Thousands of front-line health-care workers in long-term care, intensive care, emergency rooms and COVID-19 hospitals will be the first to get the vaccine against the virus in B.C.
Residents of long-term care and assisted-living facilities will be next in line, either later this month or in January, but only once the vaccine can be safely moved.
So far, the Pfizer vaccine can only be stored at -70 C, so it can only be dispensed at the point of delivery. B.C. officials say they are not ready to move it into long-term care homes.
This means workers will need to go to a set location: One will be in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and another in Fraser Health region. Both will receive a combined nearly 4,000 doses next week.
“Our intense focus will be immunizing those around long-term care and immunizing those in long-term care,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news conference.
“COVID-19 has caused a lot of disruptions in our lives and a vaccine is the best way out of it.”
Next on the list will be seniors over the age of 80 and people at high risk such as those who are homeless and those who live in remote and isolated Indigenous communities.
The goal is to immunize all of these groups in the first three months of 2021, officials said, with access to doses that are more transportable expected in April.
The next group will be other front-line workers such as paramedics, firefighters, police officers, grocery workers and teachers.
People who are homeless will receive the vaccine before teachers and other workers because they are at higher risk, Henry said.
“I expect everyone will be saying, ‘Where am I?’ (on the list), and that’s an issue. The reality is we have limited doses of the vaccine. The other reality is we are not seeing firefighters being exposed, we are not seeing teachers exposed,” she said.
“We are focusing on saving lives and those are the people most likely to get ill and end up in hospital.”
Also in April, the province will begin to deliver the vaccine by age, starting with people age 75 and above, then age 70 and above, and so on.
Those who are immunocompromised, such as patients with cancer, people who are pregnant and children are not recommended to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
Earlier on Wednesday, the federal government announced that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is officially approved for use in Canada, with limited rollout set to begin to priority groups “within days.”
Vaccination of Canada’s general population is anticipated to start in April.
“It’s an exceptional day for Canada,” Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor with Health Canada’s regulatory branch, told reporters.
“In a year where we haven’t had a lot of good news, this is a bit of good news. And I think we should take a moment to acknowledge that — and then we’re all going to get back to work.”
The goal in B.C. is to vaccinate 400,000 people by the end of March.
“This is not enough to stop transmission in our communities. It is not enough to stop the pandemic,” Henry noted.
Sixty to 70 per cent of the population will need to get the shot before social-distancing orders and other rules can be eased, she said, though that could change the more health officials learn about the virus.
The province hopes to get to this point by May, June or July, Henry added.
“We are hoping to have a good summer, I hope.”
– with files from Amanda Connolly