High-risk seniors to get COVID-19 vaccine first in B.C.: provincial health officer

VICTORIA — Seniors in British Columbia's long-term care homes and hospitals will be the first to get immunized against COVID-19 starting in the first week of January with two vaccines, the province's top doctor says.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna will be the first to be rolled out after approval by Health Canada.

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However, Henry said only about six million doses are expected to be available across Canada until March.

"So we won't be able to broadly achieve what we call community immunity or herd immunity, but that will come," she said

At least two other companies, including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are in the process of submitting data to Health Canada and regulatory agencies around the world in hopes of getting approval for their vaccines.

"Those ones we hope will be available sometime in the second quarter of 2021," Henry said.

"We hope to have everybody done by September of next year," she said of the province's efforts through "Operation Immunize."

"By the end of the year, anybody who wants vaccine in B.C. and in Canada should have it available to them and should be immunized."

Henry said B.C. health officials worked with their federal counterparts Thursday on ways to facilitate the delivery of vaccines as they anticipated various challenges that could come up in the immunization process.

More details will be provided about the province's vaccine plan next week, Henry said.

She reported 694 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, for a total of 35,422 infections in the province.

There have been 12 more deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities in B.C. to 481.

Henry noted health-care workers are tired from the pandemic as everyone deals with an "anxiety-provoking time," but that it's important to stay "100 per cent committed" to getting through the next few months before vaccines are available.

"We know that our long-term care homes in particular are most vulnerable and we know right now it's the biggest challenge that we are facing," she said.

Henry has banned all indoor and outdoor sports teams for adults, saying a team in the province's Interior recently tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Alberta.

"What we have seen in the past few weeks to months is that 10 to 15 per cent of cases have been related to physical fitness and sports activities," she said, an estimate based on cases that have been linked.

Most transmissions of COVID-19 among adult involved in sports have been through social activities related to the gatherings, Henry said.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.

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