B.C. announces next priority and age-based groups for COVID-19 immunization program

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      At a news conference today (March 18), B.C. announced further details about how the provincial immunization program will proceed in the coming weeks.

      B.C. Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, immunization executive lead Dr. Penny Ballem, and Health Minister Adrian Dix spoke at the briefing.

      As the immunization program proceeds, Henry emphasized that it is “incredibly important” to understand that vaccinations do not mean that people can automatically go back to behaving like they did prior to the pandemic.

      “People being immunized does not mean you don’t have to adhere to your COVID safety plans anymore,” Henry said.

      She pointed out that B.C. continues to have a high level of new cases and still have transmission present in communities, that it takes several weeks before immunization is effective, and that the virus can continue to transmit even from those who have been immunized.

      However, she explained that immunization can protect people from severe outcomes, hospitalizations, and death.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, immunization executive lead Dr. Penny Ballem, Premier John Horgan, and Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Priority groups

      B.C. expects to receive about 340,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine by the end of May.

      Shipments of this vaccine are being strategically used to vaccinate frontline workers and those in specific sectors.

      “This targeted outreach builds on the momentum we now have with our age-based program to protect those who have been at work every day, without break and without question, for the past year,” Henry explained.

      Earlier this week, the first shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine began being administered to workers in high-risk sectors including:

      • food-processing plants, including poultry, fruit, and fish products;
      • agricultural operations with group worker accommodations, including farms, nurseries, and greenhouses;
      • large industrial camps with group accommodations for workers.

      Starting in April, people in the following priority groups will receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine:

      • first responders, including police, firefighters, and emergency transport;
      • K-12 educational staff;
      • child care staff;
      • grocery store workers;
      • postal workers;
      • bylaw and quarantine officers;
      • manufacturing workers;
      • wholesale and warehousing employees;
      • staff living in group housing, such as at ski resorts;
      • correctional facilities staff;
      • cross-border transport staff.

      As explained at previous briefings, these groups have been identified due to conditions where:

      • the use of personal protective equipment and barriers can be challenging;
      • outbreaks and clusters have occurred or are ongoing, particularly sites where there are over 50 workers;
      • workers must live or work in group settings;
      • maintaining the workforce for critical services is necessary.

      Booking arrangements for frontline and prioritized workers will be communicated to each sector when they are established, and these workers do not need to call in right now.

      Several heads of organziations of prioritized workers, including B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring and B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police president Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow, issued statements to express gratitude for recognizing their sectors for vaccinations.

      Mooring, however, also continued to raise concerns about ongoing health issues in schools, including infection rates among elementary-school teachers (where students are not required to wear masks) being higher than secondary-school teachers.

      B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police president Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow

      Age-based vaccinations

      The schedule has advanced due to progress in appointment bookings.

      Tomorrow (March 19), every senior born in 1941 or before (80 years old and over) and Indigenous peoples born in or before 1956 (65 years old and over) will be eligible to book a vaccination appointment.

      The next age group—those born between the years of 1942 to 1951 (79-70 year olds) and Indigenous peoples born in 1966 and before (55 and over)—were originally scheduled to start booking appointments in April.

      But with advances in bookings, this age group can start calling in on Saturday (March 20), according to this schedule:

      • age 79 and Indigenous peoples 55 and older: Saturday (March 20) at noon;
      • age 78: Monday (March 22) at noon;
      • age 77: Tuesday (March 23) at noon;
      • age 76: Thursday (March 25) at noon;
      • age 75: Saturday (March 27) at noon.

      The call-in schedule for those aged 70 to 74 will be announced in the coming days.

      For people between the ages of 65 and 69, the provincial registration and booking system, both online and by phone, will be implemented on April 6, 2021.

      Timelines for Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the provincial immunization plan have been adjusted, which means that everyone eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine will now be able to receive a first dose before July 1.

      For more details about vaccine appointments for seniors, visit the B.C. government website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.