Moving targets - The Orca

Moving targets

Rob Shaw 2

Rob Shaw: BC’s vaccination plan keeps changing – which is good, but does lead to some confusion. There will be plenty more adjustments ahead.

B.C.’s vaccination plans continue to change on an almost daily basis, leading to some confusion about who should dial into the call centre, and when.

So far, it’s hard to be too upset, because it’s meant more people getting their vaccinations earlier than expected.

Still, it’s clear now that the province is in for a tumultuous next few months, with shifting dates, times and eligibility, as vaccines and circumstances change wildly across the country and world.

It didn’t look this way only two weeks ago.

That’s when Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix unveiled a very strict and contained mass vaccination plan, with people split up into five-year age cohorts and everyone assigned a specific week to call in and book a vaccination appointment.

The message from both was clear: don’t cut in line, don’t call in early, and don’t worry: Please, just stick to your assigned date.

Then, the dates started changing.

Last Wednesday, Dix abruptly announced he was bumping up the 85-90-year-old group four days early. On Sunday, the next group, 80-85, was told they were up almost a week early.

That’s led to a ripple effect where virtually all the cohort appointment times have changed, for every age group, right up to and including the 20-year-olds originally slated for September.

Provincial officials are expected to update us all with new timelines this week.

But basically, the plan has been blown to smithereens…in a good way.

“I think slowing things down would make people confused, but speeding things up is, if anything, a more positive thing,” Dr. Henry said Monday when I asked her about the subject at the media briefing.

“We are adapting to what we’re getting and that’s been the way that we’ve tried to do this. We wanted to set expectations and make sure that we had the vaccine that we needed on hand, the clinics ready to go, the number of vaccinators and everyone else that’s involved in the clinics ready to go. But as we get into the momentum, we want to increase rapidly.

“That’s what we are trying to do and trying to make sure that we’re keeping pace with the vaccine that we’re receiving.”

Key to all of this is B.C.’s sudden supply of vaccine – more than provincial officials had counted on when they crafted their plan March 1.

Dr. Henry said Ottawa – which purchases vaccines for the provinces and faced an international shortage in February – has started front-end loading shipments that weren’t expected until later this year.

“That’s good news for us and what we need to do is adapt to try and use that up and get a vaccine into arms as quickly as possible to as many people as possible,” she said.

“I think it is important for us to speed things up as we can. We are being very cautious because we have seen, as the minister mentioned, we’ve seen before where vaccine shipments have been delayed for reasons that we don’t know, and, of course, we were a little gun shy through much of February because we had such small quantities of a vaccine for a number of weeks.

“But we’re more and more confident that not only are we going to receive what we expect to receive, but it’s actually increasing.”

B.C. is getting more vaccine than it expected right up until the end of March, said Dix.

Yet some weeks, shipments arrive on different days, leaving public health officials to roll with what arrives, when it arrives, and use as quickly as possible.

“We need to adapt to that to ensure that we are getting vaccine into people’s arms as fast as we can,” said Dix.

All of this is contributing to the abrupt changes in dates and availability for vaccinations. And there will undoubtedly be a litany of changes yet to come, as scientists and pharmaceutical companies tweak the science and manufacturing processes of what are currently the most valuable substances in the world.

For example, Canadian health officials are reportedly on the verge of allowing the AstraZeneca to be administered to those over the age of 65 this week, opening up potentially more changes to B.C.’s plans.

The key is to be nimble and quick to respond if it means you can get more people vaccinated in a faster way, said Dix.

So, expect B.C’s vaccination plan to be an ever-evolving series of changing dates and eligibility criteria.

“When we see opportunities to accelerate, we want to accelerate and set appointments,” said Dix. “And that is precisely what we are doing.”

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.