Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.

B.C. expands priority groups for faster COVID-19 vaccination

Teachers, firefighters, grocery workers included in expanded priority groups set for immunizations in April

Teachers, firefighters and grocery store workers were among an expanded priority group identified for COVID-19 vaccination on a faster timeline, according to an announcement from the province last week.

The expanded priority groups were identified by Dr. Bonnie Henry, following an increase in supply of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine, which is allowing for more front line workers to get their immunizations in April, according to the province’s top doctor.

“The additional supply of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine allows us to strategically target immunizations to maximize the protection of our province,” said Dr. Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “With each person who receives any of our three safe and effective vaccines, we are all that much safer.

“This targeted outreach builds on the momentum we now have with our age-based program to protect those who have been at work every day, without break and without question, for the past year.”

The announcement is welcome news to local organizations who are now included in the priority group, such as the Cranbrook and District Teachers’ Association.

“With regards to the news release of yesterday and that K-12 staff are a part of the essential workers who will receive COVID-19 vaccines come April, on behalf of all the members, this is a welcome relief,” said Connie Merz, the acting president of the CDTA, in a statement.

“BC schools have been on the front-line since last April and teachers, support staff, and others have worked around new timetables, cohort/learning groups, new cleaning practices, PPE, and other new protocols to ensure a safe and a “normal” learning environment for all students. To know that our health and well-being are valued, and getting a vaccine in April, is a much needed bit of relief in what has been an extra-ordinarily stressful year.”

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation has been advocating for inclusion in the priority group, as BCTF president Teri Mooring noted that the coronavirus has made it’s way into schools, even as teaching staff have done everything possible to keep everyone safe in the classroom.

“It has taken tens of thousands of education workers working in tough and stressful conditions to keep schools open, students learning, and parents working,” said Mooring, in a statement. “Teachers and the schools we work in have played a critical role in ensuring a basic sense of normalcy for B.C.’s children and communities.”

Firefighters were also included in that expanded priority group.

Scott Driver, the Director of Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, endorsed the inclusion into the priority group, noting the organization’s role in medical first-response calls.

“We put a lot of effort into advocating on behalf of first responders to make sure that they were considered in the vaccination schedules in the province, but in the end, it was Public Health’s decision as to when and how we would get included,” Driver said.

“So at this point, having an essential service qualification to be included is good news for us. We feel we are part of the public service pre-hospital health care team in our first responder role and in that, we want to care for ourselves and our customers as best we can, and if the vaccinations do that for us, then we’re more than happy to go do our part.”

B.C. is expecting 340,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of May, which will be targeted to priority groups that also include other sectors such as child care staff, postal workers, bylaw officers, manufacturing and warehousing employees ad more.

Additionally, AstraZeneca is also being deployed to sites such as food processing plants, agricultural operations and large industrial camps with close-knit accommodations for workers.

Relevant employees with agencies and organizations that are identified in the updated priority groups set for vaccination will be contacted directly to book immunization appointments. Those in the priority group should not call the public phone lines that are associated with the age-based vaccine rollout.

The public age-based vaccination rollout with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines continues ahead of schedule, and anyone born between 1942-1951 (ages 79-70) and Indigenous peoples born in 1966 and before (55 years and over) will soon be able to call into Interior Health’s dedicated booking line at 1-877-740-7747 to set up an immunization appointment.

This week’s public eligibility schedule is as follows:

• age 79 and Indigenous peoples 55 and older – Saturday, March 20 at noon

• age 78 – Monday, March 22 at noon

• age 77 – Tuesday, March 23 at noon

• age 76 – Thursday, March 25 at noon

• age 75 – Saturday, March 27 at noon

Cranbrook Townsman