Every regional health authority has received doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, B.C.’s provincial health officer said Monday.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said vaccine deliveries last week were concentrated in the Lower Mainland, where case counts and transmission rates are highest.
B.C.’s immunization campaign is now rolling out on Vancouver Island and in the Northern and Interior health regions.
“The Interior and the North are having quite large transmission events relative to the population,” Henry told a news conference on Monday.
The curve of the outbreak is starting to level off amid ongoing public health rules, she said, but hundreds of new cases are still being confirmed each day.
B.C. announced 1,667 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday over a three-day period, as well as 41 more deaths, pushing the death toll to 765.
The Island Health region reported 21 new confirmed cases and one death. There have now been 11 COVID-19 deaths in Island Health.
The death announced Monday is linked to an outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. Eleven patients, four of whom have died, and 11 staff have been infected. Three patients are at Royal Jubilee Hospital while health care workers and remaining patients are isolating at home.
The earliest date the outbreak at Saanich Peninsula can be declared over is Dec. 31, after one asymptomatic patient and one asymptomatic staff member tested positive in a third round of testing late last week, said Elin Bjarnason, vice-president for clinical operations at Island Health.
Saanich Peninsula hospital is taking a cautious approach to re-opening admissions, electing to wait until Jan. 4, Bjarnason said.
Henry said the vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures and so far, Pfizer requires doses to be administered at points of arrival, said Henry, so people receiving it in coming days will have to travel to a central location.
Henry said she’s looking forward to approval from the company to allow 975-dose trays of the vaccine to be broken up and delivered more widely.
“We’re hoping it’s going to come in the next few days and then the strategy will be to be able to take vaccine to long-term care homes.”
Nine sites across B.C. received doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week, she said.
“It’s still a very limited amount of vaccine,” she said. “We’re only getting about 30 trays between now and the first week of January, so it is a small amount to make sure that the delivery system works, that all of the things are in place for the clinics to get up and running.”
She said 3,644 people, mostly health workers, received the shot last week.
“We are now in the place of planning for how we will get to every single community across British Columbia.”
Henry said she’s hopeful about another vaccine from U.S. biotech company Moderna, which comes with less stringent storage requirements. Data related to Moderna’s vaccine is being reviewed by Health Canada.
Henry addressed concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, saying it has not been detected in Canada.
It appears the new strain can transmit more easily, she said, but the mutations do not seem to increase the severity of COVID-19 or interfere with the efficacy of vaccines or testing for the illness.
“We will be watching very carefully and monitoring this over the coming days and weeks,” she said, adding there’s still more to learn about the strain.