As British Columbia moves towards a gradual re-opening, there are still a lot of questions about what to expect. Ten of thousands of people are getting vaccinated every day across B.C. and the speed of that rollout will have an impact on what happens next.
Here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions of where we are in the pandemic. The answers come from an interview provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry did for Focus BC and her recent answers in the COVID-19 briefings.
What percentage of vaccinated adults do you want to see before we’re going to be able to take our masks off in indoor public spaces?
The Centre for Disease Control in the United States has put in place a policy where Americans can now stop wearing masks indoors if they are vaccinated. But the vaccination rates are much higher in the United States than in British Columbia.
Henry says B.C. will not be using immunized percentage alone. B.C. will also be looking at the trends and transmission in all communities.
When will every adult in B.C. be able to book their vaccine appointment?
Due to a recent surge in shipments of Pfizer vaccine, British Columbia will be inviting anyone 18 years and older to book a vaccine appointment starting on Sunday, May 16. When the appointment is will depend on where you live. In order to book an appointment, you must register on the B.C. government website.
When can children 12 to 17 years of age book a vaccination appointment?
The province will be providing more information about this the week of May 17. For now, only Pfizer is approved for use in children but Moderna is currently undergoing clinical trials and it may be approved for use in children as well.
The province will not be using schools to immunize middle and high school students.
“We have been working with our immunization committee on this and what we are hearing is probably the simplest way to do this is to go to our clinics, whether they community clinics in the smaller communities or the mass clinics in the larger areas. But we will have more information on this coming soon. I am getting the advice from the people on the ground,” Henry said.
If I got a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, will I get a second shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine?
British Columbia has paused using AstraZeneca as a first dose but has secured enough vaccine to offer it as a second dose for anyone who has already received it. But the province is currently watching trials happening around the world about mix and matching doses.
There is a likelihood those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine as their first dose will receive Pfizer or Moderna as the second dose.
If I received my COVID-19 vaccine after booking through the province’s old phone line or through the Fraser Health website, do I need to register on the province’s new web portal?
Yes. The province has a new online system and it is taking time to link the old system up to the new system. The province has a record of all the vaccines administered but does not have a quick way of contacting people.
“Just go on to get vaccinated, register and you will be in there,” Henry said.
“We have imputed everyone’s doses but we may not have your contact information.”
Indigenous communities and long-term care residents who received their vaccine before the registration system do not need to register for their second shots. Health care workers who received their first shot before the registration system do need to register in the new system in order to get their second dose.
If I received a vaccine at a pharmacy do I need to register on the province’s vaccination registration portal?
This is the same situation as above. The pharmacy likely has information for the vaccine recipient, that information may not have made its way to the provincial booking system.
In the possibility of a second dose being done somewhere outside of the pharmacy, it is even more critical to get registered.
What does a one-dose summer look like in B.C.?
British Columbia is expecting every person over the age of 12 who wants a COVID vaccine will have at least one dose by the beginning of July.
The province says it is a good possibility art and culture events will be open in the summer with COVID safety plans in place.
Safe gatherings indoors with friends and families where people are vaccinated should also be expected in the summer according to Henry.
Will the current restrictions of social gatherings, events and travel be extended past the current May 26 end date?
There will be no change until at the earliest after the May long weekend.
The province is promising a slow and steady return. Some restrictions could be eased post-long weekend, but many of the restrictions will likely stay in place into June.
“We still have a lot of people in hospital and our ICU system is stretched,” Henry said.
“We have learned from what we have seen around the world, from what we have seen here in BC, we need to go slow and steady. We will not see any change until after the long weekend.”
Can people who are outside, assuming they’re not in a giant crowd, take their mask off?
Yes, you can take your mask off. The province has always said that when you’re outside, as long as you’re not in a large group talking closely with people, that masks are optional.
Is BC planning any immunization incentives?
Right now, B.C. is not considering vaccine incentives. Henry has argued that when people see how much benefit there is and how it can protect not just an individual but our families, our loved ones, people do recognize that that’s a positive benefit.
“What do they use it — a positive externality, as they say in the economics world. That does appeal to many of us,” Henry said.
With Pfizer being approved for everyone 12-plus, why can’t all restaurants and grocery workers get vaccinated now, even the ones who are younger than 18?
The drop in age for Pfizer use has recently been approved by Health Canada. The province has had discussions about how B.C. will factor in 12-17-year-olds in the program.
There are much fewer active cases in Island Health compared to Fraser Health, is the province considering easing restrictions in only low transmission areas?
Whether different restrictions would be in different places is not clear at this time.
The province has maintained an approach of doing it together here in the province, and Henry says she doesn’t see that changing. There is no place in the province where we have enough immunity that we can do things differently.
“We will continue to look at that, but right now I think we can expect to go through this next phase together as we have been for the last year and a bit,” Henry said.
When can I watch a sports event at BC Place or Rogers Arena?
The United Kingdom is currently doing experiments where fans are monitored for symptoms after attending a game. In the United States fans are currently back in stadiums, with special sections for this vaccinated to sit closer together.
Here in B.C., it won’t be until the late summer or fall until we start looking at having fans in the seats again.
When can we expect movie theatres, playhouses and auditoriums to be open to the public again?
British Columbia has shown these things can operate safely in a pandemic with a COVID safety plan. But right now transmission is too high in the community. Henry says the province is looking at July for when arts and culture events can safely be done again.
Will the class of 2021, the grade 12 high school students, get a proper graduation ceremony?
The graduation ceremonies will be a little bigger and a little different than they were in 2020, but far from what was seen before the pandemic.
More specific details will come in the next few weeks. The vaccination program for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds could give schools and communities some more flexibility around graduation.
“I know that young people have been so impacted by this pandemic and have had so little influence on what is happening around them, we are committed and have been working on guidance on how to have a safe graduation this summer,” Henry said.
When will the province allow adult recreational sports and kids to play games again?
In December, the province restricted youth sports to allow practice and banned recreational adult sports.
Outdoor sports should start back up as early as some point in the next few weeks. Indoor sports may startup after that.
“Slowly transitioning back to local games and then being able to move out over time,” Henry said.
There has been an international study showing people with ongoing cancer treatments should receive a COVID-19 vaccine in a shorter interval than four months, will that happen here?
The province is monitoring the data around people’s immune responses and particularly for people who are undergoing cancer treatments, who are on immune therapy and people who are older whose immune responses may not last as long.
Henry says the one limited study need to be in context, and what it showed was that for some people receiving cancer treatments they don’t mount as strong an antibody response after the first dose and, importantly, many of them do not mount a strong antibody response after the second dose as well, as many as 40 per cent of the people in this small study.
With more vaccine coming into British Columbia the expectation is the four-month gap will shrink and this group will be high on the priority list for a second dose.