By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

Mass community vaccination began in the Columbia Valley this week, following a local COVID-19 outbreak that saw case numbers jump rapidly here in the last week of March and first week of April.

The community mass vaccination is for all Upper Columbia Valley residents (between Canal Flats and Spillimacheen) older than age 18 who wish to be vaccinated.

The effort, which aims to vaccinate roughly 500 people a day, started on Monday, April 19 and will run until Wednesday, May 12, and comes in response to the local outbreak, which saw numbers of cases climb dramatically (the highest number cited was a figure of 46, in a community update written by Invermere hospital chief of staff Dr. Gareth Mannheimer on Saturday, April 15).

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok told the Pioneer about the community mass vaccination on the evening of Friday, April 16, and residents were quick to sign up online or by phone. When the Interior Health  “community clinics” opened at the Invermere Catholic Church on Monday, April 19, at least several days’ worth of appointments were already booked up.

Residents arrived at the church for their scheduled appointments, waited in line, proceeded into the church to get their shots, and then waited outside for 10 or 15 minutes post-shot in an outdoor waiting area with a tent (donated by Home Hardware). Many active and retired doctors, nurses, health officials, firefighters (to act as first responders) were at the clinic, helping out.

Among those receiving their vaccinations on the first day were Clovechok and Invermere mayor Al Miller.

Clovechok told the Pioneer he was excited and pleased to see so many residents getting their shots, outlining that when he went for his shot, there were cars parked along at least two or three blocks near the church, indicating good participation by residents in the effort, and that everybody was waiting in line, properly spaced apart by at least two metres.

“It was flawless going and getting your shot, it was running like a military operation,” said Clovechok. 

He noted there had been a few minor issues, such as the Panorama’s postal code seemed to have been left out of the Interior Health booking system, making it difficult for residents there to book their appointments, but that given how quickly the community clinic was set up, a few such wrinkles were bound to happen. However, they had all been straightened out by the second day, and things were proceeding full steam ahead.

“It (the shot) didn’t hurt one bit,” said Clovechok, adding that he was approached by a local resident in the post-shot waiting area (she kept her social distance) with tears of joy and excitement in her eyes.

“It was almost a festive atmosphere,” added Clovechok, adding he’s proud of the community and is hopeful everybody will be vaccinated soon.

“It was really smooth,” Miller told the Pioneer. “I was in line, into the hall, answered a few questions, and had the shot. It was so easy that I had the shot before I knew it. I waited 10 to 15 minutes after and I was all good to go.”

Miller said the effort going into setting up the community clinic was “tremendous” and that it was really good “to have a feeling of going forward. Of taking that first step in the right direction.”

Clovechok was quick to point out, however, that vaccination is indeed just that — a first step in a larger process.

“Getting your vaccination doesn’t mean it’s go time. Not at all. As we get vaccinated, we will become safer, but we cannot let up on what we’re doing,” he said, adding that getting vaccinated reduces the severity of sickness, reduces mortality, reduces hospitalization rates, but as yet there is no clear evidence that vaccinated people can’t still carry and transmit the virus to others (even if they are not getting sick themselves). He also pointed out that it takes a few weeks at least after vaccination for those vaccinated to start producing the antibodies that will help protect them from COVID-19, and he also noted that Invermere does have “variants of concern”, although it has not been confirmed yet which one(s) are present here.

B.C. is a hotspot for the P.1 variant of COVID-19, which was originally discovered in Brazil, and indeed national news media have reported that the B.C. is seeing the largest spread of the P.1 variant of COVID-19 anywhere in the world outside of Brazil. Although the variants are relatively new, and information and data are still emerging, the P.1 variant has been described as being more contagious, and causing more severe symptoms, and more likely to infect (and hospitalize) young adults and kids, as compared with normal, less severe strains of COVID-19. The variant may also possibly be able to re-infect people who have already had it, and potentially could be less responsive to current vaccines. Most cases of P.1 in Canada have linked to Whistler, which shut down its ski resort early several weeks ago.

“Don’t be afraid, get your shot so we can get back to some kind of normal sooner rather than later,” said Miller.

Both Clovechok and Miller extended a huge ‘thank you’ to Dr. Mannheimer and the doctors, nurses, health officials, and firefighters helping out with the clinic.

Valley residents can register for their shot online by following the prompts in this link:

Those who have already registered online do not need to re-register.

Earlier this week provincial health officials strengthened and extended province-wide restrictions, which are now in place until May 25. Specific measures include that the variance allowing indoor religious gatherings and worship services between March 28 and May 13 is suspended; indoor low intensity group exercise classes are cancelled, restaurants, pubs and bars are closed for indoor dining (outdoor patio seating and take-out delivery is still allowed), and that workplaces with a COVID-19 exposure may be ordered to close for at least 10 days. The current travel advisory is that all non-essential travel should be avoided. This includes travel into and out of B.C. and between regions of the province. This means people should not travel for a vacation or to visit friends or family outside of their household or core bubble. Essential travel within B.C. includes regular travel for work within a region and travel for things like medical appointments and hospital visits.