VICTORIA -- B.C. health officials say that approximately 1,000 food production workers on Vancouver Island will soon receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine doses are part of the province's plan to use AstraZeneca vaccines on frontline workers in parallel with its age-based distribution plan.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is well suited for this program because it is "fridge stable" and does not need to be kept in extremely cold temperatures, making it easier to transport to specific groups across the province, according to health officials.

One thousand people across four food production facilities on the island will be receiving the vaccine, according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

The four facilities were identified as a priority group to receive the vaccine based on the province's COVID-19 workplace task group.

Priority groups are selected if they have ongoing and repeated outbreaks, if they are in a workplace setting that makes it difficult to use PPE or social distance, or if it is a workplace associated with congregate housing for employees.

Health officials identified other frontline industries that are slated to receive a vaccine next, alongside older cohorts. The other industries are:

  • First responders
  • K-12 education staff
  • Child care staff
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Wholesale and warehousing workers
  • Staff in congregate housing
  • Correctional facilities staff
  • Cross-border transport workers
  • Quarantine officers
  • Postal workers
  • Bylaw officers
  • Grocery workers
  • Outbreak sites

The province estimates that there are about 322,000 workers across these industries in B.C.

The vaccines will be administered through a mix of on-site clinics and mass vaccination clinics.

B.C. health restrictions

While vaccine distribution is being ramped up, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry dashed hopes of social restrictions easing in the spring.

"There's going to be very little change in the next two months," she said, adding that the province has been "grumbling along at a very high level (of transmission) in our community" over the past several months.

However, she said that social restrictions could look different this summer, if current vaccine estimates hold.

"By June, if we are able to deliver what we are looking at – if we're able to keep a third wave from taking off – we can look at easing restrictions," she said.

Health officials currently estimate that all British Columbians will be able to receive a vaccine by the end of June.

In the short term, the province is looking at easing restrictions for small indoor religious services and youth sports in April.

Henry added that health officials are looking at increasing visitation at long-term care homes, now that most residents have been vaccinated, though no timeline was provided.

B.C.'s top doctor has previously said that restrictions will be lifted in a phased approach, like turning a dial rather than flipping a switch. 

Further information on why priority sectors were selected for early vaccination can be found in the slides below.