Comment by Dr. Bonnie Henry: Vaccine teams working as quickly as they can

A commentary by the provincial health officer.

Without question, this winter and this past year have been challenging for every single one of us. Right now, we stand at a turning point: we have safe and effective vaccines, and they are becoming increasingly available.

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I want to assure you that every person behind Canada’s and B.C.’s immunization effort is working hard to safely get vaccine into the arms of everyone as quickly as possible.

The logistics of our COVID-19 Immunization Plan have presented significant challenges: from training immunizers in how to handle new vaccines that require specific temperature and environmental conditions; to ensuring we have the systems in place to record every shot that goes into every arm; to vaccine delays from both Pfizer ­BioNTech and Moderna; to the fact of our vast and often remote geography, with communities in all parts of this beautiful province. In addition, we have the blessing of a robust population of seniors and elders living in all of these diverse areas.

Despite these challenges, since our program started we have delivered more than 280,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines throughout B.C., from long-term care homes to remote and isolated First Nations communities.

The moving photographs and videos of elders, seniors and health-care workers getting their vaccine is a bright shining light in what has been a most difficult winter. This is a tremendous success that we should all appreciate and celebrate, even as we prepare to provide vaccine to many more people in B.C. and across Canada.

Today, we are in a delicate transition: the period between now and when everyone has received their shot, and the period when we must not — quite yet — let up on the measures that keep us safe.

As we navigate this time, we are committed to making the process for vaccination as simple and efficient as possible. Our process will take into consideration the differing needs of people and our different ways of accessing registration information. Our goal and our promise is to ensure that no one who wants to receive the vaccine is left behind. And so we say to each British Columbian: Please be patient; we will not forget you.

A tremendous effort is happening behind the scenes to make sure that our health authorities have the tools and the resources to take on this incredible task of immunizing every citizen who wishes to participate. We have not wasted any time putting the pieces in place; rather, we have been using this time to connect with communities, arenas, community centres and schools where we will be providing immunizations around the province.

As part of this effort, I have issued a new order to allow a number of health professions and occupations to work in our immunization clinics. This means we’ve expanded our pool of immunizers who can provide services to include dentists, midwives, pharmacy technicians, paramedics, firefighters and retired nurses, among others. We are excited to have put together the workforce that we’re going to need over the next six months to ensure that we get vaccine into eligible people as efficiently as possible.

Our commitment as well has been to monitor the vaccine program closely here in B.C. and to learn from programs around the world. Data presented recently by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has shown that vaccine effectiveness after a single dose in residents of long-term care homes, and in health care workers, is over 80% within two to three weeks of immunization. This is exceptional.

And we are learning from immunization programs from around the world that we can extend the second dose to at least 16 weeks and still have this high level of protection. Indeed, extending this interval might provide more durable and longer lasting protection in the long run. This is truly exciting news for all British Columbians as it means we can now offer the crucial first dose to many more people in the coming weeks and protect our whole community much sooner.

We can now see light at the end of what has been a very long road — not only for our province, but for all of Canada and around the globe. For every vaccine delivered in Alberta or Nova Scotia or Nunavut, we in B.C. come closer to our own post-pandemic life.

As always, we are in this together — in B.C., and across our country. Without a doubt there will be some hiccups and bumps along the way, but we are working hard each and every day to make sure that we can turn the corner this spring towards a safer, healthier life for all of us.

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