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All eligible British Columbians to receive COVID-19 vaccine by Canada Day

The updated vaccination timeline means roughly 300,000 essential workers across the province will start getting vaccinated in April; as residents of the Tri-Cities react, here's where you stand in the queue

Health officials have bumped up the timeline for all British Columbians to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in time for Canada Day.

The re-worked timeline comes as the delivery of vaccine doses to Canada ramp up, allowing the province to start vaccinating more than 300,000 essential workers ahead of schedule. 

With Tri-City residents waiting anxiously for life to return to normal, news of the fast-tracked vaccine schedule is tremendous news for the city’s mayors.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West agreed the past year has presented challenges for many residents, especially those with elderly parents in care homes, and for emergency workers on the front lines.

“I’m really pleased to see that our front line workers are also being prioritized for vaccination; they are the ones who have put it on the line for us each and every day during the pandemic, it’s only appropriate they should be prioritized for vaccination,” he said.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart agreed the faster pace of the vaccine roll-out to July 1 should be a relief for residents, many of whom have struggled over the past year, either because of job stress, layoffs or mental health concerns elevated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I know so many residents that have been anxiously awaiting this day when they could feel safer in venturing out to the community, particularly folks with underlying health conditions, seniors and people who have been impacted by the mental health effects of the loneliness, the depression and anxieties associated with this,” said Stewart.

“All of those folks I believe will give a sigh of relief that the end is in sight.”

‘FANTASTIC NEWS’ SAY COQUITLAM FIREFIGHTERS

Coquitlam Fire Chief Jim Ogloff spoke to the Tri-City News as he and his crew of firefighters watched the province announce its advanced vaccine rollout on TV. 

“From a public health standpoint, our crews are in the pre-hospital system and have significant contact with the public,” he said. “The opportunity to get immunized is fantastic news.” 

“In terms of what that roll-out looks like, what vaccination centres and how and when we go there? That’s going to take a few more days.” 

Coquitlam teachers are also looking forward to getting their shots sooner.

“It’s great, it means we won’t have to wait as long and be exposed at schools,” said Ken Christensen, president of the Coquitlam Teachers Association.

He credits the fast-tracked vaccine plan to the government listening to teachers’ concerns and he urged his colleagues to get their shot as soon as it becomes available.

“Vaccines work, we know that. We don’t see polio anymore, do we? And it’s because of vaccines,” Christensen said. “I’m recommending everybody take the shot.” 

SOME PRECAUTIONS FOR SCHOOLS IN SEPTEMBER 

As for September, Christensen predicted some level of precautions will still have to be taken because children under the age of 18 won’t be vaccinated and it will be important to continue to work to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The province’s COVID-19 Workplace Task Group will begin vaccinating a variety of priority groups as additional doses of the AstraZeneca start arriving in April.  

Priority groups include: 

  • K-12 educational staff;
  • Child-care staff;
  • first responders (police, firefighters, emergency transport);
  • grocery store workers;
  • manufacturing workers;
  • wholesale/warehousing employees;
  • postal workers;
  • bylaw and quarantine officers;
  • cross-border transport staff;
  • correctional facilities staff;
  • and staff living in congregate housing at places such as ski hills.

By the end of May, B.C. expects to receive 340,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Vaccine. Community pharmacists, existing immunization clinics and mobile clinics are being marshalled to vaccinate front-line workers. 

Unlike the parallel age-based vaccination campaign, the front-line worker campaign will not require workers to call their health authority to book a vaccination appointment. Instead, each sector will be contacted in the coming weeks, according to a press release from the province.

Meanwhile, the age-base campaign is ahead of schedule.

Seniors age 80 and older as well as Indigenous people 65 and up will be eligible to book a vaccination appointment Friday, March 19, with the next cohorts eligible over the following days. 

YOUNGER BRITISH COLUMBIANS GET THEIR VACCINES SOONER

The updated vaccine schedule means Tri-City residents grappling with COVID-19 for more than a year can see light at the end of the tunnel with B.C.’s updated vaccination plan pushing to have everyone in B.C. receive their first dose by July 1.

