COVID-19 in B.C.: Province unveils immunization program, with an eye on the end of the pandemic

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      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, were joined by Premier John Horgan and Dr. Ross Brown, who is Vancouver Coastal Health's vice-president for pandemic response and director of the regional emergency operations centre.

      The four presented details about the provincial vaccine rollout.

      Brown, who is the commander of the Immunize B.C. Operation Centre, said it’s a “complex task” due to numerous variables and sensitivities involved in delivering the various vaccines, which each have different characteristics.

      However, he pointed out that immunization is not a new task for the province’s public health teams, which have experience in immunization against seasonal influenza, measles, and H1N1 in 2009.

      Brown explained that Immunize B.C. Operation Centre, which will coordinate efforts, is comprised of experts from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC); the Provincial Health Services Authority, including Health Emergency Management B.C. members; First Nations Health Authority; Canadian Red Cross; Canadian Armed Forces; Health Ministry leadership and connections to regional health authorities; and scientists and ethical advisors.

      “We consider this a no-fail mission,” Brown said. “And we’re going to get it done.”

      Left to right: B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Premier John Horgan, and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
      Province of British Columbia

      Vaccines and vaccination rollout

      Henry called these developments to be “exciting” and provided more details about the vaccines and the initial phase of vaccinations.

      While she acknowledged that many people will be anxious and eager to receive their vaccine, she asked everyone to be patient as they focus on protecting those most at-risk first, with the initial limited batches.

      The first vaccine to arrive in B.C. will be the Pfizer vaccine, which Health Canada approved today and which is began being administered in the U.K. on December 8.

      Henry said they are still learning about the virus, including how immune systems respond to the virus, how long it takes to become immune, and how long protection lasts after vaccination.

      However, she said “the vaccines that we have…are safe and effective and will save lives”.

      Henry said Canada has contracts to purchase the vaccine from seven different manufacturers and that the second vaccine to most likely arrive in Canada will be the Moderna vaccine.

      At this point, the vaccine is not yet recommended for specific people: children under the age of 16 (whom Henry said are less likely to get the virus or have severe symptoms), pregnant people, and anyone with immunocompromised conditions.

      However, she said there are other vaccines being manufactured and are safe to use for people who are immune compromised.

      Henry explained that the vaccine requires two doses, with a minimum of 21 days apart, for full immunity to be achieved about seven days after the second dose.

      She said the efficacy of both vaccines are reported to provide 94 to 95 percent protection, which she called a “breakthrough” for the benefits of vaccines. She said it’s the best that public health could hope for, as they were hoping for 50 to 60 percent effectiveness, and that this may “revolutionize” vaccines in the future.

      She also said the vaccines have been tested on various age groups and ethnic groups.

      However, Henry said the vaccines are “very delicate” and have to be stored at sub-zero temperatures, which require refrigerators capable of -70 to -80 C temperatures.

      Henry said B.C. will receive two trays, each with about 975 frozen doses, one for the Vancouver Coastal Health region and the other in the Fraser Health region—Ross said clinics will be established at these two locations.

      Ross explained that they conducted a simulation exercise yesterday to prepare for the arrival and distribution of the vaccines.

      Henry said more vaccines will arrive after December 14, and even more in first week of January with expansion to nine sites in B.C. She added that they are preparing up to 30 sites to receive these vaccines.

      In determining who will receive the vaccines first, Henry said their priority is to save lives and protect the healthcare system for everyone.

      The aforementioned two sites will be devoted to vaccinating healthcare workers in longterm care facilities and frontline healthcare workers in intensive care units, emergency departments, and COVID-19 medical wards.

      Due to the special transportation requirements for the vaccine, for these initial batches, Henry said that people will have to travel to the sites to receive the vaccine but hope to be able to bring the vaccine to people by about early January.

      By the first week of January, Henry said that vaccines should be available for healthcare workers in all five health authority regions.

      At this point, the vaccine will also become available for people over age 80; those in higher-risk communities, such as those living in shelters; and remote and isolated Indigenous communities.

      By March and April, she said they will likely have enough vaccines to expand vaccinations to all healthcare workers; first responders, such as police, firefighters, and more; and essential service workers, including those working in the education system and in transportation, manufacturing and production, and grocery industries. 

      Throughout the spring, she said she expects a rapid expansion of the distribution of the vaccine to more people throughout communities.

      For the moment, Henry said, we don’t have enough vaccines yet to stop transmission across the province.

      However, she said herd immunity can be achieved once approximately 60 to 70 percent of the population is immunized, and transmission will decrease rapidly.

      She said that could happen by summer or autumn of the coming year, and that we could begin to resume socializing once again after that. 

      “It is at that point when we have vaccine widely distributed in our communities, when we have many people protected, that we will be able to stop this pandemic,” she said. “That’s the phase that we are looking forward to.”

      She said that their plan is designed to be flexible, as there will likely be changes and “hiccups”.

      Regarding outbreaks at European mink farms where mutations of the virus have raised concerns about resistance to the vaccine, Henry said that the virus does mutate but very slowly.

