Story by Catherine Garrett

The province says it will vaccinate 400,000 people by the end of March

The first few doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are arriving in B.C as early as next week according to health officials.

The focus will be given to frontline healthcare workers, patients, and long term care residents.

At first, the province will be receiving four trays of the vaccine from Belgium, with just under 4,000 doses as a way to test the system.

Provincial Health Officer Doctor Bonnie Henry says these first few doses will be going to workers in long term care and acute care.

Doctor Henry says Pfizer requires these first doses to be administered at the sites they arrive at and cannot be transported to long term care homes, as the vaccine is fragile and must be stored at – 80 degrees.

To prepare for the arrival of the vaccines, health officials in the lower mainland have conducted trials with the containers the vaccines arrive in.

For this preliminary roll out, healthcare workers in Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health who are able to come to the two sites will be prioritized as a result.

Following this trial run, Doctor Henry says doses will be arriving in the province by the tens of thousands before the end of the year, with numbers ramping up again in January.

This includes front line healthcare workers, long term care residents, seniors above the age of 80, the homeless community, as well as remote and rural Indigenous communities will be prioritized first.

However, Doctor Henry warns this will not be enough to curb community transmission; the approach is to save lives and protect the most vulnerable populations in the province.

Physical distancing and other measures will continue to remain in place until the vaccine is made available to the wider B.C. population.

This contract with Pfizer is the first of seven deals Canadian health officials have with vaccine distributors, including the Moderna vaccine, which Doctor Henry says is not far behind.

Doctor Henry says it is expected the Moderna vaccine will likely be approved before the end of the year.

The Moderna vaccine is a little more flexible than it’s Pfizer counterpart, she explains, so it will be used for the territories.

It still requires a sub-zero temperature of – 20 degrees, however, it is stable during refrigeration.

Doctor Henry says this might be an option they need to consider for long term care, as it is less fragile than Pfizer.

Approximately 249,000 doses are expected to arrive in Canada by the end of the year.