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When Will Canada Start Vaccinating The General Population Against COVID-19?

Provinces kicked off 2021 with more details on who is getting vaccinated and when.

The COVID-19 vaccine is here and every day thousands of doses are administered across Canada.

While we know the key groups getting the shot now — long-term care residents and health-care workers — what about the rest of us? While details vary across the country, provincial health authorities are starting to give us an idea as to when vaccinations will be more widely available.

B.C.’s chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the rollout will constantly evolve in the coming months.

“It is a monumental task. There are many months left to go on this. We are constrained by logistics and by how much vaccine we’re receiving but we’re optimistic,” she said Monday.

Francesca Paceri, a registered pharmacist technician carefully fills the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a vaccine clinic in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2020.
Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Francesca Paceri, a registered pharmacist technician carefully fills the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a vaccine clinic in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2020.

As more vaccines are approved and Canada receives more doses, the nitty-gritty of who gets a shot and when will be ironed out. But each province is approaching it a little differently.

Seniors over 75 in Alberta will be one of the first target groups, while in B.C. the magic age is 80 for the first phases of rollout. As for the general population, politicians and officials across Canada have varying degrees of optimism as to whether it will come before Labour Day.

An important thing to keep in mind is that each province’s definition of everything from “general population” to “phases” is different. They’re still working out which priority groups to address, and these groups may differ from province to province.

“It is a monumental task.”

- Dr. Bonnie Henry

While the federal government is working to ensure equitable distribution of Canada’s vaccines, the provinces get to decide what to do with them. The number of priority groups — and the percentage of the population they make up — may impact how long it takes before the vaccine is opened up to everyone.

Here’s what you need to know about three provinces’ rollout plans.

Ontario

Ontario is taking a three-phase approach to vaccine distribution. The first phase targets long-term care residents and workers, health-care workers and other priority groups and is expected to take until the end of March. Retired general Rick Hillier is heading up the rollout.

“And so by the end of Phase One, we hope to have vaccinated over a million health care workers, and people in the most vulnerable circumstances here in Ontario,” Hillier said last week. “We can’t do it any faster. We don’t have the vaccines coming to us any faster, and if we did we will use them more quickly.”

WATCH: Ontario appoints Hillier to lead vaccine rollout. Story continues below.

After that comes Phase 2, which involves further targeting of key groups like First Nations elders and broader health-care workers. According to Hillier, Ontario aims to have 8.5 million people vaccinated by July, a little over half the province’s population. Then comes Phase 3, which is when the vaccine is broadly available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices like the flu shot.

“That is putting the COVID-19 vaccine into the same category as a shingles vaccine as a flu vaccine, and you can go to your family physician, your family clinic or the pharmacy closest to you, and you would be able to get your vaccine,” he said.

British Columbia

After priority groups are inoculated, B.C. has a simple formula to determine the order for the general population — and age is the magic number.

Like other provinces, B.C. is focusing first on immunizing long-term care workers and residents. Next up will be hospital health-care workers, paramedics, public health workers and people living in remote and isolated First Nations communities.

In February and March, vaccination will expand to seniors over the age of 80 and Indigenous elders over the age of 65. This period will also target people who are homeless or living in shelters and people in correctional facilities and group homes.

Then comes the general population.

“Contingent on supply, our plan is to begin mass vaccination strategy based on age, descending in five year cohorts after our 80 plus priority population is completed,” she said.

That means you can expect a general population roll-out where those aged 75-79 will go first, then 70-74, then 65-69 and so on. That means 25-year-olds like me are going to have to wait our turn.

WATCH: B.C. aims to vaccinate 150,000 people by end of February. Story continues below.

Henry made no guarantees, but she said she hopes that this process can begin as early as March or April, when more doses of vaccine are expected to arrive. She has previously hoped to have vaccines in the arms of most people who want them by September of this year, but on Monday said it will all depend on how many doses they get.

Henry assured British Columbians that the province has the infrastructure in place to mass-administer the vaccine doses they receive.

“We’re looking to our colleagues in primary care, the pharmacists who work with us, immunizers around the province. We talked about some of the nurses and others that work as contact tracers. If we can control our pandemic, then we can reposition people to work on the immunization programs as well,” she said.

Alberta

Alberta has actually vaccinated the most people per capita so far, as of Jan. 4. But according to the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, the general population shouldn’t expect to see their shots until the fall.

Like in other provinces, groups including long-term care workers and residents, as well as health-care workers in departments like respiratory therapy and emergency rooms are first up as part of Phase 1A.

WATCH: Alberta picking up pace on COVID-19 shots. Story continues below.

Phase 1B, which kicks off in February, will target all seniors over the age of 75, elders living in First Nations communities over the age of 65 as well as health-care workers in medical, surgical and COVID-19 units or operating rooms.

Phase 2 will involve other priority groups, expected to be named in the coming weeks. The government expects Phase 2 to last from April until September.

Phase 3 is expected to kick off in September, and that’s the rest of the population. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is expected to provide more details in the coming weeks.

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