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A physical distancing sign is pictured in Whistler, B.C., May 15, 2020.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

All adults living or working in Whistler are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but some British Columbians are frustrated that members of the resort town have been prioritized over other groups still waiting to be vaccinated.

On Monday, Vancouver Coastal Health began putting on vaccination clinics for residents aged 18 to 54 after the P.1 variant of the virus spread rapidly through the resort municipality this winter.

Yet many are expressing frustrations that residents of the resort town have been offered the vaccine before other essential workers.

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“We were assured by the government that we would be getting vaccinated sometime in April, but April has rolled around and we’re almost midway through the month,” said Christine Blessin, a third-grade teacher in Chilliwack. “I’m so disappointed.”

The head of Tourism Whistler is hopeful that the town’s new vaccination plan will help the community bounce back from a difficult year.

“Whistler’s entire economy is based on tourism, so this has been an incredibly challenging year for all of us,” president and chief executive officer Barrett Fisher said.

“We are grateful to our provincial health authorities for making this happen. The community vaccination program will help us on the road to recovery.”

The town of 13,000 people normally welcomes more than three-million people every year.

Despite a special vaccine program initiated in mid-March that targeted staff living in shared housing and some hospitality workers, COVID cases spiked among young people and forced the mountains to shut down on March 29. This weekend, the health authority determined that all permanent residents of the town would be vaccinated.

Mayor Jack Crompton said the program is vital to save the summer tourism season, which is the lifeblood of the town.

“Whistler is a four-season destination, so the community doesn’t close for the summer,” he said. “It comes down to the sustainability of our community and our ability to contribute to British Columbia’s economy and recovery.”

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry defended the decision to prioritize Whistler workers for the vaccine.

“It’s not about wealthy people flying in and going on a ski vacation, it’s about the people who live and work in Whistler and the outbreak that is continuing despite the many measures that we’ve taken to help support that community,” she said, adding that details of the program will change as people are vaccinated over the next two weeks.

“Not everybody will get it at once, but everybody will get it and have their turn. We’re focusing on where those areas of transmission are highest, and it will spread out from there around the province.”

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