British Columbia

Ribs, coleslaw and a COVID-19 vaccine: B.C. health regions get mobile with immunization tactics

This summer, pop-up clinics and mobile vaccination vans have been pulling up to parking lots, skate parks and highway pull-outs to help protect residents against the novel coronavirus. 

Pop-up units and 'vax vans' visit remote parts of B.C. to immunize hard-to-reach demographics

Northern Health's 'vax van' has been touring the upper two-thirds of B.C. for nearly a month, aiming to immunize hard-to-reach populations. (Submitted by Northern Health)

British Columbia's regional health authorities have been getting creative with new ways to reach people who have yet to be partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

This summer, pop-up clinics and mobile vaccination vans have been pulling up to parking lots, skate parks and highway pull-outs to help protect residents against the novel coronavirus. 

Tanis Hampe, vice-president of pandemic response at Northern Health, says the health authority's approach is about reaching people where they're at. 

"The goal really is to provide opportunities for people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine close to where they live and work," Hampe said.

Hampe says the health authority wants to reach the provincial goal of having 80 per cent of eligible residents fully vaccinated. 

Across the north, Hampe says, the average rate of partially vaccinated residents is 67.5 per cent, with variation across different areas ranging from 40 to 88 per cent. 

Nurse Viva Swanson has been part of a core team of health practitioners staffing Northern Health's mobile vaccine van. (Submitted by Northern Health)

In addition to two trailers acting as pop-up clinics, the health authority also has a mobile vaccination van that is currently taking a nimble approach to targeting underserved demographics. 

Nurse Viva Swanson, an advisor with the leadership development team at Northern Health, was one of the people who thought of the van. Swanson has also been part of the small team staffing it as it rolls to different areas in the region. 

"We just, in a matter of less than probably seven minutes, can flip our table up, our chairs, and have the laptop with our AirCard to register online," Swanson said. 

"It's just a matter of ensuring that we've prepared a vaccine and we have all of the appropriate refrigeration and monitoring devices."

'Get your ribs and coleslaw and your vaccine'

Rather than set a schedule in advance, the team working in the mobile unit decides where to go based on word of mouth and community suggestions. 

Since the vaccination van started operating on July 6 — just six days after Northern Health came up with the idea — it has set up shop in grocery store parking lots, firehalls and at community events like Fort St. John's Rib Fest. 

"You could get your ribs and coleslaw and your vaccine all in the same afternoon event," Swanson said. 

One day the team set up at a pullout on Inga Lake on the Alaska Highway near Fort St. John. The goal was to reach oil patch workers, who Swanson says are often reticent to get the vaccine — not because they don't believe in it, but because they're worried about suffering from potential side effects like fatigue and body aches while working long shifts. 

Swanson says seasonal workers in other industries like construction, road building and farming have expressed the same concerns.

"That's probably the only hesitancy I've heard is how to manage the potential side effects with working in a lot of industries that are shorthanded right now," she said.

Other health authorities have also implemented mobile vaccination strategies. 

Island Health, which serves Vancouver Island, has a mobile vaccination van that started up last week. It says the van will be stationed at "popular parks, beaches, shopping destinations and events," with no appointment needed. 

The van is only for first doses, however. Those in need of a second dose can make an appointment at their nearest mass immunization clinic. 

Island Health's 'vax van' started up last week, in addition to other mobile and pop-up vaccine efforts. (Submitted by Island Health)

Interior Health says its mobile vaccine clinic launched in June and has visited 59 communities since then, administering 20,000 doses as of July 22.

Its urban mobile unit closed up shop last week, but two mobile units focused on rural communities will continue to operate throughout the summer. 


Maryse Zeidler


Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at


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