Medical personnel wear protective gear to wheel a patient into St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, B.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel

Medical personnel wear protective gear to wheel a patient into St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, B.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel

B.C.’s earliest COVID-19 vaccines go to health care workers first

Aim is to immunize 400,000 people by end of March

More COVID-19 vaccine will be needed to arrest the pandemic spread in B.C., but the first people to be immunized will receive it next week, public health officials say.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix described the early days of the coronavirus vaccine plan Wednesday, with 4,000 doses of frozen Pfizer vaccine arriving at two sites in Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health next week packed in dry ice.

Health care workers in long-term care and the acute wards dealing with sick COVID-19 patients are priority one, followed by long-term care residents, seniors over 80 years old in the community, and those at risk because of chronic conditions, including people in Vancouver homeless shelters and in first nations communities where chronic health conditions are also prevalent.

“We’re going to take our limited doses in the first few weeks to months of this program and try to protect as many people as possible,” Henry told reporters in Victoria Dec. 9. “With the doses we expect to have between now and the end of March, we should be able to immunize close to 400,000 people in B.C. That is not enough to stop the pandemic. It’s not enough to prevent transmission in our communities widely, and to stop the pandemic in its tracks.

“But I think once we get past March and we get more vaccines, and different vaccines in higher numbers, that’s when we are going to be able to reach that threshold.”

After people with chronic conditions and poor housing, the next priority will be some paramedics, firefighters, people with higher exposure such as grocery store workers, food processing staff and teachers. Henry was asked why emergency workers and teachers aren’t higher priority.

“We are not seeing transmission in schools,” Henry said. “We are not seeing firefighters exposed.”

The Pfizer vaccine is the first approved by Health Canada, and it requires low-temperature storage. As with the Moderna vaccine expected to be approved next, it is not yet tested for use on people under 16, pregnant or with compromised immune systems. Henry said later vaccines with more conventional formulas are expected to be approved soon, which can be used for these groups.

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Dr. Ross Brown, director of regional emergency operations at Vancouver Coastal Health, is the incident commander of B.C.’s roll-out, with a background in military operations. He said the vaccine program will scale up to seven locations by the end of January.

“Our approach will be slow, steady and nimble at the beginning, and ramping up as more vaccine becomes available,” Brown said. “We consider this a no-fail mission, and we will get it done.”


@tomfletcherbc
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