By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter

After the highest risk people are vaccinated against COVID-19 this winter, the remaining 4 million or so eligible British Columbians will get their shots, beginning with seniors, public health officials announced last week.

“The fact that it works as well as it does in older people is really a huge, huge benefit for us, because our seniors and elders are the people who are suffering the most from this virus,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, pictured here on Jan. 22. / Government of BC photo

“Our immunization plan is based on evidence and data and focused on immunizing people who are most vulnerable to the virus first,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “We know that the single greatest risk factor for severe illness and death from COVID-19 is increasing age, and that risk increases exponentially after age 70.”

From December to the end of March, 550,000 of the most vulnerable British Columbians will have gotten the vaccine – including residents, staff, and essential visitors of long-term care, assisted living, and acute care; seniors over 80 at home; First Nations people over 65, and residents in remote communities, as well as other frontline health workers.

In April, the rest of British Columbians will be begin getting their shots, beginning with the eldest.

“Everyone in British Columbia has been affected by the pandemic,” said Premier John Horgan on Jan. 22. “But we are not all equally vulnerable to the virus.”

Adults over the age of 60 have five times the risk of hospitalization and death compared to those less than 45 years old, and people over 80 have double the mortality risk of people in their early 60s.

While those with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, and severe uncontrolled asthma are more likely to develop severe illness, age is still the greatest risk, Henry said.

“Using the hospitalization data, we know that there is slightly increased risk with a number of these underlying conditions, but overriding all of that is the risk with age,” said Henry.

That said, people who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ may qualify for early vaccination and should consult their primary care practitioner. As well, depending on vaccine supply, some essential workers may be eligible to be vaccinated before their age group is scheduled.

As of Jan. 24, two vaccines have been approved for use in Canada: the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna. Both require two doses, which. B.C. will administer 35 days apart.

Currently, not enough clinical study has been completed for approval of the vaccine on children, Henry said.

Instead, research has focussed on those most likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19, which is older people.

“It is very likely that once we have more traditional vaccines, they will be available for younger people,” said Henry. “And we’ll be looking at that and watching that carefully.”

Evidence shows children under 18 transmit the virus less frequently and have less serious symptoms when they do contract COVID-19.

The provincial government announced the COVID-19 vaccination schedule on Jan. 22. Those with highest risk of suffering severe illness or death will be vaccinated December to March, and the remaining 4 million or so British Columbians will be vaccinated by age, between April and September. / BC GOVERNMENT chart

The good news is, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are about 95 per cent effective at preventing the disease in adults, compared to an influenza vaccine which typically has around a 40 to 60 per cent effectiveness.

“It’s really almost miraculous that we have a vaccine that is so effective in older people,” said Henry.

As of Jan. 24, the number of people who had gotten a vaccine dose in Canada surpassed the total number of people who had gotten COVID-19. More than 816,000 vaccine doses had been administered, while almost 748,000 people had been diagnosed with the disease since the pandemic began. At that time, almost 19,100 Canadians had died of COVID-19, including 1,128 people in B.C.

More than 110,500 people had received a vaccine dose in the province by Jan. 24, while nearly 63,500 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
People can pre-register for their shot starting in March via telephone, computer or mobile device.

The largest vaccination program in the province’s history, public health authorities will work with local communities, businesses, volunteer organizations, pharmacists, primary care practitioners and others to deliver vaccinations in 172 communities across B.C. Eventually, the COVID-19 vaccine will be available at locations that typically administer influenza shots.

To reach more people, faster, large spaces will also be utilized to administer vaccines in stadiums, gymnasiums, convention halls, community halls, and arenas.

As well, mobile units will deliver vaccinations to rural and remote communities, and to people unable to leave their homes.

“So that by the end of September, everyone who wants a vaccination will have one,” Horgan said. “And the community immunity that we’re all striving for will be a reality.”

See for more information about B.C.’s vaccine program.

Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]