Vulnerable seniors and those who care for them will remain the top-priority for COVID-19 vaccinations for at least another week or two, according to B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“As we know, the burden of COVID-19 has been particularly heavy … on our seniors and elders and those who care for them, and that is where our focus has been and will continue to be for the next week or two here in British Columbia as we use the vaccine that we receive,” she said during a Thursday (January 7) briefing.
“And we’re going to continue to focus, as we say, to try and protect those who are most at risk in these first few weeks with the limited supply that we have.”
On Monday, Henry revealed B.C.’s plans to vaccinate 70,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities by the end of January.
The province also intends to vaccinate 30,000 frontline health-care workers — specifically, paramedics, and those who work in intensive care units and emergency departments at hospitals — by the end of the month.
Another 13,000 people in assisted living are expected to receive at least their first dose in January.
Bonnie confirmed Thursday that 41,064 British Columbians across all health regions have received their first dose since vaccines began rolling in last month — up from the 33,665 who were vaccinated as of a day earlier.
Both the Moderna Inc. vaccine and Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE (Nasdaq:BNTX) vaccine require two doses.
After the top-priority groups receive their vaccines in January, health officials plan to administer vaccines to elderly British Columbians above the age of 80.
Once vaccinated, the province will administer doses in descending five-year age brackets.
The province expects to have 792,000 doses delivered by the end of March.
Of those, 542,000 will come from Pfizer and 250,000 from Moderna.
Because the Moderna doses are easier to transport than the competing Pfizer vaccine, it’s seen as critical in ensuring remote regions in B.C. and Canada have access to vaccinations.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which must be maintained at temperatures as low as -80C, the Moderna needs to be maintained at just -20C.
Delivery of the Pfizer vaccine is currently the responsibility of the manufacturer due to the vaccine’s sensitivity, while FedEx Express Canada Corp. and Innomar Strategies Inc. are handling Moderna’s deliveries.
“The modeling tells us that somewhere around 60-75% of the population needs to be immunized so that the virus can’t find somebody who’s susceptible once somebody becomes ill, and that’s a way of protecting those around us who can’t be immunized, for example. So we’re a long way from that,” Henry said.
“That’s why we’re focusing on long-term care because that’s where the virus is most devastating.”
She added that she’s anticipating the approval of more vaccines — ones that are more mobile than the Pfizer and Moderna versions that require low temperatures for transportation and storage — but does not expect any new vaccines to get the green light before March.
Last month Henry outlined plans to delay the administration of second doses to 35 days after the first dose.
Pfizer and Moderna both recommend that second doses are administered about 28 days after the first doses.
Henry said Thursday that two weeks within getting the first dose, the protection rate of both vaccines is in the 85-90% range.
After the second dose, that goes up to 95%.
“So it tells us that once your body has developed an immune response, you have very high protective levels,” she said.
“If there’s any signal that people are not getting the protection they need because we’re delaying by a week their second dose, then we will change that. So it’s really important that we monitor these things as well around the world.”
Henry added that if vaccine supply levels increase as vaccinations scale up, “we absolutely will try and do it on the optimal schedule.”