Teachers, police and firefighters on the North Shore have begun booking vaccinations under a special “frontline worker” program being rolled out this week in some areas of the Lower Mainland that have seen recent surges in COVID infections.
Teachers are “deeply relieved” at the news, said Renee Willock, president of the West Vancouver Teachers Association. “It’s such a weight lifted off everyone’s shoulders right now.”
Vaccinations for school staff and emergency responders were initially planned as part of a province-wide effort to give AstraZeneca vaccines to about 300,000 frontline workers province-wide. But that program was halted when the AstraZeneca vaccine was put on hold for people under 55 while health officials investigate reports of very rare, but serious blood clots.
This week, the frontline worker vaccination program is being restarted with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – but only in areas of the Lower Mainland where case counts have been high.
Staff at eight schools to get vaccinated first
Teachers and school staff in both West Vancouver and North Vancouver will start getting their shots this weekend on a staggered basis, with the first vaccines going to schools where there have either been a high number of exposures or where numbers of cases in the community are high.
Vaccinations will start this weekend for teachers and staff of West Vancouver Secondary and West Bay, Westcot and Pauline Johnson elementary schools. First in line in North Vancouver are teachers and school staff at Carson Graham and Sutherland secondaries and Larson and Carisbrooke elementary schools.
There are approximately 500 teachers in West Vancouver and about 1,500 in North Vancouver, although those numbers also include on-call staff who may also work in other school districts.
Carolyn Pena, president of the North Vancouver Teachers Association, said both the recent rise in the number of COVID cases on the North Shore and the number of recent exposure letters going out to families have made teachers anxious, particularly as the number of more-transmissible variant cases has been on the rise.
In the Vancouver Coastal Health area, variant cases, predominantly the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil, currently make up about 70 per cent of cases, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province's medical health officer, on Thursday. The vaccines will offer some relief from worry, said Pena.
The news of the vaccines for teachers comes after a recent flurry of notices about COVID exposures in North Vancouver and West Vancouver schools.
Transmission in schools is low, says Henry
But health officials say transmission in schools is still low.
On Thursday, Henry released information from a study conducted last fall that showed less than one per cent of students and staff attending school in Vancouver Coastal Health – 699 people out of 124,000 – contracted COVID over a three-month time span. Of those who did, only 55 cases (about 8 per cent of cases) were likely transmitted in school, said Henry. Henry said most cases among school students or staff are acquired in the community through household contacts or social gatherings. Staff made up about 23 per cent of school cases – about 160 people – during the three months between mid-September and mid-December, according to the study.
North Shore police and firefighters now eligible for shots
Firefighters and police in both North Vancouver and West Vancouver will also be getting vaccines as part of the special frontline worker program.
District of North Vancouver Fire Chief Brian Hutchinson said the move is being welcomed by the 130 firefighters in the district.
So far, four firefighters have had to take time off work because of COVID infections, and a larger number have had to self-isolate because they were close contacts of those people, said Hutchinson. The nature of their work means fire crews are often required to work in close physical proximity, he added.
About 100 officers and staff of the West Vancouver Police Department and 129 officers, plus staff, of the North Vancouver RCMP detachment are also eligible to book vaccines this week.
Const. Kevin Goodmurphy, spokesman for the West Vancouver police, said four officers have tested positive for COVID during the pandemic and at least one of those appears to have come from a workplace exposure. Other staff members have also been required to self-isolate as close contacts of people who have tested positive, he said.