The vaccination rate of the Indigenous population in BC is much lower than the overall provincial rate, raising concerns about protection from the highly infectious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus as pandemic restrictions ease.
“The overall vaccination rate of the BC population is a success story that has dramatically cut the rate of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths," said Dr. Shannon McDonald, the acting Chief Medical Officer of the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). “However, while many people have never been more protected, others have never been more at risk."
As of July 20, 81 per cent of eligible people in BC (everyone age 12 and older) had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of July 16, the rate for First Nations people was just above 64 per cent.*
While first-dose vaccination rates vary from health region to health region (e.g., from 59 per cent in the Interior to 72 per cent on Vancouver Island) and on and off reserve (69 and 61 per cent respectively), it's in age groups where the disparity is most dramatic.
It's good news for First Nations Elders age 70 and older: more than 90 per cent have received one dose and more than 84 per cent are fully vaccinated. The numbers are almost as good for those age 60 to 69: 88 per cent have had dose one, 78 per cent have had both doses. The numbers drop steeply after that, ranging from 50 per cent for First Nations youth age 12 – 17 to 72 per cent for people age 50 – 59 (see chart below).
“Youth age 12 to 17 have only been eligible for the vaccine for just under two months, so we'd expect to see a lower rate in that group," said Dr. McDonald. “But First Nations people age 18 and older have been eligible to be vaccinated since at least April 6 and yet the uptake is only in the 50 per cent range for those aged 18 to 39 – and not much higher for people in their forties."
Dr. McDonald said some people may think their younger age protects them from the virus but in fact the majority (73 per cent) of cases among First Nations people in BC have occurred in those under age 50. (There have been a total of 820 COVID-19-related hospitalizations reported among First Nations people in BC since the beginning of the pandemic, and 138 deaths.)
Others may think the overall provincial vaccination rate will protect them, but health officials estimate that at least 90 per cent or more of the population will need to be fully vaccinated before “community immunity" can be achieved. That's because the Delta variant of COVID-19 is much more contagious than earlier strains. One person can typically pass it on to between six and eight others. In addition, the Delta variant has an increased risk of hospitalization and death.
“COVID-19 vaccines are proving effective against the variants, especially for people who have been fully vaccinated," said Dr. McDonald. “But those who are not vaccinated can get very sick from COVID-19. That's why it's so important that we make this a 'two-shot summer' for everyone who is eligible."
For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, see the FNHA's vaccine web page.
First Nations people and their family members who want to speak to a doctor about vaccines or any other health topic, may contact the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day service if they don't have access to a primary health care provider.
*The First Nations numbers only include individuals living in BC who are status First Nations. They do not include non-status individuals.