With additional COVID-19 vaccines available, the health authority for Vancouver Island has detailed plans to expand vaccinations to the central and north Island region.
In a press release, Island Health said an extra 3,900 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have been received, allowing it to expand immunization outside the greater Victoria area, with clinics now planned for both Nanaimo and Campbell River.
Care support and medical staff working in long-term care will be eligible to be vaccinated and people who qualify will be contacted directly by Island Health on how to set up an appointment, the press release said.
At a media conference Thursday afternoon, Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health chief medical officer, said about 1,900 vaccine doses will be bound for Nanaimo, 950 for Campbell River and some diverted to Victoria due to demand. Stanwick said shipments of the product will be coming weekly and there will be “consistency of availability of the Pfizer product.”
Vaccine development was sped up due to the pandemic and when asked what assurances he could give for people’s concerns, Stanwick said officials have confidence that compared to historical record, the vaccine is going to prove to be safe. It likely will be one of the most studied vaccines in the history of medicine and results and impacts will be tracked, the doctor said.
“This is such a sophisticated vaccine in that it is actually a packet of messenger [Ribonucleic acid] that is basically injected into the arm,” said Stanwick. “The muscle cells take it in. It’s a blueprint for a protein. Once the protein is made, the messenger RNA is destroyed. It migrates to the surface of the muscle cell and the body … starts making antibodies to it. So it’s probably one of the purest and simplest ways in which we’ve really ever seen in terms of trying to create immunity in the human body. It’s an exciting time for new vaccine development.”
In terms of vaccine rollout, Stanwick said officials are ahead of schedule as some of the “best minds in public health said we wouldn’t even be talking like this until the fall.”
“That’s how long they thought it would take for a vaccine that would be 95 per cent effective to be developed and being produced in numbers that we could at least start a vaccine campaign,” said Stanwick. “I would suggest we could be as much as seven to eight months ahead of some of the optimistic predictions … so from a public health perspective, we have another tool in the tool chest to deal with COVID.”
Sharron Traub, manager of Dufferin Place in Nanaimo, welcomed the news.
“Our No. 1 goal throughout this pandemic has been to protect our residents,” Traub said in the press release. “Providing the vaccine to front-line health-care workers in long-term care is a critical line of defence to keep this virus out, and an important show of support for those caring for and protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
The sentiment was echoed by the manager of Yucalta Lodge in Campbell River.
“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine gives all of us working in long-term care renewed hope and a sense of relief after many months of vigilance,” Jae Yon Jones said in the press release. “While our entire team is weary, they are resilient and heartened by the added layer of protection the vaccine will provide for both themselves and the residents they care for.”
Island Health is adhering to B.C.’s vaccination plan, said the press release. Residents and staff in long-term and assisted living, individuals in hospital and hospital health care workers, paramedics and isolated First Nation communities are among those receiving priority.
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