B.C. premier, health officials to discuss next steps in COVID immunization plan

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VICTORIA — Health officials have called off the regular COVID-19 briefing in British Columbia as they prepare to update the province's strategy for immunization against the virus.

An advisory from the premier's office Thursday said the briefing by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix was cancelled.

Instead, they will join a news conference Friday with Premier John Horgan and Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading B.C.'s COVID-19 immunization rollout.

The four are expected to comment on the next steps in the immunization program that has been complicated by a hiccup in vaccine supply from Pfizer-BioNTech.

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine the province expected by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production issues.

Two doses of the vaccine are needed to ensure immunity from the virus that causes COVID-19, and Dix said this week that B.C. remains committed to ensuring all those who have had the first shot get a second within 35 days.

Dix and Henry said in a joint statement on Thursday that 104,901 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have already been administered, of which 1,680 are second doses.

B.C. reported 564 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 62,976 since the pandemic began.

Along with the 4,450 active cases of the virus, the province recorded another 15 COVID-19-related deaths.

The statement said community outbreaks and clusters are behind a high number of new cases.

"We need to do everything we can to break the chain of transmission. Right now is the time to do that," it said.

Interior Health said Thursday 215 people in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 1.

It said in a statement that many of the infections are associated with social events or gatherings in Williams Lake, B.C.

Seventy-four of the cases have been identified in people living in nearby First Nations, with one Indigenous community in the Cariboo region dealing with a quarter of its population testing positive for the virus.

Chief Helen Henderson, of the Canim Lake Band, said the community has been in lockdown since Jan. 5, with crowded housing contributing to the outbreak. One elder has died from the virus.

She said there are 60 cases among the 234 people living in the community.

Henderson said all its members have now received a vaccination and she hopes the band is turning the corner on the outbreak.

— With files from CHNL.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 21, 2021.

The Canadian Press