'We'll be able to speed things up,' reassures Dr. Bonnie Henry at CBC's vaccine town hall
B.C. is currently in Phase 2 of its vaccination plan
B.C.'s COVID-19 immunization plan is one of the most ambitious public health projects in the province's history, and on Wednesday night, fresh from an announcement that 85 year olds can now start booking their vaccine appointments earlier than anticipated, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is working as quickly as possible despite some early growing pains.
"Once we get the clinics up and running ... get people booked in, get that sense of 'OK, we can make this work,' I'm really confident we'll be able to speed things up," said Henry.
Henry was part of the expert panel in a town hall hosted by CBC British Columbia to answer pressing questions about the vaccine roll-out.
As of the latest update, every eligible adult in British Columbia should be able to receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by early to late July.
There are currently four vaccines that have been approved for use by Health Canada — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson — and more than three million eligible British Columbians who have yet to receive a shot.
Health authorities first vaccinated seniors living in long-term care and staff at these facilities and, this week, began booking COVID-19 vaccination appointments for people aged 90 and older and Indigenous people over 65. The plan is to systematically work through the population by age bracket.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said an enormous effort is going into the delivery of these vaccines, and encouraged British Columbians to remain hopeful.
"This pandemic has tested us in ways that none of us would have expected…. British Columbians have done very well," Dix said.
Still, the rollout has faced criticism. On Monday, only 369 bookings were made in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority after COVID-19 call centres were overwhelmed.
Mahesh Nagarajan, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, said it's inevitable some people will fall through the cracks given the sheer scale of the undertaking.
"This is not an easy thing to do. When you open up the phone lines, the expectation, I think, is that people who are supposed to be scheduled this month will call in. But from the data we know that a lot of people who were not supposed to be vaccinated in this phase still wanted to call in to see if they could somehow get a shot," Nagarjan said.
"Then, of course, there are going to be people who are not going to access the phone lines."
Nagarajan said moving to an online system will also create barriers for some people.
Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of the Fraser Health Authority, which is one of the most diverse regions in Canada, says the authority is organizing outreach for seniors who speak another language and others who may not be able to phone or book appointments online.
And the vaccine represents science in action and is constantly being studied and researched, says Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical health officer of the First Nations Health Authority.
"We don't know for sure how long the immunity is going to last because the vaccine hasn't been around that long," said McDonald.
"We are learning every day both about the virus and about the vaccine and following those details and the research to make sure we are providing the best to the people of B.C."
WATCH | The American Sign Language (ASL) version of the virtual CBC town hall event Our Shot: Vaccinating B.C.: