Up to 6,000 British Columbians who received their first COVID-19 vaccine are likely to miss their booster shot within the target of 42 days, but B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer says she is now confident the protective benefits of just a single shot will last as long as three months.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said continued delays in the delivery of vaccines to B.C. have frustrated plans to distribute the vaccine to date, adding that compliance with restrictions on gatherings will be critical while British Columbians await a mass vaccination program.
“It is a very challenging thing,” she said. While more shipments of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are promised in the coming weeks, she said there is evidence emerging that the delays will not undo the progress the province has made since the vaccines began to arrive in mid-December.
The province has administered almost 172,000 doses of vaccine, including roughly 23,000 second doses.
“The one thing I am confident of is the increasing data that supports that we have a very strong and robust immune response to the first dose,” Dr. Henry told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday. The protection lasts ”at least two to three months. So I’m not concerned that we’re going to decrease our vaccine effectiveness.”
The province extended its emergency pandemic measures once again, as Dr. Henry said a large share of new COVID-19 cases are being traced to unsanctioned social gatherings.
“We know of a games night, where there were 50 people in an establishment that should not have been having a games night, and that 15 people from that event ... became infected and spread [the virus] to several workplaces, to schools and to a childcare centre.” She called on citizens to “hold each other accountable.”
The province is embroiled in a court challenge to prevent church gatherings and Dr. Henry defended the provincial government’s legal tactics after receiving a rebuke from the chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court.
Last Friday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said the provincial government is putting the court in an “impossible position” by asking for an injunction ordering three churches to stop in-person services before their challenge of public health orders is heard.
Chief Justice Hinkson said health orders already prohibit such gatherings and it’s within Dr. Henry’s authority to escalate enforcement without a court order.
”This injunction was in response to a legal challenge,” Dr. Henry said Tuesday. “And until that legal challenge was heard, we wanted to make sure that people understood that the rules were still in place,” she told reporters.
The churches had filed a petition that challenges COVID-19 restrictions on in-person religious services, arguing the ban violates people’s rights and freedoms.
More than a dozen individuals or churches filed the petition last month, with the challenge to be heard in March.
Alberta is facing a similar confrontation over church services.
On Sunday, RCMP and Alberta health officials attended GraceLife Church near Edmonton where they found COVID-19 restrictions were not followed during the morning service. The pastor of GraceLife Church was charged last week with violating Alberta’s health rules.
On Sunday, the church posted a lengthy statement online defending its actions. “We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties,” the statement reads.
In a statement, Kerry Williamson, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services, said Tuesday that public health officials are working with the RCMP to gather evidence.
“GraceLife Church continues to create unacceptable public health risks by violating the Public Health Act, Chief Medical Officer of Health Order, Public Health Inspector Order, and a Court of Queen’s Bench Order,” the statement said. “The church is required to pay fines previously issued by the RCMP and may be subjected to additional penalties imposed by law enforcement or the Courts for continued non-compliance.”
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