A plan to immunize 4.3 million people against COVID-19 in B.C. by the end of September rolled out Friday, with a four-phase plan to vaccinate British Columbians largely by age, starting next month with those 80 and older.
Indigenous seniors 65 and older, nurses, doctors and home-support staff will also be able to register online and by phone for vaccination in the second phase of the rollout, set for February and March. The first phase began in December with long-term care residents and staff, along with remote and at-risk Indigenous communities.
Subsequent phases will see people age 18 and up vaccinated in descending age order from April to September in arenas, convention centres, community halls and school gymnasiums, via mobile clinics and through residential visits for the housebound. Non-profit groups and the private sector will also offer vaccinations.
Premier John Horgan said the rollout puts the health and safety of those most at risk first. “We are not equally vulnerable to the virus,” Horgan said. “Someone over the age of 60 is five times more likely to be seriously ill or die than someone under 45.”
The third phase, starting in April, will include people ages 75 to 79 and work backwards in five-year increments to include those age 60 and over. Also included in this phase are people with underlying health conditions that make them extremely vulnerable; front-line essential workers such as police, firefighters, teachers and grocery clerks may also be included as vaccine doses become available.
The fourth phase is anticipated to begin in July for the rest of the population, starting with people ages 55 to 59 and working backwards in five-year age groups until everyone over the age of 18 who wants a COVID-19 vaccine has received it.
Some second doses may continue into October, but by the end of September, “we will have achieved a very significant level of immunization,” said Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the rollout.
COVID-19 vaccines have not been approved for use in those under 18, with the exception of some teenagers 16 and older with high-risk conditions.
Pre-registration for the vaccine will begin to open online and by phone in March, starting with those age 75 to 79. People who are pre-registered will get a reminder to book their appointments as soon as they are eligible.
Herd immunity from COVID‑19 can be reached if the majority of people in B.C. choose to be vaccinated, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who expects restrictions on gathering and non-essential travel to be in place until summer.
Henry asked British Columbians not to travel on the Family Day weekend or spring break, and said maintaining physical distance and wearing masks in public places continue to be important.
“We know it’s going to take a few months, but we have an end in sight and now is our time to stay committed to doing what we need to do to stop the transmission of COVID-19 here in British Columbia,” said Henry. Pre-pandemic-style social gatherings probably won’t return until the fall, she said.
Just over 103,000 people have received their first dose of the vaccine, and second doses are underway, the province said.
The province reported 508 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 13 in Island Health — down from a record 47 in the health region on Thursday. An additional nine deaths were reported, for a total of 1,128 in B.C.
Canada has secured six million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the first quarter of the year and expects to receive a further 20 million doses in the second quarter and 45 million in the third quarter. In B.C., that means about 800,000 doses until March, 2.6 million from April to June, and six million from June to September.
Canada won’t receive the Pfizer vaccine next week, while the company rejigs its manufacturing plant in Belgium, but it has been assured of deliveries next month. “We need to stand fast and ensure that we get the vaccines that we deserve, that we paid for, and get them into people’s arms as quickly as possible,” Horgan said.
Horgan said vaccines expected in B.C. in February will arrive by the end of March.
B.C.’s plan is based on only the approved Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. If more are approved, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, the plan will be tweaked, the government said.
The vaccines require two doses, and B.C plans to give residents the same product for both doses up to 42 days apart. “So that is 8.6 million immunizations that need to be done in the next few months,” Henry said. About 7.4 million will be delivered between April and September.
After receiving a first dose, people will receive a physical card as well as an automated reminder — via an online immunization registry — of the date and place for their second vaccine. Once that’s completed, they will receive a digital proof of immunization that can be viewed or printed.
The vaccine passport is for a person’s own health record, Henry said: “People will not be denied services based on vaccination status in B.C.”
All residents and staff in care homes in B.C. should have received a first dose in the “next few days,” Henry said. Second doses are expected to be completed in March. At that time, it’s expected activities and visits in care homes, restricted since last March, will increase, said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.