COVID-19: Vancouver Coastal Health ‘looking carefully’ at neighbourhoods with low vaccination rates

“We’re at that stage now where it’s not meeting the needs of everybody” — Dr. Meena Dawar on mass clinics

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Aman Singh tried to make a Tik Tok video to promote vaccination, but abandoned it because he “wasn’t cool enough.”

“I have to up my Tik Tok game,” the Richmond-Queensborough MLA joked on Friday. “It’s a personal challenge.”

Instead, Singh and the Richmond South Centre MLA, Henry Yao, have taken to Facebook and Twitter to encourage their constituents to get their shot.

Data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control shows that four of the 10 Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods with the lowest vaccination rates are in Richmond, while five are in Vancouver. The final one is the University of B.C.

While there isn’t one clear reason why certain neighbourhoods are lagging, the numbers have prompted further study and some creative approaches to reduce barriers.

In the case of Richmond, where COVID-19 case counts have typically been low, Singh said there doesn’t seem to be institutional barriers to getting vaccinated. He speculated the success of efforts to curb the virus may have led to a sense of “decreased urgency” to get the jab.

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Yao said he initially wondered if language barriers might be preventing some people from accessing the vaccine registration system, but in conversations with constituents he hasn’t found that to be a significant issue. Rather, he’s encountered more people who want to “wait and see” before being vaccinated. Some families want younger family members to get it before elders, he said.

Working with community leaders and groups will be key, said Yao, who recently spoke to the owner of the Richmond Night Market to help spread the word about vaccines — and what life will look like when we’re all vaccinated — through its network of vendors.

Clay Adams, communications director for the City of Richmond, said the city is working closely with Vancouver Coastal Health to provide resources to help with vaccination clinics, including a new one at Cambie Secondary School.

“While there is no firm indication as to why rates may be lower in some areas, Richmond has traditionally had much lower cases than other parts of the Lower Mainland,” he said.

Dr. Meena Dawar, a Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer, said it helps to look at the “big picture” when trying to understand vaccination rates. When there was less supply of vaccine, some communities were targeted with more doses to address hot spots and bring down case counts. The vaccination program also began with older people before moving down the age groups. As a result, some neighbourhoods may have a slightly higher vaccination rate because of access and average age of residents.

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As vaccines become widely available, VCH is “looking carefully” at rates across geography and age to see where uptake might be lower and address it with solutions that are tailored to those specific groups, such as low-barrier clinics or targeted campaigns.

“We’ve had an amazing provincial campaign where we’ve been able to reach a large number of people through mass clinics, but we’re at that stage now where it’s not meeting the needs of everybody,” said Dawar.

B.C. is not “sitting on any vaccine” and most doses are used up within the week they’re received, “so we’re definitely in a different situation than other jurisdictions that have plateaued,” she said.

Brenda Bailey, the Vancouver-False Creek MLA, said there may be several reasons why her constituency has a slightly lower vaccination rate than other parts of Metro Vancouver, including the age of residents in False Creek, socioeconomic factors in areas like the Downtown Eastside where people might not have access to a computer, phone or transportation, or distrust the government and the medical system.

She emphasized that while health officials will ask for a personal health number, it is not required to get a vaccine and medical information will not be shared with anyone. To register for a vaccine from anywhere in B.C., people can call 1-833-838-2323.

“We are on our way (in terms of vaccination rates), but we need to work with communities that have lower numbers,” she said. “There’s close attention being paid to that.”

gluymes@postmedia.com

twitter.com/glendaluymes

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