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HomeBusinessExclusive: B.C. health exec says vaccine rollout to take longer than advertised

Exclusive: B.C. health exec says vaccine rollout to take longer than advertised


Bob Mackin

The top medical doctor for the health authority that includes the B.C. Centre for Disease Control told a public meeting that the province’s coronavirus vaccination campaign will take longer than advertised.

PHSA executive vice-president Maureen O’Donnell (LinkedIn)

During the Provincial Health Services Authority board meeting on Feb. 18, executive vice-president Dr. Maureen O’Donnell fielded a question from a member of the public about what is being done to reduce infections among children.

The vaccine program reference in the script that O’Donnell read contradicted the Ministry of Health website.

“We’re continuing to roll out B.C.’s immunization planning and program, and the majority of the adult population is expected to be vaccinated by the end of the fall,” said O’Donnell, who is also an epidemiologist and pediatrician.

CLICK AND LISTEN: excerpt of Provincial Health Services Authority official Dr. Maureen O’Donnell from the Feb. 18 board meeting

The Ministry of Health website outlines B.C.’s Jan. 22-released, four-phase program from April to September. The fourth and final phase, for the general population aged 18 to 59, runs July to September — ending in early fall.

When contacted O’Donnell to ask for more details, she refused to comment. “If you can please reach out to our media relations folks,” O’Donnell said. “They will be sure to get a response to you.”

Penny Ballem (VCH)

An official update on B.C.’s troubled vaccine program, with a focus on people aged 80 and over, is expected on March 1 from Dr. Penny Ballem, the chair of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and former Deputy Minister of Health.

Ballem suddenly took over the program in mid-January from Dr. Ross Brown, who was originally appointed in December. The vaccine rollout has suffered from the Canada-wide shortage in supplies from manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna. 

As of Feb. 23, B.C. said it had delivered only 224,354 jabs into arms, including 58,896 second doses. The B.C. numbers are comparable with Montana, which has administered 219,830 doses, including 70,309 fully immunized. Montana, however, has one-fifth of B.C.’s population.

Meanwhile, Washington state says it has given 1.379 million doses.

The public question read by PHSA chair Tim Manning cited B.C. statistics from Feb. 16 showing 10,233 children and teens up to age 19 had tested positive for the virus, and that up to one in seven are at risk of long-haul syndrome.

The script O’Donnell read said immunizing the adult population will help to reduce transmission to children. She also said it is not possible to achieve a zero infection rate, so B.C.’s goal is to prevent transmissions and minimize serious illnesses, death and societal disruption.

O’Donnell said unstructured gatherings without safety plans and households are a higher risk of transmission than schools.

“What we know is that transmission in schools and in the extra curricular activities that happen after school are very rare when safety plans are in place,” she said.

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