B.C.’s dwindling supplies of AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 are being focused on people aged 40 and up in communities with the highest infection rates, as a share of the age-based program using other vaccines is shifted to first responders and other vulnerable workers.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says regional health authorities booked 17,000 appointments for the hotspot clinics on the first day this week, and those will continue along with general immunization of the same age group, born in 1981 or earlier, through pharmacies. The federal government is attempting to receive further AstraZeneca supplies from the U.S., where supplies have not been used in mass vaccination, and without it, the pharmacy and hotspot programs will soon run out.
“At the end of each week we use up virtually all of our Pfizer, virtually all of our Moderna, which is more consistent, and now we are making a very significant effort to use up all of the AstraZeneca we have.” Dix told reporters at the B.C. legislature April 21.
Most of the targeted high-risk communities are in the Lower Mainland, including South Langley Township, West Abbotsford, North Delta, Port Coquitlam, and the Surrey neighbourhoods of West Newton, Whalley, Panorama, North Surrey and Fleetwood, plus Vancouver’s Kensington neighbourhood and Squamish.
The hotspot program also has full-community vaccination underway in Invermere, Enderby and Dawson Creek, similar to previous programs in Prince Rupert, Whistler and many Indigenous communities where adults of all ages were offered vaccine.
Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced April 19 that B.C. was lowering its age limit for AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 40 and had received an additional 75,000 doses from the U.S., to be distributed to targeted clinics in addition to the pharmacy-based program.
Asked about police and other first responders who see vaccine offered to the general public before them, Dix said the federal age limit for the more portable AstraZeneca vaccine set that program back, but it is being shifted to other supplies.
“We are taking a share, which Dr. Henry described as approximately 10 per cent of our Pfizer and Moderna, and dedicating it towards specific workplace groups who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,” Dix said. “On that list are clearly first responders and people who work in education amongst others. We’re moving ahead, but more slowly, to target particular work groups and first responders are among the highest priorities there.”
A highlight of the vaccination rollout so far is the focus on Northwest B.C., where the first full-community program was applied in Fort St. James, west of Prince George.
“We have about 16 local health areas of B.C. where more than 50 per cent of the people have been immunized,” Dix said. “Largely and significantly that’s in the Northwest. Communities such as Kitimat and Prince Rupert, Fort St. James and others are at a high level of immunization because of higher Indigenous population and so on.”
Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and other areas with older population is older have seen lower priority for pharmacy-based AstraZeneca immunization because they are receiving a larger share of vaccinations under the age-based program. That program is currently sending clinic invitations to people born in 1958 or earlier.