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Opinion: This doctor's strategy helped save B.C. from a U.K. COVID-19 fate

Strategy led to B.C. extending interval between first and second doses
COVID-19 vaccine
A senior male is about to receive a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine. - Photograph via Getty Images

B.C. has so far beat back the worst outcomes associated with the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The root of this success can be traced back to a presentation given in January by a top official from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski, the epidemiology lead of influenza and emerging respiratory pathogens at the BCCDC, initiated an internal debate in B.C. public health about how long the interval should be between two doses of a vaccine.

Faced with low amounts of vaccine doses and an uncertain supply schedule, Skowronski made the case that lengthening the interval would mean more people would get the first dose - and get it much sooner - than if the interval were shorter. The first dose would also provide a high level of protection, so there was no risk to moving to a longer interval.

After weeks of discussion, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on March 1 that B.C. would move to a 16-week interval, a much-longer period than the three-to-seven weeks recommended by Pfizer and Moderna.

Why was Skowronski’s work so important? By adopting her recommendation, B.C. was able to vaccinate far more young people over a shorter period of time than did most other jurisdictions, notably the U.K.

This was critical because in the U.K., the Delta variant is infecting people under the age of 30 at a greater rate than other age groups (as has been the case with COVID-19 generally throughout the pandemic) and it is putting people in hospital at a higher rate than was associated with standard COVID-19.

At this point, the Delta variant is showing up in B.C., but not in large numbers. There is no evidence it is wreaking anywhere near the havoc it is inflicting on the U.K., where it has grown by 80% in the past week, while B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are in decline.

The latest update from the BCCDC shows the Delta variant has actually declined in numbers when it comes to proportionality with other variants of concern. Two weeks ago, it comprised 9% of the variants of concern cases, but last week it slipped back to 6%.

Make no mistake: the Delta variant remains a danger and could indeed spike in number as we ease public health restrictions. The number of COVID-19 cases among people in their 20s may well increase because they are the most social age group with more personal contacts.

In addition, our approved vaccines are not as effective against the Delta variant unless two doses are administered. The flip side to vaccinating so many people so quickly with one dose, of course, is that we have relatively fewer people with two doses.

It is also important to remember that more than 500,000 people aged 18 to 29 in B.C. have received at least one dose of vaccine, a vaccination rate of about 68%. In the U.K., the number of people in the same age group who have received at least one dose has barely exceeded 25%.

Back at the beginning of the vaccine rollout, it was projected that people in their 20s in B.C. would get their first dose in late June or July. Because of the longer interval between doses, and a large increase in vaccine supply, they were able to get their first jab in late April.

As a result, we have so far avoided the U.K. experience with the Delta variant. Thanks in no small part to Skowronski.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.