Sabotage concerns a factor in secrecy around B.C. COVID-19 vaccine sites

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British Columbia’s top doctor says the locations where the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered are being kept under wraps due, in part, to concerns about possible sabotage.

On Wednesday, the province announced that B.C. will initially deploy the vaccine to two sites, one in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and one in the Fraser Health region.

Read more: Hospitals, not LTC homes, among 1st sites to give Canada’s coronavirus vaccines

At her Thursday briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry elaborated on the reasons for secrecy.

“It’s really around information that we’ve received internationally and from Canadian agencies that there has been a concerted effort to try and interrupt the cold chain, for example, and to sabotage immunization programs,” she said.

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The new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept at a temperature of -70 C to remain stable.

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“We all need to make sure that we are taking appropriate precautions to make sure that it is safe and that we can make sure that it’s not tampered with during that whole process,” Henry added.

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Henry said there were also safety concerns around the ultra-low temperature freezers at the vaccine deployment sites.

The BC RCMP confirmed that it is involved in security around the vaccine deployment.

Read more: Coronavirus vaccine will arrive in Canada on Monday, government says

In an email, Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the force was “working closely” with the Ministry of Health “in the planning and delivery of the vaccines,” and would remain engaged throughout delivery.

“For operational reasons we cannot provide more specific details with respect to the roles we have, and will continue to play,” she said.

Henry said in addition to the involvement of the RCMP, the Department of National Defence is also engaged in security around the vaccine rollout.

“We do take advice and support from them here in B.C.,” she said. “They’ve been part of our emergency operations center in providing support and advice, too. So it’s a comfort to know that we’re all talking to each other.”

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Earlier this month, Interpol issued a global alert to law enforcement warning them that organized crime may be targeting the vaccine both physically and online.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

Read more: Front-line health workers will be first to get COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.

“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.”

Federal officials said Canada would get its first shipment of the vaccine on Monday.

British Columbia is expected to receive an estimated 4,000 doses at some point next week.

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As the supply chain improves, the province intends to expand the vaccine deployment to as many as 30 sites around B.C.