COVID-19 update: 2 deaths in recent days were connected to variants of concern
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks in Victoria on Feb. 23, 2021. (Province of B.C./Flickr)
VANCOUVER -- Another 564 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in B.C., health officials announced Thursday.
Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix gave the update in a live afternoon briefing. With those additional positive tests, the province's total since the start of the pandemic has now reached 82,473.
Henry and Dix also said four more people died from the disease since their last update, bringing B.C.'s death toll to 1,376.
"Our condolences go out to the families and care providers and communities who have lost loved ones in this most difficult time," Henry said.
No new outbreaks were reported, but seven outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living remain active. There are also three in independent-living facilities and eight in acute care.
Twelve of the latest cases were epidemiologically linked, Henry said, adding that 4,743 cases are currently active across the province.
Of those active cases, 248 are currently in hospital because of the disease, with 63 of those in critical care or ICU.
Under active public health monitoring are 8,659 individuals, Henry said.
Two deaths from variants
So far, B.C. has reported dozens of cases of variants of concern across the province. During her briefing, Henry said were 46 new cases of these variants since her last report, bringing the total to 246. Of those, 16 cases are still active, Henry said.
Of the 246, 218 are the B.1.1.7 variant, which is commonly associated with the U.K. Twenty-eight people have had the B.1.351, which was first reported in South Africa.
Four people in hospital are confirmed to have one of the variants of concern and two of the deaths "in recent days" were of people with a variant, Henry said.
"The majority of these variants of concern continue to be in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal regions," Henry said.
"Right now we continue to have challenges in identifying transmission chains for about 25 per cent of our (variant) cases."
Vaccines on the way for essential workers
B.C. is expecting its first delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine sometime next week.
“This vaccine will be made available to first responders and other essential workers, and the delivery of these vaccines will run in parallel but separately from our age-based community wide immunization program,” said Henry.
Certain first responders can get their first dose early, but only if they agree to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was 62 per cent effective in clinical trials, compared to 95 per cent for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In parts of Europe, tens of thousands of AstraZeneca doses are going unused as people opt to wait for other vaccines.
“I think it is a task for the government to clarify to the population, because when you hear 62 (per cent) verses 95 (per cent), of course you say, 'No, I am waiting for 95,'” said Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor at UBC's division of infectious diseases. “These numbers are misleading.”
AstraZeneca is performing much better in the real world and in critical trials and offers the same level of protection against serious disease as the other vaccines.
“The way I think about is, if I knew that today I could get AstraZeneca and then tomorrow I could get Pfizer, I would just wait one day. But if the difference between AstraZeneca today and Pfizer is three months, then I would definitely get the AstraZeneca now,” said Paul Tupper, an SFU infectious disease modeller.
“Just take it now, because you still have a gap of a few months where you are not going to be protected," he said. "At least you are protected in such a way that you can cope with the disease if you get it."
B.C.’s vaccination committee will decide in the coming days which categories of first responders and essential workers will be offered AstraZeneca doses in March. Henry advises anyone on that list to jump at the chance to get vaccinated early.
“These vaccines work. They all work. They’re effective. They’re safe,” she said. “Take the vaccine that you’re offered. And I would say that to everybody out there.”