VICTORIA — Children between the ages of 12 and 17 will get their COVID-19 vaccines at community clinics instead of schools based on feedback from families wanting to get immunized together, British Columbia's provincial health officer says.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said an estimated 310,000 children in that age group are eligible to be vaccinated, and clinic hours could be extended to make getting immunized easier.
Henry said consultations with the education sector as well as parents who may have kids in different schools led to the decision to immunize youth at clinics, where public health staff are already working and ready to provide the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for people aged 12 and up.
"It takes a lot of resources to go into every single school in a very short period of time," she said, adding the community plan would allow for more equitable access to vaccines, especially at some of the larger health authorities, where clinics are established and can quickly be ramped up to accommodate families.
"We know that many young people have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and by the pandemic and by the measures that we've had to put in place. Now you, too, will have the opportunity to get vaccine, to get protected and to protect those around you. I know it has been tough. But there is a light ahead and it's coming soon."
Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said vaccination in some large schools with over 1,000 students would be more convenient and reduce barriers, especially in Fraser Health, where about half the province's 12-to-18-year-olds live and school exposures have been the highest.
"Some families work multiple jobs and so we're concerned that some students won't have true access to vaccination," she said. "Vaccinations already occur in schools, so that's already an established process."
About 59 per cent of eligible people in B.C. have received their first dose of a vaccine and so-called circuit breaker measures will be lifted next week as case counts have gone down, Henry said.
The province recorded 357 cases Thursday, the lowest since Feb. 15, along with three more deaths, for a total of 1,661 fatalities from COVID-19.
Premier John Horgan urged residents to continue abiding by the rules banning indoor dining and gatherings as well as limiting travel until midnight on Monday, saying some restrictions will be eased on Tuesday as part of a "slow, methodical approach" for everyone's benefit, including those yearning to gather at their place of worship.
"I really encourage people to please, please, please follow the rules. Don't look for loopholes, don’t try and get around things. Enjoy a good weekend and then, of course, next week we’ll be plotting our way forward together," Horgan said.
"We're confident that come July we're going to be in a much better place. But on Tuesday, we'll lay out that road map. I think it'll be positively received by the vast majority of British Columbians and I'm confident they can wait a few more days."
Health Minister Adrian Dix said that while the number of people in hospital has decreased to 331, with 113 of them in intensive care, the health-care system continues to face challenges.
"We are continuing to support our health-care staff by postponing non-urgent surgeries in two of our major health authorities, Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health."
However, he said a total of 7,015 surgeries, most of them scheduled, were completed between May 3 and 9, for "a significant achievement in a pandemic," underscoring the need to continue following public health orders for the sake of health-care workers on the front lines.
— By Camille Bains in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.
The Canadian Press