B.C. plans on immunizing 400,000 people against COVID-19 by March 2021, with priority given to residents and staff of long-term care homes and health-care workers.
Health officials said on Wednesday that level of immunity — around 10 per cent of B.C.’s population — will not stop the pandemic but will save lives and prevent the province’s health-care system from becoming overwhelmed.
“Today is an important day for everyone in B.C. Today we are talking about COVID-19 vaccines, vaccines that are real and approved for use here and across the country,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, calling the vaccine’s rollout the “most complex and comprehensive immunization program ever delivered in B.C.”
As more doses of the vaccine become available, priority will be given to seniors over 80, people with underlying health conditions, people who are underhoused, and people living in remote and isolated Indigenous communities.
By April, front-line workers including teachers, grocery store workers, firefighters, and people working in food processing plants will be prioritized.
As doses increase, Henry says vaccines will be distributed, moving down the population age range in increments.
Just under 4,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, approved in Canada on Wednesday morning, are set to arrive in B.C., carried on four trays of 975 doses.
Two of those trays will be arriving at a site in Vancouver Coastal Health, and two others at a site in Fraser Health.
Because of the delicate nature of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at extremely low temperatures, those first 4,000 doses of the vaccine will first need to be dispensed at the locations where they arrive and so will be given to health-care workers who can get there.
The province is developing a plan on how to transport vaccines to long-term care homes for residents and staff.
B.C. has designated nine sites across the province to receive the vaccine and plans on expanding to 30 sites.
Henry urged patience — acknowledging that after 10 months of hardship, isolation and loss, people will be eager to know when and where they will be able to receive immunization.
Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry says the arrival of the vaccine marks a turning point in the fight against COVID-19:
“Eventually, everyone who can and wants to get a vaccine will get access. This will not happen right away. We need to continue to take measures to protect one another,” she said.
Henry expects Moderna vaccine to receive approval
Henry said the Moderna vaccine, which is less complex to transport and will be key for reaching more remote communities, is likely to be the second approved vaccine in Canada.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, received at a minimum of 21 days apart. An immunized person becomes fully immune seven days after the second dose, but Henry said immunity is significantly increased after the first dose.
Both vaccines use messenger RNA technology, and contain the genetic coding for the virus’s spike protein — the coding teaches our immune systems to recognize the spike protein, controlling and preventing infection.
“Each vaccine maker had to show that vaccines were safe, effective and administered to the highest quality. We set the bar high,” said Henry.
“I have full confidence in the vaccines and the processes that have taken us to this point right now.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has not been tested on people under the age of 16, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
Up to 249,000 doses are expected to arrive in Canada by the end of the year.”Our plan is built to be flexible. There will be likely be some hiccups. We will respond to the circumstances at the time,” said Henry.
“There is light ahead, and that light is shining a little brighter today.”
16 more deaths, 619 new cases
Health officials also announced 16 more people have died from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, as B.C. recorded 619 new cases.
There are 338 patients in hospital with the disease, including 75 in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 559 people in B.C. have died of COVID-19.
“We’ve not bent our curve, we’ve flattened it. We really need to keep these measures up,” said Henry.
“Looking into next fall, we’re looking at getting back to some semblance of our normal ways of interacting with each other. We’ll be able to see each other safely, and the pandemic, I hope, will be on its last legs.”