By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter
With the new COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive the first quarter of 2021, the government of B.C. is preparing for how, where, when and to whom it should be distributed for the quickest, most effective impact, said B.C.’s provincial health officer.

“There’s a light in our future on the horizon,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “As we hear more and more positive news about vaccines.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix delivers a COVID-19 update in Victoria on Nov. 27. Government of BC photo

Several vaccines are in the final stages of development in a handful of countries and vaccines are expected to arrive in Canada during the first quarter of 2021, according to the federal government.

“Our logistics teams have been pulling together, working with the federal government to understand the requirements to safely get the right vaccine, to the right people, as quickly as possible, in the most efficient way,” said Henry in late November.

Henry, Stephen Brown, the Deputy Minister of Health, and Dr. Ross Brown from Vancouver Coastal Health will oversee a complex operation to deliver several different COVID-19 vaccines to people across the province. Because many vaccines are being developed around the world, but none have yet been approved for use, the Canadian government has pre-ordered seven vaccines at various stages of development.

The first vaccines are expected to arrive in Canada in the first quarter of 2021 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has estimated more than 50 per cent of Canadians will be vaccinated by this time next year.

One complicating logistical factor in distributing the vaccines has to do with the varying handling protocols of each vaccine, including one which requires storage atf -70 degrees Celsius, said Henry.

“Its importance and its speed and the fact that we’re dealing with new vaccines, all of that adds to its complications,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Another challenge will be the initial shortfall of vaccines and the need to determine who should get vaccinated and in what order.

“Protecting those people who are most at risk in the areas where we’re most seeing transmission,” Henry said. “And take other measures to protect other communities until we have a more fridge-stable vaccine that we’re able to give to everybody.”

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI) – comprised of about three dozen scientists and advisors – reports to the Public Health Agency of Canada and has developed guidelines and ethical principles for the distribution and administration of vaccines in Canada.

“We are using those (guidelines) to look at who gets a vaccine first,” said Henry. “Across the country, we are all very much focused on who is most at risk”

NACI has recommended vaccines should go first to people most at risk of severe illness or death if exposed to the virus, also to people most likely to transmit the virus to people of highest risk, and to essential workers, i.e., seniors, people with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular or chronic lung diseases, frontline healthcare workers, emergency service personnel, and others in face-to-face industries delivering essential goods or services.

Initially, there won’t be enough vaccine to reach all the people identified as priority on the first pass.

“We will not have enough vaccine in the first few weeks-to-months of the vaccine program to give to all of those people in those priority groups,” said Henry. “So, where do we start? How do we sequence vaccine over time?”

Despite assurances given to Canadian officials and contracts with the four companies developing the vaccines, the situation is not completely assured, she said.

“We are expecting those contracts to be honored,” Henry said. “It’s always a challenge when we’re reliant on offshore manufacturing. There’s always things that can go wrong.”

Meanwhile, the provinces are working together under the national principles of NACI, and also within their own jurisdictions, to figure out how best to proceed in distributing the vaccines when they arrive.

“This is a massive effort”¦ the most significant immunization program in the history of BC,” said Dix. “We are sparing no effort to ensure that that goes well.”

Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]