B.C.'s and Fraser Health's top doctors apologize after hopefuls spend hours in line for COVID-19 vaccine
VANCOUVER -- The Fraser Health region's top doctor is apologizing after hundreds of people hoping for COVID-19 vaccines spent hours in line at a pair of Surrey parks only to find out no pop-up clinics would be opening Thursday.
Dr. Victoria Lee made the comments Thursday, the day after some pop-up clinics were held in high-transmission neighbourhoods.
“I sincerely apologize for any negative experience that people may have had," Lee said.
"I know some of the pop-up clinics and the experiences, there was confusion and frustration. So of course sincere apologies for that, and we are working to ensure we are making improvements in some of those processes."
Some waiting at Newton Athletic Park and Bear Creek Park early in the morning told CTV News Vancouver they'd arrived at 4 a.m. to wait to get their first dose.
“Actually, I came yesterday and I just heard it’s happening again so that’s why I just came early in the morning,” said Surjit Singh, who had also spent time waiting in the park for a possible vaccine on Wednesday, only to be told there were no more doses available.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday, staff from the City of Surrey arrived to tell people waiting in line that there would not be a mobile vaccine site opening.
At Bear Creek, it was the RCMP who broke the bad news to the hundreds waiting in line.
“She’s been here since 4:30. I’ve been here since 7. There was about 300 people here,” said a woman named Simran, who declined to provide a last name.
The fact park staff and police broke the news instead of it being widely shared on social media or through other channels by health officials drew the ire of many who had spent hours in the line, with some questioning the use of pop up walk in vaccination sites in the first place.
“It’s honestly not how I expect a developed country to conduct its vaccine rollout. My parents immigrated to Canada from Lebanon and that’s how it’s being done there,” said Chris Khayyat, who arrived in Newton early Thursday. “I never expected it to be done here like this. I’m very disappointed in the provincial government and Fraser Health.”
A drop-in clinic set up at the park Wednesday to administer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine drew hundreds of anxious vaccine-seekers, some of whom waited hours and complained about family members jumping the queue.
Other concerns expressed by those waiting included confusion about how the line was managed – some got a ticket, and some didn't.
The clinic also wasn't announced publicly, unlike three similar sites that opened in the Fraser Health region on Tuesday. It's possible this was an effort to prevent people who don't live in the area from showing up, though no information has been confirmed.
Staff at the Newton site were, however, checking IDs for postal codes before people were permitted to get their shots.
The clinic ran out of doses before 3 p.m., meaning some who'd waited as long as six hours were not vaccinated Wednesday.
During her COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said Fraser Health's clinics, though they had their challenges, were meant to be an "innovative" way to reach populations in high-risk areas that haven't registered for the vaccine.
"I absolutely apologize to people for the miscommunications and for the confusion. That was certainly not the intent," Henry said.
"The intent was to try and reach those people in those communities that we know have challenging times and where there are barriers or there's challenges in getting access to people who have not been registering."
Registration is currently open for all B.C. adults aged 18 and older.
While Fraser Health's model has drawn criticism, a local expert on the ethics surrounding vaccine rollout said it was evidence that health officials are working to adapt to a changing situation.
While Dr. Judy Illes, of the University of British Columbia, acknowledged this process can be "messy" at times, she said, "We are doing the very best we possibly can. There is no playbook to this crisis and to the response of the crisis."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alissa Thibault and Shannon Paterson