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People living near B.C. wildfires urged to get COVID-19 vaccines right away

Last Updated Jul 16, 2021 at 6:49 am PDT

Courtesy BC Wildfire Service

Dr. Bonnie Henry says evacuees may need to gather in community centres, and that could spread the virus

Anyone 12 and over is asked to get their COVID-19 vaccine immediately

Henry says poor air quality is also a concern for health officials at the moment

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is adding another reason for British Columbians to get their COVID-19 vaccines. She says as the wildfire situation continues to worsen, there are growing concerns more people will be forced to evacuate, which would increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Evacuees are often sent to receive emergency supports at community centres, and that typically sees more people eating and sleeping in the same space.

In those situations it will be more difficult to physically distance from a person who is elderly, or who may be at a greater risk, Henry says.

She is again urging anyone old enough to get vaccinated against the virus to book an appointment right away.

“Now is the time to make sure that you are immunized,” she said Thursday.

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She notes that evacuations are not the only concern with wildfires, but that smoke can also cause health issues. Henry says anyone impacted by wildfires should monitor themselves for problems linked to poor air quality and toxic smoke.

“That smoke really affects how people are feeling right now. It’s a complex mixture of fine particulate matter and gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide volatile organic chemicals and it makes it harder for your lungs to get oxygen into your blood. We know that wildfire smoke can irritate people, particularly people who have respiratory illnesses,” she said.

She urges anyone with asthma to make sure that they put their puffer or other medication in their go bag, in case they need to leave at a moment’s notice.

B.C.’s South Coast is among the only areas without an air quality advisory Friday. Courtesy: weather.gc.ca

Health officials have been studying the long-term effects of smoke, as B.C. has seen consecutive summers of poor air quality. But overall, Henry says it appears to be more of a short-term issue.

“It is something that can cause severe symptoms in the immediate term, mostly it causes irritation, things like runny nose, sore throat, mild cough and we all get that feeling that you can’t breathe.”

An air purifier in your home can help, she says, and if you have to be outside, wear a face mask. But some people may notice that it’s challenging to breathe with the mask on if conditions are really bad.

Anyone who feels that way should take breaks, and stay hydrated, she says.


But she also warns that the heat is more of a health risk than the smoke for most people.

“It is important, however,  to remember, especially with the temperatures that we’ve been seeing in these last few weeks, to not allow yourself to get too hot. For most people, overheating is much more dangerous than breathing smoke.”

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The smoke from wildfires has spread to neighbouring Alberta, prompting air quality advisories in several areas including Edmonton and Calgary.

As of Friday morning, Environment Canada also warns about poor air quality due to wildfires in southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and parts of western Ontario.