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Can B.C. reopen by the fall? Not with current COVID-19 vaccine plan, researchers say

Last Updated Apr 22, 2021 at 6:57 am PDT

Syringes and disinfectant wipes that will be used at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee, Ontario, on Monday March 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

SFU researchers say vaccinating children against COVID-19 may be one key to ending measures like physical distancing

Report from SFU finds B.C.'s current vaccine plan isn't enough to get province reopening by September without spike

Report recommends vaccinating children, tackling vaccine hesitancy, keeping social distancing past fall

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A new report suggests B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination plan isn’t enough to see life return to normal by fall.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University find the province simply will not have inoculated enough British Columbians by September, according to the current plan, to reopen at that point without the number of cases rising substantially.

They believe vaccinating children may be one of the keys to ending measures like physical distancing.

The research points out that when B.C.’s current vaccination plans are finished, “a substantial portion of the population will be unprotected by vaccination,” including children (for whom COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved), adults who decline the shot, and “those for whom the vaccine did not prevent infection.”

The modelling suggests the province’s current plan will only protect 51 per cent of the population, with all adults who want the vaccine getting their second dose by the fall. That is well short of the 60 to 70 per cent needed for effective herd immunity.

That assumes 80 per cent of B.C.’s adults get vaccinated, that it will remain effective against variants, and that immunity to COVID doesn’t diminish over time.

Vaccinating children could easily bump up the number of those immunized to over 60 per cent of the population, the report suggests. However, it notes it’s unlikely we would be able to get children as young as 10 inoculated by September, given the timeline for regulatory approval.

“We turn to exploration of the severity and risk breakdown of the post-September peak if we reopen after vaccination is complete up to vaccine acceptance,” the report reads. “We find that under our baseline vaccine efficiency assumptions, even after most of the rollout is complete, we will not be in a position to reopen without seeing rising cases; in other words we will not have reached ‘herd immunity.'”

Vaccines are only administered to people who want them, and none of those currently in use in Canada are approved for children.

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“The difficulty is that children, adults who decline the vaccine, and adults for whom the vaccine did not prevent infection are numerous enough that the pandemic will unfold among them once restrictions are lifted,” the report reads, adding this is the risk if we substantially relax measures after vaccine rollout is complete without these groups having received a jab.

“This is under optimistic assumptions that immunity does not wane, that those who have recovered are not at all susceptible to reinfection, and that VOC for which vaccines are less effective than current estimates for the mRNA vaccines are not circulating,” the report continues.

Currently, the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are approved for people 18 and older only. Pfizer is approved for use in people 16 years of age and older, though it has applied to Health Canada for use in children as young as 12.

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In addition to vaccinating children, the report suggests tackling vaccine hesitancy, or keeping social distancing in effect past fall — or a combination of all three — could also be solutions.

Researchers add that they have not accounted for imported cases or things like waning immunity, noting they “optimistically assume” that people who have recovered are completely protected against reinfection, as are those who have been fully vaccinated.