Explainer: The plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in B.C.

Vaccines are being distributed in order of two priority groups, and the majority of British Columbians can receive the vaccine by the end of 2021

Person receiving a vaccination. (Flickr/ Indiana Public Media)

Update: the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was approved for distribution by Health Canada on Dec. 23.

At the start of December, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines in the province.

Pfizer-BioNTech is the first vaccine approved by Health Canada for distribution in the country, having been pre-ordered by the federal government.

Moderna’s vaccine is pending approval by Health Canada and will be deployed soon after.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, spaced at least three weeks apart. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures and requires administration at the time of arrival, whereas Moderna’s vaccine can last up to 30 days in a refrigerator once it is thawed.

Usually, approval for a vaccine takes years, but Health Canada shortened the administrative process for COVID-19 vaccines while keeping a thorough authorization process. Doing so made it easier for advances in technology, international collaboration, and increased funding to tackle the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

The first batch of the Pfizer vaccine was about 3,900 doses, which was administered across the Lower Mainland to health workers in long-term care homes and health workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response in acute care.

As of Dec. 21, doses of the vaccine arrived in every health authority region in B.C. Vaccines will arrive each week in B.C., increasing in quantity, and will be administered to people in priority groups.

The first phase of the plan involves distributing the vaccine to the priority group that includes people over the age of 80, residents and staff in long-term care and assisted living facilities, and healthcare staff for COVID-19 patients in settings like Intensive Care Units, COVID-19 wards, and emergency departments. Indigenous people in rural or remote communities are also first priority, as well as people living in higher-risk group settings like shelters.

Phase two is planned to start in spring of 2021 as more vaccines become available, which includes people under the age of 80 descending by five-year increments, with priority being the oldest first. The vaccine will also be distributed to key frontline workers, including all other healthcare workers, police, fire and first responders, people working in grocery stores, staff working in K to 12 schools, child care providers, transportation workers, and workers in manufacturing and production facilities.

Following these priority groups, everyone else in B.C. can get the vaccine as it becomes available, and It’s expected that the majority of British Columbians will be immunized by the end of 2021.

The long-term goal is to develop herd-immunity if 60 to 70 per cent of B.C.’s population chooses to get the vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been fully tested in people under 16 years old, those who are pregnant, or those with immunocompromising conditions. It is not recommended that these groups get the vaccine at this time, and instead “should talk with their health care provider to make a decision on whether to receive the vaccine.”

People are encouraged to continue washing their hands, staying home when sick, practicing social distancing, and wearing a mask in public indoor spaces.

The latest provincial health orders and guidelines are still in place for everyone, even if they have been vaccinated.

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