Canada

COVID-19: B.C. ready for vaccine distribution by January, says provincial health officer

371 people have died from COVID-19 since March, including a record 13 reported on Wednesday

VICTORIA, B.C.: November 19, 2020 - Health Minister Adrian Dix and Chief Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provide an update on COVID-19 on November 19, 2020. Courtesy of B.C. Provincial Government / Photo credit Don Craig [PNG Merlin Archive]

Rapid COVID-19 testing is on its way in B.C. and the province will be vaccine-ready by January, the provincial health officer said Wednesday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry reported a record day for COVID-19 deaths in B.C. with 13 deaths between noon on Tuesday and noon on Wednesday, with 738 new cases.

Henry said the federal government had given the province 131 ID Now rapid-test machines that can provide a result in less than 15 minutes, and 27,000 test kits. B.C. also has 500,000 COVID-19 antibody tests.

“We are expecting more of the tests to arrive, both the machines and the test kits, in the coming months,” Henry said. “And we will be looking at how to best deploy them across the province to rapidly detect outbreaks.”

Henry said these rapid tests still required a nasopharyngeal swab, which was uncomfortable for the person being tested.

These were not same test used by the film industry in B.C. or by the NHL during the playoffs.

Henry said the downside of a rapid test was that it could not detect COVID when the person had no symptoms.

“Right now, we’re limited in how we can use these,” she said.

“They are also only licensed for use in people who are symptomatic – so people who have symptoms. And we know that even in that case, they’re not as sensitive. They’re not as able to pick up the virus as the regular NAT tests that we do on an ongoing basis that go to the lab.”

She said a promising development was a self administered swab that would go into the nose, but not all the way back to the throat. Rapid testing still requires a health-worker to insert the swab, she said.

Henry said the bright light in this second wave of B.C.’s COVID fight was that vaccines were in sight.

Two vaccines have received emergency use approval – Pfizer and Moderna – and both have deals in place to supply the Canadian government.

She said a B.C. COVID-19 vaccine program has been created and she was confident the B.C. Centre for Disease Control would be ready to distribute either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in January 2021.

“We know, for example, that the Pfizer vaccine will come in frozen trays of 975 doses and it has to be reconstituted,” Henry said.

The federal government has not revealed how the vaccines will distributed to the provinces.

“But we expect and what we’re planning for is first week of January, week 1 of 2021, to be ready to deliver the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And we will have phases after that.”

COVID-19 cases in Fraser Health were underreported between Nov. 17-24 by 255 cases due to data transfer errors, Henry said.

The reporting gaps between the laboratories and the health authority during those days were detected on Tuesday.

Some days were under-reported and some were over-reported, with and overall 255 cases not reported. The new data will appear on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website within two days, Henry said.

Fraser Health has been a COVID hotbed in B.C., accounting for around 70 per cent of cases.

There have been 108 deaths so far in November, mostly in Fraser Health.

Henry said that of the 7,616 active cases of the disease, 294 people were in hospital including 61 in intensive care.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. hospital beds were 72.3 per cent full, while 66 per cent of intensive care beds are occupied.

Henry said there had been no new health-care facility outbreaks. There are 57 active health-care outbreaks, with 52 in long-term care homes. There were no new community outbreaks reported in B.C., while the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster has been declared over.

Henry said her office was reviewing its tougher COVID-19 restrictions as the Dec. 7 expiry loomed.

“We are looking at every option that we have. We’ve never had a lockdown in that sense here in B.C., and we are looking at the important things that we can do to make a difference where transmission is happening.

“We are going through all of the options over the next ten days to two weeks. So by Dec. 7, we will know what we need to do from here.”

dcarrigg@postmedia.com

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