      She said they are closely watching the outbreak declared at the Fraser Valley mink farm, where eight people have tested positive and the B.C. government confirmed today that mink have also tested positive. However, she said that studies of the vaccines so far has shown “very good” effectiveness, which she says is reassuring.

      While she asked everyone to continue practising health precautions, she said “there is light ahead and that light is shining a little brighter today”.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      B.C. update: December 9

      Henry announced there are 619 new cases (including four epi-linked cases) in B.C. today, which includes:

      • 384 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 121 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 81 in Interior Health;
      • 27 in Northern Health;
      • five in Island Health;
      • one person from outside Canada.

      Currently, there are 9,329 active cases. That’s an increase of only 14 people since yesterday.

      Also decreasing is the number of hospitalized cases. Today, there are 338 people in hospital (14 less people than yesterday), with 75 of those patients are in intensive care units (one more person since yesterday).

      Public health is currently monitoring 11,526 people (the number of people being monitored wasn’t provided in yesterday’s update).

      Unfortunately, the number of deaths has remained consistent. For the second consecutive day, there are 16 new deaths. The cumulative number of fatalities during the pandemic is now at 559 people who have died of COVID-19-related reasons.

      A total of 28,448 people have recovered.

      B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 39,337 cases during the pandemic, which includes:

      • 24,942 cases in Fraser Health;
      • 9,982 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 2,420 in Interior Health;
      • 1,159 in Northern Health;
      • 740 in Island Health;
      • 94 people from outside Canada.

      Outbreaks and exposures

      There is one new healthcare outbreak at the Courtyard Terrace (3730 Burke Street) assisted-living facility in Burnaby.

      Meanwhile, two healthcare outbreaks have been declared over:

      • Royal Ascot Centre in Vancouver, where Vancouver Coastal Health lifted restrictions on the third floor on December 8;
      • an acute care unit at Burnaby Hospital, where an outbreak declared on November 10 was complicated by a fire on November 15, after which 55 patients and 44 staff members tested positive as of November 24.

      Henry said there are 65 active outbreaks in healthcare facilities—57 in longterm care facilities and eight acute care facilities, which involve a total of 1,831 cases (1,149 residents and 642 staff).

      A good sign is that, once again, none of the regional health authorities listed any new public exposure events.

      Stores and flights

      Loblaw had two stores with staff members who tested positive.

      Yesterday, Loblaw stated that two employees who tested positive last worked on November 28 and 30 at the Real Canadian Superstore location at 7550 King George Boulevard store in Surrey. Today, a third employee, who last worked at that store on December 4, was added.

      Meanwhile, an employee who tested positive last worked on December 5 at the Real Canadian Wholesale Club (5335 Kingsway) location in Burnaby.

      The BCCDC has added seven flights confirmed with COVID-19:

      • November 27: Air Canada 305, Montreal to Vancouver;
      • November 28: Air Canada 302, Vancouver to Montreal;
      • December 2: Air Canada 311, Montreal to Vancouver;
      • December 2: WestJet 3163, Calgary to Kelowna;
      • December 3: Air Canada 123, Toronto to Vancouver;
      • December 4: Air Canada 25, Vancouver to Seoul;
      • December 4: Air India 185, Delhi to Vancouver.

      Affected row information is available at the BCCDC website.

      Mount Baker Secondary School

      School exposures

      Four regional health authorities added new exposure dates for a total of 38 schools. Once again, the majority were in the Fraser Health region, and Surrey had the most schools with new exposures.

      Island Health didn’t have any schools with new exposures.

      Northern Health had two schools in Fort St. John that had exposures:

      • Bert Ambrose Elementary School (9616 115th Avenue) had an exposure on November 30;
      • Anne Roberts Young Elementary (8408 112nd Avenue) also had an exposure on November 30.

      Interior Health had two schools with new dates.

      In Cranbrook, Mount Baker Secondary School (1410 Baker Street) had an exposure event from November 30 to December 1.

      In Lake Country, Davidson Road Elementary (2115 Davidson Road) had an exposure event from December 1 to 3.

      Vancouver Coastal Health had five schools with new exposure dates.

      In Richmond, James Gilmore Elementary School (8380 Elsmore Road) had exposures on December 4 and 7.

      Vancouver had three schools with new exposures:

      • John Henderson Elementary (451 E 53rd Avenue), which previously had exposures on October 13 and from November 18 to 20, added December 4;
      • King George Secondary School (1755 Barclay Street), which had a previous exposure from November 17 to 18, added December 1 to 2;
      • Crofton House School (3200 West 41st Avenue) had exposures from December 3 to 4.

      In North Vancouver, Vancouver Waldorf School (2725 Street Christophers Road) had exposures from November 30 to December 1.

      King George Secondary School

      Fraser Health had 28 schools with new exposure dates.

      In Burnaby, Deer Lake School (5550 Gilpin Street) had an exposure event from November 30 to December 4.

      In Port Coquitlam, James Park Elementary (1761 Westminster Avenue), which previously had exposures from November 30 to December 1, added December 2.

