Adults living, working in Whistler eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

WHISTLER, B.C. — Adults living and working in Whistler, B.C. will be able to receive their COVID-19 vaccination earlier than other parts of the province, as the region grapples with a surge of cases.

Eligible residents will be required to provide proof of their permanent residency or employment in Whistler. A B.C. driver’s licence, a valid credit card statement with their Whistler address, or a recent paystub to confirm their employment in the area will be required.

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Those eligible for the vaccine will be able to start receiving doses starting Monday.

Penny Ballem, who is leading B.C.'s immunization program, said Whistler has endured three surges of the virus since January.

"We've used aggressive public health measures to the best of our ability to manage them," Ballem said, adding that the town's housing situation has also exacerbated attempts to deal with the virus.

"We're at a place now where we have to get better containment of the surge."

From the start of the new year to April 5, there have been 1,505 COVID-19 cases in Whistler, with the majority occurring in people aged 20 to 39.

The health authority adds that the Howe Sound health area has the highest rate of COVID-19 of any local health area in the province, with the majority of these cases residing in the Whistler community.

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said the move will protect more than the residents of his town.

"This protects Whistlerites but I believe it will protect the province as well," Crompton said in an interview. "The community vaccination means that when people come from Vancouver in to this community and go home, they'll be more protected than they would've been otherwise."

The town is largely made-up of hospitality workers and small business owners, which have seen their livelihoods devastated by the pandemic, he added.

"Whistler does not have an economy in the middle of COVID-19. That's never been clearer than when the mountain closed and the vast majority of our community was out of work," said Crompton.

The program also comes as the town deals with a large number of COVID-19 variant cases.

B.C. has recorded 974 cases of the variant that originated in Brazil, the highest in Canada.

Of those cases, there are at least 197 of the variant cases in the community.

The ski resort was shut down at the end of March with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry blaming the rising number of COVID-19 cases for the decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2021.

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