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Pharmacist Mario Linaksita administers the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Sharon Berringer, 56, at University Pharmacy in Vancouver on April 1, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government continues to delay acting on its commitment to provide priority vaccinations to 300,000 frontline workers, but individual health authorities are dispensing thousands of shots through an opaque approval system meant to protect people in workplaces with the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The province has two main streams for vaccination: Most of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are reserved for an age-based immunization program, while the AstraZeneca supply was promised to frontline workers, including teachers, grocery workers, police, firefighters and daycare workers. But the guidelines around who get those doses are not clear.

The AstraZeneca program was halted when questions were raised about the vaccine’s safety for younger populations, and the province is handing over most of its supply to pharmacies, where it is now being offered to residents between the ages of 55 and 65.

Tracking Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans: A continuing guide

Canada vaccine tracker: How many COVID-19 doses have been administered so far?

Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson: Which COVID-19 vaccine will I get in Canada?

Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).

PFIZER-BIONTECH

  • Also known as: Comirnaty
  • Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
  • Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.

MODERNA

  • Also known as: SpikeVax
  • Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
  • Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.

OXFORD-ASTRAZENECA

  • Also known as: Vaxzevria
  • Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
  • Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

  • Also known as: Janssen
  • Approved on: March 5, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
  • Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.

How many vaccine doses do I get?

All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.

Coronavirus tracker: How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

But a portion of B.C.’s vaccine supply is ending up in the arms of teachers and other school staff in Surrey, along with workers in food processing facilities, farm workers and administrators in health authorities. The entire adult population of Prince Rupert was offered vaccination and workers in select restaurants and retail shops have been vaccinated.

Teachers from other districts were turned away from the clinics offered to Surrey staff. Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey teachers’ union, said his members are being vaccinated because of the high rate of COVID-19 infections in the district. “It was an important recognition of the risks that they’ve been facing working in Surrey schools, with the high levels of COVID in the community,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“There are very few schools that have not had exposures, many that have had people self-isolating, there are whole classes that are self-isolating.”

Fraser Health says it expects to vaccinate 10,000 teachers and support staff in the school system, but did not provide details about where it is taking its supply from for this initiative.

On Tuesday, the Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said no decision has been made on what to do with those workers who were deemed to be a priority last month. “We’re looking at whatever option we can do,” she said. “We can also stream workers through the pharmacies where the vaccine is. So we will be looking at that in the next little while.”

B.C.’s priority list for front-line workers is based on the known risk of transmission, as well as the nature and size of the workplace environment, according to health officials. The priority list focused on workplaces where the use of personal protective equipment and barriers can be challenging, where outbreaks and clusters have occurred or are ongoing, or where maintaining the workforce for a critical service is necessary. Health officials did not respond to requests for details of which groups are still being vaccinated in the interim.

The province estimated it would have enough AstraZeneca for roughly 300,000 workers in priority occupations. But the majority of that supply is being streamed to the pharmacy program based on age, which is expected to be oversubscribed. There are roughly 200,000 doses available for about 700,000 British Columbians between the ages of 55 and 65.

Meanwhile the provinces is awaiting an update from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on the use of AstraZeneca. On March 29, NACI recommended a pause in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in all people under 55 years of age until more information is available on the rare events of blood clots seen in some countries in Europe.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, Dr. Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix noted that the province has now vaccinated almost 20 per cent of eligible British Columbians, and the province is now inviting people 70 and older, Indigenous people who are 18 and over, and individuals who have been classified as “clinically extremely vulnerable” to book appointments for a vaccine.

“The parallel, worker-focused program remains a priority, and scheduling of vaccines will resume as more vaccine becomes available,” the statement said.

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