Cowichan Tribes gets extra doses of COVID-19 vaccine amid outbreak; 37 new Island cases

The Cowichan Tribes is calling on-reserve members who are 18 and older to attend a clinic to receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as part of efforts to manage an outbreak that has claimed four lives.

A notification from the First Nation said it had received additional doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

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The callout for the clinic, which is running 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday, was posted on the Cowichan Tribes social media accounts on Thursday. Older members were called on first, but by the end of the day anyone 18 and older was welcome. Late in the day the clinic reached capacity and members in line were asked to return Saturday.

The clinics are open to Cowichan Tribes members who live on reserve — about 2,000 of its 4,900 members.

Members were reminded to continue to follow all provincial health orders and restrictions and shelter at home until at least March 5. “Individuals do not have the full level of protection until at least two weeks after your second dose.”

Since Dec. 31, 240 Cowichan Tribes members living on and off reserve have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 207 have recovered. There are 29 active cases, including four in hospital, and four people have died, including two young adults.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this week that officials are working to “use immunization to help manage this very challenging and tragic outbreak.”

The province has been vaccinating priority groups first — including remote and rural First Nations communities and communities with outbreaks. This approach has also been taken in long-term care facilities to manage outbreaks there.

A vaccine shortage has been causing delays in the province’s immunization program, but Premier John Horgan said Friday there has been an increase in shipments from the federal government of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“We got through the two-week period where we knew we were going to be dry, and that is behind us,” he said.

Horgan said B.C. residents could take comfort in the fact that there are more options coming: Two additional vaccines were approved for use in Canada on Friday: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a related one by the Serum Institute of India sponsored by Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Henry, in a joint statment with the Health Minister Adrian Dix on Friday, said the new vaccine will be integrated into B.C.’s immunization program as delivery and supply is confirmed in the coming weeks.

“The additional supply will allow us to look at accelerating immunization of priority populations and essential workers,” said Henry, addressing a contention some have that essential workers should be moved up the priority list.

Horgan also addressed those who have been second-guessing or criticizing Henry’s immunization approach, saying “she is providing stellar leadership and guidance to government and to the people of the community.”

On Thursday, Henry addressed threats and ugly accusations she’s received and again asked for people to show one another empathy and kindness.

“I am a politician, I signed up for this,” Horgan said. “People want to yell at me, I get that. I respect that, that is their right.

“But no one has a right to treat the head of the public health office the way that some people have been acting,” he said. “It’s absolutely inappropriate.”

British Columbia announced 589 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday along with seven more deaths, for a total of 1,355 to date. Thirty-seven of the new cases were in the Island Health region, which now has 292 active cases. More than half of those are in the Central Island, according to Island Health.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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