Vaughn Palmer: Will the guidelines surgical strike rescue the BC area mired in COVID misinformation?

Opinion: Vaccination rates against COVID-19 are increasing in northeast British Columbia, albeit slowly.

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VICTORIA – When Dr. Bonnie Henry announced tough new restrictions to contain COVID-19 in the Northern Health region last week, she targeted some communities and let others get out of trouble.

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The distinction “is directly related to vaccination rates in the communities where people live,” he explained. “Communities with lower immunization rates have higher rates of spread. The disease and the risk for all increase ”.

Northern Health presents a “challenge,” but one that is unevenly distributed, with vaccination rates high in the Northwest and much lower in the Northeast.

The result was the guide equivalent to a surgical blow.

“These changes will apply to the entire Northern Health region with the exception of local health areas west of Kitwanga, including Terrace, Kitimat, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Stikine, Telegraph, Snow Country and the Nisga’a area. “Enrique said. “So those are areas where we have seen that this virus cannot spread due to high vaccination rates and people taking the precautions that we ask of them.”

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In the early days of the pandemic, when COVID infection rates were lower in some regions than others – Vancouver Island Health vs. Vancouver Coast, or Northern Health vs. Fraser Health, Henry routinely rejected calls for piecemeal regulation. .

But those days are behind us, as Health Minister Adrian Dix recently noted. Since the fourth wave of the pandemic began building in August, specific guidelines have been directed at Central Okanagan, then all of Interior Health, and the eastern part of Fraser Health.

Still, the circuit breaker guidelines for affected communities in Northern Health are the most stringent this season, mandating everything from closing bars and lounges to reestablishing religious ceremonies online.

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At a time when other parts of the province, and some communities in the north, are seeing high vaccination rates, the question arises as to why northeast British Columbia lags so far behind. One of the most persuasive explanations comes from Mike Bernier, BC Liberal MLA for South Peace River and one of the leaders in the vaccination campaign in his community.

“I live in a part of the province where there are very independent people, strong-willed people, workers’ society in a sense,” Bernier told Simi Sara station on CKNW radio in Vancouver last week. “People just want to work hard, earn some money, raise their family and enjoy a good quality of life.

“In a straight line, I’m only five miles from Alberta. People here tend to gravitate more towards Alberta in search of work, for their family, ”he continued.

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“And frankly, there is massive mistrust in my region for anything an NDP government can do or say. And with a conservative government right next door, a lot of people would point to that and say, ‘Well let’s see what they’re doing instead of here in BC.’ “

Not that Alberta is an example to avoid the ravages of the pandemic, as Bernier admits.

“Unfortunately Alberta is now in a similar situation where they are being invaded in their hospitals and they also need to step up their message.”

To his credit, Bernier has been undermining doubts about vaccines in his region, despite intransigence, misinformation, protests and even the occasional death threat.

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“I firmly believe that the more we deal with this, the more we talk to people and try to remind them what the facts are, we will reach more people, perhaps slowly, but surely,” says Bernier. “I sleep well at night knowing that I am on the right side of this argument.”

I doubt there is a braver politician in BC right now.

Andrew Kurjata, a reporter for the Prince George-based CBC, has echoed Bernier’s remarks about vaccinating vaccinations.

“There are no simple and general statements that cover all the reasons for every person who is not a vaccine enthusiast and is not an anti-vaccine,” he recently acknowledged on social media. “But one thing that comes up over and over again is a strong independent streak in the region. This is sometimes referred to as the Alberta influence, but it’s actually the region’s own culture. “

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Rightly or wrongly, “the people of the region feel that the government does not have their best interests in mind,” says Kurjata. They also find that major media groups rarely reflect the region and its priorities.

Not surprisingly, then, they are led to alternative sources of news and information, including online sites that traffic in misinformation about COVID and vaccines.

Kurjata also reported on a Fort St. John pharmacist, Michael Ortynsky, treating hesitant with respect, often with positive results.

“They’re not anti-vaccines, they’re just scared,” Ortynsky says of the unvaccinated people who walk into his pharmacy with a plethora of questions. “They have received many half-truths and are very misinformed about the reality of vaccines and the pandemic.”

So talk to them and sometimes it pays to make the decision to get vaccinated.

Like Bernier, he hopes patience and reason will convince his neighbors to get vaccinated.

Both the MLA and the reporter noted that vaccination rates are increasing in the Northeast, albeit slowly.

But it remains to be seen whether the combination of guidelines and persuasion can rescue a region that is still mired in the maze of misinformation.

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