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'A renewed momentum': COVID-19 vaccine demand in B.C. surges with 'passport,' mask mandates

Last Updated Aug 25, 2021 at 11:48 pm PDT

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Daily registrations to get the jab have nearly doubled compared to this time last week: B.C. Ministry of Health

One doctor on the frontlines of the immunization campaign has noticed the spike in demand, particularly for drop-ins

OLIVER (NEWS 1130) — One doctor in B.C.’s hard-hit Interior Health region has seen demand for the COVID-19 shot skyrocket as new restrictions — including a so-called ‘vaccine passport’ — are introduced, and the trend is province-wide.

Daily registrations to get the jab have nearly doubled compared to this time last week, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday. People under 40 have been booking appointments at more than twice the rate they were last week.

This significant increase comes as B.C. struggles to contain a fourth wave of the pandemic. More than 80 per cent of new cases and hospitalizations since Aug. 10 have been among those who are not fully vaccinated.

On Monday, the province announced that proof of immunization will soon be required in order to access venues like restaurants, concerts, and gyms. On Tuesday, masks were once again mandated province-wide. These new rules followed a tightening of restrictions in the Interior Health region, which continues to lead the province in new daily infections.

‘A renewed momentum, an increased demand’

Dr. Alan Ruddiman is a rural physician who has been practising in the South Okanagan for 26 years. For the last five months he’s been pitching in with the immunization effort at clinics in Oliver, Osoyoos, and Keremeos. He says the clinics he works at are averaging 55 – 60 bookings per day, but drop-ins have outpaced that.

“We’re now seeing twice as many walk in patients come in as there are booked appointments every day,” he says.

“The volume is going up. There is a large number of people coming in now for their first vaccine, for a variety of reasons. We’re also seeing people that haven’t completed their immunization catching up and coming in to complete their immunization now.”

Ruddiman says clinics have not and will not turn anyone away.

Although the Central Okanagan continues to see the highest concentration of new cases, numbers in the area where Ruddiman works are creeping up. There were 37 new cases in the South Okanagan and Keremeos between Aug. 15 and Aug 21, up from 19 the week before, and eight the week before that, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Ruddiman says new infections, ramped-up safety measures, and the announcement of the proof of vaccine plan have combined to get people in the doors.

“We’re suddenly finding ourselves in the unenviable position in the Interior Health region, that we’ve got a very very high daily case count,” he explains.

“This anticipation that there’s going to be a requirement for vaccination identification, or what’s been called the “vaccination passport,” I think this has produced a renewed momentum, and an increased demand. People are being persuaded, I think, by the growing mandates. There’s finally enough pressure for even people that have been resistant to say, ‘You know what, if I’m going to be able to participate in life as I know it …. maybe I need proof of vaccination?'”

But Ruddiman says the decision to get a vaccine — or not — is impossible to attribute to any single variable.

“It’s like a packet of licorice all sorts, there’s so many different reasons,” he says.

“There’s just a whole range of reasons why people keep coming in to get vaccinated. I’m glad they are because once they sit down, we can actually have a very engaging, very focused conversation on why COVID vaccinations matter in their life, the life of their family members, and the people they keep company with.”

Vaccine decision-making complicated by misinformation, determined by many factors 

While many eagerly signed up as soon as they were eligible, others waited to get immunized because they thought cases would ultimately drop off to zero. Others haven’t been worried about serious illness, and have changed their minds when someone close to them is hospitalized or died. Some even tell him they’ve defied health orders and lied about being vaccinated but have finally decided to get it done because of new mandates from their workplaces or the province.

Occasionally, someone who is grudgingly getting the shot will berate clinic staff or bombard them with a barrage of conspiratorial claims.

“There’s some very odd ideas out there right now about why we’re vaccinating, and of course these are all myths. There’s so much chatter out there. We’re all getting tired and exhausted. We’re spending way more time on our computers, our smartphones we’re going down the wrong rabbit holes sometimes with social media,” he says.

“There’s good evidence, very, very good and compelling evidence, why the vaccines work and why we need to do this as a province and as a country. COVID is a devastating disease. I can’t predict when I look at 100 People who get infected which of those are going to end up in ICU beds.”

As for criticism of the province’s proof of vaccine plan, Ruddiman doesn’t have much patience for those who say it’s an infringement on their rights.

“It’s mandatory in my mind to have a driver’s licence to be able to drive a car. That’s in the public interest,” he says.

“None of us is afraid to pull out a driver’s licence if an RCMP officer pulls us over. In fact, we probably expect it. It should be no different with vaccination. We are in a global crisis we need to work together. This is a way we can get there,” he says.

As for whether he wishes the move had been made sooner, he says “we can’t turn back the clock.”

The province did not break down new vaccine registrations and appointments by health authority but provided an overview of the numbers.

“On Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, there were 8,909 new registrations and 7,347 new appointment bookings. This represents a 174.8% increase in daily registrations and an 88.6% daily increase in bookings compared to the previous Monday, which recorded 3,242 new registrations and 3,896 bookings,” the statement says.

“On Tuesday, Aug. 24, there were 10,175 total new registrations and 9,486 new appointment bookings. This represents a 201.3% increase in registrations and a 124.4% increase in bookings compared to the previous Tuesday.”