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SFU experts dispute B.C.’s plan to prioritize vaccine roll-out by age and not profession

Click to play video: 'SFU study raises questions about age-base mass vaccination program' SFU study raises questions about age-base mass vaccination program
A new study by SFU researchers is questioning the effectiveness of B.C.'s proposed aged-based mass vaccination program. Jordan Armstrong reports – Feb 24, 2021

Three experts, including a Simon Fraser University epidemiologist and mathematician, say the province would be better served prioritizing non-health-related essential workers for COVID-19 vaccines no matter their age.

Caroline Colijn, Paul Tupper and Chris McCabe say vaccinating those out in the public can reduce overall virus exposure.

The B.C. government is currently vaccinating people solely based on age starting with those over the age of 80 and working down.

“One well-known fact about COVID is that older age groups have the highest risk of experiencing severe complications or dying from being infected. So you might think that the best thing to do is vaccinate people in descending order of age, in order to minimize the harm. This works if everyone is equally likely to be exposed to the virus — but they aren’t,” Colijn writes.

“Essential workers are on the front line: we are asking them to take a much higher risk that they will be exposed. And if they are infected, they risk infecting many others.”

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Read more: B.C. prioritizing age and vulnerable people over non-medical essential workers in mass COVID-19 immunization plan

Essential health care workers, including long-term care staff and paramedics, have already been prioritized for the vaccine.

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The group Colijn is suggesting would include teachers, taxi drivers, retail workers, food production workers, law enforcement, public safety, first responders, social workers, workers in agriculture and transportation, and more.

Read more: Health professionals being recruited as B.C. ramps up for mass COVID-19 vaccination

“If they are vaccinated, there will be less COVID around and therefore less exposure to the virus for everybody else, including older people,” Colijn writes.

The modelling data provided in the blog post suggests as many as 5 to 10 per cent of people who get both doses of the vaccine will not be protected. In addition, around 15 per cent of people will decline the vaccine. This leaves around 20 to 25 per cent of the elderly not protected.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. teachers and grocery store workers won’t get COVID-19 shots early' B.C. teachers and grocery store workers won’t get COVID-19 shots early
B.C. teachers and grocery store workers won’t get COVID-19 shots early – Jan 22, 2021

“So even if we devoted all our vaccine resources to the elderly they will not be completely protected. We will need to use other measures to prevent many hospitalizations and deaths,” the writers conclude.

“On the other hand, by vaccinating younger people with many contacts we can greatly reduce the amount of virus in the population. This will mean that very few elderly people are ever exposed to the virus. Fewer exposures means many fewer infections among the elderly, whether they have been vaccinated or not.”

The province has been insistent the age-based program is most effective due to the demographics where people are dying.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says originally the province did some assessments of these issues and identified a number of essential workers but in reviewing the availability of vaccines and goals to reduced sickness and death decided to focus entirely on age. The province has determined age is the most important risk factor when it comes to COVID-19 death and severe infection.

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“It is also the most feasible to implement. Age is something we can find on people. We have that information,” Henry said in January when unveiling the province’s plan.

 

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