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North Shore teachers relieved to be fast tracked for vaccine

Seniors in their 70s can book appointments next week; frontline workers on parallel track for COVID jab
Teachers, emergency responders and other "front-line workers" will be prioritized for vaccinations beginning in April.

Younger seniors, along with teachers, childcare workers, police and firefighters could all be getting their COVID vaccinations earlier than expected, the province has announced.

This week seniors aged 75 to 79, as well as people deemed particularly medically vulnerable, are able to book vaccines on a staggered schedule. They are expected to receive their shots before the middle of April.

B.C. estimates that combination could see about 25 per cent of B.C.’s population vaccinated over the next month.

The province also plans to use about 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine expected to give early shots to certain groups of workers whose jobs put them on the front lines of dealing with the public.

Teachers make up the largest of those groups, accounting for about 102,000 people.

Huge relief for teachers

Renee Willock, president of the West Vancouver Teachers Association, said her members are reacting with huge sighs of relief to the news they will be among “priority groups” including first responders, childcare staff, postal workers and grocery store employees, among others in line for early jabs of the vaccine, beginning next month.

News that teachers will be included in groups on a parallel track for vaccines comes as a recent rash of exposure warnings have gone out for COVID cases in North Shore schools.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s medical health officer, said Monday transmission of the virus in schools remains low.

But “when you're in a situation where you've seen something happen to a colleague or to students in your class, it, it feels very real, and it doesn't matter if it's statistically a smaller chance of it happening,” said Willock.

She said local teachers have been among those who have filed successful WorkSafeBC claims for contracting COVID in their workplace.

The first of those claims was filed by a West Vancouver teacher in September after she contracted the virus, mostly likely from a Grade 12 student in her class.

Henry said Monday one of the reasons teachers are a priority to get the vaccine is not because they are at high risk but whenever an exposure is recorded in a school it can result in students and teachers having to isolate, and that can be very disruptive to students' education.

“We’re looking forward to getting more details and a timeline but April for a first dose is really encouraging,” said Willock.

The province also expects to speed up its main age-based vaccine rollout, starting with about 350,000 people aged 70 to 79 and about 150,000 people deemed medically vulnerable.

Seniors 75 to 79 can book vaccines this week

Seniors aged 79 were able to book vaccination appointments starting on Saturday at noon. Those aged 78 were able to book Monday at noon. The age for booking drops one year each day after that so by March 27, phone lines will be open for those age 75 and over. In some rural communities, including Bowen Island, those 70 and over could begin booking on Saturday.

On Monday, Henry also addressed reports that some people in the Lower Mainland have been booking appointments and getting vaccines despite not being eligible by age group. Henry said those people may have been able to book with older spouses or be medically vulnerable. "You don't always know another person's story," she said.

In Vancouver Coastal Health, the number to call to book vaccination appointments is 1-877-587-5767.

Vaccination clinics are running five days this week, Monday to Friday, in both North Vancouver and West Vancouver.

The province is planning to switch over to a single provincial call centre, along with an online booking system, in early April.

At the same time, health authorities are currently using doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to target workplaces where there have recently been outbreaks in the Lower Mainland. In the local health region, that includes young workers living in crowded living quarters at Whistler Blackcomb.