The provincial government will work from oldest to youngest in administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
B.C. Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed further details of the province's vaccination strategy on Friday morning.
"Overwhelmingly it is age that is the most important risk factor that determines whether or not you end up in the hospital," Henry told media.
The province will ready 8.6 million doses of the vaccine, two doses spaced up to 35 days apart for the 4.3 million eligible people in the province. Those younger than 18 are not currently eligible for vaccination, as the vaccines have not yet been approved for that age group.
Based on supply expected by the federal government, the province says it will receive about 800,000 doses by the end of March, with another 2.6 million coming from April to the end of June. From July to September, another six million doses are expected to arrive.
The province is also anticipating the approval of a third vaccine from manufacturer AstraZeneca, with those supplies arriving in the late second quarter of the year.
The vaccine rollout will come in four phases.
The first phase is already underway, having began in December. Vaccine recipients in Phase 1 include:
- Residents, staff and essential visitors to long-term care homes;
- Those assessed for and awaiting long-term care placement;
- Hospital workers who may care for COVID-19 patients;
- Remote and isolated Indigenous communities.
The second phase, from February to March, includes more seniors and a wider range of hospital staff. It includes:
- Seniors 80 and older;
- Indigenous seniors 65 and older;
- Hospital staff, community doctors and medical specialists;
- Vulnerable populations living in congregated settings;
- Staff in community home support and nursing for seniors.
In the third phase, from April to June, the province will begin working through the general population in five-year decrements, from ages 79 to 60. It will also include those ages 69 to 16 who are "clinically extremely vulnerable."
The final phase of the plan will begin in July, working down from those ages 59 to 18.
The goal of the campaign is to reach what Dr. Bonnie Henry calls "community immunity" — more commonly referred to as herd immunity.
"That is what we're aiming for in British Columbia. This can be reached if the large majority of people in B.C. choose to be immunized against COVID-19. And from what we've seen so far, this is something a large majority of people want and are willing to do," she said.
The plan differs somewhat from what the B.C. government originally proposed, which stipulated earlier vaccines for first responders and front-line workers, such as grocery store staff. Horgan defended the decision to make changes on Friday.
"I've received mail a couple of inches thick from advocates saying their particular profession deserved a higher priority, and all of the arguments were very compelling," Horgan said. "Every component of our society is important. But the science is pretty clear. ... Age is the dominant determinant factor on severe illness and death."
The Government of Canada has committed to vaccinating anyone who wants a vaccine by September.
Health officials are planning to set up clinics in 172 communities across the province to administer the vaccine and will set these up in March.
The province plans to use school gymnasiums, arenas, convention halls and community halls as clinic venues in the third and fourth phases. Mobile sites will also be used, where necessary, in addition to home visits for those who are unable to go to clinics.
British Columbians will also receive proof of vaccine after their shot, in either a paper or digital form.
Effects on travel and restrictions
Although vaccinations will ramp up considerably in coming months, health guidelines, including limiting travel to only what is essential, are likely to remain for months.
"We need to think for the next few months and into the summer, that we need to continue what we're doing — essential travel, staying local and looking at experiencing what we have in B.C. for people in B.C.," Henry said.
Horgan added that the province will be guided by the science, saying, "British Columbians shouldn't make plans right now. We should focus on staying safe, being kind, being calm."