B.C. plans to vaccinate up to 150,000 by February

As many as 150,000 people, including those living in long-term care facilities and front-line workers in hospitals, are expected to be immunized against COVID-19 by February, B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said Monday.

Henry, speaking at the first pandemic update of 2021, said that the first groups being vaccinated include residents, staff and essential visitors to long-term care and assisted-living residences, followed by those waiting for long-term care placement. As of Monday, 25,744 people have been vaccinated in B.C.

Also included are front-line health care workers providing care for COVID-19 patients and remote and isolated First Nations communities.

“The focus will continue to be on long-term care and assisted living, making sure that we are protecting those who are most vulnerable in our communities, and then coverage of our front lines of acute care and immunization of our at-risk First Nations communities,” said Henry.

“It is a monumental task. There are many months left to go on this. We are constrained by logistics and by how much vaccine we’re receiving but we’re optimistic.”

In February and March, vaccination will expand to seniors in the community who are 80 years of age and older and Indigenous elders aged 65 and above, people who are homeless or living in shelters and people in communal living situations such as correctional facilities and adults in group homes.

Once priority groups are vaccinated, the public is next in line.

“Contingent on supply, our plan is to begin mass vaccination strategy based on age, descending in five year cohorts after our 80 plus priority population is completed,” she said.

At the briefing, Henry also released numbers on COVID-19 cases from Dec. 31 to Jan. 4. Over four days, there were 2,211 new cases: 565, 607, 500, and 539 new cases respectively.

During those four days, there were 45 deaths; total COVID-19 deaths in B.C. are now at 946.

The first vaccine approved for use in Canada was by Pfizer-BioNTech on Dec. 9, 2020. The Moderna vaccine was approved Dec. 23, 2020. Both vaccines require two shots to achieve maximum protection against SARS-CoV-2.

Worldwide, there are more than 150 vaccines in development.

Henry said as of January 4, B.C. has received a total 54,625 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

“There has been a lot of planning and preparation required for these vaccines,” Henry said.

Neither vaccine can be kept stable in a fridge. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for example, has to be kept frozen at -80 to -60 Celsius.

“There is a lot of things we’re not used to having to do when we’re handling vaccines including ultra low temperature gloves, being able to work with liquid nitrogen, (and) thermal containers which are quite heavy and how do you get them from one place to another,” she said.

As well, planning requires a record system to ensure that people receive the correct second dose of whatever vaccine they received the first time. And lot numbers have to be tracked to monitor batches for safety.

Henry said the federal government has contracts with five other vaccine manufacturers including AstraZeneca and Janssen.

Henry said B.C. is expecting to receive 792,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by March.

She said it’s a big learning process setting up the systems to deliver the vaccines. She admitted there have been “bumps and delays” along the way.

“The focus right now with the vaccines we know we have coming in the next few weeks are the priority populations,” she said.

Focus of COVID-19 immunization to the end of January:

70,000: long-term care residents and staff individuals across the province

13,000: residents of assisted living

2,000: seniors waiting in hospital or at home for long-term care placement

30,000: front line health care workers

COVID-19 in B.C. Dec. 31 to Jan. 4

Dec. 31 to Jan. 1: 565 new cases

Jan. 1 to 2: 607

Jan 2. to 3: 500

Jan. 3 to 4: 539

Total over four days: 2,211

Deaths over four days: 45

Total COVID-19 deaths: 946

54,201 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

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