Doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will be available at pharmacies in Prince George by the end of the week, Health Minister Adrian Dix said on Tuesday.
Prince George residents aged 55 to 65 will be eligible to receive the vaccine, Dix said. The pharmacy-based vaccination campaign will run alongside the regular, age-based campaign, being administered at a clinic based at the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre.
The program to use the province's doses of AstraZeneca vaccine was first launched at pharmacies in the Lower Mainland. Dix said this week it will be expanded to communities across the province, including Prince George, Terrace and Dawson Creek in the Northern Health region.
"We are really focusing on those communities that are having the biggest challenges with outbreaks," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. "We do not have enough vaccine to provide it to everybody (in the 55 to 65 age group.)"
Across the province there are roughly 700,000 people in the 55 to 65 age group, she said, and the province is only expecting to have 200,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine over the next few weeks.
The pharmacy-based campaign is a way to "jump start" vaccinations in that age group, until those people are eligible for the main, age-based campaign, she said.
The province's supply of AstraZeneca was initially slated to be used to vaccinate frontline workers, but concerns about possible blood clots in people under 55 prompted the province to switch gears to ensure the doses could be used before they expire, Henry said.
"Our parallel, worker-focused program remains on pause right now while we get more information about the AstraZeneca vaccine," she said.
The province expects to start receiving doses of the single-dose, fridge-stable Johnson and Johnson vaccine later this month, she said. That vaccine may be used to restart the province's vaccination campaign for frontline workers, Henry added.
A spokesperson for Northern Health couldn't provide any additional details about the rollout of the plan in Prince George and other northern B.C. communities, but said those details will be announced when they are available.
Those aged 71 and up (and all adult Indigenous people) can register for the province's main, age-based vaccination campaign using the province's new online registration system. which launched on Tuesday. As of 2 p.m., 160,464 people had registered using the online system since it went live on Tuesday morning, Dix said.
For information on how to access the Get Vaccinated system, go online to www2.gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated.html.
FOUR NEW DEATHS REPORTED
Four COVID-related deaths were reported in the Northern Health region over the weekend. The deaths bring the region's death toll from the pandemic to 128, according to data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on Tuesday.
A further 43 new cases were reported in the north on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the region since the start of the pandemic to 6,294, the B.C. CDC reported.
The number of active cases in the region grew to 340 on Tuesday, up from 297 on Thursday – the last day the B.C. CDC reported data for the region.
The number of people hospitalized in the region was up by four to 34 on Tuesday, including nine people in intensive care.
A total of 912,056 doses of all three COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the province, meaning more than 19 per cent of British Columbians have now been vaccinated, Dix said.
Updated vaccination numbers for the Northern Health region weren't available from the B.C. CDC as of Tuesday afternoon.
A further 207 cases of COVID-19 variants of concern were identified in B.C. on Tuesday, Henry said. Since the variants were first identified, there have been 3,766 confirmed cases of the U.K., South African and Brazilian variants in the province – including 15 in the Northern Health region.
However, only 266 of those cases were currently active, she said.
"That is about three per cent of our active cases right now," Henry said. "Viruses by their very nature, they mutate and change. For us, it's the B117 (U.K.) strain that has taken over about a third of our (new) cases."
In Ontario, roughly 60 per cent of new COVID-19 cases are of the highly-infectious U.K. variant, and British Columbia is likely only a month behind that level, Henry said.
"The B117 is being found all over B.C.," she said. "In lower numbers outside the Lower Mainland, but all over the province."