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More Whistler frontline workers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Whistler's health region recorded 122 new cases of COVID-19 between March 14 and 20 
n-vaccine line by BD
Long line-ups for COVID-19 vaccines have been a common sight in Whistler Village this week.

Additional frontline workers in Whistler are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, part of B.C.’s efforts to target high-risk populations and locations. 

Intended as a supplement to the age-based vaccines that began being rolled out March 15, the confirmed supply of AstraZeneca/SII vaccine for the coming weeks has allowed health authorities to start immunizing frontline workers, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a March 19 statement. “As more vaccine becomes available, we will be able to expand to even more people on our frontlines.” 

Initially, local staff in shared accommodation was targeted, but some frontline workers not living in shared housing are now eligible as well, and health authorities have been in the process of contacting resort businesses to arrange immunization. 

In recent days social media has been rife with concerns raised about why some people are being vaccinated while others are not. Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton, in his March 25 Facebook update said: “I have heard a lot of concern around town about the fairness of the program, but at the risk of being blunt, fairness simply isn’t the point of the program. The province is most concerned about effective population protection—defending and protecting our community. The virus doesn't fairly infect people...

“The goal [is] obviously ... to reduce the speed of transmission. This vaccination program is moving in parallel with age-based programs and provides the province the flexibility in dealing with outbreaks in our community now, and addressing hotspots and high-risk areas in the future. The goal and impact hopefully is that workers are protected and in turn our community is protected."

The Howe Sound health region, which includes Whistler recorded 122 new cases of COVID-19 between March 14 and 20, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The transmission rate is up from the week of Feb. 28 to March 6, when 58 new lab-confirmed cases were tallied.

“We can confirm that Earls has been approached with the opportunity to get our staff vaccinated as part of the Whistler community blitz,” wrote Earls Whistler GM Kevin Wallace in a March 19 email. “As we await accessibility to the COVID vaccines, we are speaking with our employees about this opportunity and ensuring they have all the relevant information necessary to make this decision for themselves.”  

After news emerged earlier this month that some workers in COVID hotspots like Whistler were being immunized ahead of certain high-risk groups, such as first responders, schoolteachers and grocery store employees, many questioned B.C.’s approach. 

Then, last week, the government announced that more than 300,000 frontline workers across the province would be eligible for the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine, beginning in April. 

“We’ve been pushing for that since early January,” said Rob Farrer, a B.C.-based director with the National Police Federation, the bargaining unit representing approximately 20,000 RCMP members. “We very much welcome the news that they will be added to Phase 2 [of B.C.’s immunization plan], and we’re hoping it will be in the early part of Phase 2 to make the members of our communities as safe as possible.”

In the Sea to Sky, seniors aged 70 and up and Indigenous people aged 55 and up are also now eligible for the latest round of immunization. Mount Currie, however, is well ahead of the curve, with approximately 850 Lil’wat Nation members having already received their first dose. 

“That’s about 75 per cent of people 18 and over,” relayed Lil’wat Nation Chief Administrative Officer Kerry Mehaffey, adding that the early rollout was likely tied to a cluster of COVID-19 cases the Nation had been dealing with over the holidays. “We started getting the doses in February and delivered them in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) at our new Lil’wat Health and Healing building.” 

As more residents receive the vaccine, Crompton is urging locals to continue doing their part to protect the wider community. 

“We need to remain vigilant,” he said. “It’s been my hope and expectation that the people vaccinated will be part of our continued effort to respond to COVID-19. They have to be.” 

Age-based vaccines can be arranged by calling 1-877-587-5767. The phone line is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Frontline workers are reminded that health authorities will contact employers directly to arrange immunizations, and calling the age-based booking line will not provide access to the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine program. 

“We are working with all of the supply we have available to maximize our protection and we are using every last drop,” said Henry last week. “We also must focus on the individual actions that we need now more than ever to keep each other and our families and communities safe.”

Comprising Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish, Lions Bay and parts of the southern Stl’atl’imx Nation, the Howe Sound health region tallied a total of 1,406 cases between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021, the latest figures available.

There has been no Whistler-specific case numbers provided since March 4, which VCH had been sending out as the resort contended with an outbreak early in the year. Notably, the health authority does not typically provide numbers in small communities when the caseload falls below a certain threshold, which it says is to help protect medical privacy.

Pique has requested the latest Whistler case numbers from VCH and will update this story online if we hear back. 

—With files from Pique Newsmagazine staff.