Whole community approaches to immunization are being utilized in select communities across the province. (Black Press file photo)

Whole community approaches to immunization are being utilized in select communities across the province. (Black Press file photo)

First vaccination clinic underway for Bella Coola residents

All residents 18 years and up were eligible for their first dose of the Moderna vaccine

All residents of Bella Coola were given the opportunity to be vaccinated with their first dose of the Moderna vaccine starting last Wednesday, March 10 at the Bella Coola Hospital.

The vaccines were the result of a significant policy change from the provincial government, which saw them stretch the time between first and second doses to four months, enabling many more people to obtain their first shot.

Dr. Penny Ballem, the province’s COVID vaccination lead, said that will be accomplished by extending the amount of time between doses.

Bella Coola was among several isolated communities that had no age restrictions on those seeking a vaccine. In a statement, the Ministry of Health said that isolated communities are top of the list for a variety of factors.

“Whole community approaches to immunization are being utilized in select communities across the province. Communities with small populations, and communities that have challenges related to geographic remoteness or geographic distance from health care may be immunized using an all-community approach,” read the statement.

“Communities that will be vaccinated using this approach will be identified by their health authority. Due to varying demographics and geography within different health authorities, approaches to vaccinating entire communities may vary slightly in different health authorities. For more information on the all-community approach in Bella Coola, please reach out to your regional health authority.”

B.C. plans to immunize another 400,000 people in March and early April, starting with seniors over the age of 90. Ballem said that both the recent approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine and delaying second doses by four months will make a “big, big difference” in how quickly even young and healthy adults will be able to get their first shot, as well as how quickly restrictions could be lifted.

“By mid to late July we will have been able to give a first dose to everybody in our population, which is a significant shift from our earlier plan out into September,” Ballem said. “It’s very very good news for returning to life as usual.”

The plan is based on data that health officials said shows that the first dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide at least 90 per cent protection against COVID. Ballem said that getting the first dose into the arms of most long-term care workers and residents has “dramatically reduced” outbreaks, even though many have not gotten their second dose yet.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is supporting B.C.’s decision to delay the second doses of COVID-19 vaccines by up to four months.

“NACI recommends that in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine up to four months after the first,” the committee said in a decision published Wednesday (March 3).

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada; Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the newly approved AstroZeneca vaccine.