B.C. unveils its vaccine rollout plan

The province revealed its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan for Phase 2 which aims to have more than 400,000 British Columbians from high-risk populations vaccinated by the end of April.

Over the next two months, the province is targeting all seniors aged 80 and older, indigenous people 65 years and older, hospital staff, general practitioners, medical specialists, nurses and other staff working in community support, as well as the province’s vulnerable populations living in select congregation settings.

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From March 1-15 the province plans to vaccinate all its Phase 2 priority groups, which include: high-risk street people, hospital and community health care workers, high-risk seniors living in independent-living homes and the staff of those homes, high-risk seniors in supportive housing, and long-term support clients and staff.

From March 15-April 11, the first cohort of the general population (80-and-older) and indigenous people aged 65-and-over will be able to book vaccination appointments. The province’s call-in system will be activated on March 8 for appointments starting March 15 and each health authority will have its own call centre phone number. Seniors aged 90+ (born in or before 1931) and indigenous people born in or before 1956 can register starting March 8.

Seniors aged 85 or older (born in or before 1936) can call starting March 15 for vaccinations that start March 22, while those who are 80 or older will have to wait until March 22 to book an appointment, with vaccinations starting March 29. Registration begins in late-March for seniors 75-and-older and indigenous people 60-and-older.

People are being asked to only contact the call centre if they are eligible to keep the phone lines free. Those who miss their age-based dates can still book at any time after they become eligible. The booking process will be explained in greater detail on the website, gov.bc.ca/bcseniorsfirst.

“We’re very confident in the coming weeks in March that the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have been committed to us are going to arrive," said Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.'s immunization plan. “The Moderna arrives in the mid to late part of March. Pfizer is on a weekly basis and although we’ve had issues in the past weeks, now that the flow is starting to significantly increase we anticipate we will be getting those.”

Monday’s news briefing in Victoria also revealed the province’s Phase 3 plan which includes people aged 60-79 in the general population. They likely have to wait until April to receive their first doses of vaccine, with distribution based on five-year increments and the vaccine offered to the oldest groups first. People aged 16-69 who are clinically more vulnerable, as well as indigenous people aged 45-64, are also included in the Phase 3 rollout.

The remaining adults in the province, aged 18-59, will be part of the Phase 4 rollout from July-September, with the oldest of the five-year increments receiving their vaccines first. If more vaccines are approved and become available, people in the 18-64 age category who are front-line essential workers or who work in specified workplaces or industries might become eligible for their vaccines during Phase 3.

Phase 3 vaccinations which begin with registration in mid-April will involve a two-step online process to book an appointment. Those individuals born in 1946 or earlier or indigenous people born in 1961 or earlier will be able to use the provincial call centre or online system to register. That will be the start of the province’s mass immunization clinics across the province. Mobile clinics will be utilized for rural communities and to vaccinate people housebound due to mobility issues. The province is ramping up plans to hire more immunizers and medical staff who will be needed at the large-scale immunization sites.

“This immunization process is a massive undertaking and I thank the regional health authorities, the thousands of health-care workers and medical staff, our colleagues in the Ministry of Health and the many community partners who help us to deliver care and who have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic for their dedication and support," said Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.'s immunization plan. “Phase 2 is right on schedule, and we are working closely with each of the regional health authorities to make sure that they have the tools and resources needed to safely and efficiently book appointments.”

B.C.’s vaccine supply will allow close to 415,000 doses to be given during Phase 2, between now and mid-April. Priority populations from Phase 2 and remaining unvaccinated Phase 1 population will account for 190,000 of those doses. A total of 175,000 doses will be reserved for people born in or before 1941 (80-and-older), while 9,000 doses are targeted for remote and indigenous communities. Indigenous people born in 1956 or earlier (65-and-older) qualify for 35,000 doses of the Phase 2 supply, while 6,000 doses will be reserved for outbreaks.

Of the Phase 2 dose destined for B.C., the Pfizer commitment through March 29 will bring 255,000 first doses. Two shipments of the Moderna vaccine are expected by mid-to-late-March for a total of 160,000 first doses. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have proven to be more than 90 per cent effective for the Phase 1 populations, which include residents of long-term care homes. Those vaccines have dramatically reduced outbreaks in acute and long-term care settings and that even a single dose provides strong protection.

“We have seen that the vaccines we have here in B.C. are safe and they provide a very high level of real-world protection with the initial dose,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “Some of that data was presented last week from the (BC Centre for Disease Control) which showed the protection we’re getting after a single dose, once your body’s immune system responds to that, so at about three weeks, is about 90 per cent even in  long-term homes, out most frail and elderly.”

Canada’s approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week will result in a likely B.C. allocation of 60,000 doses starting the week of March 9. Decisions on the most strategic use of the AstraZeneca supply will be made early next week by the provincial health officer. The United States last week approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that has been shown to be 86 per cent effective in preventing severe COVID symptoms but it has not yet received Health Canada approval.

As of Friday, the province had administered 252,373 doses of COVID-19 vaccine (about 5.8 per cent of all British Columbians) and 73,808 had received their second doses. BC plans to give out an additional 70,000 second doses (Pfizer or Moderna) by the end of this month. Studies have shown there is an immune response benefit to extending the wait period between Dose 1 and Dose 2 vaccinations to four months and that will allow more people in the general population to receive their first doses. The extension between doses will allow 40,000 people in the B.C. general population and 30,000 First Nations people to be immunized.

Ballem said as new vaccines become available and the provincial supply increases, the wait times for British Columbians will shrink.

“As we look ahead to the rest of our population we know it’s going to change,” said Ballem. “We’ve just had the news of AstraZenica and the extension of Dose 2 will make a big big difference to our ability to vaccinate our mass populations. It will likely result by mid-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 out into September.”

Premier John Horgan stressed there is still months to go before the pandemic will wane and people need to continue to practice physical distancing, avoid crowds, wear masks and stay home from work when sick. He also said the province’s longterm vaccine plan is subject to fluctuations of the world supply.

“Although there is fantastic news on the horizon it depends on supply,” said Horgan. “We are dependent on off-shore supplies of vaccines to meet our targets. The federal government has been working overtime to make sure we get access to those vaccines but there is no domestic supplier that we can put pressure on. This is a scarce commodity that is in high demand in every corner of the planet.”



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