Medical injection (File photo)

Rustad pursues vaccination shift explanation

Priority shift draws questions from community

Nechako Lakes BC Liberal MLA John Rustad is asking the provincial government to explain why younger people were being vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Fort St. James area two weeks ago while older people were not.

“That’s all I’m looking for. A medical and scientific reason so I can answer questions. If I don’t know, I can’t answer those questions,” he said of fielding queries from constituents, including doctors and nurses.

The issue arose two weeks when intended vaccinations for some people older than 80 in Fort St. James were cancelled but that younger people in the nearby indigenous community of Nak’azdli Whut’en continued to be vaccinated.

Rustad said he supported the rationale for the original vaccination program in which indigenous communities, based on their specific circumstances owing to the pandemic, were to have the ability to vaccinate everyone over the age of 18 but that in other communities, vaccinations were limited to people over the age of 80.

“There were good medical reasons for this and that is something I could defend,” he said of briefings he had from the Northern Health Authority.

That support included having the Northern Health Authority shift some of its supply to bolster that which was provided to the First Nations Health Authority which has the responsibility of holding vaccination programs within First Nations communities.

But when Rustad began receiving reports of cancelled vaccinations in the Fort St. James area, that’s when he started looking for answers. And that lead to another meeting with Northern Health officials Jan. 28.

“They said the decision came from Victoria and that they were following that decision. So I’ve written to the health minister asking for that rationale,” he said of a letter sent to Adrian Dix.

Rustad acknowledged that an unexpected shortage of vaccines, a reality being experienced across Canada, has affected original vaccination plans.

“There wasn’t a shift for otherwise healthy people over the age of 18 but there was a shift for people over the age of 80 and that’s where I’m looking for an answer,” he said.

One constituent, a person over the age of 90 who has an underlying health condition, travelled 120km to Fort St. James two weeks ago to be vaccinated only to be told the session was cancelled, Rustad continued.

The MLA noted that Fort St. James had a large number of COVID cases late last year, resulting in the elderly self-isolating and taking other protective measures and the province sending in additional paramedics — all circumstances which highlighted the need for vaccinations.

The Fort St. James cancellations appear to have taken place leading into the Jan. 23 weekend.

A follow up statement from the Northern Health Authority said clinics scheduled for Jan. 25 “were completed as planned.”

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