Dr. Bonnie Henry raised the possibility of a ‘post-pandemic world’ by the summer.

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As the B.C. government hammers out a plan to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine to first responders and essential workers, the initial shipment arriving in B.C. next week will be used to target outbreaks and clusters responsible for a troubling upward trend in new COVID-19 cases in the province.

On Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said a number of “recalcitrant” outbreaks in the Lower Mainland have been challenging to manage. These outbreaks are in food processing plants and agricultural sites in the Fraser Valley where workers aren’t able to work from home, or don personal protective equipment, and may live in communal settings.

“Those are the types of outbreaks we can make a big difference on with the vaccine,” said Henry, adding the vaccine will be able to halt continuing workplace-to-community transmission.

In the meantime, health officials will put together a detailed operational plan over the next two weeks for first responders and essential workers. That program will run separately from the age-based community vaccination program set to start in March, said Henry.

Lending the rollout new urgency is that a portion of Canada’s first 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India is set to expire in April. Henry said she does not know how many of the soon-to-be expired doses are earmarked for B.C.

Front-line and essential workers were originally scheduled to get their first vaccine jab in June but will now get it sooner, thanks to the newly approved vaccine and B.C.’s decision to delay giving the second dose in order to provide protection to a larger swath of people.

Addressing concerns over perceptions the AstraZeneca vaccine may not work as well as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Henry said people shouldn’t hold out for other vaccines.

The bottom line is “these vaccines work, they all work,” she said. “They’re effective, they’re safe, so take the vaccine you’re offered.”

Henry said even young people, who are expected to get their jabs last, could get their first shot before the summer, raising the possibility that the end of the pandemic is near.

“Maybe I’m too optimistic, but we’re going to be in our post-pandemic world by the summer, if things continue to go the way that we want them to,” said Henry.

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However, the current uptick in new cases and rise of more transmissible COVID variants in the community means British Columbians need to hunker down a little while longer, she stressed.

There were 564 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C. reported Thursday, including 46 that are variants of concern. Four people died in the last 24 hours from the virus, bringing the death toll to 1,376.

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan


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