Some Okanagan residents claim the Interior Health Authority (IHA) violated their medical privacy by disclosing their COVID-19 immunization status on the outside of an envelope mailed to them.
In blue block letters, the envelope says, “A COVID-19 vaccine has been reserved for you,” and clearly shows the correspondence is from Interior Health.
Inside the envelope, recipients received a message from Dr. Bonnie Henry, personally addressed to the individual, encouraging them to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“To really put the pandemic behind us, we need to get more people in your community vaccinated,” the letter says.
“I’m hoping we can count on you.”
Keith MacIntyre, the leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party and owner of Big Bear Software, said he takes issue with the format.
“It shouldn’t be emblazed on the front of the envelope,” MacIntyre told Global News.
MacIntyre, who lives in Penticton, outlined several scenarios in which the revelation could cause personal conflicts.
“Imagine if you’re in a roommate situation and you don’t want your roommates to know if you’ve had a medical treatment. Maybe one spouse is very against vaccines and one spouse needs to get it for their job, and they don’t want to have that conversation,” he said.
MacIntyre said he has chosen not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“At my age category, there is a very, very low risk. I feel likely that I probably had it in November/December 2019 anyways, and there are lots of studies saying that you’re probably quite immune if you’ve had it,” he said.
Dan Ashton, Penticton’s MLA representing the BC Liberal Party, said on Facebook that he’s also recieved complaints from non-vaccinated citizens regarding the letters.
“From my own perspective, I believe using blank envelopes would have better respected the confidentiality of citizens affected by this,” Ashton wrote.
Ashton noted he fully supports the province’s vaccine rollout and has received both doses of vaccine himself.
Dr. Silvina Mema, a medical health officer with Interior Health, said its Patient Care Quality Office has received several complaints about the letters.
A team is reviewing the concerns. More than 100,000 letters were sent out to residents in the Interior Health region.
“What I can tell you from a scientific perspective is that recalls and reminders for immunization work, in the sense that people sometimes forget or postpone their vaccination, and that triggers a response. We are seeing many people coming with the letter and getting vaccinated,” she said.
As of Monday, just under 80 per cent of residents aged 12 and up have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 53 per cent are fully immunized
The uptake is slightly lower in the Interior Health region, with 72 per cent of eligible people receiving the first jab, and 45 per cent receiving their second dose.
Health officials have a goal of getting up to 85 per cent of the population vaccinated.
“That would create herd immunity. So, when you have a critical mass of individuals who are vaccinated, the virus simply can’t make its way through the community,” she said.
Mema said the Interior Health region is recording approximately 10-15 new cases each day.
“We are seeing that most of the cases are individuals who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated. The vast majority are people who have not received any vaccine,” Mema said.
Mema said of all new cases in the Interior Health region since July 1, 70 per cent of infected people have not received any vaccine, and 26 per cent have received one dose.
The regional health authority says a major vaccine campaign underway, and it’s making it as easy as possible for people to get the jab.
Same-day immunization mobile clinics are popping up around the B.C. Southern Interior, and more information can be found on Interior Health’s website.
No appointments are required.
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