VANCOUVER -- The Lower Mainland’s health authorities are allowing people as young as 30 who live in neighbourhoods with surging COVID-19 infections to get vaccinated, opening short-term clinics in those areas.

Public health experts and frontline workers CTV News has spoken with insist that, hand-in-hand with prioritizing residents in hotspots, it’s critical to make vaccine access as easy as possible and “meet people where they are.”

The lion’s share of the hotspots are in neighbourhoods in and around Surrey, with nine Vancouver neighbourhoods and and a handful of other targeted vaccination blitzes in the Northern and Interior health authorities. Appointments are required.

On Saturday, Vancouver Coastal Health opened a new vaccination clinic at the Killarney Community Centre, where officials expect to distribute 750 vaccines a day over the next three weeks.

“I think it’s important to have places like the Vancouver Convention Centre that offer large numbers of people access to the vaccine, and then it’s important to have access to the smaller, community, neighbourhood-centred places for people who maybe can’t travel to the convention centre or (for whom) it’s difficult to get there,” said clinic coordinator Jane Porter. “I think we need both.”

The Killarney clinic is providing COVID-19 vaccinations for those living in hotspot communities and those eligible for the age-based rollout, but walk-ins are not allowed.

Meanwhile, Fraser Health has kept its controversial, word-of-mouth, pop-up clinic program on hold, instead redirecting resources to community-based registration and vaccination drives in settings like supermarkets parking lots and gurdwaras. 

On Friday, Gurdwara Dukhj Nivaran Sahib saw some 450 people who had registered earlier in the week line up to get their scheduled shots, as more people registered with multilingual staff on hand to help.

“We have strategized to bring a lot of clerks and nurses with us that can speak Punjabi, we can reach out to them,” said community health nurse Kamal Gill. “A lot of the older population don’t know how to use computers or have phones on them, so they feel more comfortable having a piece of paper and coming back.”

A coordinator with Fraser Health said the health authority is planning more community-based vaccine locations in places where people already feel comfortable.

Massive vaccine delivery accelerates rollout

This week, British Columbia received 274,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to federal data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

There are now several parallel streams to get a vaccine in Phase 3 of the province’s vaccine rollout. In addition to the hotspot prioritizations, the age-based rollout is currently scheduling shots for those ages 46 and older (going down to 40 by Tuesday), 200,000 people deemed extremely clinically vulnerable due to health issues are eligible, and everyone 30 years and older is eligible to get the AstraZeneca through pharmacies. However, the province has said it has used up its entire supply of AstraZeneca and there’s no more forecast to arrive.

Toronto entrepreneur Zain Manji co-created to help people find their closest vaccination centre. Users can go to the website or text 1-866-356-1683 with their postal code.

The site just opened access to B.C. users, but many of the results point to pharmacies, which have few if any AstraZeneca supplies left.

“We’re available in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia and I would say the British Columbia rollout is not as far progressed along (as the others),” Manji told CTV News. “(Outside B.C.) we have more access to data in terms of the types of vaccines that are offered at the locations, even sometimes availability of appointments.”

Ongoing data complaints in B.C.

The hotspot communities prioritized for vaccination line up exactly with new maps outlining never-before-seen details of infections and vaccination rates.

Made public following a leak to Postmedia’s Vancouver Sun, the internal B.C. Centre for Disease Control documents had the province’s two top doctors on the defensive, insisting nearly all the information was already publicly available; that is not accurate.

CTV News compared the maps, which show many neighbourhoods with exceptionally high COVID infections having exceptionally low vaccination rates and found the hotspot prioritizations lined up directly with the under-vaccinated hotspot areas.

Vaccinating communities with outbreaks has proven successful in other parts of the province. In Prince Rupert, which saw infection rates among the highest in B.C. in March, 85 per cent of the population was vaccinated by the end of the month. The most recent situation report provided by the BCCDC this week, which outlines COVID-19 infection numbers for the week of April 25, saw Prince Rupert report only a single case of the disease.