A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, Office of the Chief Medical Officer; and Marion Guenther, Clinical Nurse Specialist for Immunizations, Office of the Chief Nursing Officer.
BC has a road map to leaving COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror but we need to watch for the speed bumps!
The details of the recently announced four-step Restart Plan are tantalizing, including a return to indoor and outdoor personal gatherings, Canada-wide recreational travel, and no group limit for indoor and outdoor dining. If all goes well, those options will be on the table as early as July 1.
That's hopeful and exciting, however, this depends on all of us being able to keep up our pandemic prevention momentum. Being able to progress through each phase at the earliest dates depends on declining COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths. It also depends on the population meeting vaccination targets. Getting vaccinated greatly reduces the risk of having severe COVID-19 disease or dying from it. It helps control the spread of COVID-19 and prevent new variants from arising.
The good news is that getting vaccinated has never been faster or easier. Last week, the province announced that British Columbians will be eligible to register their second doses as early as eight weeks after their first.
All people aged 12 and over (youth vaccines being another recent development) are encouraged to get both doses because there's strong evidence that two doses provides better and longer protection, including against a number of variants.
On June 1, the National Advisory Committee for Immunization announced updated recommendations for the “mixing and matching" of COVID-19 vaccines. This means that someone who received a first dose of one vaccine brand can complete their series with another type of vaccine.
This decision was made possible by research from Spain and the UK indicating that mixing brands is safe and effective. Scientists had predicted this would be possible as all COVID-19 vaccines help the body to develop antibodies to the SARS-Cov2 spike protein. Mixing brands of vaccine are also commonly used for other vaccines, such as hepatitis B, tetanus and influenza.
In practical terms, this means that those who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine may receive either the same vaccine or a mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) for their second dose. Those who received a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna will be offered the same mRNA vaccine for their second dose where this is possible, however they can safely receive another mRNA vaccine if the same vaccine is not readily available or known. Side effects such as a sore arm, aches and pains, or fever may be worse with a mixed dose regimen, but these are still expected to resolve in a few days.
More than half of second-dose clinics in BC First Nations communities have already taken place and all of these clinics are expected to be completed by the end of June.
Those who booked their first dose through the provincial registration system will receive an email or text message when they are eligible to book their second dose. Even if you had your first vaccine in community it is always an option to get your second-dose vaccine at a provincial clinic by booking through the provincial registration system.
Now that youth 12 and over are able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even more people are protected. At provincial clinics, youth may attend a family member's vaccination appointment without their own booking – or they can bring family members with them to their appointment. Clinics in First Nations communities may have different procedures, so you will need to check how to get the whole family vaccinated.
If you haven't had your first dose yet, and you have questions about the vaccines, speak with a health care provider or speak to friends and family members who have been vaccinated and listen to their reasons of why getting vaccinated was important to them.
The end is in sight for the pandemic. We have a plan. It's up to all of us to follow through with it.
Assemblies, rallies, and protests are one way in which people can express their shared views and beliefs about important matters such as the tragic situation in Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc. Participating in these gatherings may, however, lead to increased risk of COVID-19 transmission if proper precautions are not taken. See this guidance from the BC Public Health Office about outdoor assemblies, rallies and protests during COVID-19.