All adults who live or work in Whistler are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) announced Sunday, April 11.
The health authority said locals and employees aged 18 years of age or older who have not yet been vaccinated, and who have a primary residence in Whistler or who work in the community, can receive a COVID-19 vaccine over a two-week period beginning Monday, April 12.
"This is good news," said Mayor Jack Crompton following the announcement.
While welcoming the news of the community vaccination plan, Whistler's medical director Dr. Fern von der Porten cautioned people not to let their guard down post jab.
"If we want to get a handle on [COVID-19] in Whistler we need to get the vaccine into as many people as we can and those people, vaccinated or not, they still need to maintain social distancing, wearing a mask, not gathering and washing their hands," she said.
Von der Porten explained that it takes at least two weeks for antibodies from the vaccine to kick in and boost immunity to the coronavirus. In March, as vaccines began to be offered to some segments of Whistler’s population, a spike in cases took place as vaccinated people stopped practising safe behaviours known to interrupt the spread of COVID-19.
"We all have to do the hard work," she said. "You are not getting antibodies for a couple of weeks, so don’t celebrate. Do celebrate that you are on your way to safety from [COVID-19]."
How to access a COVID-19 vaccine in Whistler
Eligible Whistler residents aged 18 to 54 years of age can book an appointment online to receive their vaccination at the Whistler Conference Centre.
Whistler adults aged 55 to 65 will continue to be eligible to access the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine at local pharmacies. Locals in that age bracket who prefer to wait to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, meanwhile, will be invited to receive those vaccinations at the Whistler Conference Centre during the week of April 19.
Locals who are 65 or older have already been invited to schedule their vaccine appointments through the B.C. Ministry of Health’s age-based cohort system. These vaccinations will begin on April 14 at VCH's Whistler immunization clinic, located at the conference centre. Residents who were not able to receive an appointment at this clinic will be eligible for vaccination the week of April 19.
VCH is working alongside the Resort Municipality of Whistler to confirm the eligibility of those who turn up for their vaccine appointments. Eligible residents will be required to provide proof of their permanent resident address with a B.C. Driver’s License or valid credit card statement showing their Whistler address. Eligible adults working in Whistler who do not reside in the community will be required to present a recent pay stub confirming their local employment.
The vaccine clinics are not for second homeowners in Whistler. "Right now we need to [vaccinate] Whistler’s full-time residents and workers so we can get Whistler ready to welcome [the second homeowners] back again,” said von der Porten.
In January British Columbians were outraged when Rod Baker, the CEO and president of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. and his wife Ekaterina were accused of travelling from B.C. to the Yukon to jump the coronavirus vaccination queue. He resigned and the couple was fined for their actions. None of the allegations have been proven in court and the Bakers have an opportunity to contest them.
Community-wide vaccinations roll out as Whistler's COVID-19 cases spike for the third time
The local vaccination program comes in response to increasing COVID-19 transmission recorded in the Whistler community, and subsequent lobbying efforts from Crompton.
From Jan. 1 to April 5, 2021, there were 1,505 confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in Whistler, according to the health authority. Of those, 385 cases were logged between March 29 and April 5.
"Currently, Howe Sound has the highest rate of COVID-19 of any Local Health Area in the province; the majority of these cases reside in the Whistler community," the release read. "VCH has recorded three successive waves of COVID-19 in Whistler throughout the pandemic where the majority of confirmed cases were among adults 20 to 39 years of age."
In response to those cases, VCH has already vaccinated a significant percentage of Whistler’s workforce as part of last month’s provincial plan to immunize workers in high-risk settings, such as congregate and staff housing.
This story was updated at 8:45 p.m., April 11 to add comments from Whistler's medical director.
—With files from Clare Ogilvie