B.C. health officials continue to emphasize the protection that immunizations have against COVID-19, pointing to new data federal officials are seeing that suggests vaccinated people are 60-70 per cent less likely to need hospital care against the Omicron variant.
Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix held a live press conference on Tuesday at a time when hospitalizations are rising across the province.
Since last Thursday, over 100 additional British Columbians have been hospitalized from the virus, with B.C. reporting Monday that there were 431 currently being treated.
Dr. Henry suggested during Tuesday’s press conference that many of the current hospitalizations are still linked to the Delta variant, however, she also outlined that health officials are still uncertain about the full effect that Omicron and the rates of hospitalization are going to have on our healthcare system. Dr. Henry also says it is hard to anticipate the level of care that is required for Omicron cases in the coming weeks.
The data has been proven by health officials, according to Henry, that vaccinated people do have the potential to contract the Omicron variant at a higher rate than other strains, but adds that the potential does decrease with a booster shot.
She says that while the risk of infection has increased with this new variant, the likelihood of severe illness and hospitalization still appears to be less than previous strains and being double vaccinated adds an additional layer of protection.
“That really is important right now with this variant, even though it is probably milder overall, that protection against hospitalization is critical with the very high numbers of transmission that we’re seeing right now,” said the provincial health officer, adding that a booster shot provides over 80 per cent more protection.
Additionally, Henry says that health officials are anticipating additional treatment options becoming available in B.C. soon as a number of new anti-viral medications are currently under review by Health Canada. She adds that if these medications get approved, she hopes that they can be utilized to alleviate pressure on the province’s healthcare system.
“What this means in the short-term is that the restrictions on gatherings and events are likely to remain unchanged for now,” says Dr. Henry. “What we’re also seeing right now is a changing risk scenario, where the risks for those who are vaccinated is very different — even with this strain of Omicron — than those who are unvaccinated.”
Henry points to studies that have been carried out in Denmark and the United Kingdom that suggest vaccinated people pose a much lower risk to transmit the Omicron variant than unvaccinated people.
“If you are vaccinated, you have less risk of infection, particularly after your booster. You are much more likely to have mild illness, to not need hospital care, to not need ICU care and to not die from this virus,” said Henry.
“The risk that you are going to pass it on to others is dramatically reduced compared to people who don’t have that protection,” she added.
While B.C. battles the Omicron-fuelled fifth wave, Henry is encouraging people to change current habits and move social connections to being outside or to a virtual medium and limit extra-curricular activities in the near future.
Henry also said three people in their 20s and another in their 30s are currently in intensive care in B.C., and all of them are unvaccinated.
She says seeing younger people in ICU is causing distress for health-care workers so it’s up to everyone to assess their personal risk for contracting COVID-19.
Henry is calling on everyone to continue with their social connections outside and virtually as some people are feeling battered by wave after wave of the pandemic storm.
Today’s press conference comes one day after children in B.C. returned to the classroom for in-person learning.
While kids were required back in school, some parents opted to keep their children home for safety reasons.
The Sooke School District says attendance was down about 14 per cent Monday. Superintendent Scott Stinson admits there aren’t currently remote learning options for students staying home by choice.
“At this point, we haven’t received any direction from the Ministry around hybrid or remote options for families, we’re really focusing on keeping our schools open,” he said.
But Stinson acknowledged that keeping schools open may become a challenge in the weeks ahead, either because of a major drop in attendance due to student illness, or teachers and staff off sick.
While there was a lot of anxiety from parents around kids going back to school, that’s not necessarily translating into actual vaccinations for children aged 5-11 as B.C. makes slow progress on children vaccination rates.
With files from The Canadian Press.
Watch the full news conference below: