What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.
When can I get vaccinated? How will the vaccine be distributed across B.C.? Your vaccine questions answered
This story was last updated on May 10, 2021.
The largest vaccination campaign in B.C.'s history is underway, aiming to vaccinate more than four million British Columbians against COVID-19 by July.
Here's what you need to know about the distribution of the vaccines in B.C. We'll update this story as we learn more information.
When can I get vaccinated?
The province initially said it aimed to fully vaccinate 4.3 million people by the end of September. That timeline has moved up, now that the vaccine supply has increased, and the province is hoping every eligible adult will have their first shot by Canada Day.
- Dentists, midwives, retired nurses ready to answer the call as part of B.C.'s immunization workforce
At this point in B.C.'s vaccination plan, people are receiving their shots in a mix of public clinics and pharmacies, depending on their age, occupation, where they live and whether they live with any disabilities and underlying conditions.
As of May, the main age-based program is now in Phase 3. People in their 40s are receiving doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in public clinics, along with Indigenous B.C. residents over the age of 18. Pregnant people aged 16 and up are also eligible.
People born in 1991 or earlier can also receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at eligible pharmacies with vaccine supply across the province.
In transmission hot spots, anyone over the age of 18 is now eligible for a shot.
Anybody aged 18 and up is encouraged to register to be notified when they are eligible. The youngest group, aged 18-24, can expect to receive one dose by June.
Registering for a vaccine is not the same as booking the appointment to get your shot. Once registered, users receive a confirmation code. They then wait for an email, text or call telling them they are eligible and can then book their vaccine appointment using that code.
There are some exceptions for people living in certain hot spots, frontline workers in some areas and those with pre-existing health conditions, which you can learn more about by scrolling further down.
People who live in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register and get contacted to book their vaccine appointment.
In the first week of May, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in people as young as 12 years old.
According to the province, British Columbians between 12 and 17 should not register yet and when it is available, more information will be provided for this group.
Which age group do I fit in?
Eligibility for all phases is based on the age you are turning in 2021.
If you are 79 and turning 80 in 2021, you are considered 80 and would fit in Phase 2. If you are 59 and turning 60 in 2021, you are considered 60 and in Phase 3.
Can I miss my slot?
No. You cannot miss your chance to the get the vaccine when a new phase starts. Once you become eligible, you are always eligible.
Why is B.C. vaccinating by age?
The province said it chose the age-based approach based on the fact that increasing age is "the single greatest risk" factor for severe illness and death from COVID-19. The approach also increases protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions, which become more common as people get older.
WATCH | Despite public criticism, Premier John Horgan says science supports age-based vaccination approach:
What if I'm a front-line worker?
Previously, the Ministry of Health had said frontline workers in priority groups — such as teachers, child-care workers, grocery store staff and first responders — would receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in April.
However, B.C. suspended that program on March 29 following reports of rare blood clots in some younger immunized patients.
Health Canada has since announced that it believes the vaccine to be safe, but there has been no announcement about resuming the provincewide frontline worker immunization program.
Vaccine distribution for front-line priority workers is now being scheduled directly by health authorities on a case-by-case basis, based on available supply.
All hospitality staff in the Vancouver Coastal health region are now eligible to book vaccine appointments regardless of age. Workers 18 and older are being invited to book an appointment to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at one of the province's clinics for front-line and essential workers
Some frontline workers in areas of high transmission, including teachers in Surrey and police officers, firefighters and school staff throughout Vancouver Coastal Health are receiving priority vaccine access. Grocery store workers in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health are also eligible.
What if I have pre-existing health conditions?
People between the ages of 16 and 69 who are deemed "clinically extremely vulnerable" due to certain conditions — like cancer, severe immunodeficiency or serious respiratory conditions — are included in Phase 3. They will receive a letter in the mail inviting them to book their appointment, according to the province.
For a full list of the conditions included, click here.
What if I live in a COVID-19 hot spot?
In both Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, residents in hot-spot neighbourhoods that are 30 years or older are now eligible for the vaccine. Eligibility is based on postal code.
Some high-transmission communities in Northern Health and Interior Health have lowered eligibility to 18 years or older.
If you live in a high-transmission community and are eligible for the vaccine, the health authorities ask that you register online on the Get Vaccinated website. You can also register by contacting the call centre (1-833-838-2323) or visiting a Service B.C. office.
