Dr. Bonnie Henry is joined by Dr. Penny Ballem as they arrive to talk about phase 2 in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Dr. Bonnie Henry is joined by Dr. Penny Ballem as they arrive to talk about phase 2 in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

UPDATE: Surrey teachers to be vaccinated by April 1

Surrey is, ‘by far’ the highest risk area for COVID-19: Dr. Bonnie Henry

Surrey Schools superintendent Jordan Tinney says teachers in the district are to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Tinney tweeted on Tuesday that vaccinations would start March 24, with dozens of schools included in the district’s priority areas.

He said the hope is all school-based staff would have their first dose by April 1.

“With almost 9,000 school-based staff in our district, we made a decision to begin offering appointments to schools in zones that have the highest rates of community transmission first,” he said in an email issued to district staff.

Tinney said priority will be all schools in the Panorama-Sullivan, City Centre and Newton-Fleetwood areas.

He added only school-based staff are currently eligible for the vaccine.

Tinney made the announcement the day after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talked about the virus risk in Surrey.

Henry said the number of cases in Surrey has prompted health officials to consider giving vaccine priority to Surrey educators over other teachers in the province.

Surrey is, “by far,” the highest risk area in the province, Henry said.

“We don’t have enough vaccine to do everyone in the school system right now, so we will be prioritizing where the risk is greatest,” Henry said.

Last week, officials announced frontline workers, including police, firefighters, child-care, grocery store, postal and K-12 education staff would be getting the vaccine in April.

Henry said teachers are among the focus of immunization due to the disruption caused to society when cohorts of students are requested to isolate. She said school COVID-19 safety plans are effective, and that COVID-19 cases related to the school setting is reflective of the community.

“It’s been particularly a concern in the Surrey school district where we see exposures in schools and it’s very disruptive,” she said.

Henry noted that while the province was looking at prioritizing Surrey teachers, “all of the educators in the school system are a priority group because of the role they play in the education system.”

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said it’s “such a relief” to learn educators and school staff in the Surrey school district “will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the coming days.”

“As we know, Surrey has been a hot spot for COVID-19 transmission in both community and school settings.”

Henry noted an increase of the B117 (U.K.) variant of the virus, which is more transmissible.

Workplaces and indoor gatherings continue to be the leading venue where the virus is spread.

She also said there’s been a “concerning” increase in the number of younger people ending up in hospital or intensive care due to COVID-19.

“What we’re seeing is that people in our community, younger age groups, requiring hospitalization and needing to be hospitalized for longer periods of time,” Henry said.

So far, about 10.5 per cent of B.C.’s adult population has been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus – a percentage far below what’s needed for herd immunity and that is heavily skewed towards long-term care home residents, seniors and people in isolated communities.

Henry noted that while the risk is still much higher for seniors and other older people, the younger people who are ending up in hospital are requiring more time in the ICU.

“We have seen several young people in their 30s and 40s who’ve unfortunately, tragically, been severely affected by COVID.”

Meanwhile, RCMP officials have described their inclusion in Monday’s vaccine-priority announcement as “great news… for all our officers and employees who have been working in these unforeseen circumstances across the province, on and off the frontlines, throughout the pandemic.”

“We don’t yet have the specifics as to how the vaccine will be rolled out, to whom and when,” said Eric Stubbs, assistant commissioner of criminal operations for the B.C. RCMP, in an emailed statement.

“We look for learning more in the upcoming days, and once we have a greater understanding, we will ensure that our employees are notified first.”

White Rock Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls – noting his officers have not stopped responding during the pandemic – said having frontline officers protected with a vaccine “will also protect the community and the officer’s families from transmission.”

“The officers don’t always have a choice to maintain physical distancing and we interact with many high risk populations and are frequently present in the hospital emergency room for prolonged periods of time,” Pauls told Peace Arch News by email.

“It will be good news once everyone in the community has access to the vaccine.”

– with files from Tracy Holmes