The province provided new details of its sweeping COVID-19 immunization program Monday, giving a glimpse of a potential end to a pandemic entering its second year.
“We can now see the light at the end of what has been a difficult and challenging time for us all. To get us through, we need to continue to work together and support each other,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer.
On Monday, Henry, alongside Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix revealed that through the end of April, under Phase 2 of the plan, there are more than 415,000 people set to receive their vaccinations. They include:
- Seniors over 80
- Indigenous people over 65
- Any remaining medical staff and specialists not immunized
- Vulnerable people in close quarters
- Those who work in senior community home support and nursing
The province has been operating under Phases 1 plan over winter, with the most at-risk and vulnerable populations receiving the vaccine so far. Now, its attention is turning to members of the general population over the age of 80 before moving on to the rest of the public.
Mass vaccinations will begin in the latter half of March, with a call-in system being launched March 8 for those targeted in Phase 2. Seniors and Indigenous people in the following age ranges can call in on specific dates to book their appointments:
- March 8, 2021: Seniors born in or before 1931 (90 years+)/Indigenous peoples born in or
before 1956 (65 years+)
- March 15, 2021: Seniors born in or before 1936 (85 years+)
- March 22, 2021: Seniors born in or before 1941 (80 years+)
Vaccinations for that group will begin taking place on March 15. The government is asking people to visit its senior vaccination website for more information on health authority contacts, call-in schedules and step-by-step instructions on how to make an appointment.
The provincial government also revealed that over the weekend, it approved a four-month window between doses one and two of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because the first dose has been higher than 90 per cent effective after three weeks, with protection lasting four months.
Because of that, more initial doses will be made available to a broader segment of the population sooner, according to the province.
Another factor that could significantly speed up vaccinations is the recently approved Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which Henry touted as being more “fridge-stable” compared to the current two vaccines in use.
Canada is expected to get 24-million doses of the vaccine between April and September. The province is not yet sure how much of that it will be getting and when. For the 415,000 doses B.C. is receiving in the next few weeks, 255,000 will be Pfizer’s and 160,000 will be Moderna’s.
Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.’s immunization plan, said its all good news that jumpstarts the vaccination timeline significantly.
“It will effectively, when we modeled it last night, it will likely result in, by mid-to-late July that we’ll have been able to give a first dose to everybody in our population, which is a significant shift from our earlier plan,” Ballem said.
It could also inrease the immunization timeline for essential workers such as people who work in schools, grocery stores and poultry farms as well as first responder.
However, B.C. Premier John Horgan cautioned the public against being complacent in the face of Monday’s update.
“Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are far from out of this. We have months to go,” he said.
“That means that we need to continue to practice the principles that Dr. Henry has put in place over the past number of months: that we remain physically distanced, we keep our groups as small as possible, we don’t come to work when we’re sick, we wear masks whenever we can inside..and in fact, whenever we’re out and about for a walk for mental health breaks and so on.”
More details on the rest of the rollout plan for mass vaccinations are expected to be given in late March. Expect to see bigger-than-normal immunization clinics once B.C.’s eligible population of approximately 4.3 million people start booking appointments, health officials said Monday.
“When we get into April, starting for the broader population 75 and under, we will have mass clinics that are being basically set up and locked down as we speak across the province. Some of them will be very large, probably larger than many of us have experienced in Canada,” she said.
Once Phases 3 and 4 begin more of the general population will be able to schedule their vaccination appointments by phone or through a government website.
Henry said there will be a provincial call centre created for Phase 3 that will be able to handle a heavy volume of calls, but there will also be a “big drive” to online registration to ease the burden. There will also be a drive to find people to staff the call centres, but more details on logistics will be provided in the coming weeks, officials said.
As of Feb. 28, 275,681 doses of vaccine had been adminstered in B.C., with 82,810 coming as second doses.