British Columbia

Dr. Bonnie Henry expects 'beginnings' of vaccine to be available as soon as January

Over 150 vaccines are in development globally and B.C.'s provincial health officer says a handful have already passed the second phase of testing, meaning they have already been trialed on humans.

Distribution will be dependent on which vaccine is first available and who it works for

There are over 150 vaccines for COVID-19 currently in development around the world and the federal government has committed $1 billion to six different companies to secure doses for Canadians. (Photo: Leandro Ferreira/Fotoarena/Sipa USA)

B.C's provincial health officer says it is possible some British Columbians could have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the beginning of next year.

More than 150 vaccines are in development worldwide and 10 of those vaccine candidates are now in Phase 3 clinical trials, meaning they are being tested on hundreds of volunteers to make sure they are safe.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says this could mean a vaccine may be available for some people in the province as soon as January.

"I think, optimistically, we should have at least the beginnings of some vaccine available early in 2021," Henry told CBC's The Early Edition Wednesday.

"I am confident we will have a vaccine and it will be effective for at least some people and it will be safe. But it's going to take more time now to find out exactly which one it is," she said. 

Henry said a vaccine will likely come in stages and the government will not have enough for everyone right away. Who will get it first, she said, is a conversation being had nationally right now to make sure the process is uniform across the country.

"It is an ethical consideration, but it also depends on which vaccine becomes available first and who it works best in," she said.

Who will get priority?

Likely candidates, said Henry, will be health-care workers, seniors, people with underlying illnesses and those who live in close quarters with others, where the virus is quick to spread.

Health-care workers have proven to be at risk across the country, with a dozen dying and more than 21,000 falling ill — representing roughly 20 per cent of confirmed cases — in the pandemic's first wave, according to a September report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

The largest death toll, however — numbering more than 5,300 nationally — has been among elderly residents in long-term care, with those facilities accounting for more than 80 per cent of all Canadian COVID-19 deaths in the first wave, CIHI findings show.

In total, the federal government has committed $1 billion dollars to six different companies to secure at least 150 million doses of a vaccine.

Henry said Canada is also considering its ethical role globally and has committed to the World Health Organization's COVAX program, making sure any vaccine doses not used by Canadians go to countries with less resources.

Tap here to track the process of vaccine developments around the world.

With files from The Early Edition, Lauren Pelley