Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Dec. 17, 2020. (B.C. government)

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Dec. 17, 2020. (B.C. government)

Moderna vaccine distributed to remote, rural Interior Health communities

Interior Health starts to receive and deploy COVID-19 vaccine

Details are slowly emerging for the COVID-19 vaccine roll out to Interior Health communities, following a provincial update from government officials on Monday this week.

Dr. Bonnie Henry provided a COVID-19 briefing that included case data for four days covering the New Year weekend, and also provided a progress report on the province’s vaccinations to date and the plan moving forward.

The first vaccines came in the middle of December, starting with three separate weekly shipments of the Pfizer variant totalling 34,125 doses. The second weekly shipment of Pfizer vaccine of 22,425 doses was distributed to all regional health authorities, while the first and the third shipments were sent to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Fraser Health Authority.

The Moderna vaccine arrived at the end of December, totalling 20,500 doses, and was also distributed to all regional health authorities.

B.C. also expects to receive an additional 16,575 doses of Pfizer vaccine this week, which will be distributed to all regional health authorities as well.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require individuals be immunized twice within a few weeks for full efficacy.

So what do the vaccine numbers mean for communities in Interior Health?

The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at -80 C, but the only places that have the freezer capacity and capability for that requirement is Kamloops and Kelowna, according to Interior Health.

That likely means the Moderna vaccine will be used for the more rural and remote communities further out in the Okanagan and the Kootenays.

In the week of Dec. 21, Interior Health was allocated 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and had administered 1,973 first doses by the end of Jan. 4. Between Dec. 28 to 31, approximately 1,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine were delivered to Interior Health.

However, only 639 first doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered in Interior Health by Jan. 4.

In the coming two weeks, a further 2,925 Pfizer doses are coming to Interior Health, as part of the 16,575 doses that are expected to arrive in the province this week.

From each community, public health teams with Interior Health will roll out immunizations based on the the province’s priority sequence, which will initially focus on residents, staff and essential visitors to long-term care and assisted living residences; individuals in hospital or community awaiting a long-term care placement, health care workers providing care for COVID-19 patients in medical facilities, and remote and isolated First Nation communities.

READ MORE: No big spike in B.C. COVID-19 cases so far after holidays

Interior Health staff is taking the lead to directly contact individuals in those priority groups for immunizations.

From February to March, that priority sequence will expand to include community based seniors aged 80 and above, Indigenous elders and seniors aged 65 and above.

A physicians group in the Elk Valley publicly acknowledged the arrival of the vaccine in Fernie through a Facebook post announcing that a local doctor who works in a long-term care facility was vaccinated on Dec. 31.

There are also informal reports that immunizations are now occurring in Cranbrook as well.

Additionally, over the next few months, B.C. is expecting additional vaccine variants to come online following approval from Health Canada, particularly ones from AstraZeneca and Janssen.

The volume of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is expected to increase as production ramps up as well.

Provincially, B.C. is expecting 792,000 vaccine doses between December 2020 and February 2021 — 549,000 first doses and 243,000 second doses.

A mass vaccination strategy for the general public is in the planning stages with further detail set to be released later in January.

READ MORE: Interior Health: 290 new COVID-19 cases, 4 deaths over New Year’s weekend

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