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COVID vaccinations begin in Whistler

Frontline workers, high-risk first in line; general availability expected to begin in stages in April for Sea to Sky
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FIRST VACCINE Elise Maranda, a registered nurse, became the first recipient of the COVID-19 vaccine at the first immunization clinic in Squamish.

Less than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic ground life in Whistler to a halt, the first shots of the novel coronavirus vaccine are now being administered in the resort.

So far, staff that work in long-term care, acute care and assisted living have received the vaccine, said Dr. Fern von der Porten, Whistler’s medical director.

“It’s the beginning of a new chapter,” von der Porten said in an email.

“The sooner we can protect people from becoming sick from COVID, the better. Until there’s further evidence about how vaccination affects the spread of COVID, all vaccinated people will need to continue to wear masks, wash hands and socially distance like before.”

Those eligible for the vaccine at this stage include long-term care residents, staff, medical staff and essential visitors, as well as eligible acute care staff and other medical staff, according to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). Those who are eligible are contacted directly by VCH.

Asked whether it’s the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine that’s being administered in the Sea to Sky, a VCH spokesperson said both provide immunity against COVID-19.

“Regardless of the vaccine received by recipients, we are confident they are safe and effective,” the spokesperson said, in an email, adding that VCH has not reported any severe adverse reactions associated with the vaccine at this time.

Heath Canada has conducted a rigorous scientific review, with no major safety concerns identified, they added.

“According to Health Canada, the side effects observed during the clinical trials are similar to those reported from other vaccines,” the spokesperson said.

“The most common side effects are minor pain or swelling at the site of injection.  Less commonly, people may experience body chills, feeling tired and feeling feverish. As with all vaccines, there is a small risk of allergic reaction, which is why vaccine recipients are asked to stay for 15 minutes after vaccination.”

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Howe Sound region saw 14 new cases of COVID-19 from Jan. 3 to 9, and 503 in all of 2020.

“Anecdotally numbers are going up again,” von der Porten said, when asked about cases in Whistler.

“The most important thing is behaviour. No matter where you’re from, COVID is opportunistic and will hitch on to anybody that allows it. The less we socialize and travel, the less this hitchhiker will succeed.

“Wash your hands, wear a mask, get the vaccine when it’s your turn. This is the time for all of us to listen to the recommendations of [Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie] Henry to keep ourselves and others safe.”

Depending on supply, VCH expects to begin vaccinating the general public “after March,” according to a release.

Find more info at www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine.

For other questions about the vaccine, its effectiveness and safety, VCH advises the public to speak to their healthcare provider.

-with files from Megan Lalonde