British Columbia

B.C. to open AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines for ages 55 to 65 in Lower Mainland

There are currently 7,062 active cases of coronavirus in the province, with public health officials monitoring 11,164 people across British Columbia who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure.

840 new cases reported in province on Tuesday, with 312 people in B.C. hospitals

More than 700,000 vaccine doses have been administered in B.C. so far. Parallel to the rollout plan, the province also introduced new restrictions this week to try to curb the spread of COVID-19 after a record high number of new cases on Saturday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. government has announced that people aged 55 to 65 who are living in the Lower Mainland can register on Wednesday to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

The announcement on Tuesday came as provincial health officials reported 840 new cases of COVID-19 but no additional deaths.

In a statement, Health Minister Adrian Dix said anyone in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions within that age range can call their local pharmacy to book a vaccination appointment.

Drop-in service may also be an option at more than 150 participating pharmacies. People must bring their personal health number with them.

The British Columbia Pharmacy Association has posted a list of participating pharmacies here.

By 8:45 p.m. PT on Tuesday, however, pharmacy chain London Drugs said that all available vaccine appointments had been booked at its three locations chosen as immunization sites.

The announcement comes one day after British Columbia health officials paused the use of AstraZeneca vaccines in people under the age of 55 in response to European reports of rare but potentially fatal blood clots.

Similar measures are being taken across Canada in response to recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

Health officials said that pause presents an opportunity to use those doses to protect people with higher COVID-19 risks sooner.

"We know from the millions of doses used worldwide, and especially in the U.K., it is highly effective and the benefits to those over age 55 far outweigh the very real risks of getting COVID-19," Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a statement.

"I encourage everyone in the Lower Mainland who is between 55 and 65 years of age to receive their safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine today."

On Wednesday, the province also opened up vaccination appointments for all Indigenous residents born in 2003 or later.

Indigenous people 18 years of age and older can now contact their regional health authority call centres to book a time to receive their first shot.

Active cases remain high

Henry and Dix also updated the province's COVID-19 numbers on Tuesday, putting the number of hospitalized patients at 312, 78 of whom are in intensive care.

There are currently 7,062 active cases of coronavirus in the province — the highest number since Jan. 3 — with public health officials monitoring 11,164 people across B.C. who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure.

A total of 90,401 people who have tested positive for the virus have recovered, while 1,455 people in B.C. have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began early last year.

So far, 724,193 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province, with 87,319 of those being second doses.

B.C. recorded 320 new cases associated with variants of concern on Tuesday, bringing the total number of variant cases in the province to 2,553. Of those, 313 are active cases.

New restrictions in effect

On Monday, the province recorded 2,518 new cases of COVID-19 from over the weekend, with a record high 936 on Saturday.

To interrupt the escalating transmission, Henry announced new restrictions that are in effect until at least April 19.

They include the closure of all indoor dining establishments, the suspension of indoor adult group fitness classes and the temporary closure of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort.

Henry also outlined new school mask guidelines on Monday for children in elementary school to help curb the rise in cases. The new guidelines now recommend masks for all students down to Grade 4 in schools across the province.

Henry was joined by Premier John Horgan, who singled out British Columbians aged 20 to 39 as the cohort not paying enough attention to COVID-19 public health orders.

Vancouver Coastal Health reported continued case growth in Whistler on Tuesday.

In a statement, VCH said that from March 22 to 28, 218 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Whistler.

Between Jan. 1 and March 28, 1,120 cases were recorded in the Whistler community, the health authority said, 83 per cent of which occurred among people age 20 to 39 years.

VCH said the most common transmission locations in Whistler are household settings and social gatherings.

With files from Bridgette Watson and Justin McElroy

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