Health officials in B.C. are working with provincial and federal counterparts on who will receive the COVID-19 vaccine and how – even as the prime minister revealed Canada will not be at the front of the line for approved vaccines.
Despite key innovations made in Vancouver and other parts of the country, Justin Trudeau revealed that countries with vaccine production capabilities will keep doses for their own populations first, leaving Canadians waiting months to start the vaccination process while they will likely see American and British inoculations begin in as little as two weeks.
"Yes, the very first vaccines that roll off an assembly line in a given country are likely to be given to citizens of that particular country, but shortly afterwards, they will start honouring and delivering on the contracts that they signed with other countries, including with Canada,” Trudeau told reporters Tuesday morning.
“We recognize the disadvantage that Canada has of not having a domestic pharmaceutical industry, able to ... mass produce vaccines, but that's why we went above and beyond in securing access to more doses per capita than just about any other country.”
CTV News asked B.C.’s Ministry of Health what impact that has on rolling out the vaccine in our province, how the doses will be distributed across the country and who will have priority access in each jurisdiction.
“The government of B.C. is working with the BC Centre for Disease Control, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and other provinces and territories to make sure British Columbia has the logistics in place to deploy a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available and approved for use,” said a spokesperson in an email statement. “As Dr. (Bonnie) Henry has said, we are optimistic that a vaccine could be available in early 2021 to add to the tools British Columbia has to stop this pandemic and keep people safe.”
Earlier this month, the provincial health officer had announced the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) had released an ethical framework to determine who would would be first in line when doses start rolling into the country.
Priority recipients include the very elderly, those with “high-risk conditions," health-care and personal care workers who work with seniors or are likely to be exposed to the virus, and household contacts of those most at risk of falling very sick or dying from COVID-19. Next on the list include those "contributing to the maintenance of other essential services for the functioning of society” such as first responders and grocery store staff, and people with reduced access to healthcare and elevated risk, like Indigenous communities.
“We are strongly supportive of those priority population groups being the first in line for a vaccine here in the province. We've also looked across the country to develop some common principles for how a vaccine will roll out, and we're working on all of those details,” Henry explained at a briefing last week.
Among the many considerations is how the vaccine can be transported at sub-zero or extreme-cold temperatures, and a raft of questions big and small that health officials have quietly spent many weeks sorting out. Canada’s military is even involved.
“So it's all trying to be organized, while we still are trying to answer some of the really key questions, but that is something that we are spending quite a bit of time working on, and I think it's a really positive thing for all of us,” said Henry.
“(The vaccine rollout) is going to make a difference. It's not going to be a light switch where we're going to be able to go back and never wash our hands again – that will never change. But it will give us an opportunity to start protecting those who are most at risk, protecting people in our healthcare system, and then I am confident by this time next year, we'll have vaccine available for anybody in British Columbia.”