By Nikki Jamieson
Westwind Weekly News
With the first COVID-19 vaccine approved, the most vulnerable populations and front-line workers will get access to it first.
A telephone town hall was held on Dec. 8, where the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, Doug Schweitzer, was joined by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Marcia Johnson, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Tourism, Martin Long, to discuss new COVID-19 restrictions and how businesses can operate safely during the pandemic, where they faced several questions regarding testing and vaccines.
One attendee asked if municipalities can prioritize rapid COVID-19 testing and provide it in rural areas so that people who don’t have COVID-19 can keep working.
Johnson said that a lot of the rapid testing that is available in Canada currently has given to the provinces for use for health care in rural areas, although over the next few months more and more options will be available.
Right now, the rapid testing still requires someone to take and test a sample, and is not something you can take home and do. The rapid testing currently available in Alberta is being deployed to Alberta Health Services. But while it is good at finding positive cases — four out of every five people — it doesn’t mean that those who test negative can go back to their usual day-to-day activities.
“If you’re positive, you’re positive, so it’s pretty good at doing that,” said Johnson. “What it’s not so good at is making sure that the negatives are really negative, so if you test negative, I’ve already said that four in five test positive, it means that one in five is actually positive, but it comes out negative. So the negative tests, which I think (the attendee) is alluding to, aren’t as useful as you’d wish right now. But again, things are going to change quite quickly I would suggest over the next couple of months.”
Another attendee asked if workers in food processing plants are considered essential workers and are included in the early rollout for the vaccine. Schweitzer said if you are in Canada lawfully working or as a resident, you “are treated the same as anybody in our society” and have access to the health care system, with Johnson confirming they would get access to the vaccine. For the vaccine rollout, they will start with front-line health care workers, along with the most vulnerable populations, such as people in care facilities and have comorbidities, and as more vaccines become available, they will bring the age bracket down and allow people with risk factors to get it. If all goes as planned, Schweitzer said by the end of the first quarter, about 10 per cent of the population, the most vulnerable, will have the vaccine, with another 30 per cent by the end of the second quarter, until everyone can get it.
Another attendee asked, considering that the Pfizer vaccine is a two-shot vaccine, when does immunity take effect and how long does it last.
Johnson said as it takes two doses to be effective, “we think” you may get a little bit of protection after the first dose, but because it is such a new vaccine, you need both doses in order to be protected, taken about three weeks apart. While other COVID-19 vaccines — which are not approved as of press deadline — also require two doses, Johnson said they know more daily about the coming vaccines.
One attendee asked if it was possible to have an on-site program to vaccinate all staff in a food processing plant to ensure they are maintaining maximum safety. Schweitzer said while they sometimes do vaccination plans in workplaces like that for flus, for the COVID-19 vaccine, the federal government is the one that brought it and is supplying it to the provinces, and will come in weekly batches for distribution to more vulnerable, close contact and high risk populations.
“It’s going to be going to front line health care workers, the most vulnerable, out of the gate. People in care facilities that are elderly, with health conditions, and then slowly we are going to work down the list of people that are older. They are clearly more vulnerable to severe outcomes and death, so we’re slowly going to work down that list,” said Schweitzer. “I think it would be difficult for a workplace environment to do that type of a frame, so I don’t think that will be part of the plan.”
One attendee asked how many people will need to take the COVID-19 vaccine before they are satisfied that there is enough for herd immunity to take effect.
“Generally, when you look at what it would take to have herd immune for COVID-19, you’re talking anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent. So when you hear those numbers, you know we don’t have a hard, fast number to say,” said Johnson. “Mr. Schweitzer had mentioned a few times that the highest priority are the people that most severe effects from COVID-19. We really do want to get those people protected because, that’s exactly right, they’re the ones that actually die from this, and their families therefor suffer a lot. Not only that, it is a big driver of hospital bed and ICU. Protecting that group, which is particularly those over 80, and then the risk goes down and we go down to the younger populations.
“Herd immunity will, as I said, take a lot more than that.”