B.C. health officials announced Thursday most people in the province will now be able to receive a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine within eight weeks of their first.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the announcement at a news conference Thursday, saying everyone in B.C. should be able to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the summer as the province strives to reach Step 4 of its reopening plan by September.
The province is still setting 16 weeks as the maximum interval between doses.
So far, Henry said, three million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C.
Henry said that some people who received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine may receive a second dose of Pfizer because of ongoing challenges with supplies of Moderna. She said advice is coming for people who received a first dose of AstraZeneca on which vaccine they should receive for their second dose.
“We don’t have all the information yet but we expect to have that very soon,” she said. “We will have enough of the AstraZeneca vaccine to provide second doses for everybody who wants that.”
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Second doses are now being administered to long-term care home residents and staff. As of Thursday, people aged 70 and above and people who are clinically vulnerable will be invited to book second dose appointments. People who received their first dose through community clinics in hot spots will also receive their second dose within eight weeks.
Henry said anyone who received their vaccine before April 15, before the province’s online vaccine registration system was launched, should register online to receive an email or text notification of their second dose appointment.
B.C. will also begin allowing indoor faith services of up to 50 people and overnight camps for youth will be allowed this summer, she said. The new rules around indoor faith services apply to small funerals and baptisms, but not weddings.
Weddings remain subject to “organized gathering” requirements, which were outlined by the province on Tuesday.
378 new COVID-19 cases
Health officials also announced 378 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as well as seven more deaths.
The news conference comes on the heels of Wednesday’s count of 250 cases, bringing the seven-day rolling average of new cases to its lowest point since early November. Hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive care in B.C. are also down compared to last week.
Due to the decline in cases and the rising number of British Columbians who have been vaccinated against the virus, the province has laid out a four-step reopening plan that could see people socializing normally again as early as September.
As of now, residents can once again dine indoors, hit the gym for low-intensity workouts, play outdoor sports and hold faith-based gatherings in person — though all of those activities still have to happen on a smaller scale with safety protocols in place.
If the data trends in the right direction, restrictions on travel within B.C. could be lifted in Step 2 — around June 15, at the earliest. Travelling within Canada could be acceptable by Step 3, around July 1.
Cancelled surgeries resuming
Health Minister Adrian Dix also said during Thursday’s live news briefing that surgeries that were cancelled during the third wave are set to resume by June 7 and patients will be contacted to rebook.
On April 26, as COVID-19 cases surged, nine hospitals in the Lower Mainland postponed non-urgent surgeries.
Dix said that 97 per cent of the surgeries in B.C. that had been cancelled since the start of the pandemic have now been completed.
Patients who require urgent surgeries, patients who have waited more than twice the recommended wait time, and patients where no overnight stay is required will be prioritized.
Officials have said B.C. is on pace to beat its July 1 timeline to get a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all eligible residents.
Children between the ages of 12 and 17, about 310,000 people in B.C., can also register through the online portal. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was recently approved for use in children of that age group.