As the number of new variant COVID-19 cases rise in B.C., along with concerns about younger people ending up in intensive care, some are calling for the province's vaccination strategy to switch from an aged-based model to one where younger people — particularly essential workers — are a priority.
Professor Kelley Lee researches global infectious disease at Simon Fraser University and says as the virus adapts, we must as well.
"The first and second wave, [the elderly] were the most vulnerable and we wanted to protect them," Lee said. "As we've had variants come into the country, really it's younger people that are more at risk and also at risk of transmitting those variants to other people."
Lee is advocating for a top and tail strategy where the younger population group is vaccinated at the same time with the older population, or, in the case of a limited supply, prioritize younger populations to decrease transmissibility overall.
"I know that supplies are limited and so we have to think about how we put those resources to the best use," said Lee.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Srinivas Murthy also says it's time to start talking about vaccine demographics.
"I think at some point in the very near term we need to start transitioning away from the elderly and towards those essential workers who are really keeping everything going right now," Murthy said.
'We need vaccine'
Frontline workers are hoping for such a strategy shift — especially after the original essential worker vaccination was put on pause.
Nicky Byers, the executive director of the Society of Richmond Children's Centres, says the announcement that her daycare workers would be receiving vaccines was "a ray of hope and a thread we were hanging on to after a really hard year."
When the program — which offered AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to essential workers and frontline workers — was halted after the vaccine was suspended for people under 55, Byers said they've heard little in terms of a replacement.
"We are now working with our workforce that are in the category of people who are getting seriously ill," she said.
"Finding vaccines [is] an incredibly hard thing.... My job is to take care of the children and families and staff in my organization — and we need vaccine."
WATCH | B.C. faces calls to vaccinate younger workers:
Kelly Macdosen, who works as a teacher on call, echoed these concerns.
"We are the ones who are working in those more exposed jobs. The grocery store, the service industry…. I'm terrified about the variants."
No change — for now
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at her Thursday press conference that the current strategy of keeping to the age-based vaccination schedule isn't changing.
Henry said the point is to vaccinate those who are most vulnerable from death and severe illness.
"[It's] still an older demographic that ends up in hospital and dies from COVID-19," Henry said.
She did note, however, that vaccinating essential workers is still an important goal of the province's strategy and that some vaccine was used from the age-based program to target workers in especially hard-hit areas, like teachers in the Surrey school district.
"We can't use [the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine] as we wanted to, but we are receiving news we'll be receiving the Johnson & Johnson [vaccine] in the next few weeks as well so we'll be able to ramp it up more quickly once we receive additional vaccines," she said.
Currently in B.C., people 65 and older and Indigenous peoples 18 and can register to get vaccinated.