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Free COVID-19 rapid tests to be made available in B.C. for 70 and up starting Friday

VICTORIA — Rapid tests, a new vaccine and antiviral pills will soon be available to British Columbia residents for more options to combat COVID-19 infections. Provincial health officer Dr.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks during a COVID-19 update news conference, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. The provincial health officer says B.C. residents 70 and older will be able to get a COVID-19 rapid tests starting this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA — Rapid tests, a new vaccine and antiviral pills will soon be available to British Columbia residents for more options to combat COVID-19 infections. 

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said one rapid test box containing five tests will be available at pharmacies at no cost starting Friday for those 70 and older. 

The tests should be picked up when people are asymptomatic and be used one at a time when they have symptoms, she told a news conference Wednesday. 

The tests will be available to all age groups over the next month as additional shipments of up to 12 million tests arrive. 

"If you have symptoms and you want to know if they're COVID, these rapid tests are a really great way of doing that," Henry said. 

A news release from the province said 653 people are in hospital due to COVID-19 and 108 of those are in intensive care.

One more person had died due to COVID-19 for a total of 2,831 fatalities.

In the last few days, Henry said four people in their 40s have died. 

“It reminds us that everybody has risk. Right now, we still have high levels of transmission.”

More than 90 per cent of those eligible 12 and older have received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 55 per cent got their third shot, the release said.

Henry said B.C. residents will now also have the option of another vaccine.

The new protein-based COVID-19 vaccine, Novavax, approved by Health Canada last week will soon be available in the province, she said.

"This is an interesting vaccine. It's one we've been watching for some time," she said.

"And no human-derived materials were involved in its development. It uses an insect cell line, which is really cool — a moth cell line." 

She said there is also an immune system booster in the vaccine that is made out of soap bark tree extract. 

Vaccines that use mRNA technology give the body the genetic code for the coronavirus spike protein. The body then generates those proteins.  

Novavax is a more traditional vaccine where the proteins are given directly and those stimulate the body's immune system to develop antibodies, she said.

"So, it's a tried and true methodology of making vaccines and we know the immune system responds well." 

These are a good option for protecting those who have had reactions to the current vaccines, she said. 

It's given in two doses for those aged 18 and older. 

Two new antiviral treatments for COVID-19 will also be available, but they aren't for everyone, Henry said. 

Paxlovid and Sotrovimab are aimed at those at higher risk, who are 60 and older and have underlying illnesses, she said.

The government launched an online tool and virtual assessment for people to see if they would benefit and qualify for the treatment.

"These are especially important for people who are at high risk of having severe illness and hospitalization if they get COVID," Henry said.

"These treatments are available now for you. So, these are a positive step forward."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2022.

The Canadian Press