VANCOUVER -- Health officials have indicated a vaccine for COVID-19 could be the key to getting life back to normal in British Columbia, but that doesn't mean the government plans to force immunization on anyone.

At least five vaccine candidates are currently in clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization, with dozens more close behind, though experts have warned it could take at least a year for one to be approved for use.

Asked Tuesday whether a hypothetical vaccine would ever be made mandatory in B.C., at least for school children, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested it was an unlikely scenario.

"We have no mandatory immunization in the province and I do not expect we will have mandatory COVID-19 immunization," she said. "Once a vaccine is available, we'll have a strategy to roll it out across the whole province and it will be voluntary for those who want and need it."

When it comes to students in B.C. schools, Health Minister Adrian Dix indicated the province will likely treat the COVID-19 vaccine the same way it approached the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine last year as measles cases were on the rise.

The province did not impose mandatory vaccination, but did require families to report their children's immunization status to their school. No students were kept out of classes because of their parents' decision not to have them vaccinated.

Dix said there will be mandatory registration for the COVID-19 vaccine as well to ensure health officials know who's immunized and who isn't, but that the anti-vaccination crowd will not be the focus of the government's strategy.

"The key with all of this is not to focus on a very small group of people who don’t want to be immunized but focus on getting the largest group, who of course will want to be immunized," Dix said.

A recent survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that most people support mandatory immunization. Of the approximately 1,500 respondents, 60 per said they believe vaccination should be compulsory, while 40 per cent said it should be voluntary.

Support for mandatory immunization was higher among older Canadians, who are at greater risk of severe infections and complications as a result of catching the virus.

With files from The Canadian Press