Heather Kitsul, registered nurse, prepares vaccine doses Friday morning at the immunization clinic at the Beban Park social centre. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Vancouver Island clinics prepare for mass immunizations to start

A sneak peek inside as appointments for seniors 85-plus start next week

Vancouver Island protection from COVID-19 is about to be expanded in a big way.

Mass immunizations begin around the province on Monday, March 15. Starting this coming week, non-Indigenous British Columbians 85 and over and Indigenous elders 65 and over start getting their shots.

In Nanaimo, the COVID-19 immunization clinic moved from the Nanaimo Public Health Unit on Grant Avenue to Beban Park in recent weeks and immunizations have been continuing for health-care workers.

Erin Kenning, public health program coordinator for greater Nanaimo, said with the Beban Park clinic already up and running, it’s allowed staff to work out the kinks and be prepared for a larger-scale immunization effort.

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The social centre is divided into a check-in room, a space to line up, immunization stations, and a seating area where people will wait for 15 minutes after receiving their shots before they exit the building.

“We have ambassadors that are strategically placed around the facility as well as admin support and they help the clients find their way to the stations and direct them to wherever there’s a nurse ready…” said Kenning. “Prior to the immunization happening, a consent process happens where they go through the side effects, what to expect, the vaccine. They get all that information before they proceed.”

She said the clinic has mainly received the Pfizer vaccine, though it has also received some Moderna, and said clients will receive the same level of protection from either.

Kenning was asked what sort of reactions she’s seen as people are immunized from the virus.

“All the clients are happy, the space is safe, very positive experiences for most of the clients that have been here, and health care workers,” she said. “No bad press so far in terms of experiences for people.”

Stacey Chow, Island Health North Island Public Programs clinical coordinator, said based on the 90-plus population in Campbell River, they will be starting with three stations at the Campbell River Community Centre on Monday, although they have 10 stations available.

“Three stations, immunizing every five minutes from nine until four, so, seven hours, gives us 252 doses a day,” Chow said. “We have the flexibility to adjust as the population ranges change.”

But given that a lot of vaccinations have been administered in care homes and other facilities for the community’s eldest members, Chow speculated that a large portion of them have already received the vaccines. The clinic will then be employed to administer vaccines to the rest of the population as the province enters the next phases of its immunization program

Chow said that the clinic is not a start-from-scratch effort. A lot of the procedures are adapted from the regular flu clinics that Island Health conducts.

The Archie Browning Sport Centre, located in Esquimalt, will be immunizing up to 360 people a day, Island Health medical health officer Dr. Mike Benusic said.

To reduce congestion, Benusic said they are asking people to show up no earlier than 10 minutes before their appointment, adding that the site will not be accepting walk-ins. He asks that people dress with two things in mind – wearing a mask and a short-sleeve shirt or top that can easily be rolled up.

Mindful that waiting can be difficult for older residents, Benusic assured that volunteers and wheelchairs will be on hand to assist. In total, Benusic said he expects the whole process to take no more than 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Island Health has closed one COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the Comox Valley prior to its opening, but the health authority said an additional location will come on board shortly.

A spokesperson for Island Health said while it was initially indicated as a clinic location, the Comox Valley health unit was deemed not a feasible location as final preparations were being made due to inadequate space and accessibility.

The above clinics are among multiple vaccination sites opening across Vancouver Island. Click here for more information on when and how to register at the clinic nearest you.

RELATED: Vancouver Island’s small remote towns to get community-wide vaccine clinics

RELATED: Island Health opening multiple clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Need to knows:

The province’s COVID-19 vaccination program is currently in Phase 2 which involves people born in 1936 or earlier (and are 85+) or Indigenous and born in 1956 or earlier (and are 65+). People born in 1941 or earlier (and are 80+), can begin booking their appointments in the week of March 22.

British Columbians will register and book their appointments through an online registration tool. Details about registering for Phase 3 and 4 will be available in the coming weeks about when and how to pre-register.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has some suggestions on their website about what to expect when you get the vaccine:

  • Wear a mask to the clinic and bring your Personal Health Number if you have one.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing for easy access to the arm. The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle of the arm, in the shoulder area.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses. It is important to get both doses for long-term protection. See below for more information about getting the second dose.
  • Expect to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after you receive your vaccine so you can be monitored. About one in 1 million people will experience a severe allergic reaction. By staying in the clinic, a health care provider can respond in the event this happens. Tell a health care provider if you feel unwell after your vaccine.
  • Most people will receive an immunization record. Keep your record of immunization as it contains important information about the date and type of vaccine you receive. Bring your immunization card with you when you get your second dose. Some people in the first priority group had this information entered directly into the provincial registry.
  • You will also have the option to receive a digital copy of your immunization record card. By registering for Health Gateway, you will be able to access your digital record.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

— with files from Jane Skrypnek and Erin Haluschak


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