Kootenay residents face wait for rollout of COVID-19 vaccine

·4 min read

The good news is there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus, and it’s in the province. But health officials are cautioning it won’t likely be in most people’s arms in this region for several months yet.

Earlier this month, the Province outlined its plans to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which were approved by Health Canada at the end of last year to combat the coronavirus. And while essential health workers and the most vulnerable are receiving shots now (about 60,000 doses have been delivered), the rollout to the general population will take some time yet.

As of January 3, 24,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been distributed in the province, and 1,600 of the Moderna vaccine. Six hundred and thirty-nine doses of the Moderna version were sent to Interior Health, which includes the West Kootenay.

Officials say the speed of the rollout depends on just how much vaccine is delivered to them over the coming months.

“The deliveries will continue to arrive on a routine basis and speed up over time,” says an official with Interior Health. “The most important thing of note to share is that vaccine is arriving, and will continue to arrive, to vaccinate the phase one priority populations. After that, eligibility expands to the next groups and so forth.”

When you get the shots (two injections are needed for both vaccines) depends on where you fall in the priority list. Right now, the groups targeted for the first round of vaccines are: residents/staff of long-term care and assisted living residences; individuals in hospital or community assessed and awaiting a long-term care placement; essential visitors in long-term care and assisted living facilities; healthcare workers providing front line hospital care in ICUs, medical/surgical units, emergency departments, paramedics; remote/isolated First Nation communities.

The priority populations will get the first dose of the vaccine by late January, and get their second dose about 35 days later, says Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. About 150,000 people should get the protective shots by the end of February.

“It is a monumental task, and there are many months to go on this,” she told reporters earlier this month. “It’s constrained by logistics and how many vaccines we are receiving. But we are optimistic and focussed intently on protecting people in long-term care and assisted living as soon as we possibly can.”

Again, Henry cautioned the rollout is contingent on vaccine production and delivery, and the timetable will be modified according to the amounts they receive from the manufacturer.

It won’t be until late February or early March that the second phase of the rollout begins. In that round, the focus starts on seniors in the community aged 80+. Also on that list are homeless people, prisoners, mental health patients, adult group home residents and staff, long-term support recipients and providers, as well as community doctors and hospital staff.

Mass vaccination of the general population won’t really start until March. The speed of its rollout will be dependent again on how much vaccine is delivered to BC. The plan is to vaccinate population cohorts – once the 80+ group is completed, they’ll move on to 75+, then 70+, etc.

However, “…a detailed approach and methodology is being developed – more detail to be provided mid-to-late January,” says Henry.

The scale of the vaccination effort is impressive: in phase one, between December and March, officials expect to distribute 792,000 doses of the vaccine.

Compounding the complexity of the rollout is the nature of the vaccine. The Pfizer version needs to be stored in special, ultra-cold freezers (to -80°C). There are only a handful of those in the province, and none in the West Kootenay. That means locals here will be getting the Moderna vaccine (which can be stored in normal fridges).

Again however, officials caution that they won’t know the exact number of doses available for rollout until three to four weeks ahead of delivery from the National Operations Committee overseeing country-wide distribution.

As for where and when you go to get the shots in your community, and how you’ll be notified, that is still being worked out. The logistics for storage and delivery of the vaccine is underway now.

You’ll get word on distribution here in the Valley Voice and other media. In the meantime, Henry says its important people not let their guard down.

“This virus doesn’t know that we haven’t seen our friends in months. It doesn’t know that it’s our grandmother’s birthday,” she said last week. “This is our riskiest time right now. We cannot let our guard down as vaccination is just beginning. This is our winter, but we know spring will come.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice