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'We are a long way' from achieving herd immunity, says B.C.'s top doctor

Last Updated Jan 8, 2021 at 7:40 am PST

FILE - B.C. receives shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (CityNews)

There's still more that needs to be done before we can get back to the 'old normal', B.C.'s top doctor says

End to pandemic hinges on herd immunity, achieved when 60 to 75 per cent of population is immune to virus: Dr. Henry

B.C. focused on vaccinating those at higher risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19 right now

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A return to the old normal may feel within reach with the rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 in B.C. but we still have a way to go.

An end to the pandemic hinges on herd immunity, which is achieved when 60 to 75 per cent of the population is immune to the virus.

“We are a long way from that,” said Provincial Health Officer Doctor Bonnie Henry during Thursday’s COVID-19 update after extending a ban on social gatherings by a month.

“That’s either people are immune because they’ve been immunized or because they have had natural infection — and we’re a long way from that anywhere in the world.”

Given the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses B.C. is expecting to get during the first few months of the year, the province will see only a small population immune by the spring.

“The amount of vaccine that we’re expecting — and we still don’t have a guarantee yet of that — but in Canada and B.C. we have a limited amount of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines that will be coming in the coming months,” Henry added.

“It’s not enough to achieve herd immunity, it’s about little under 10 per cent of our population.”

This is why the province’s priority during the first few months of the year is not achieving herd immunity but rather vaccinating those who are at higher risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19.

“We are not in a place where we’re even striving for [herd immunity] yet because of the limited amount of vaccine that we have in this first few months, quarter one of 2021,” said Henry.

“Our focus in this phase, in quarter one, is using those vaccines to protect those people who are most at risk of getting ill and dying from COVID-19 and making sure that we’re protecting our health care system so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed.”

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But there is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Henry says achieving herd immunity will be more of a priority during the spring, when more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are available and two more vaccines against COVID-19 are approved.

“There’s the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but they are not yet approved for use and we do not yet have any indication that we would get them before March,” added Henry.

“Once we get those vaccines online, they are ones that are much more usable in terms of they are fridge-stable — that’s our usual immunization programs. So we can start aiming towards that community immunity once we start having enough vaccine and enough types of vaccines that we can get it out to pharmacists, and physicians officers and workplaces and others.”

Henry extended a Provincial Health Order on gatherings to Feb. 6 on Thursday, saying the COVID-19 curve is trending upwards in the province. In addition to the extension, Henry announced 761 new cases of the virus, as well as eight more deaths.