Every British Columbian who wants it should have their first COVID-19 vaccine shot by the end of July.
B.C. chief medical officer of health Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Monday that the province will delay second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by up to four months in order to get as many people their first jab as possible.
Barring any complications with shipments or procurement, the province’s entire adult population should be able to get their shots by the end of July, significantly moving up the province’s vaccine schedule.
“This is amazing news,” said Henry during a news conference Monday. “These vaccines work, they give a very high level of protection and that protection lasts for many months.”
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The announcement of delaying second doses frees up close to 70,000 doses of vaccine for younger populations. It marks a significant step ahead for B.C.’s vaccination schedule, which previously had general population vaccinations extending into late September.
“We will reach more of our population much more quickly with the extension of our second doses and the other vaccines that are now getting approved and are going to become available,” Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.’s immunization efforts, said.
“It’s very good news for returning to life as usual.”
“These vaccines work, they give a very high level of protection and that protection lasts for many months.”
Henry said the delay in second doses marks a shift in priority from getting everyone both doses, to getting as many people as possible at least the first dose.
“We’ll be able to do more in our post-pandemic reality once we have more people protected,” Henry said.
Safe to delay second dose
While initial recommendations suggested a 28-day window between the first and second doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, then a 42-day window, developing research now points to it being safe to extend that window up to four months.
“We will monitor very closely to see if we see any changes in the protection levels,” Henry said. “We believe this is supported strongly by the data both here in B.C. and the scientific community around the world.”
Henry pointed to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand that shows “miraculous” protection of at least 90 per cent from just the first dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
“This gives us a very real and important benefit to everybody here in B.C.,” Henry said. “That means we can move everybody up the list and more people will be protected sooner.”
B.C. officials said an official announcement from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is expected this week, and will align with the delayed approach.
B.C. is not the first jurisdiction formally to delay second doses. Officials in Quebec recently announced that up to a 90-day window will be considered for their vaccinations. And since January, U.K. officials have recommended delaying the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines up to 12 weeks or three months.
B.C.’s vaccination schedule
Vaccinations for B.C. residents over the age of 80, as well as First Nations people over 65 begin this month in the province as part of Phase 2. Phase 3, which includes five-year age group cohorts of people over 60, is expected to kick off in April, followed by the rest of the general population in Phase 4.
Henry said second-dose clinics for B.C.’s general population will begin in July, after everyone eligible receives their first dose.
She reminded people that full protection doesn’t kick in until about three weeks after the shot and we’re “not out of the woods yet.” The province is also entering its fifth month of strict restrictions on social gatherings as COVID-19 cases have plateaued, but not gone down.
“That means we can move everybody up the list and more people will be protected sooner.”
Premier John Horgan said he’s optimistic about the summer.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to this point in time, not yet a year into the pandemic, let’s keep going,” Horgan said.
“Let’s continue to have a safe summer and look to July when we can have the vast majority of British Columbians immunized and we can carry on with our lives.”