Slightly more than 10% of the 4.3 million British Columbians eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations have been given a jab, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.
A total of 539,408 doses have been administered as of Monday.
“This puts us ahead of the schedule we had originally based on what we were expecting to receive (in terms of doses),” B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a media briefing with Dix.
“The fact that we now have three safe and effective vaccines, and that we’re able to use them in several different strategies has meant that we could move up our age-based strategy again this week.”
British Columbians in their 70s are eligible to begin booking vaccination appointments this week, starting Monday with those who are 78 and older.
Provincial officials updated B.C.’s vaccination ramp-up last week, revealing 322,000 frontline workers would jump past their age groups and receive doses of the AstraZeneca plc vaccine from the Serum Institute of India and the COVAX global sharing program.
The province expects to administer the first 272,000 doses in April and another 69,000 by late May or early June.
“We are prioritizing where we need to pay attention,” Henry said when asked if teachers in Surrey, where cases of COVID-19 are higher than in the general population, would be prioritized for vaccines over teachers in other cities.
“Surrey by far has been for some time the highest-risk area.”
The Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. vaccines will be administered primarily to the general population, although Premier John Horgan last week described B.C.’s vaccination plan as “flexible.”
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at fridge temperatures, making it much easier to transport and distribute than the other vaccines that require ultra-cold temperatures as low as -80C.
To date, 412,466 Pfizer doses have been administered to British Columbians, followed by 116,239 doses of Moderna and 10,753 doses of AstraZeneca.
All three of the vaccines require two doses.
B.C. began extending the interval between doses from six weeks to 16 weeks earlier this month in a bid to vaccinate more people, albeit at lower levels of protection until they can get their second dose.
Meanwhile, as the province ramps up its vaccination plans, B.C. chains such as London Drugs Ltd. are awaiting official word that they’ll be able to administer COVID-19 vaccine doses within their own pharmacies.
The Richmond-based company is in the midst of setting up an online booking system allowing patients to make appointments and has also secured ultra-low temperature freezers capable of transporting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from distribution centres to pharmacies.
While Fraser Health authority offers online bookings, the province-wide booking system isn’t set to launch until April 12.
The rest of B.C. has been booking vaccinations via call centres tied to local health authorities and maintained by Telus Corp.
Dix said there were 33,000 appointments booked in B.C. on Saturday alone.
“This is a pretty stable vaccine [AstraZeneca] so that means we can use the infrastructure that we have in our community and particularly our community providers, pharmacies specifically,” Henry said last week.
“We've been working with the [B.C.] Pharmacy Association to make sure that we can do this in an efficient way and we know that there are many pharmacies and pharmacists who have been part of our influenza immunization program that are ready and able to take this up.”