COVID-19 immunization effort starts Dec. 22

A message from Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health's Chief Medical Health Officer

Thank you to all staff, physicians and volunteers for your hard work and perseverance during this challenging year. You have been on the front lines of this pandemic, and there aren't words to express our gratitude for your dedication.

On Monday Dec. 21, we received our initial shipment of vaccine, in line with allocations being received by other BC health authorities. Through significant planning already undertaken in anticipation of the delivery, we are immediately launching our COVID-19 immunization program – on Tuesday, Dec. 22.  

Health Canada adopted an ethical framework to identify priority groups for the first set of vaccines. In Island Health, and across the province, long-term care staff and physicians in Island Health facilities and in affiliate facilities will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccination because of their vital role in caring for some of the most vulnerable patients in our community. 

For those of the Island Health family who don't work in long-term care, please be assured we are working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other health authorities to identify the sequence of distribution for other health and care providers. As soon as more details are available we will provide them to you.

Many factors were considered when choosing the first community for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The initial vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures and is not easily transported. That means people receiving immunizations must travel to the immunization site. 

Island Health carefully evaluated the risk of transmission in each long-term care facility. Risk was determined based on a number of criteria including: multi-bed rooms and other infrastructure characteristics, outbreak history, the proximity of the care home to the vaccine distribution location, as well as ethical considerations. As a result, the first vaccines will be provided to those who support long-term care in greater Victoria.

For those of you familiar with public health vaccination clinics, a key priority is to ensure there is no wastage of vaccine. As there may be limited vaccine doses unused at end-of-day, a process is established to ensure other key staff and physician identified priority groups who are on location at the vaccination site can be quickly mobilized to get vaccinated if required, and ensure we have no wastage of this important vaccine.

Island Health has already begun reaching out to long-term care facilities based on priority to provide information on how staff and physician appointments are being scheduled. We expect to expand the program to north and central island long-term care staff and physicians as vaccine becomes available in the coming weeks. Through this process, we anticipate all long-term care staff and physicians will receive an immunization by spring 2021.

Island Health is not booking COVID-19 immunization appointments for the general public at this time. Everyone the vaccine is recommended for in BC will have the opportunity to get the vaccine by the end of 2021.

Provincial orders and guidelines remain in place for everyone, even after receiving the vaccine. Please continue to follow public health measures, including frequent hand washing, maintaining physical distance, avoiding non-essential travel, wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, and staying home when sick.

Thank you, once again, for all you do to help us care for our patients and residents, and for your patience as we begin this historic work.

Learn more about the provincial COVID-19 immunization plan.

Read about the COVID-19 vaccine on the BCCDC website.