Henry apologizes for ‘communications’ over second-dose cancellations

Cancellations unfolded after B.C. changed its vaccination strategy this week

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B.C.’s top doctor is expressing regret over how the province communicated to those expecting to get their second COVID-19 vaccine dose before those appointments were cancelled.

Provincial officials revealed earlier this week the province would expand the interval between first and second doses from six weeks to 16 weeks in a bid to immunize more British Columbians sooner, albeit with lower levels of protection.

This change in strategy resulted in thousands of cancellations of previously scheduled vaccinations that would have delivered second doses to at-risk British Columbians.

“I will regret and apologize to those communities, to the long-term care homes and to the individuals who had a second dose scheduled,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a Thursday (March 4) briefing.

“I regret that our communications weren’t able to keep up as fast as the decision-making, but please know that this was made in the spirit of understanding data and maximizing the benefit.”

B.C. officials justified the decision to expand the interval between doses by pointing to data that shows vaccines are proving to be effective for at least four months after a single dose.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended on Wednesday that provinces should consider significantly delaying administering first and second doses if they’re facing a limited supply of vaccine.

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) recommend intervals of three to four weeks, but B.C. had been administering doses six weeks apart since January amid ongoing vaccine shortages.

The shift to 16-week intervals means 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.

But younger British Columbians who would not have been getting their first doses until the summer are likely to receive those shots by the spring.

Henry said the province is now working on revising its timelines for when British Columbians can expect to be vaccinated.

This comes as the first delivery of 500,000 AstraZeneca plc vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India are due to arrive in the province by next week.

About 300,000 doses are due to expire April 2 and Henry said she could not yet provide estimates on how many are bound for B.C.

B.C.’s allotment of AstraZeneca doses have been earmarked for first responders and essential workers, which Henry acknowledge as covering a broad swath of people who don’t have the ability to work from home.

“We will prioritize our delivery of these vaccines accordingly and I want to be clear: This is not a random process,” she said.

“This is not me making a decision. We follow a very defined process.”

Henry said NACI’s definition of these workers continues to be refined and the province will refer to those categories when making its decision about which workers to vaccinate first.

torton@biv.com

@reporton