Hundreds of thousands of people in BC will receive the COVID-19 vaccine by March 2021 after Health Canada officially approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use on Wednesday, according to provincial public health officials.

In an announcement to media Wednesday afternoon, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said BC will receive two sets of two trays, each containing 975 doses of the vaccine next week.

A second vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, is also expected to be approved by Health Canada before the end of the year.

After that point, Henry said the province expects to receive tens of thousands more doses of vaccines in the coming weeks.

Between now and the end of March 2021, nearly 400,000 people are expected to be immunized against the virus in BC.

After March, Henry says Canada is expected to receive more and different types of vaccines in higher numbers that do not require sub-zero temperatures to be stored in, which is when a larger percentage of the population can be immunized.

In the short term, until at least March, not enough people will be immunized in order to prevent widespread transmission of the virus.

Public health officials estimate that up to 70 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated before physical distancing measures can be relaxed.

Who gets the vaccine and when?

The Pfizer vaccine, which is the only one approved for use at this time, needs to be administered at the same place they have been delivered to because of specifications in how they need to be stored.

This means the vaccines cannot be taken to long term care facilities to immunize residents there.

The first 3,900 doses of the vaccine arriving in BC next week will be sent to two fixed sites, one in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and the other in the Fraser Health region.

At that point, health care workers—specifically staff at long term care facilities and workers on the front lines of the province’s COVID response in acute care (ie ICUs, COVID units, and emergency departments)—will be able to go to those sites to get a vaccine administered.

Once the Moderna vaccine has been approved by Health Canada, it will be administered directly at long term care facilities to residents, as that vaccine can be stable at fridge temperature for up to seven days.

After long term care workers and COVID response health care workers, residents of long term care facilities will be prioritized to receive the vaccine as they are most at risk of severe illness and death.

Next in line for the vaccine will be:

  • seniors in the community who are over the age of 80,
  • people who are at risk because of health conditions,
  • those who live in congregate settings like shelters,
  • people who are under-housed and homeless, and
  • remote and isolated Indigenous communities

These communities will be prioritized to be vaccinated until the end of March. After that point, Henry says authorities expect to receive non-mRNA vaccines which can be more easily transported, and therefore delivered at settings like family doctor clinics and pharmacies.

After the end of March 2021, the following groups will be able to be immunized against COVID-19:

  • other healthcare workers not listed in the initial group,
  • paramedics, firefighters, police,
  • grocery store workers,
  • workers at food processing plants,
  • teachers, and
  • peopled aged 70 and above.

There are some people who will not be recommended to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

These include people under the age of 16, people who are pregnant, and those who have compromised immune systems either through treatments like cancer or because of severe autoimmune disorders.

This is because it is unknown how safe and effective these two specific vaccines are for immunocompromised people.

The province has identified 30 sites across BC where these vaccines can be delivered to by the first week of January.

 

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