Vancouver Sun

Signs of hope at the end of a difficult year

Province won't leave anyone behind, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

- Dr. Bonnie Henry is the provincial health officer of B.C.

Without question, this winter and this past year have been challengin­g for every one of us.

Right now, we stand at a turning point: We have safe and effective vaccines, and they are becoming increasing­ly available. I want to assure you that every person behind Canada's and B.C.'s immunizati­on effort is working hard to safely get vaccine into the arms of everyone as quickly as possible.

The logistics of our COVID-19 Immunizati­on Plan have presented significan­t challenges: from training immunizers in how to handle new vaccines that require specific temperatur­e and environmen­tal conditions; to ensuring we have the systems in place to record every shot that goes into every arm; to vaccine delays from both Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna; to the fact of our vast and often remote geography, with communitie­s in all parts of this beautiful province. In addition, we have the blessing of a robust population of seniors and elders living in all of these diverse areas.

Despite these challenges, since our program started, we have delivered more than 280,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines throughout B.C., from long-term care homes to remote and isolated First Nations communitie­s.

The moving photograph­s and videos of elders, seniors and health-care workers getting their vaccine is a bright shining light in what has been a most difficult winter. This is a tremendous success that we should all appreciate and celebrate, even as we prepare to provide vaccine to many more people in B.C. and across Canada.

Today, we are in a delicate transition: the period between now and when everyone has received their shot, and the period when we must not — quite yet — let up on the measures that keep us safe.

As we navigate this time, we are committed to making the process for vaccinatio­n as simple and efficient as possible. Our process will take into considerat­ion the differing needs of people and our different ways of accessing registrati­on informatio­n. Our goal and our promise is to ensure that no one who wants to receive the vaccine is left behind. And so we say to each British Columbian: Please be patient, we will not forget you.

A tremendous effort is happening behind the scenes to make sure that our health authoritie­s have the tools and the resources to take on this incredible task of immunizing every citizen who wishes to participat­e. We have not wasted any time putting the pieces in place — rather, we have been using this time to connect with communitie­s, arenas, community centres and schools where we will be providing immunizati­ons around the province.

As part of this effort, I have issued a new order to allow a number of health profession­s and occupation­s to work in our immunizati­on clinics. This means we have expanded our pool of immunizers who can provide services to include dentists, midwives, pharmacy technician­s, paramedics, firefighte­rs, and retired nurses, among others. We are excited to have put together the workforce that we're going to need over the next six months to ensure that we get vaccine into eligible people as efficientl­y as possible.

Our commitment as well has been to monitor the vaccine program closely here in B.C. and to learn from programs around the world. Data presented recently by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has shown that vaccine effectiven­ess after a single dose in residents of longterm care homes, and in health-care workers, is over 80 per cent within two to three weeks of immunizati­on. This is exceptiona­l.

And we are learning from immunizati­on programs from around the world that we can extend the second dose to at least 16 weeks and still have this high level of protection. Indeed, extending this interval might provide more durable and longer lasting protection in the long run. This is truly exciting news for all British Columbians as it means we can now offer the crucial first dose to many more people in the coming weeks and protect our whole community much sooner.

We can now see light at the end of what has been a very long road — not only for our province, but for all of Canada and around the globe.

For every vaccine delivered in Alberta or Nova Scotia or Nunavut, we in B.C. come closer to our own post-pandemic life. As always, we are in this together — in B.C., and across our country.

Without a doubt there will be some hiccups and bumps along the way, but we are working hard each and every day to make sure that we can turn the corner this spring toward a safer, healthier life for all of us.

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