Jan. 17, 2021

Determining priorities for Coronavirus vaccine distribution

UPDATE – B.C. health officials have released the vaccine priority process since since the column was written. CLICK HERE.

The front of the line for Coronavirus vaccines is not physical distancing – it’s getting more crowded each day with groups and interests insisting they should be at the front of the line, ahead of others. Their insistence on preferential treatment is getting some mild push back, but nobody wants to be the cruel meany.

I picked some groups at random, there are others:

First Nations priority makes perfect sense because they live in close quarters, thus the risk of spreading any infection is greater. This is simple mathematics and nothing to do with preferential treatment for any other reason. Where the greatest risk exists is where the focus should be.

Then there was another group representing Downs Syndrome. That sounds absolutely reasonable as well.

Long-term care facilities bring up the issue of Dementia in their facilities where it is extremely difficult to isolate anyone from the rest of the population. These residents wander and they need social connection and physical touch, leading them to enter other patients' rooms or common areas where they could contract or transmit the virus, say doctors and advocates. Forced isolation is not a solution.

From the beginning of the pandemic, front line workers were recognized as a top priorities, as they should be. That, however, brought in the question of whether patients should come ahead of the health providers. A chicken-and-egg situation. It's not a question of who is more worthy than anyone else.

The one group that raised eyebrows in the public domain was a federal cabinet minister insisting that prisoners be given the vaccine ahead of prison staff. A classic case of putting the cart before the horse. He should give his head a shake – prisoners are already in isolation by the very fact that they cannot come and go as they please. If anyone in prison contracts the virus it has to be brought into the institution by someone – staff come and go at every shift change.

In some areas elected officials actually suggest they were essential enough to be sent to the head of the line. That comes from being at the head of the line at the public trough for so long. Then again, earlier vaccinations could qualify them for the next flight to some exotic vacation destination.

The further lineup is likely to be determined by demographics – the older the sooner they get into the system. That has made sense from the beginning when there were so many outbreaks in seniors’ homes. Many of them died. However, the infection rate has been shifting lower in age as time goes by. Children were not considered at risk, and young people were also considered relatively immune. That’s no longer the case, the age gap is shrinking.

Perhaps more than about distribution of the vaccines and to whom, and when, it could come down to supply rather than demand. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the reduction in shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Canada will have a significant effect. The limited supply is because of a delay of shipments announced by the pharmaceutical giant will affect vaccination plans through February and March in B.C. The shortage could mean that health officials have to revisit the 35-day gap between providing the first and second doses of the vaccine, he said. 

That interrupted delivery of vaccines to Canada from Europe is a bump in the road and if that pothole isn’t fixed it will not matter who is at the head of the line. Perhaps the least crowded spot will turn out to be back of the line.