If there’s one thing we know about the coronavirus, it doesn’t like old people.
In fact, adults older than 60 years old have at least five times increased odds of hospitalization and mortality from COVID-19 compared to those aged less than 45 years. In addition, those aged over 80 years old have double the mortality risk of those aged 65-69 years.
So, when it comes to getting vaccinated, age has its benefits.
Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and executive lead for B.C.’s immunization plan Dr. Penny Ballem rolled out the vaccination plans Friday. The plan will see approximately 7.4 million doses of vaccine administered to every British Columbian who is eligible to receive it between April and the end of September. That’s about 4.3 million people by the end of September.
“At every step our plan puts the health and safety of those most at risk first,” said Horgan. “Everyone has been affected by the pandemic, but we not all equally vulnerable to the virus. The science is clear. The single biggest factor for death or severe illness is age.”
The plan, which got underway in December 2020, starts by first immunizing those who are most vulnerable to severe illness and death, including long-term care residents and the health-care workers who care for them, remote and at-risk Indigenous communities, and seniors.
With each phase, more people in B.C. will be eligible to be immunized.
Phase 1 has had more than 103,000 people in B.C. receiving their first dose of vaccine and second doses are underway. Phase 2, starting in late February, expands immunizations to additional vulnerable populations, Indigenous communities and Elders, health-care staff and all seniors over the age of 80. Together, these two phases are focused on people who are most at risk.
As age is the single greatest risk factor for severe illness and death, Phase 3, starting in April, will expand to include people between the ages of 79 to 75 and work backwards in five-year increments to include those age 60 and over. Also included in this phase are people with certain underlying health conditions that make them clinically extremely vulnerable (see backgrounder for details).
It is important to note that no one will lose their place in line. For example, if an elderly relative is in Phase 2 and cannot be immunized at that time, they can be immunized at any point thereafter.
“This is an extraordinary time with what is now the most significant step on our path to protecting our communities and our health-care system,” Henry said. “For many months, British Columbians have been working hard to keep their friends, family and communities safe, and I want to thank everyone for their continued commitment.”
As additional vaccines are approved and become available, people who are front-line essential workers or work in specific workplaces or industries may also be able to start receiving vaccines later in Phase 3 in April. Horgan said the province envisions using convention centres, schools, and arenas across 172 communities in the province for large-scale vaccination centres.
Phase 4 is anticipated to begin in July 2021 for the rest of the eligible population, starting with people aged 59 to 55 and working backwards in five-year age groups until everyone over the age of 18 who wants a COVID-19 vaccine receives it.
“We’re working closely with our regional health authorities, our colleagues at the BC Centre for Disease Control over these first several weeks of the plan,” Ballem said. “Moving ahead, we will reach out to other community, faith and business leaders throughout the province to ensure that, by working together, the deployment of these vaccines is done quickly and safely. Every immunization for COVID-19 is one step closer to a healthier future for us all, and that is why so much effort and thought has gone into this plan.”
Starting in March 2021, pre-registration for the vaccine will begin to open online and by phone for the general public, starting with those aged 79 to 75. Those who are considered “clinically extremely vulnerable” will receive their immunization beginning in April. People who are pre-registered will get a reminder to book their appointment as soon as they are eligible.
Horgan stressed that the plan depends on a consistent supply of vaccine. The supply, in recent days, has been disrupted and the next two weeks will be a challenge.
“Blaming anyone for that, is not helpful,” Horgan said. “Blaming the federal government will not get one more vaccination delivered in British Columbia. I believe the federal government is the appropriate body to procure vaccine for the entire country.”