Image via BC Government Flickr
The Provincial Health Officer joined BC First Nations chiefs, health directors, and First Nations Health Authority doctors via Zoom on Tuesday morning (March 9) to provide updates on the province's vaccine rollout.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said the recent rapid change to the vaccine rollout is expediting vaccination plans throughout BC, however, she also acknowledged the good news also caused uncertainty – particularly the sudden decision March 1 to extend the interval between first and second doses.
"The communications challenges caused a lot of trauma for people, and I apologize for that," she said.
As well, Dr. Henry expressed regret that health authority phone lines were overwhelmed by up to three million callers Monday, all trying to schedule a vaccination appointment as BC moves into Phase 2 of its vaccination plans.
She reported that 15,000 of the 45,000 eligible for this phase of vaccinations (Indigenous people age 65 and older and non-Indigenous people age 85 and older) were successfully registered Monday, and that call centres will continue to be open in the weeks leading up to the clinics. (Download this PDF for information on how to register yourself or someone eligible for this phase of the vaccine.)
All Indigenous people in the province are welcome to sign up for the provincial clinics when they meet the age eligibility (age 60 and older can start registering March 31). Meanwhile, the FNHA is working with First Nations communities to continue community-based clinics. All first-dose community clinics are now expected to be held by March 31, thanks to the renewed supply of vaccines. The supply chain is more reliable now, allowing organizers more time to schedule and promote clinics.
The FNHA clinics will continue a “whole of community" approach in which everyone age 18 and over will be vaccinated if they wish. This practice will also be used in rural and remote communities served by the provincial clinics. Renewed supplies and the decision to extend the time between doses has made this possible.
As of March 1, the province is recommending approximately 16 weeks between doses. The decision frees up 70,000 doses of vaccine originally intended as second doses and Dr. Henry said the latest data suggests it may actually help maximize the vaccine's benefit to the immune system, which is already showing to be up to 92 per cent effective after the first dose.
BC's decision to extend time between doses is endorsed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and has been adopted by other national and international health agencies.
“This is science in action," Dr. Henry said. “We will continue to learn when it's the optimal time to give the second dose, so this advice may change again. We're learning as we go with these vaccines, as we did with the virus.
Information about topics such as getting annual booster shots and post-pandemic travel still need more research.
“We are all still at risk until everybody has their vaccination," she said.
Stay informed! For the FNHA's most up-to-date information, check here.
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