As B.C. prepares to unveil its mass vaccination plan Monday, the federal approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could open the door to the possibility of some front-line workers getting their COVID-19 shot ahead of their scheduled age bracket.
British Columbia’s current vaccine rollout plan relies primarily on working downward through age brackets, with prioritization for long-term care workers, health-care workers and certain vulnerable groups.
On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province was considering using the AstraZeneca vaccine for other front-line workers not included in those priority groups.
“We have opportunities to offer that to essential workers and people who can’t work from home, like teachers and others. Depending on when those vaccines arrive, we could offer them to adults 18-60 who are working, before their age group comes up for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine,” Henry said.
“So in that case they would have a choice, they can take the vaccine early if we get AstraZeneca early … or you can wait for your age group to come up.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine is considered 62 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, however, the company says it is “100 per cent” effective at preventing severe disease or hospitalization.
Horacio Bach, a UBC professor specializing in infectious diseases, said the arrival of AstraZeneca could eventually be a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19, though it won’t be immediate.
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That’s because the 500,000 doses Canada is expecting in the near term will need to be divided up across Canada, with about 65,000 coming to B.C.
“That means enough for 32,000 people because you need two doses,” he said.
“So the problem is it is not as much as we expected right now, but in the next delivery that will come here, we need to contemplate these people who are exposed. It can be firefighters, it can be police, all these first responders.”
Bach said the province will also be left with the challenge of deciding who, exactly, qualifies as an essential or front-line worker. Will it just be first responders, or once enough vaccine arrives, could it be expanded to include people like grocery store workers?
“Essential workers may be everywhere, maybe in stores, maybe in malls, many places. I think at this point it will be preference to firefighters, police and maybe teachers,” he said.
Should the province have the capacity to expand rollout with the third vaccine, B.C. pharmacists are calling on the province to allow them to administer doses at pharmacies, rather than at mass vaccination sites.
London Drugs pharmacy general manager Chris Chiew said the fact the AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures means the province could integrate it with existing supply chains.
“Using the existing networks and delivery systems, they would be able to get it to all the pharmacies very quickly,” he said.
“Because the stores’ conditions and delivery conditions are not as strict … it’s going to be easier to get those out faster and distributed to pharmacies throughout B.C. … It gives us a third, viable alternative to make sure we vaccinate more people in a shorter period of time.”
British Columbia is scheduled to unveil its vaccination plan at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Global News will stream the event live on our website and Facebook Page, and carry it on BC1.
With files from Grace Ke