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B.C.'s vaccine plan slowed by lack of supply

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, Dec. 22, 2020.
Image Credit: TWITTER/Adrian Dix
January 25, 2021 - 3:58 PM

B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan has already made a tangible difference to the men and women in long-term care homes, but it's hitting some serious roadblocks that health officials warn could put the province in a precarious position.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who was choked by emotion often during today's briefing, announced the end to 11 long-term care home outbreaks, while 26 per persist.

“This brings a moment of happiness to us all and relief for many of the care providers and the families with loved ones in these facilities,” she said, after announcing 1,344 cases since Friday and 26 more deaths.

“I think it is a reflection of how important the immunization program that we've had in long term care over these last few weeks is and the difference that is going to make and it continues to make.”

In the past week, B.C. health workers have delivered 119,850 doses of vaccine — 87,788 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 32,062 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

“I think importantly, though, we have been focused on long-term care and assisted living where we know the risk is highest and the impact is greatest,” she said.

Currently, more than 60% of the vaccine that has come to B.C. has gone to protecting those who are the most vulnerable in long term care and assisted living. By Wednesday, every long-term care resident within the Interior Health region should have had their first dose.

“I'm very grateful for that,” she said. “My hat goes off to all of those who have been running the immunization programs to protect those most vulnerable.”

While there have been some wins, Dr. Henry said took a serious tone, warning that high caseloads — an average of 500 a day — a faltering supply of the vaccine and the arrival of more variants of the disease are threatening the health system and the economy. We are, she said, on the precipice of watching case numbers speed out of control before vaccines are in arms.

“This weekend, unfortunately, we received additional information about holdups to the supply of the Pfizer vaccine that we were expecting to receive in the next few weeks,” she said.

“This next two weeks, we're going to have very little vaccine. As we knew we are receiving no Pfizer vaccine this week, and it is also a week where we do not receive any new vaccines from Moderna.”

This weekend, Dr. Henry said they also found out that the amounts of vaccine that B.C. was expecting to receive in the first week of February, have been dramatically reduced.

“Right now we do not know how much, if any, vaccine will be receiving the following two weeks in February,” she said.

“We know that the federal government is doing everything in their power to make sure that our vaccine supply gets back on track as soon as possible. But within what we have right now and what we know is coming into the province, we need to make some changes to the phase one that we are in.”

Dr. Henry said the province made the decision to delay second doses, up until day 42 for this period of time.

“This means we can use what little supply we have right now to finish our long-term care home immunizations and to address the outbreaks that are happening in our hospitals and our communities,” she said.

“We know that addressing the most vulnerable people in our communities and in our acute care system, will protect all of us going forward. This is about putting out fires before they get out of control. It's about choosing in the short term, to give more people this protection from one (vaccine) instead of cutting some people out for protection.”

In addition to supply issues, Dr. Henry acknowledged that there have been a larger number of reactions to the vaccine than expected.

“In order for a vaccine to be approved for use in Canada, as we know, it must go through extensive safety reviews,” she said.

But monitoring adverse effects is also important, she said, before reporting some cases health officials have been following in B.C.

“We know that when we're immunizing people who are elderly, and who have underlying health conditions, that there are other things that will happen when we're doing immunization programs in large numbers of people,” she said.

So far in B.C., she said, there have been 56 reports of adverse events of the 120,000 doses of vaccine given.

Of those cases, 10 reports of anaphylaxis or serious reaction to the vaccine, which is about eight per 100,000.

“That is slightly more than we would expect based on other immunization programs such as for influenza, for example,” she said.

There was also one hospitalization, 16 other allergic reactions that were associated with the vaccine, and one case of Bell's Palsy or paralysis of part of the face. Nobody has died from vaccination as of yet.

From Jan. 22 to 23 there were 527 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in British Columbia, from Jan. 23 to 24 there were 471, and in the last 24 hours, there were 346 new cases. Of those new cases, 234 were in the Interior Health region.

That means 64,828 people have had COVID-19 in B.C. since the start of the pandemic.

There are now 4,392 active cases across the province, of whom 328 are in hospital 68 of whom are in critical care ICU.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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