,151 missed shifts in the Fraser Health region, 5,183 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 4,939 in Vancouver Island Health, 3,138 in the Provincial Health Services Authority and 1,460 in Providence Health.

Henry said that current restrictions on gathering and events are likely to remain in place in order to prevent even more widespread infections.

It is now "very clear," Henry said, that Omicron presents mostly as a mild illness in those who are protected by vaccination, but those without that protection have "dramatically" more risk.

"You are also at higher risk having severe illness and ending up in hospital. We're seeing that here in B.C. and countries around the world," she said.

Henry said there are currently three unvaccinated people in their 20s and one unvaccinated person in their 30s in critical-care wards in B.C hospitals.

"It creates a lot of distress for our health-care workers to be caring for young people and seeing them in so much distress when it can be prevented," Henry said.

As of Jan. 7, 66 per cent of all ICU patients were not fully vaccinated. That figure includes 58 patients not vaccinated, three patients partially vaccinated and 32 patients fully vaccinated. Most patients (31) are between 60 and 69 years old, followed by 50-59 (19), 70-79 (17) and 40-49 (11).

Because the vast majority of people eligible for the vaccine have received it, the majority of people hospitalized during the latest two-week case count are those who are vaccinated, generally elderly patients and those with underlying conditions separate from COVID-19.

From Dec. 24 to Jan. 6, B.C. recorded 404 people admitted to hospital. Of those, 247 were fully vaccinated, 144 were not vaccinated and 13 were partially vaccinated.

However, as Henry noted, the key statistics is the admissions per 100,000 population, which shows the unvaccinated with a far greater hospital admission rate — the unvaccinated account for 35.5 per cent of hospitalizations, followed by the partially vaccinated (10.2 per cent) and the fully vaccinated (5.3 per cent).

"So, yes, vaccinated people are getting infected," Henry said. "But they're much less likely to need hospital care, ICU care or die from COVID."

As of Monday, 92 per cent of all British Columbians ages 12 and older were at least partially vaccinated, 89.4 per cent were at least fully vaccinated, and 25.8 per cent had received a booster (third) dose.

While the future of B.C.'s health measures remains unclear, one penalty unlikely to be introduced is one in line with Quebec's announcement to impose a health tax on those who are unvaccinated.

In comments made during a Tuesday COVID-19 briefing, Dix said the province is "definitively" not going to introduce a similar measure.