The COVID-19 vaccine will be coming to the Northern Health region next week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Monday.
During her update on the COVID-19 situation in the province on Monday, Henry said shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in B.C. on Sunday night. Those doses will be distributed at two clinics in the Lower Mainland this week, starting on Tuesday.
"Next week, the vaccine will be available in every health authority in the province," Henry said. "We've identified nine (vaccination) sites around the province. There will be vaccine delivered to the north, the interior and (Vancouver) Island next week."
Because of the sensitive nature of the vaccine, Pfizer allowed Canada only 14 point-of-entry sites in the country – two of which were allocated to B.C., she said. One is in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and one is in Fraser Health.
Once they processes and handling of the vaccine mastered, it will be rolled out at the other sites in the province, she said.
"It's a very delicate vaccine, and it's very unstable once thawed," Henry said.
The Pfizer vaccine also requires two doses, a minimum of 19 days apart – but ideally 21 to 28 days apart.
The plan is to use all 3,900 doses available to B.C. this week to provide first doses, and start administering second doses in January when additional supply is available, Henry said.
"Right now we're at the peak risk in our community," she said. "I have a real challenge leaving vaccine in the fridge when we have so many people at risk."
The first priority for vaccination will be health care and long-term care workers, she added. Once those people are vaccinated other priority groups – like long-term care residents – will be next on the list, she said.
"This is huge. It's going to be what makes the difference," Henry said.
A spokesperson for Northern Health wasn't able to confirm if Prince George would be one of the vaccination sites, or provide further details about the vaccination plan in the region.
Henry's vaccine announcement came on the heels of grim news: since Friday's update, 49 people in B.C. have died of COVID-19 including three people in the Northern Health region.
The three people who died in the north were all men, a Northern Health spokesperson said. One was a man in his 60s, the other two were men in their 70s.
The province's death toll from the pandemic rose to 647 – including 12 residents of Northern Health.
A total of 91 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Northern Health region on Monday. However, the region's number of active cases declined from a high of 421 on Friday to 398 by Monday, according to data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the north remained steady at 46, with 18 of those in intensive care.
Province-wide, there were 2,146 new cases since Friday's update, and the number of active cases hit 10,039. A further 11,177 people were being monitored for potential exposure.
Across B.C., there were 359 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 89 in intensive care.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been 42,943 cases of COVID-19 in the province, including 1,331 in the Northern Health region.
As of Thursday, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate for COVID-19 tests in the Northern Health was 10.3 per cent – meaning roughly one in 10 COVID-19 tests in the north comes up positive.
The north's positivity rate was the highest in the province. The B.C. average positivity rate for that week was 6.5 per cent.
Henry urged British Columbians to continue following all the public health guidance, and avoid social gatherings – even over the holidays – until widespread vaccination is available.
"This is going to be the hardest time," she said. "Now is dangerous. There are no safe gatherings."
SECOND TEAM SENT TO FORT ST. JAMES
A second team of rapid response paramedics has been deployed to Fort St. James.
The team is taking over from one initially brought into the community last week and will remain there until Wednesday, B.C. Emergency Health Services said.
The teams have been called in ease the load on paramedics in the community and surrounding area hard hit by the COVID 19 virus.
As of Monday, have responded to 45 medical emergency calls and 56 patient transfers so far this December - equal to the volume paramedics typically deal with in an entire month, BCEHS said.
In November paramedics based in Fort St. James responded 95 medical emergency calls, well above the monthly average of 50-60 calls.
ANTI-MASKER RALLY ORGANIZER FINED
Dawson Creek RCMP say they have issued a ticket carrying a $2,300 fine to the organizer of a rally held Saturday to protest the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID 19.
"Dawson Creek RCMP had previously met with the organizer on several occasions in an effort to ensure he was aware of his responsibilities under the current Provincial Health Order as the organizer of an event, even going so far as to provide the organizer a copy of the current Provincial Health Order pertaining to organizers of events and gatherings.
"The organizer unfortunately refused to comply with the requirements of the Provincial Health Order."
— With files from Mark Nielsen