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B.C. health minister says review underway after doctors jump vaccine queue

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's health minister says it's "very disappointing" that some doctors in the Vancouver region jumped the queue to get a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's health minister says it's "very disappointing" that some doctors in the Vancouver region jumped the queue to get a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Adrian Dix said Wednesday the issue was detected through a systems review and that everyone is expected to follow the rules on the priority list for immunization in order to first protect those most at risk of becoming infected.

"There are cases that have been determined by Vancouver Coastal Health and we'll be taking the appropriate action," he told a news conference. "Obviously, to the extent that it's a human resources question, that won't be happening publicly, but we're reviewing it right now."

The issue came to light in a memo to staff at the regional health authority and Providence Health Care, which operates three hospitals, several long-term care homes, a hospice and two clinics.

Vaccines administered through Vancouver Coastal Health are being tracked through a single provincial database, which allows for the identification of everyone who has received the first dose at any vaccine clinic, the memo says.

"Through the system, it has come to our attention that there have been instances in which physicians have attended our clinics and received the second dose of vaccine before they were invited or permitted to do so. These instances will be investigated and may result in disciplinary action."

The memo says that at the direction of the provincial health officer and the Health Ministry, first doses are being offered only to high-priority health-care workers and vulnerable people and that a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine will be administered at about 35 days.

Dr. Penny Ballem, chair of Vancouver Coastal Health, whom Dix introduced Wednesday as a new member of the province's team overseeing COVID-19 vaccine operation, called the queue-jumping matter "serious."

'"Fortunately, it's a very small number of people and we hope that this is not anything that we will see a recurrence of," said Ballem, a former deputy health minister in B.C.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said reports of administrative staff getting the vaccine in another health authority may have involved clinics calling people on a list to use up doses that would otherwise have gone to waste.

"Each health authority, every clinic, has a plan for the opportunistic use of the doses when they come near the end of a six-hour period when they need to be used," Henry said, adding administrators who received leftover vaccines have included nurses who are part of teams that go to long-term care homes to manage outbreaks.

"For the most part, things are going really, really well and people are doing the right thing," Henry said. "One of the things we're focusing on is giving everybody a good idea on when their turn will come up for being in line for the vaccine."

Dix said the province has used up all of its available supply of vaccine and was expected to get more deliveries later Wednesday.

The broader segment of the population, beyond those who are most vulnerable, can expect to be immunized as of April when B.C. is scheduled to get about 2.6 million doses of vaccine, he said.

Six million more doses could be delivered between July and September, excluding supplies from the federal government's recent announcement of an order of another 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines have also not been factored into what the province is expecting to receive.

Dix said the province will make its vaccine supply numbers public by posting information on the BC Centre for Disease Control website, similar to its dashboard that provides information on COVID-19 infections around the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press