VANCOUVER -- Seniors who live in the community will be among the next groups of British Columbians getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine beginning next month, health officials said Monday.

In her first pandemic briefing of 2021, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry shared more details on who is next in line for doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after the first priority populations are immunized.

The groups who can expect to receive their first dose in February and March include:

  • "Community-based" seniors who are at least 80 years old and Indigenous seniors who are at least 65 years old (approximately 260,000 people)
  • People who are homeless or living in a shelter, provincial correctional facility, group home or mental health residential care (approximately 40,000 people)
  • Long-term home support recipients and staff (approximately 60,000 people)
  • Hospital staff, community doctors and medical specialists (approximately 20,000 people)
  • First Nations communities (approximately 25,000 people)

The age group for Indigenous seniors receiving the vaccine is lower in recognition of "the higher risk of having severe illness in that age group," Henry said.

Health officials also shared more information on the roughly 150,000 people set to receive their first dose of the vaccine throughout January and into February.

They include residents and staff at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities, totalling about 83,000 people, in addition to 2,000 more seniors who are currently awaiting placement in those facilities.

Henry also indicated that people deemed an "essential visitor" to a senior in care are included in the priority populations getting vaccinated during this phase.

"We know that it has been the most challenging for families and those with loved ones in long-term care and assisted living and we will be ensuring as well that essential visitors will be able to access immunization," she said.

Some 30,000 health-care workers are expected to receive the vaccine from January into February as well, including those who work in intensive care and emergency departments, paramedics and other "key people" in the province's pandemic response, according to Henry.

There have been several hospital outbreaks in recent weeks, including at Surrey Memorial Hospital and Burnaby Hospital.

"Not only does it affect operations because of people being sick and (COVID-19) being transmitted, but also staff need to be off because they have been exposed," Henry said. "So it is important for us to make sure that we are protecting those who are on the front lines of the COVID response and keeping our health system available for everybody."

About 25,000 people living in remote and isolated First Nations communities, which were the first to receive doses of the more easily transportable Moderna vaccine, are being vaccinated during this period as well.

While their plans are contingent on when shipments arrive, B.C. health officials expect to administer about 792,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines through the end of March – providing a first dose to about 550,000 people, some of whom will also receive their second dose during that period.

Henry said for now, second doses are being delayed to about 35 days after the initial shot, but that it won't decrease their effectiveness.

Mass vaccination strategy

Looking further ahead, health officials anticipate launching their "mass vaccination" strategy in the second quarter of 2021 – as shipments from Pfizer and Moderna increase in size, and as Health Canada approves additional vaccines from other manufacturers.

After the priority populations are taken care of, Henry said the province will begin a strategy of age-based distribution "descending in five-year cohorts after our 80-plus population is completed."

She noted the logistical details of B.C.'s mass vaccination plan are still being worked out, including how to ensure it's "accessible and fair for people around the province." More details are expected to be shared later in January.

B.C. has received 54,625 doses of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines so far, and 24,139 had been delivered to priority populations as of Sunday.

Henry said about 20 per cent were administered to residents of long-term care homes, while half went to staff at those facilities. More staff have received the vaccine because of the logistical challenges around transporting them, which required the early doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be delivered at two designated distribution centres in the Lower Mainland.

Health officials expect to distribute the remaining doses, plus about 16,500 more that are expected to arrive, over the next two weeks to people in long-term care and assisted living, acute care workers and First Nations communities.

Henry noted that Health Canada has expedited the review process for both the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines, and B.C. officials are hopeful they will be approved during the first quarter of 2021.

But Canada isn't contracted to receive either vaccine until the second quarter, according to Henry, so they might not arrive in the country until April.

Henry ended her presentation with a call for British Columbians to continue following the province's public health orders to give the government time to get people immunized.

"It's a monumental task and there are many months left to go in this," Henry said. "We are constrained by logistics and also by how much vaccine we are receiving, but we're optimistic, and we are focused intensely on making sure we protect people in long-term care and assisted living as quickly as we possibly can – and of course, protecting those most at risk in our communities."