British Columbia has expanded who will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of March to include all First Nations communities, provincial correctional facilities and community GPs.
The province aims to immunize around 550,000 people over the next three months. Priority populations include anyone who is deemed to be at higher risk of having severe health impacts from COVID-19.
The priority from now until February continues to be the 70,000 people who live or work in long-term care facilities as well as residents and staff in assisted living. Essential visitors for long-term care are also included.
“We have said that from the very beginning, those are the people that we know need our protection most,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday.
Another 400,000 are expected to receive a vaccine in February. Those include community members over the age of 80, general practitioners and other health-care workers. People experiencing homelessness as well as people in provincial correctional facilities, group homes, and mental health residential care are also on the list.
The province also plans to provide vaccinations for First Nations communities, including Indigenous elders and seniors over the age of 65, in February.
The province will administer the second dose of the vaccine approximately 35 days after the first dose in an effort to maximize the number of people in a priority population who will receive the initial shot.
The province has removed details from its website on who will receive the vaccination once the priority groups are completed.
This next group originally included those 80 years old and younger as well as front-line essential workers including teachers, paramedics, police officers and grocery store workers.
The plan now is to provide details on the timing of those immunizations as well as mass vaccinations for the general public in mid-to-late January.
“Contingent on supply, our plan is to begin our mass vaccination strategy based on age and then descending in five-year cohorts after our 80-plus priority population is completed,” Henry said.
“We are working on how do we do that to make sure that it’s accessible and fair for people around the province.”
So far, the province has immunized 25,744 people with the Pfizer vaccine and 1,604 people with the Moderna vaccine.
The province will have to dramatically increase the speed with which people are being immunized in order to hit the stated targets for immunizations.
Henry said the province has only been receiving the vaccine in small amounts over the last two and a half weeks and the volume will continue to increase.
Distribution has also been slowed down by targeting rural and remote Indigenous communities for the first batches of the Moderna vaccine.
“It’s very challenging when we are talking about small communities. You may take days to get into a community and to immunize hundreds of people, but that protects that entire community. So it’s rough numbers,” Henry said.
“We are scaling up to meet the vaccine that we have now, and then we need to expand from there as soon as we have more vaccine available that’s able to be transported, and we are looking to our colleagues in primary care, the pharmacists who work with us, immunizers around the province.”