British Columbia's top doctor says health authoritiesare speaking with each worker who has chosen not to get vaccinated in hopes of changing their minds, and the highest number of those employees are in the Interior region, where overall immunization rates are low.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that while most health-care workers support a vaccine mandate, officials have also been working with regulatory colleges to ensure as many employees as possible get vaccinated to protect the health-care system and patients.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said 3,091 health-care workers remain unvaccinated in B.C., representing two per cent of the total number of employees.

Of those, 959 are in Interior Health, which has a population of about 820,000, compared with Vancouver Coastal, where 333 workers are unvaccinated in a region that serves an estimated 1.2 million people.

Dix said 573 health-care workers are not vaccinated in Fraser Health, the largest region in the province, with a population of about 1.9 million, while 306 employees in Northern Health and 485 in Island Health are not immunized.

Overall, 96 per cent of health-care workers are now fully vaccinated while 98 per cent have received one dose of a vaccine, Dix said.

"It doesn't mean it's an easy decision, it's plainly the right decision," he said, adding 100 per cent of workers in long-term care and assisted living facilities are vaccinated.

There have been 6,000 new employees hired in the long-term care sector over the last year.

Health-care workers who hadn't received at least one dose of a vaccine by Oct. 26 were placed on unpaid leave, and will be dismissed if they do not get a first dose before Nov. 15.

B.C. aims for higher vaccine rates among health-care workers. #BCPoli #COVID19

Henry said a 50-year-old person who's unvaccinated has a 10 times greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 than a person of the same age who's been fully vaccinated.

As of Thursday, 90.1 per cent of eligible B.C. residents 12 and up had received their first dose of a vaccine and 85.6 per cent had been fully vaccinated.

Dix said 98 per cent of residents in long-term care facilities have received booster shots and the doses are being offered to seniors in the community before the general public can get the extra protection against COVID-19.

The province recorded 596 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and reported that eight more people have died, for a total of 2,200 deaths.

Children between five and 11, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, can best be protected if those around them are immunized, Henry said.

"Fifty to 60 per cent of parents are really anxious to get their younger children immunized and they're going to do it right away," she said.

"There are 20 per cent of parents who have a lot of questions, and they want to have those answers before they commit to having their children immunized. And I think that's really important and something that we need to address."

Health Canada is doing an independent assessment of data from Pfizer-BioNTech, the vaccine that would be offered to kids.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.

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