If you have already registered, there is no need to reapply.
How does the vaccine work?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as well as the Moderna vaccine, consist of genetic instructions on how to make the modified spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The genes are encoded in mRNA and packaged in lipid nanoparticles. Once the vaccine is injected into the body, human cells use the instructions to make copies of the spike protein the immune system will then learn to recognize.
Pfizer's technology includes lipid nanoparticles from a Vancouver-based company, Acuitas Therapeutics, to deliver the mRNA after it's injected into our cells.
According to B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, the first dose of a vaccine takes about 21 days to take full effect.
How many doses are required?
The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines require two doses.
The World Health Organization and the Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) supports up to 42 days between doses.
On March 1, B.C. extended the time frame between doses to four months.
Henry said data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control — and countries around the world such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand — shows "miraculous" protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of a Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
An immunized person becomes fully immune seven days after the second dose.
WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry says the first vaccine dose offers strong protection in the short term:
How do I get registered?
As of April 6, those who are eligible will be able to register in three ways:
- Online through the new "Get Vaccinated" portal.
- By calling 1-833-838-2323. Translators are available in multiple languages.
- In person at any Service B.C. location.
- Read more about registration here.
Can everyone get the vaccine?
Everybody in British Columbia who is eligible to receive one will have access to a vaccine, Henry said.
Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech for those aged 12 and older. Otherwise, the other vaccines currently approved for use in Canada are not approved for those aged 17 and under, with exceptions for those with certain medical conditions.
Can I choose which vaccine I get?
One has the right to refuse the vaccine that is offered when it becomes available, according to Immunize B.C. However, vaccine availability will depend on several factors, including location, safety and demographics.
For example, if you are eligible for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine because of age, occupation or where you live, you can still wait for your age group to qualify through the main Pfizer and Moderna program.
Which health professionals can administer a vaccine?
Dentists, paramedics, midwives, pharmacy technicians and retired nurses are now among those who can join the vaccination workforce over the next six months.
Health professionals who want to sign up to become an immunizer can do so by clicking this link.
Has anyone in B.C. had an adverse reaction to the vaccine?
A total of 154,496 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were given out in B.C. between Dec. 20 and Feb. 8. Of those doses, there were 217 reports of adverse events following vaccination, including 18 severe allergic reactions.
Some reported events happened after vaccination, but weren't related to the vaccine, the province said.
As of May 10, B.C. has recorded one case of a vaccine-induced thrombosis related to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, a rare side effect of what health officials maintain is still a highly effective vaccine. The woman, who is in her 40s and in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, was stabilized and treated.
Do I have to keep wearing a mask and distance myself from others once I'm vaccinated?
Even if you have received the vaccine, you must follow provincial health orders. You must continue to wash your hands diligently, stay home and get tested when sick, keep a safe distance from others and wear a mask in public indoor spaces.
When can life go back to normal?
Around 60 to 70 per cent of the population will need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity — a level of immunity at which it becomes difficult for the virus to find a new person to infect.
Experts say it will take some time before B.C. can assess whether people's hesitancy in taking the vaccine will be a threat to the province acquiring herd immunity.
Plus, the province's vaccine schedule hinges on vaccine supply. If shipments are delayed, the schedule will be held up.
How will the vaccine be distributed across B.C.?
B.C. plans on opening 172 vaccination sites across the province. These will be at large centres, like school gyms, arenas, convention centres and community halls.
Mobile clinics in self-contained vehicles will be available for some rural communities and for people who are homebound due to mobility issues.
The logistics around distributing the vaccines are complicated. A disadvantage of mRNA is that it's not very stable, and needs to be stored at very cold temperatures.
The Pfizer-BioNTech needs to be kept at –70 C for longer-term storage, although the company says it can survive five days in a refrigerator.
Moderna says its vaccine can survive a month in the fridge and can be stored for months at regular freezer temperatures of –20 C.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine can be stored and transported at normal refrigerated temperatures of 2-8 C for at least six months, which means it can be administered in a wider range of settings, such as physicians' offices and pharmacies.
CBC British Columbia held a town hall on March 10, 2021, to put your COVID-19 vaccine questions to expert guests, including Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. You can watch a recording of the event below.
With files from Steve Chong, Bethany Lindsay and Bridgette Watson