VICTORIA — British Columbia's top doctor says immunizations are expected to be ramped up in the coming weeks as Health Canada approves more COVID-19 vaccines, but a major challenge will be for people to ensure they get immunized.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the aim is to vaccinate about 150,000 people by the end of February, with priority given to residents and staff of long-term care homes as well as First Nations communities.
For the rest of the population, she said those over the age of 80 will be next in line for vaccinations, which will then be administered based on descending five-year age groupings, though the age will be lowered to 65 for First Nations populations.
Homeless people using shelters and health-care workers including family doctors as well as paramedics transporting long-term care residents will then be given priority for shots, Henry said, calling the immunization program a "monumental task" that will last for months.
"We are constrained by logistics and also by how much vaccine we're receiving, but we're optimistic and we are focused intensely on making sure we protect people in long-term care and assisted living as quickly as we possibly can, and, of course, protect those most at risk in our communities."
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province expects to receive 792,000 doses of vaccine by the end of March.
While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs ultra-low temperatures, limiting distribution, Henry said she's hopeful the federal government will approve the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines by March, increasing the amount of vaccine available.
She called on residents to keep making sacrifices before the vaccination program ramps up, adding some people recently "chose to bend the rules," allowing transmission of COVID-19 to continue.
Henry also urged people to get tested, especially after one person on Vancouver Island tested positive for a new variant of the virus upon returning from a trip to the United Kingdom.
"As a result, right now, I'm asking people to be extra vigilant if you are feeling unwell at all."
She reported 2,211 new cases of COVID-19 over the last four days, along with 45 more deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 946 since the start of the pandemic.
Fifty-two long-term care and assisted living facilities along with eight acute care settings currently have an outbreak, with 1,427 residents and 758 staff infected.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, based in Port Alberni, is urging 10,000 members to get vaccinated after 10 rural and isolated First Nations communities received the Moderna vaccine on a priority basis.
The council said in a statement the community itself will have to ensure it is safe.
"That means ensuring you get your vaccine when made available. First Nations Health Authority and medical health officers recommend that Indigenous people receive the vaccine when they are brought into your community."
— By Camille Bains in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.
The Canadian Press