P.E.I.’s chief public health officer said age is the key factor that will determine who will get the COVID-19 vaccine first in P.E.I.
Speaking before a standing committee meeting on Wednesday, Dr. Heather Morrison spoke about the province’s plan to roll out the vaccine in its second phase. Beginning in early April, vaccinations will be administered to some essential workers, such as police and firefighter staff. But Morrison said vaccinating Islanders over the age of 70 will be the priority.
Morrison said that individuals over the age of 70 have accounted for 89 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths in Canada since the start of the pandemic.
“Everybody is important. We will continue to emphasize that,” Morrison said. “Age is such a strong indicator of severe outcomes. The rest of the provinces are starting to look at trying to focus on age as opposed to other factors."
There has been an ongoing debate in Canada about which workers, including teachers, grocery store clerks and restaurant staff, should be placed early in the queue for vaccinations.
Vaccine supply is still limited in Canada and will remain so until at least spring.
Green MLA Trish Altass asked about when service workers could expect to be vaccinated.
"When we had the small outbreak that caused the circuit breaker before Christmas, we saw there the vulnerability of service workers – for themselves as well as possible spread to others," Altass said.
Morrison said the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which established the guidelines on vaccination priorities, is now emphasizing people aged 70+ more than essential workers.
"Initially NACI had just referenced all essential workers. And I think they're going to be moving away from some of that language around all essential workers and focus more on age," Morrison said.
Morrison said there are often more chronic conditions in this age group.
Morrison confirmed P.E.I. will not receive next week’s supply of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The pharmaceutical company has announced it would suspend its shipment of vaccines to Canada next week, pledging to make up the shortfall later. Morrison said this would not affect plans to administer a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to all long-term care residents and staff by the end of this week.
“It's not going to change our roll-out at this point in time," Morrison said.
P.E.I. plans to have enough doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to administer the required two doses to 12,000-15,000 people by the end of March.
Between now and then, P.E.I. will be prioritizing vaccinations within long-term care homes, for frontline health-care workers, for adults in Indigenous communities and for people over the age of 80. P.E.I. has also included truck drivers and other rotational workers in the first phase, along with caregiver family members in this phase.
Beginning during the second phase of vaccination in April, the province expects to receive shipments of 4,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines each week. By mid-June this is expected to increase to 8,000 doses per week.
If Health Canada approves other vaccines, such as the Astra Zeneca vaccine, P.E.I. could expect additional doses.
Phase 2 of the vaccine will involve all priority groups remaining from Phase 1, as well as other health-care workers and seniors over the age of 70. Some essential workers will be included in this phase, but P.E.I. public health officials have not defined which workers will be included in this phase of the vaccine effort. This phase will run from April to June.
By the third phase of the roll-out, the province plans to make the vaccine available to everyone who wants it. This will begin in the summer.
P.E.I.’s goal is to immunize 80 per cent of the population over the age of 18.
Stu Neatby is The Guardian's political reporter.