More than 50 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, officials announced Wednesday, as 600 new cases of the disease and one more death were recorded.
Over 2,162,023 people in B.C. have now received a shot, and 2.5 million people have registered for the vaccination program, the provincial government announced in a statement.
"COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down, but this milestone gives us hope of better days ahead. We have to keep going. We need all British Columbians to help make sure as many people as possible get their shots," Premier John Horgan said in a news release.
In a separate written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that B.C. is now halting first dose shots with AstraZeneca because of limited availability, with the remaining supply held for second doses.
All previously booked pharmacy appointments will go ahead, but no new bookings will be accepted.
Henry and Dix said there are currently 5,887 active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in B.C.
A total of 423 people are in hospital, with 141 in intensive care. Overall hospitalizations have fallen by close to 13 per cent since a week ago, when there were 485 people in hospital with COVID-19.
The provincial death toll from the disease is now 1,625 lives lost out of 137,223 confirmed cases.
In all, 2,277,318 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 115,295 second doses.
Health officials are currently awaiting the results of studies looking at the effectiveness of interchanging different types of vaccines for first and second doses.
"No matter what your vaccine or when you may receive it, everyone will receive their second dose within 16 weeks of their first vaccine to maximize the protection for ourselves and those around us," Henry and Dix said.
"Our province has ample vaccine supply with more arriving each week. Now, it is your turn to step forward and get protected with your COVID-19 vaccine."
Community-level data released
Also on Wednesday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control released the first of its promised new weekly reports on community level data from across the province. The report shows a wide variation in rates of vaccination, daily cases and test positivity.
The Fraser Valley continues to represent the highest rate of new cases reported each day, topping out at an average of more than 40 daily cases per 100,000 residents in some parts of Surrey. Those same neighbourhoods have seen more than 20 per cent of tests come back positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in some parts of the province — including the Central Coast, Telegraph Creek and the southern Gulf Islands — more than 80 per cent of people over the age of 18 have received their first dose of a vaccine.
Earlier this week, the provincial government announced yet another extension of the state of emergency related to the pandemic, which will remain in place until at least May 25.
The provincial government also announced this week it is going to start giving all workers in the province up to three days of paid sick leave if they have to miss work due to COVID-19. For employers without an existing sick-leave program, the government has promised to reimburse up to $200 a day for each absent worker.
"This means workers won't lose pay when they feel unwell, hard-hit businesses will get the support they need and, together, we will stop the spread of this virus," said Labour Minister Harry Bains.
Get a shot and stay home
Currently, anyone 18 and older in British Columbia can register for their vaccination if they have not already done so. This can be done online through the "Get Vaccinated" portal, by calling 1-833-838-2323, or in person at any Service B.C. location.
People who are pregnant, front-line workers and residents of areas identified as COVID-19 hot-spots are also being prioritized.
Travel restrictions remain in place as B.C. health officials race to vaccinate residents against the virus. Non-essential travel is not permitted between three regional zones, defined by health authority boundaries, until after the May long weekend. Violators can face a fine of $575.