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State of Public Health in BC

No lessons were learned.

This year, despite the lessons that could have been learned and implemented, BC public health was as ill prepared as it was last year for the viral "respiratory season”. *

And so on January 9, a new record number of hospital admissions was set at 10,345 . For more up to date numbers you’ll need to submit an FOI.

Recall last year, Australia warned us of a difficult flu season, particularly for children.

BC public health officials failed to warn BC parents to make vaccinating their children a priority, and the Get Vaccinated app rollout was botched. On Dec. 5 2022, we learned that only a quarter of BC’s youngest children, 0-4 years old, were actually registered on the electronic platform. After seniors, this is the age group most at risk for flu. Finally, easy access to vaccination for BC families was not provided until after influenza had already peaked  and 6 children had died.  

This year again, not only did Australia warn us but so did many southern hemisphere countries. All struggled during their winter (our summer), with rampant viral infections in children, with some jurisdictions reinstating masks in school, while others closed schools early ahead of the winter break. 

On September 15 2023, the BC CDC  published an excellent report titled Southern Hemisphere 2023 Respiratory Season. 

Effective vaccinations for influenza and COVID-19, particularly in high-risk populations, will be an important component to a multi-layered approach to reduce the impact of the respiratory virus season. This includes pediatric influenza vaccination given observed impacts of influenza on children from the recent Southern Hemisphere experience[Highlight added]

Did BC Public Health Officer not read this report?

Prevention?  What’s that?

“Et la prévention bordel!” wrote a Quebec journalist last December to decry the situation in their own province. Sadly, our BC leaders don’t seem to even understand what “prevention” means.

Prevention: stopping something from happening.

For public health, it means stopping disease, disability and death from occurring at the population level, starting with the most vulnerable among us. One might also add, stopping the health care system from collapsing.

Vaccines without vaccination don’t work. 

We heard at the last government briefing on January 10, that  BC’s latest immunization “campaign” resulted in only 50% of the over 80, 25%  of British Columbians aged 18 to 79 and as little as 17% of BC children (5-17) being vaccinated against influenza. Missing was the data for the most vulnerable children’s age group: 6 months to 4 years. Four BC children have now died from influenza and its complications. Sadder yet, is that this was likely preventable, as this year’s flu vaccine appears to be a good match for the influenza viruses in circulation.

After flu, RSV and COVID, now invasive Group A Strep.

Recall that last winter in BC, a nine year old child died from iGAS and influenza.

Turns out respiratory viral infections play a significant role in the development of invasive GAS.  In 2022, after a rise in invasive Group A streptococcal infections in children in Europe, the WHO warned: “As prevention of viral illnesses is likely to be important in reducing the risk of iGAS disease, vaccination against seasonal influenza and COVID-19 should also be promoted.” 

Since mid-December,  4 BC children have died  from iGAS while being co-infected with influenza or another respiratory virus

So unfortunately in BC, WHO’s advice fell on deaf ears. As of January 10, only 17% of BC children 5 to 17 years old were vaccinated against the flu, with roughly 13% having had the updated fall COVID-19 vaccine. For the six months to 4 year olds, that same number is 14.5%, while the influenza vaccine uptake is anyone’s guess.

Campaign: an organized course of action (i.e. not just words) to achieve a goal.

What were BC leaders’ vaccination targets for flu (and COVID) this year? Did they even set any targets?

No Prevention and No Control

We are going into the 5th year of this pandemic, surely by now BC’s Infection Prevention and Control protocols should be fine tuned. They are not. Without addressing how these respiratory viruses spread in the air that we share, no amount of hand washing, cleaning surfaces and coughing into elbows will prevent RSV, influenza and Covid.

On January 9, there were 36 “declared” outbreaks in BC health facilities (both in acute and long term care), the true number was higher as some health authorities refuse to report Covid outbreaks.

Outbreaks matter. They directly impact the health of vulnerable hospitalized patients and LTC residents, including that of the staff caring for them, and they also put families and visitors at risk. 18,000 healthcare workers were sick and missing “about one day in the week prior” to the press conference. And how many of them got sick on the job

Outbreaks prolong hospital stays and make those beds unavailable for other patients needing admission.  In Long Term Care, outbreaks prevent the transfer of patients out of hospital, contributing to admitted patients staying in the ED longer. Meanwhile patients coming to the ED have to wait longer to be seen with some deteriorating in the interim.

There is no public health in BC: no prevention, no effective infection control in hospitals or in care homes. Heading into the respiratory virus “season”, our leaders chose a vaccine-only strategy and failed, yet again, to get vaccines into arms ahead of peak infection of COVID-19 and influenza.

Why should you care? 

If we keep on this trajectory, soon there may not be a healthcare system when you or your loved one need it most. At the same time, more and more people developing Post-Covid conditions will require health care.

What’s happening now in BC is neither public health nor  “kindness”, it’s politics. 

Kindness as a PHO means protecting the health of all who call British Columbia home, it means preventing chronic diseases, disabilities and deaths from post-infectious diseases, and kindness is leaving no one behind. 

Let’s remember this as BC enters an election year.

*BC public health insists on calling SARS-CoV-2 a “respiratory” “seasonal” virus, it is neither. SARS-CoV-2 remains an every season virus and a dangerous vascular virus

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