FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 at a hospital in Sofia, Bulgarian. South Africa on Sunday Feb. 7, 2021, has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova, FILE)

FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 at a hospital in Sofia, Bulgarian. South Africa on Sunday Feb. 7, 2021, has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova, FILE)

Top doctor ‘dreading’ possibility that COVID variants will take off in B.C.

If more transmissible variants become widespread, restrictions will need to cut down contacts

Although B.C. has only had 40 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 variants first discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is “dreading” if those variants begin to spread like wildfire.

“It does change the game in some ways if starts to take off and become dominant in the community,” Henry said. “I think all of us are dreading that.”

She said that the variants’ appearances in B.C. has taken the public health sector back to January and February of last year, where every single cases was being tracked and managed closely to attempt to stop the virus from gaining a foothold in the province. Henry noted that in some parts of Ontario the variants are “spreading quite widely and it’s having impacts that we saw are quite devastating..” That province announced plans to begin loosening stay-at-home orders on Wednesday.

“We’re doing all we can to stop it from taking off again,” she said. “We need to get a handle on it… this is one of the main reasons we’re extending the restrictions here in B.C.”

Henry said that if those variants become prevalent in B.C., “we need to put in place measures that would restrict our contacts again.” She said that genome sequencing is ongoing to catch as many variant cases as possible, but that it is slower than simple testing.

“It can lead us to a brand new charge of increased numbers of cases if we don’t keep doing what we’re doing,” Henry said.

There have been a total of 40 cases of the U.K. (B117) and South African (B1351) variants of the novel coronavirus, both of which are considered to be more transmissible. Of those, 25 are have been the U.K. variant, broken down by region: 15 in Fraser Health, five in Vancouver Coastal Health, four in Island Health and one in Interior Health. Of the 15 cases of the South African variant, there have been 13 in Vancouver Coastal Health and two in Fraser Health.

Henry said four cases of the South African cases are “particularly concerning,” because it’s unclear how those individuals got infected with that variant. Only three cases of the 40 total confirmed variant cases are still active.

Overall, the provincial health officer said that most of the variant cases are among younger people who are more likely to travel.

“We aren’t seeing seeing severe illness in the number that we’ve identified so far, nobody has been hospitalized,” she added. “There has been some transmission between close contacts, particularly within households.”

In terms of whether or not the current crop of mRNA vaccines will work on the new variants, Henry said officials are watching studies closely. The AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine, which does not use mRNA technology, has been suspended in South Africa after officials there began to believe it’s not effected for that variant.

Henry said it looks like the mRNA vaccines might have to be adjusted for the South African variant, but likely not for the U.K. one.

READ MORE: Henry says COVID vaccine supply to increase in February; total cases top 70,000


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The fundraising effort to purchase 40 hectares west of Cottonwood Lake announced its success this week. Photo: Submitted
Cottonwood Lake fundraiser reaches goal

The community group has raised $400,000 to purchase 40 hectares of forest

Electrophysiology (EP) studies the electrical activity of the heart to determine where an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) is coming from. Tests must be performed in an EP Lab, a highly specialized medical diagnostic environment. Photo: KGHFoundation.com
New advanced heart rhythm program opens for Interior Health patients

Medical internists provide cardiac care in Trail, Cranbrook, Vernon, Salmon Arm, and Penticton

B.C.’s court of appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Kootenay man appeals 7-year conviction for New Year’s Eve kidnapping, beating

Brandon Coons, 27, was convicted on five charges, including assault with a weapon

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

‘It’s great that midwives are included’ in rollout of B.C.’s COVID vaccine plan, says college

The order will help the province staff the mass vaccination clinics planned for April

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Drop was largely due to shutdowns in the spring as COVID began to spread

The Nanaimo Clippers in action at Frank Crane Arena in early 2020. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers for sale, owner says hockey won’t be back to normal any time soon

Wes Mussio says he’s had numerous inquiries about the junior A club already

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Most Read