Vax Van hits the road to deliver first doses to Island communities with low vaccination rates

Dawson Thibedeau got his first COVID-19 shot on Thursday as Island Health’s new mobile vaccination service made a stop at Country Grocer in Cobble Hill.

The “Vax Van” left Victoria Thursday morning with the goal of getting more Island residents vaccinated against COVID-19, making its first stop at the Cowichan Bay Road grocery store in the early afternoon and delivering vaccinations under canopies behind the van.

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Thibedeau, 18, said he been working out at a fitness club in the Cobble Hill commercial complex and saw the van when he went to do his grocery shopping.

He said he just hadn’t gotten around to having a shot before. “I haven’t had the time,” he said.

The idea of the Vax Van is to provide first doses to anyone who wants them, said Dr. Mike Benusic, an Island Health medical health officer and the lead physician for COVID-19 vaccination.

While about 80 per cent of the eligible population has received a first dose, there are pockets of lower vaccination rates in Greater Nanaimo and the Cowichan area, he said. “So that’s why we’re taking the Vax Van there, to make sure people have full access to vaccines.”

The mobile clinic is expected to travel through a series of Island communities over the next few weeks, stopping in places like shopping centres and parks. No registration or booking is needed for first doses, although second doses will still require an appointment at a regular vaccination centre.

Recipients will get either Pfizer or Moderna, depending on what’s available that day, Benusic said.

“Just drop in if you see the Vax Van set up,” he said. “We’re using the exact same principles and protocols and standards we have at our clinics, but just miniaturizing it.

“What we want to do now is to make sure that we have as much opportunity as possible for anyone who wants a vaccine to get one.”

Benusic said Island Health borrowed the idea of a mobile vaccination project from the B.C. Interior, where it seems to be working “really well.” “We’re optimistic that it’s going to work just as well here.”

He said for the most part across the Island, people have been “banging at our doors” to try to get vaccines, but there are still some people who seem to be ambivalent about having a shot. “But if they see the Vax Van, they might just walk in for a dose,” he said. “So that’s who we’re targeting right now.

“If it’s in front of them, they’ll take it. If not, they’re not going to.”

Like Thibedeau, John Anthony, 56, was on his way to get groceries when he spotted the van at the Cobble Hill shopping centre. “I like the fact that it’s open and you just walk up,” he said.

Kyle Gudmundson dropped by the van after hearing from friends that it would be in his area. “I’ve been dragging my feet,” the 34-year-old said. “I’ve been waiting for drop-ins to kind of get popular so I could make it happen that way.”

Thirty-one-year-old Vinay Vyas contacted Island Health to find out when a clinic would be available near him and was told about the Vax Van. He said he has been isolating at home and hadn’t found an opportunity for a vaccination, which he hopes will help him go places. “I called to check because I want to get on the road and travel.”

Island Health previously staged pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Lake Cowichan, Shawnigan Lake, Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Mall, and even at Thetis Lake.

The Woodgrove pop-up vaccinated about 1,000 people over a couple of weeks, Benusic said.

A schedule of Vax Van stops can be found here.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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