Frontline workers on Vancouver Island to get priority vaccine access imminently

First responders, teachers and childcare workers on Vancouver Island will be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines within the next 24 hours, the island’s top doctor said Friday.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s chief medical health officer, tells CTV News that the health authority is contacting school districts, licensed daycare operators and municipal governments to provide instructions on how to access the priority vaccines.

Stanwick said registering for the priority vaccines will happen through the province’s Get Vaccinated system, but there will be a separate stream for qualified frontline workers.

“It will be a select process for frontline workers on Vancouver Island and it’s going to start tomorrow,” Stanwick said Friday morning.

The chief health officer said some Vancouver Island police, paramedics, firefighters, child educators and support staff in rural communities have already been vaccinated through select whole-community immunization programs. Others have been vaccinated with leftover doses that clinics had not administered by the time the clinics closed for the day.

“We’ve been using some end-of-day doses for certain members of law enforcement and fire on different parts of the island,” Stanwick said. “So this is to ensure they all get access to it.”

The island's top doctor noted that frontline workers in other parts of the province that have been designated COVID-19 hotspots have received early vaccines, particularly in the Lower Mainland.

“We’ve been a little behind,” Stanwick said of the island region. “We’re pleased we’re not a hotspot, but the downside of that meant that we were not able to start immunizing our frontline workers in the same sequence as the Lower Mainland. But now that there’s going to be lots of vaccine available, we’re thrilled to be able to offer them vaccine because we certainly want to protect our law enforcement and fire people, the daycare operators that allow people to leave their children in a safe place.”

Stanwick said vaccinating K-12 teachers and support staff is a key focus of the priority rollout plan as keeping Vancouver Island schools open is of utmost importance.

“Teachers are going to feel a lot more comfortable in providing that critical service knowing the people around them have received vaccine,” he said.

The chief health officer says it remains to be worked out whether the priority vaccines will be distributed “on a first-come, first-served basis or if they’re going to follow the specific cohorts.”

“We’re just going to have to look at the numbers,” Stanwick said. “The target that our minister has set for us is that by mid-May these individuals will have essentially gotten a shot in the arm.”

For the general public, Island Health plans to ramp up the volume of vaccines given from roughly 6,000 doses a day currently to 9,000 per day in the coming weeks.

Stanwick says more than 300,000 vaccines have been administered on Vancouver Island as of Friday, most of which – 286,000 doses – are first doses.

“While we’ve been following age cohorts, at some point we’re going to be able to just open it up for everybody,” Stanwick said. “That’s going to be a very exciting day.”