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Dr. Bonnie Henry, Island health-care workers vaccinated for COVID-19

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and a group of Island health-care workers received the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday in an event that Dr. Richard Stanwick, the Island’s chief medical health officer, called a “memory-maker.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and a group of Island health-care workers received the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday in an event that Dr. Richard Stanwick, the Island’s chief medical health officer, called a “memory-maker.”

“We are now finding a way to prevent people from acquiring COVID rather than just trying to find a means to treat it,” said Stanwick, who also received the vaccine.

Dena Scriven, a nursing assistant in long-term care, was the first health-care worker in Island Health to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She said she hopes her colleagues choose to be vaccinated also.

“I had no worries,” said Scriven. “I’m confident it is safe.”

Sixty-two Island health-care workers, mainly in long-term care, had been vaccinated by noon on Tuesday. The required second dose of the vaccine must be given 21 to 45 days after the first, Stanwick said.

Island Health received 1,950 doses of the vaccine, all of which arrived at one site in Victoria on Monday night. The health authority is awaiting a bigger shipment of the same vaccine in the first week of January. “We’re excited even making this start,” said Stanwick.

Three distribution sites are planned for the Island as part of an initial rollout in B.C.

As deliveries increase in coming weeks, the vaccine will be available in more locations, the province said.

Henry said she received the vaccine in Victoria, where she lives, to show confidence in its safety and solidarity with her fellow health-care workers.

Henry doesn’t know how many doses will be arriving on a weekly basis. She said after long-term care staff are vaccinated, the intent is to provide protection to residents of long-term care homes, followed by those in assisted living and independent living facilities, and elderly people in the community “as quickly as possible.”

“I hope that we will have long-term care residents and staff protected well before March,” said Henry. “It depends on how much vaccine we get [and] when.”

Immunization clinics will continue this week for health-care staff and physicians, with long-term care being the priority. Because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines must be kept at -80 C and used within six hours of thawing, workers must go to the distribution clinic.

As vaccines that are more easily transported and can be kept in standard freezers are approved by Health Canada, there will be more distribution sites on the Island and the vaccine can be brought to residents in their care homes, Stanwick said.

“We’re also looking at essential visitors as a potential population that would also benefit from being immune,” he said. “So the approach right now is to create a ring of safety around the clients of these long-term care facilities.”

Island Health is not yet booking appointments for COVID-19 immunizations for people outside high-risk groups.

Stanwick noted that the province has promised that by the end of 2021, anyone who wants the vaccine will receive two doses. “Obviously we want to accomplish that sooner than the end of the year.”

Henry announced 444 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C. on Tuesday, including nine in the Island Health region. The number of cases, while levelling off, is still at a high level requiring continued vigilance, she said.

Saanich Peninsula Hospital is one of six acute-care settings in the province with an outbreak. Eleven patients — four of whom have died — 11 staff and two visitors have been infected, Stanwick said. If the outbreak ends by Dec. 31, admissions are expected to reopen Jan. 4.

An outbreak has also been declared at The Gardens at Qualicum Beach — which provides long-term care, assisted living and independent living — after one staff member tested positive on Dec. 19.

Since the start of immunizations, 4,108 people have received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in B.C. Vaccine clinics are also underway in the Interior Health, Northern Health, Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions.

There are now 9,481 active cases in the province, including 65 in Island Health — 31 in the south, 24 in the central region and 10 in the north.

Five people in the Island Health region are in hospital with COVID-19, including one in intensive care.

There were also another 12 deaths from COVID-19 in the province reported Tuesday.

While the vaccinations on the Island are a great start, Stanwick said any achievements can be undone if people gather and ignore restrictions over the holidays and cause transmissions to go up again.

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