First COVID-19 vaccinations in B.C. begin next week

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The provincial government said it expects the first COVID-19 vaccine doses to be given next week to healthcare workers in long-term care homes, critical care units, emergency departments and COVID-19 hospital wards.

The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will be just under 4,000 doses and distributed at two sites in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health.

“We are receiving very small doses to start with, to make sure that the supply system and the whole mechanism and logistics of how it works can be done safely,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. 

Henry said she expects tens of thousands more doses to follow later this month and by the first week of January. The vaccine will be available in all health regions. Next in line will be people over 80, remote Indigenous communities and people living in high-risk communal settings, such as shelters.

“The delivery of a vaccine on this size and scale, we know, is no easy task,” said Henry, adding it will be the most comprehensive vaccination program in the province’s history. 

By April the province expects to be able to vaccinate first responders such as police and firefighters, as well as essential workers such as teachers, grocery store workers and people in the transportation industry. By that time, Henry said, the program will have vaccinated about 380,000 people. 

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, about three weeks apart, to provide is maximum protection of around 95 per cent, according to Henry. The Moderna vaccine is currently being reviewed by Health Canada, but Henry said she expects it to be approved within a few weeks.

The Pfizer-BioNTech doses must be stored at -70 C, but Moderna’s can be stored at fridge temperatures, which will allow more efficient distribution.

The vaccine has not yet been approved for children under the age of 16, pregnant women or people who are immunocompromised, said Henry.

She said she has full confidence in the new vaccines because of the high safety standards set by Heath Canada.

“To speed up the process, the clinical trials that would normally  happen in sequence were run simultaneously and the greatest brains in the world were put to this process,” said Henry. 

The vaccination process is expected to speed up rapidly in the spring and become available to the wider community, according to Henry. 

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