The province is dramatically extending the interval between the first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses in a bid to accelerate immunization plans for British Columbians.
Younger people who would have been scheduled for their first dose in the summer would now be getting their first dose likely in the spring after the province revealed Monday (March 1) it was extending intervals from 42 days to 112 days.
Provincial officials cited data that shows vaccines proving to be effective for at least four months after a single dose as the reasoning behind the decision.
But the change also means that many second doses for older British Columbians won’t commence until the summer — much later than planned when the province unveiled its strategy in January.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province will soon be “rejigging” the timeframes for mass vaccinations as a result.
“We will be able to do a lot more in our post-pandemic reality once we have so many people in our population protected,” she said.
Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.’s immunization plan, said the plan to extend the intervals will immediately free up another 70,000 doses.
The move comes as B.C. hastens its rollout plans as Pfizer and Moderna shipping delays subside, and the province prepares to begin accepting deliveries of the just-approved AstraZeneca plc vaccine.
“This is exciting news. We will be able to move everyone up in the queue,” Henry said in a media briefing, adding the province will continue its vaccine evaluation to detect if there’s any concerns about vaccine effectiveness moving forward.
She said the province will also be considering loosening restrictions placed on long-term care homes as the vaccines prove effective.
The current mass vaccination plans are centred around supplies from Moderna and Pfizer.
Henry said it’s unclear how many AstraZeneca doses are bound for the province, but she expects the first shipment to arrive next week.
Federal officials said last week the first 500,000 doses will be arriving in Canada in the coming weeks.
“Once we get those details, we will be working those through and determining who best to target,” Henry said.
The province intends to inoculate 415,000 people between March and early April — roughly 10% of the 4.3 million British Columbians eligible for vaccinations (those under 18 years old are not currently eligible).
About 252,000 British Columbians have received at least their first dose as of February 26.
“We are dependent on offshore supplies of vaccines to meet our targets. The federal government has been working overtime to ensure we get access to those vaccines. But there is no domestic supplier that we can put pressure on,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said.
Provincial officials also offered further details Monday on B.C.’s mass vaccination efforts.
Immunizations begin this week for those living and working in independent living centres and seniors supportive housing. Those receiving home-care support as well as staff also get their first vaccine doses.
By March 8, seniors 90 years and older as well as Indigenous people 65 years and older will be able to book appointments through their local health authority’s call centre.
That will expand to those 85 years and older by March 15 and 80 years and older by March 22, while vaccinations for the above groups will begin a week later.
The province is urging older British Columbians to only call in once they’re eligible.
The call centre will ask British Columbians for their legal name, date of birth, postal code, personal health number and current contact info.
Call centre workers will not be asking for financial info, such as credit card details.
By April, British Columbians will be expected to register and book their first and second doses via an online tool that the province will be sharing more details about in the coming weeks.
Instructions for call centre bookings and local health authority call centre numbers are available at gov.bc.ca/bcseniorsfirst.
Family members will be able to book on behalf of seniors who may not feel comfortable scheduling their vaccinations on their own.
The province will also be offering mobile vaccination clinics to those too frail to attend clinics.
By mid-April, health workers will begin vaccinating those 60-79 years old, as well as British Columbians over the age of 16 considered to be extremely clinically vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the federal government awarded Deloitte Inc. a $16-million contract late last year to provide a national vaccine management IT platform (NVMIP) meant to assist provinces with vaccine rollout, administration and reporting.
The NVMIP isn’t meant to replace B.C.’s existing system, but the province confirmed it would be used to record all immunizations electronically and track vaccine inventory.
Last week B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an order allowing dentists, midwives, pharmacy technicians, paramedics, retired nurses and “a number of other professions” to assist at clinics administering vaccines.
At peak immunization capacity, the province will be relying on 715 full-time immunizers across 172 vaccination sites as it seeks to administer about 100,000 doses per day.
With the approval of AstraZeneca, Henry also confirmed first responders and essential workers might be able to move up in the queue if possible, or else wait for their age group to be eligible for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
The newly approved vaccine has an efficacy rate of 62% compared with about 95% for Pfizer and Moderna.
“There will be a little bit of choice but not a whole lot,” Henry said.