A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

COVID-19 immunizations set to begin for age-based cohorts

Eligible seniors can book appointments through a call centre starting Monday, March 8.

Eligible seniors in age-based cohorts will be able to book appointments for COVID19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, with immunizations set to begin a week later according to Interior Health.

The first cohort will begin with seniors who are 90 years of age or older (1931) and Indigenous people 65 years of age (1956) or older, as well as elders, who are encouraged to book an appointment by calling 1-877-740-7747, seven days a week between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. (MST).

On, or after Monday, March 15, seniors who are 85 years of age (1936) or older are encouraged to book vaccine appointments, and seniors 80 years (1941) of age or older can start making appointments on or after Monday, March 22.

The two-week staggered approach by age-cohorts is designed to accommodate demand and call volumes, according to Karen Bloemink, vice-president of pandemic response with Interior Health, who spoke to media during a virtual press conference on March 7.

“We do anticipate many callers, especially within the first few days,” said Bloemink. “This is why we are asking people to stick to the schedule … and call in — in stages — based on their birth year.

“We would like to ask the public for patience with our call centre while we work through our first few days of operations and reassure that there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants an immunization. Call volumes will be closely monitored, and if there’s some delays initially, we will be working in the background to adjust and respond quickly.”

If an eligible senior misses their opening window for a vaccine, they can still call and book an appointment, Bloemink said.

“We’re just asking for people not to call in to the call centre ahead of their eligibility date,” she added.

A family member or support individual can book appointments on behalf of an eligible senior. Call centre representatives will require information such as a legal name, birth date, postal code, personal health number (can be found on the back of BC drivers licences or BC Care Card) and current contact information (email address or phone number that can receive text messages).

Call centres will never ask for financial information.

Interior Health also unveiled a community list of vaccination locations; in Cranbrook, the curling centre will serve as one location, opening up on March 15 and will operate seven days a week. In Kimberley, Centennial Hall will serve as the location — but will only be open five days a week.

With four vaccines now approved by Health Canada, vaccine capacity and supply is ramping up, as Bloemink assured that there will be enough immunizations for those who want one, given recent national incidents of delayed or reduced shipments promised by manufacturers in February.

“We are confident that anyone who does want to receive an immunization, will have the opportunity to do that over the targeted course of our immunization plan, starting with the populations that we’re talking about today, which is the over-80 and the over-65 Aboriginal populations,” said Bloemink.

Those eligible at this stage won’t be able to choose which vaccine they receive — however, seniors will be immunized with either the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, according to Dr. Albert De Villiers, the chief medical health officer for Interior Health.

The province’s immunization plan is broken down into four phases, of which B.C. recently moved into Phase 2. In Phase 2, the province expects to immunize 400,000 people between March to mid-April.

“While the phone lines open tomorrow, we are in the first few months of our vaccination efforts and this will be ongoing,” said Bloemink. “Immunizations will continue to be available to people in British Columbia for weeks and months to come, so we’d like to reassure everyone that they should not worry that they’ll miss their chance to get a vaccine, if they want to get a vaccine.”

Priority groups for vaccination under Phase 2 also include hospital staff, general practitioners and medical specialists that weren’t included in the first phase, vulnerable populations living and working in select congregated settings and staff in community home support and nursing services.

Those groups don’t require a call-in to book an appointment for immunization.

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