      Chilliwack had five schools with new dates:

      • A.D. Rundle Middle (45660 Hocking Avenue), which previously had exposures from October 26 to 29, added December 3 to 4;
      • Cheam Elementary (9895 Banford Road) had exposures from December 3 to 4;
      • Evans Elementary (7600 Evans Road) had an exposure event from November 30 to December 1;
      • Rosedale Traditional Community School (50850 Yale Road) in Rosedale—which previously had exposures from October 26 to 28; from November 23 to 24; on November 27; and from December 1 to 2—added November 30;
      • Sardis Secondary (45460 Stevenson Road), which previously had exposures from October 26 to 30 and from November 23 to 25, added December 1 to 2 as exposure dates.

      Two schools in Delta had new dates:

      • Annieville Elementary (9240 112nd Street), which previously had exposures from November 30 to December 1, added December 2;
      • Hellings Elementary (11655 86th Avenue)—which previously had exposures on November 19, 20, and from 23 to 27; and from November 30 to December 1—added December 3 to 4.

      Two schools in Langley added new dates:

      • Nicomekl Elementary (20050 53rd Avenue) had an exposure on December 3;
      • Peter Ewart Middle School (7755 202a Street), which previously had exposures from November 26 and 27, added November 30 to December 2.

      In Maple Ridge, Maple Ridge Secondary School (21911 122nd Avenue)—which previously had exposure events from October 13 to 15, and from November 29 to 30—added November 27 and December 1 to 2.

      Evans Elementary

      In Surrey, 16 schools had new exposure dates:

      • Cambridge Elementary School (6115 150th Street)—which had previous exposure events from October 13 to 14; on October 16; from October 19 to 22; and from November 2 to 5; and where Fraser Health declared an outbreak involving seven cases on November 14—reopened on November 30 and had a new exposure event from December 3 to 4;
      • Enver Creek Secondary (14505 84th Avenue)—which previously had exposures on October 9, 14, and 26from November 3 to 5, 9, and 16on November 24, 26, 27, and 30, and on December 1—added December 3;
      • Guildford Park Secondary (10707 146th Street) in North Surrey, which previously had an exposure on November 5, added December 2 to 4;
      • Kwantlen Park Secondary (10441 132nd Street)—which had previous exposures from October 13 to 14; from October 21 to 22; from November 2 to 3; from November 23 to 24; and from November 25 to 27—added December 2 to 4 as exposure dates;
      • L.A. Matheson Secondary (9484 122nd Street)—which had previous exposures on September 16 and October 9; from November 2 to 3on November 9, 12, and 16 to 20; from November 25 to 27; and from December 1 to 2—added December 3 to 4;
      • Panorama Park Elementary (12878 62nd Avenue)—which previously had exposure events from October 14 to 15, and from November 23 to 24—added December 1 and 2;
      • École Panorama Ridge Secondary (13220 64th Avenue)—which previously had exposures on September 8 and 10; from September 30 to October 1; from October 6 to 9 and 13 to 15; from October 19 to 20; on November 3, 4, and 5on November 16; from November 17 to 19; on November 20 and 23from November 24 to 27 and 30 and from December 1 to 2—added December 3 to 4;
      • Queen Elizabeth Secondary School (9457 King George Boulevard)—which previously had exposures on September 14; from October 14 to 16; from October 19, 21, and 22; from October 29 to 30; from November 3 to 5; on November 6, 9, 10; on November 12, 13, and 16; from November 18 to 20; from November 23 to 27; and on November 30—added December 3 to 4;
      • Serpentine Heights Elementary (16126 93a Avenue), which previously had an exposure event from September 19 to 20, had new exposures from November 30 to December 2;
      • Surrey Centre Elementary (16670 Old McLellan Road), which previously had an exposure on October 22, added exposures from November 25 to 27 and November 30 to December 1;
      • Tamanawis Secondary School (12600 66th Avenue)—which previously had incidents on September 17 and 30; October 2 and 6; from October 13 to 16; on October 19from October 26 to 28; from November 3 to 5; on November 12, 13, 16, 17; from 19 to 20; and from November 24 to 27 and 30—added December 2;
      • Westerman Elementary (7626 122nd Street)—which previously had exposure events from October 5 to 7; from October 15 to 16; from November 2 to 3; and from November 12 to 13—added December 1 to 4;
      • Holy Cross Regional High School (16193 88th Avenue), which previously had exposures from November 26 to 27, added December 1 and 3;
      • Khalsa Secondary (10589 124th Street)—which had previous exposure events from September 9 and 10; September 30 to October 2; from October 13 to 15; from November 17 to 19; and on November 20, 23, 24, 26, and 27—added November 30 to December 2;
      • Pacific Academy (10238 168th Street)—which had previous exposures on November 9; from November 12 to 13; from 17 to 20; and from November 23 to 25 and 30—added November 26;
      • Regent Christian Academy (15100 66A Avenue) had an exposure event from November 30 to December 4.
      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.