B.C.’s first COVID-19 vaccinations set to begin Tuesday

The vaccinations will initially be available in the Lower Mainland before reaching the rest of the province next week

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The first COVID-19 vaccinations to be administered in B.C. are set to begin Tuesday (December 15), according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Vaccines arrived in the province late Sunday, while vaccinations have already begun in Ontario and Quebec by Monday.

“This is momentous,” Henry said during a Monday media briefing.

The vaccines will be initially made available at two sites in the province: one in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region and one in the Fraser Health Region.

The vaccines are expected to be made available in all the province’s health regions by next week, according to Henry.

She said the initial rollout in the Lower Mainland will function as a proof of concept for other regions in the province and help ensure authorities know how to run the clinics in which vaccinations will be administered.

Health-care workers are on the top of the priority list for getting the vaccine and it’s not yet clear when vaccines will be administered in long-term care facilities with more vulnerable British Columbians.

The first delivery of the just-approved vaccine from the Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech SE (Nasdaq:BNTX) consists of 4,000 doses. However, it must be stored at temperatures of -80C and must be administered soon after being thawed.

“Once we have the supply and the handling down so that Pfizer's comfortable with it and we're able to move Pfizer vaccine into communities — so there's this very delicate vaccine, and it's very unstable once it's been thawed and has to be used within a very short period of time. So those logistical constraints make it challenging,” Henry said. 

“We will use Pfizer vaccine but the other thing that we're looking at is the Moderna vaccine. It has less stringent restrictions because of the way it's manufactured, and it can be moved around more easily at fridge temperatures. So as soon as one or the other is available, we will be looking at how we can move that out to long-term care homes.”

Pfizer is responsible for the delivery of its vaccine, while Ottawa has enlisted FedEx Express Canada Corp. and Innomar Strategies Inc. to lead distribution efforts for vaccines such as the yet-to-be-approved Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) vaccine, which is stored at -20C.

Both vaccines require two doses to be administered 21-28 days apart.

The first 4,000 of B.C.’s Pfizer vaccines will be used for the first dose, while the second dose will be administered in January.

Henry said the province has guaranteed deliveries set for the weeks of December 21 and December 28.