Seniors 80 and older were originally scheduled to begin calling on March 22 but due to gains in the Telus call centre, that cohort was moved up by a week.

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About a year into life in lockdown, with some 86,900 of our neighbours having contracted COVID-19 and nearly 1,400 having died from it, British Columbia’s public vaccination campaign is set to begin Monday with seniors 80 and older eligible to book this week.

The province’s plan is to immunize 400,000 people from March to mid-April, starting with those in our eldest and most vulnerable populations. But a glance at the relatively advanced vaccine rollout plans of other provinces makes B.C.’s mass vaccination progress look a little sluggish.

On Monday, B.C. residents aged 80 years and older and Indigenous peoples aged 65 and older can call to book a vaccine appointment. Seniors 80 and older were originally scheduled to begin calling on March 22 but due to gains in the Telus call centre, that cohort was moved up by a week. Those on the Sunshine Coast aged 80 and older can also call starting Monday.

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To avoid backlogs on the booking lines, seniors 84 and over can begin calling Monday, those 83 and older on Tuesday, 82 and older on Wednesday, 81 and older on Thursday and 80 and older on Thursday. There are approximately 105,000 seniors between the ages of 80 and 84 who have not yet been vaccinated.

Dr. Penny Ballem, the head of B.C.’s immunization rollout, asked that people designate only one family member or support person to call on their behalf. She also noted call lines, which are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. are not as busy in the late afternoons or evenings.

Immunization clinics in community centres, gyms and arenas around the province plan to open their doors this week to the first round of eligible residents.

To date, B.C. has administered about 380,800 vaccine doses. For the sake of comparison, Ontario has administered 1.1 million doses. Given that Ontario has nearly three times the population of B.C., the two provinces are roughly on par by that metric.

Where B.C. appears behind, however, is in its booking progress. Ontario, and most of the rest of the country for that matter, are scheduling younger — and in some cases dramatically younger — people to come in for shots than B.C. now is.

Asked Friday why B.C. lags behind other provinces in vaccinating by age cohort, Premier John Horgan said the province has a higher population of seniors owing to people who move here to retire.

Ontario is already in the process of immunizing people aged 80 and older, and that effort should further be aided by an online booking system slated to go live Monday morning. Canada’s largest province has 255 vaccination sites, including 153 mass immunization clinics, and it has started a pilot project for pharmacy vaccine administration in some regions.

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Quebec is even further ahead with most regions in that province already taking appointments to vaccinate those aged 70 and over. Montreal is booking people as young as 65, according to Quebec.

In Alberta, those 75 and older can book by phone or online for a vaccine appointment, Saskatchewan residents 72 and older are now eligible, and Manitoba residents aged 80 and older can book an appointment.

New Brunswick is still only booking those 85 and up, but Nova Scotia and P.E.I. are accepting calls from people aged 80 and over, and Newfoundland is registering those 70 and older.

Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are already booking people 18 and older.

On offer to B.C. residents during this, the second, phase of immunization, are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but those receiving shots will be unable to choose which of those they want to take. Essential workers prioritized for vaccination during the third phase will get the choice of receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine with their priority group or waiting and receiving one of the other vaccines with their age cohort.

All approved COVID-19 vaccines require a second dose, but those who receive a first dose will be notified as to when they can book their next shot.

People who have received a vaccine are still required to stay home and get tested when sick, stay distant from other people, wear a mask and wash their hands.

with files from Katie DeRosa

mrobinson@postmedia.com

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