British Columbia

B.C. backtracks on 99% vaccination claim for adults under 30 in Vancouver Coastal Health

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has changed its public definition of the percentage of people who have been vaccinated following questions by CBC News about its accuracy. 

After defending the number, officials said university students from outside region skewed figures

The University of British Columbia board of governors was told 99 per cent of adults under 30 in its health region had at least one vaccine dose, only for that number to be clarified a few days later. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has clarified figures on the percentage of people who have been vaccinated following questions by CBC News about their accuracy. 

On Sept. 23, its dashboard showed 99 per cent of people between 18 and 29 in Vancouver Coastal Health had been given a first vaccine dose, a number not reached by any age demographic in any major health region anywhere in Canada and the United States.

When asked about the accuracy of the graphic, the BCCDC deferred questions to the Ministry of Health which replied to CBC in an email saying "the Ministry of Health confirms this is accurate."

The next day, after the number of people receiving a vaccine dose reached 100 per cent, the BCCDC added a note to the graphic explaining that out-of-town university students who got a shot in the Vancouver Coastal Health region artificially increased the percentage. 

Federal government data showed 83.1 per cent of people 18 to 29 across the entire province had received at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 18, with provincial data consistently showing higher vaccination rates in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria than the rest of the province

'Something's not right'

That 99 per cent figure was given by a Vancouver Coastal Health medical officer at the University of British Columbia's board of governors meeting on Sept. 21, as part of a series of presentations to the board about the pandemic.

UBC mathematician Daniel Coombs, who has helped the province with its modelling of the pandemic, also presented at the meeting and said the number immediately sounded suspect. 

"It was clear something's not right. It's so out of line with all the other age groups," he said. 

"There should be a second look at the numbers before they come out just because it doesn't help with public perception of reliability when there are claims like that being made."

Coombs said, ultimately, the inaccurate 99 per cent figure was less critical given high vaccination rates overall in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

"These population estimates are hard to measure," he said. 

"As for whether we would be able to distinguish between a population where there were 95 per cent or 97 per cent vaccinated, that's pretty unclear."

Transparency concerns

Max Holmes, a UBC student who also serves as a representative on the board of governors, agreed that the data error probably didn't change the university's strategy around containing transmission.

But he said it underlined ongoing concerns about transparency as the university has returned to in-classroom settings this month. 

"There isn't the availability of the data so that people can scrutinize it and analyze it," he said.

"And if it comes out that it's not accurate, that creates a lot of frustration not only for decision makers, but for the larger community."

Holmes said students have been advocating for the university to host a testing site for symptomatic people on campus so they wouldn't have to take transit to get tested. Others have asked for an official dashboard that would show the level of cases and outbreaks on campus, currently being done by volunteers in a crowd-sourced operation. 

To date, neither has happened. 

"I think people want to be able to have trust in the reopening plan … but we just don't have the level of information that can allow for the entire community to be comfortable."