The news has people in the Tri-Cities of all ages looking forward to a day when people can socialize, hug their grandparents, dine out, get their hair cut, attend arts festivals and play sports without fear of contracting COVID-19.

Under the new plan, young people over the age of 18 will have their first shot by the end of June — a faster timeline that gives many hope for a more enjoyable summer.

“Once everyone’s vaccinated, people will feel a lot more comfortable getting back to normal,” said 25-year-old Xenia Simpson, who stopped taking shifts at the Gillnetter Pub in Port Coquitlam because of COVID-19. 

‘WEIGHT LIFTED’ AS TRI-CITY FAMILIES LOOK FORWARD TO VACCINES

For families caught between looking after their aging parents and their young children, news of earlier vaccinations brings some relief.

“We’re so inundated with COVID news all the time; you don’t know how much you internalize the fear,” said Sarah Payne, a Coquitlam resident and mother of two youngsters. “Knowing its coming sooner is so much like a weight being lifted.”

Port Coquitlam’s Brad West also noted that he looks forward to the day when the city’s new Port Coquitlam Community Centre can fully open and festivals and other social gatherings can be held.

On a personal note, West, 35, is happy to see he is moving up the line but even more pleased that his grandmother, who is 86, is getting vaccinated today at the Coquitlam testing and vaccination clinic.

For both Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam mayors, it’s important that everyone get their vaccine as soon as it becomes available so community levels of immunity are achieved. 

“I have absolute confidence in all of these vaccines and the regulatory agencies that approved them and my sleeve is already rolled up,” Stewart said.

Here’s when next-in-line seniors can book a vaccination appointment:

  • age 79 and Indigenous peoples 55 and older - Saturday, March 20 at noon
  • age 78 - Monday, March 22 at noon
  • age 77 - Tuesday, March 23 at noon
  • age 76 - Thursday, March 25 at noon
  • age 75 - Saturday, March 27 at noon

When the 70 to 74-year-old cohort will be able to book an appointment will be announced in the coming days. Those aged 65 to 69 eligible to book online and by phone starting April 6, and British Columbians between age 64 and 60, the youngest in Phase 3 of the age-based vaccination campaign, are expected to receive their first dose between April and May.

Phase 4 of the province’s vaccination program, meanwhile, includes people aged 59 to 18, and will roll out in five-year increments. Here’s when the first doses are expected for each group:

MAY:

  • 59 to 55 (fully vaccinated)
  • 54 to 50 (dose 1)
  • 49 to 45 (dose 1)

MAY-JUNE:

  • 44 to 40 (dose 1)
  • 39 to 35 (dose 1)

JUNE:

  • 34 to 30 (dose 1)
  • 29 to 25 (dose 1)
  • 24 to 18 (dose 1)

DOES ASTRAZENECA VACCINE CAUSE BLOOD CLOTS? 

The advanced vaccination schedules come as the number of AstraZeneca doses earmarked for Canada ticks up, complementing the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines so far more widely administered within an age-based campaign.

Last week, provinces started administering 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and on Thursday, Canada’s procurement minister Anita Anand said on Twitter that Canada is in the process of finalizing an exchange agreement with the Biden administration to receive another 1.5 million doses. 

But in Europe doubts have been raised about its safety after more than 15 European countries halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine pending a review from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after blood clots were found in the brains of 18 patients who received it. 

The first known report of a similar blood clot in Canada came Thursday, after a 79-year-old man in Quebec was admitted to hospital suffering from cerebral venous thrombosis, a blood clot in the vein that drains blood from the brain.

But the EMA's executive director Emer Cooke said Thursday there was no evidence the AstraZeneca shot raises the overall risk of blood clots, adding, ”This is a safe and effective vaccine.”

The U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency also said Thursday that it firmly believes the vaccine is safe but more study is necessary.

Canada's doses are not made in the same place as the European or U.K. doses.

— With files from the Canadian Press