VANCOUVER — The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in British Columbia and will start to be administered on Tuesday.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the vaccine's arrival is "momentous" news, but warned it doesn't mean it's safe to break physical distancing restrictions.
“I can’t tell you how exciting this is, to know that this start of this new phase to protect people is beginning here in B.C. and Canada,” she said.
Henry said she is concerned the arrival of the vaccine might lead to people falling ill or dying because others no longer consider the virus a threat.
“My biggest fear right now is that we’re not going to do enough, we’re going to let off right now and people are unnecessarily going to be exposed and some of them will get very ill, will end up in our hospitals or end up dying at this point when we are so, so close,” she told a news conference.
Every dose of the vaccine will save lives, she added, but it’s not yet enough to stop the wider transmission in the community.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being used in the regions covered by the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities and will be given to workers in long-term care facilities.
The province said it is developing a system so people can register to get the vaccine and receive a formal record of immunization.
There were 2,146 new cases of COVID-19 over the last three days, bringing the total number of infections to 42,943 since the pandemic began. There were 49 new deaths over the same three-day period for a total of 647 fatalities.
The vaccine is expected to be available across the province by next week.
The province will administer all its doses of the vaccine, with a second dose expected to follow in January.
With less than two weeks to go until Christmas, Henry emphasized that no event or gathering, small or large, is considered safe as she encouraged people to celebrate virtually.
"I want to reiterate: now is dangerous. There are no safe gatherings. This virus doesn't recognize that you've been apart for so long, that you really need to see somebody. This virus passes between people."
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the government is in contact with faith leaders to hear their concerns about how the COVID-19 restrictions have affected worship services. Churches in Langley have been fined for continuing to hold services, despite restrictions against doing so.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2020.
Nick Wells, The Canadian Press