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B.C. to still administer second doses despite loss of Pfizer shipment next week: Dix

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's health minister says the province is still on track to begin administering second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine despite the news that no vials will be delivered to Canada next week.

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's health minister says the province is still on track to begin administering second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine despite the news that no vials will be delivered to Canada next week.

Adrian Dix said Tuesday that B.C. had expected to receive about 5,800 Pfizer-BioNTech doses next week, which is "very significant" but a relatively small amount compared with the roughly 25,000 expected in the coming days.

"Every time we get news that we're getting less vaccine, that news is obviously disappointing," he said. 

"Hopefully this is a one-time interruption. But what we can do in British Columbia is use the vaccine that we receive and use it effectively and on vulnerable populations, and that's what we're going to do."

The volume of doses is expected to increase to about 25,000 weekly following the shortage, he said. 

The province will devote more of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine it's set to receive this week, along with the "small amount" it has on hand, to completing first doses in long-term care homes across the province and beginning to administer second doses, Dix said.

B.C. reported 465 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths on Tuesday. 

The province also extended its state of emergency until Feb. 2. The original declaration was made on Mar. 18, 2020, and allows health and emergency management officials to use extraordinary powers to support the pandemic response.  

To date, 92,369 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province.

Dix said second doses are crucial to the strength of the program and B.C. remains committed to a 35-day interval between doses.

The minister said second doses will begin Wednesday, which marks 36 days from the first 3,900 doses being administered in hospitals in Vancouver and Abbotsford, B.C. 

The following week, 8,000 doses were given out, and 12,000 the week after that, so the demand for second doses will increase over time, he said.

Still, he said the loss of 5,800 vaccines next week does not pose a risk to second vaccinations. 

"The risk is not to second doses. The risk is 6,000 fewer first doses," he said. "Every single one of those doses is directed to a vulnerable person or someone working with vulnerable people ... and every one of them is important."

A higher percentage of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines given out in the coming weeks will be second doses, he said, while the Moderna vaccine will become the province's "workhorse" for first doses.

The province began receiving the Moderna vaccine later, so the 35-day interval for second doses will also end later, Dix said.

The federal government announced Tuesday that Canada's shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be cut by nearly one-fifth this week and then go down to zero next week. 

Pfizer told Canada last week its shipments would be affected because the production facility in Belgium is being upgraded to produce more doses overall.

Asked whether B.C. is looking at trying to obtain vaccines outside of the supply chains set up by Ottawa, as it did with personal protective equipment, Dix said that was unlikely.

There's no "back door" source for vaccines, he said. 

He said he expects the federal government to lead efforts to obtain more vaccine for the provinces and he's confident in Ottawa's work.

Dix also responded to calls from the Opposition Liberals and B.C. Care Providers Association for the government to begin using rapid tests on staff in long-term care homes.

The care providers association said in a news release that 1.3 million rapid test kits purchased by the federal government are currently warehoused in B.C. and ready for use.

Dix said rapid tests are being used in remote and rural communities because of the time it takes for lab results to return. However, rapid tests are less accurate than the gold-standard test and take "considerable" investments of staff and effort, he said, making them unrealistic to use on a regular basis.

Pilot projects in the Vancouver Coastal Health region show that it's very challenging to do rapid tests more than once a week, Dix said.

"I appreciate that people are lobbying for this," he said. "All I can tell you is all of our medical health officers ... are unbelievably committed to long-term care."

The minister was in Vancouver Tuesday to announce a new urgent and primary care centre in the city’s northeast opening on Feb. 16.

The centre has longer hours and is aimed at providing urgent care for people suffering from injuries or illness that don’t require an emergency room visit. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press