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BC Unveils Its COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

Fewer than 10 per cent of British Columbians will be immunized by March, with health-care workers, at-risk seniors and homeless people given priority.

Moira Wyton 10 Dec 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Almost 4,000 frontline health-care workers in long-term care, emergency departments and acute care hospital units will be vaccinated against COVID-19 as early as next week.

B.C. is set to receive four 975-dose trays of the Pfizer vaccine next week and tens of thousands more doses by the end of the year. Health Canada approved the vaccine Wednesday.

The government expects around 400,000 high-priority people — just less than 10 per cent of British Columbians — will be immunized by March.

These will include seniors over 80 living in the community and people with underlying health conditions who sleep in shelters or have no stable housing.

Remote Indigenous communities will also be part of the second-stage priority group.

“Today is an important day for everyone in B.C.,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry Wednesday. “These are the vaccines that will save lives and ease the immense pressure on our health-care system.”

Henry expects a vaccine will be available for everyone in B.C. who wants it by early next fall.

The Pfizer vaccine, manufactured in Belgium, is one of seven that Canada has secured. It requires two doses at least three weeks apart to be fully effective, although significant immunity is present two weeks after the initial dose.

And its 94.5-per-cent efficacy rate is “the best that we could hope for in public health when we look at protecting people in our community,” said Henry.

She expressed full confidence in the vaccine, the rigorous testing it has undergone and the potential it has to help the province and world save lives and return to “some semblance of normal” around next fall.

“There is light ahead, and that light is shining a little brighter today,” said Henry.

Senior health officials, joined by Premier John Horgan, said that while vaccinating 10 per cent of the population won’t stop community transmission, it will save lives and help improve the quality of life for residents of long-term care and assisted-living facilities.

Health Minister Adrian Dix suggested devastating visitor restrictions in long-term care could be eased as a result of vaccination among staff and residents.

At least 280 people have died of COVID-19 since Nov. 1. The vast majority were in long-term care or assisted living.

But the vaccine is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is not yet safe for pregnant people, those under 16 or people who are immunocompromised due to autoimmune diseases or cancer treatment.

It also needs to be stored at -70 C. Henry said that complicates delivery.

One site in Vancouver Coastal and one in Fraser Health will administer the initial doses next week, and the province plans to expand to 30 sites by the spring.

Health Canada is expected to approve a vaccine from Moderna by the end of the year. Henry says that will allow the province to ramp up delivery directly to long-term care facilities as it needs to be stored at -20 C.

Henry and Dr. Ross Brown, who is leading the province’s immunization strategy, said the time will come when a vaccine is widely available for all British Columbians who want it.

But for now, they are asking everyone to redouble their efforts to mask up, physically distance and wash their hands.

“We really need to keep these measures up,” said Henry. “We are still seeing our health-care system strained and we are still seeing far too many people in long-term care falling ill and dying.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Coronavirus

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