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Health officials urge vaccination as hospitalizations increase prior to holidays

COVID-19 infections have fallen since October, but flu and RSV are increasing
Vaccination Clinic 01 MW web
A senior gets a jab at North Vancouver's Lloyd Avenue vaccination clinic location in March 2021. Health officials are urging people to get COVID and flu vaccines before holiday gatherings.

Provincial health authorities are urging people to get vaccinated now against flu and COVID-19 if they want to have extra protection in place heading into holiday gatherings.

The level of COVID-19 infection has decreased in the Lower Mainland since a recent spike at the beginning of October, according to statistics from B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control.

That’s reflected in data from wastewater treatment plants, including North Vancouver’s Lions Gate sewage plant, as well as the number of hospitalizations of people with COVID-19, which have all dropped since early October.

Vaccination rates against COVID-19 have been steadily climbing on the North Shore, with 25.7 per cent of those eligible in West Vancouver receiving a booster shot by the first week of December, and 27.5 per cent of those in North Vancouver receiving a jab. Numbers are higher in older age groups with between 47 and 48 per cent of North Shore residents over 65 having received a shot, and between 49 and 52 per cent of those over 80 getting a booster.

Vaccination rates among children for COVID-19 remain low at between 12 and 20 per cent, and vaccination rates among those between 18 and 28 are lower still, at between 7 and 10 per cent.

While COVID-19 infections are waning, other respiratory illnesses are picking up steam, warn health officials.

Levels of influenza are increasing throughout much of the Lower Mainland, reflected in both viral fragments detected in wastewater and visits to doctors’ offices.

According to information from North Vancouver’s Lions Gate wastewater treatment plant, levels of both flu and RSV infection likely peaked at the end of November on the North Shore, although they remain elevated. Flu and RSV infections are continuing to increase in many areas, however, including Vancouver.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s medical health officer, said Monday most flu cases are the H1N1 strain, which tends to cause more severe illness in children, although milder symptoms in other age groups.

Levels of the RSV respiratory virus have also been increasing in Vancouver and the Fraser health region.

Flu vaccines are being offered free at clinics and pharmacies throughout the Lower Mainland.

Health Minister Adrian Dix warned on Monday that the province is currently experiencing high numbers of hospitalizations, with more than 10,100 people in hospital on Dec. 7.

In January of this year, medical services were stretched when hospitalizations hit a peak of 10,280 people requiring inpatient care. Dix warned if current trends continue, it’s possible B.C. could break that record next month.

“We are approximately 170 above where we were last year right now. So if that pattern were to be maintained, we would be seeing record numbers of people in hospital [in January],” he said.