Vancouver Coastal Health vaccinates school staff and first responders

School staff and first responders in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region are now receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The health authority sent out letters to the groups on Wednesday saying they would be able to book an appointment within the next few weeks.

The list of eligible groups of front-line priority workers was created by the provincial COVID-19 Workplace Task Group and Public Health.

“The list allows health authorities to be flexible in directing vaccine to high-risk geographic areas in order to protect workers and, in turn, protect our communities,” said VCH in a letter to teachers.

“Immunizing educational staff — especially in school settings where people with COVID-19 have worked or attended while infectious — will help educators, other school staff, parents, caregivers and students feel reassured that schools are a safe and low-risk environment for COVID-19 transmission,” read the letter.

VCH began booking staff at schools in communities with recent COVID-19 transmission on Wednesday.

“We know there isn't enough vaccine for everyone to be vaccinated at the same time,” said Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We do want teachers vaccinated as soon as possible, everyone across the province. But we do see that when there's a limited supply, it does make sense to ensure that those hotspots are taken care of first.”

Those eligible to book will be sent a letter with a link to book an appointment.

“This letter is not transferrable. Vaccine doses have been allocated for invited staff only, if others use the link to book an appointment they will be turned away at the clinic,” read the instructions.

This booking system is separate from the provincial online platform and call centres.

Eligible staff include teachers, student support workers, principals/vice-principals, office administrative assistants, librarians/counsellors, building engineers/custodians, food services, on-site preschool and daycare providers, and bus drivers.

It’s expected to take several weeks to vaccinate the entire group.

“If you do not see any available appointments on the booking page, please continue to check back as more appointments are added whenever there is capacity,” said the health authority.

Staff will need to provide a photo ID, personal health number and an employee ID, paystub or letter from their employer to prove they are eligible.

“This moved very, very quickly and we're very grateful for that. Obviously, with the variants of concern being such a factor in schools right now, it's really important to move quickly and get people vaccinated,” said Mooring.

Teachers in the hardest hit Surrey school district were vaccinated first, with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

That program was put on hold while health officials awaited updated guidance.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is only being administered to those ages 55 and up in B.C. because of reports of very rare blood clotting associated with the vaccine.

On Wednesday, Health Canada announced that it had reviewed the link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots and determined that the vaccine is safe to use. Now, the National Council on Immunizations is reviewing Health Canada’s findings and deciding whether to change its current recommendation that only those 55 and older receive the vaccine.

Mooring says most Surrey teachers ended up getting a different vaccine, but the rest of Fraser Health has not gotten a first dose.

“We're still waiting to hear, besides Surrey, what other districts are going to be prioritized as well, we also understand that it could be schools within a school district that are prioritized,” explained Mooring.

Vancouver Coastal Health also sent a letter to first responders Wednesday, inviting them to book an vaccination appointment.

Members of police and fire departments in Vancouver, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and Richmond are all eligible.

“I’m pretty excited (and) relieved for our crews,” said Karen Fry, fire chief for Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

Fry has long been calling for firefighters to be bumped up the priority list given the nature of their work. She says there are around 850 team members in her jurisdiction that are eligible to be vaccinated in the coming weeks.

Surrey RCMP and fire members were the first of the first responders to get vaccinated when clinics opened to them on Monday.