The province will vaccinate more than 300,000 essential workers including teachers, child care workers, first responders and grocery store employees with the AstraZeneca vaccine as it moves into the next phase of its immunization rollout plan.
Speaking Thursday, Premier John Horgan called it “the beginning of the end” of the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C.
“We know this has been an extremely challenging time for front-line workers,” said Horgan. “But as many of us have been able to work remotely or from home, they have gone to work day after day, day after day, and that they are the true heroes that we want to immunize at this time.”
The groups to be prioritized in April include:
- first responders (police, firefighters, emergency transport);
- K-12 educational staff;
- child care staff;
- grocery store workers;
- postal workers;
- bylaw and quarantine officers;
- manufacturing workers;
- wholesale/warehousing employees;
- staff living in congregate housing at places such as ski hills;
- correctional facilities staff; and
- cross-border transport staff
The frontline workers were determined to be those who have jobs where the use of personal protective equipment is challenging, where outbreaks have occurred, where workers live or work in large congregations or where maintaining a workforce is vital to keeping a service running, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday.
In the Island Health region, Henry said the authority is focused on vaccinating food production facility workers, with doses in reserves for larger outbreaks.
PHO says the AstraZeneca vaccine (also known as COVISHIELD) has come and is coming into BC in the coming weeks.
- 68K doses received last week, those are starting to be administered now
- 300K doses coming in the last week of March/ early April
- 136K more in mid-April
- 68K in May
— CHEK News (@CHEK_News) March 18, 2021
The news was met with relief from B.C. teachers, who have long been fighting to get vaccinated earlier than the standard age cohorts.
“I join all of my teacher colleagues in expressing huge relief that educators across B.C. will be prioritized in April to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” Teri Mooring, the president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, said in a statement.
Henry said the government would be reaching out to groups of workers identified Thursday to set up immunization plans.
“We will be reaching out by specific industry, specific farms in some cases, and also be reaching out to the fire chiefs, to our police chiefs, we’ll be connecting with the school system to do that,” she said, adding those groups should not call the regular age-based hotline for booking vaccinations.
The vaccine has already been deployed to workplaces identified as having the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission, like food-processing plants, agricultural operations like farms, nurseries and greenhouses and large industrial work camps where employees live.
The province said it expects to receive 340,000 doses of AstraZeneca by the end of May and those doses will be rolled out in pharmacies as well as existing immunization clinics and mobile clinics.
In addition to the vaccination of essential workers, Henry said the age-based schedule will be bumped up once again. Next week, 75 to 80-year-olds will be able to book their appointments.
On April 6, the province will introduce its long-awaited online booking system, beginning with people aged 65-69 — a week earlier than it had previously stated.
The immunization rollout is currently in Phase 2, which targets seniors and Indigenous people over 65. As of Thursday at noon, seniors age 81 can start calling to book their vaccination appointments. Seniors age 80 will be able to call in beginning Friday at noon.
BC will shut down its 5 different call centres to phone for vaccinationa appointments on April 6.
Replace it with a province-wide call centre and a new online booking system.
— Rob Shaw (@RobShaw_BC) March 18, 2021
Everyone will be able to get their first dose of vaccine by the end of June, Henry said Thursday. This comes after Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine and B.C. extended the interval between doses to four months.
Henry reiterated Horgan’s suggestion earlier this week that some public health orders could be relaxed over the summer if vaccinations run smoothly.
With a plan in place to get everyone who’s eligible for a shot one by July 1, Henry said we could see some restrictions relaxed this summer, but stopped short of saying exactly what health orders could be lifted or eased.
“I wish I could tell you. Unfortunately, I can just give you a sense of where, what could happen. What I’d like to see of course is that our transmission drops off,” she said.
To book an appointment with Island Health, call 1-833-348-4787 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily during your age-based call-in time only.