People line up for hours to get AstraZeneca vaccine as B.C. drops age eligibility to 30

A four-hour lineup snaked outside the Poirier Forum in Coquitlam, B.C., on Tuesday, when the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine was made available for the first time to people over the age of 30 in “hot spot” communities.

Alexis Hidlebaugh learned about the clinic in the suburb just east of Vancouver in a text from her landlord and rushed to the Poirier Forum with her husband, Mark Bahnman.

“We checked the website to make sure it was 30-plus and we weren’t overstepping if we came,” Hidlebaugh told CBC News.

“We figured, worst-case scenario, a nurse could turn us away.”

Hidlebaugh and Bahnman are both in their 30s. 

Before Tuesday, the youngest people eligible for the vaccine in B.C. had been those born in 1981, with the exception of Indigenous people, who are eligible at age 18. 

Last week, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that the vaccine may be offered to people 30 and up who don’t want to wait for an approved mRNA vaccine, and if certain other conditions are met.

Those conditions include a benefit-risk analysis, informed consent, and that there would be a substantial delay to receive an mRNA vaccine.

Previously, the committee had recommended a pause on using AstraZeneca shots for people younger than 55 out of an abundance of caution after reports of rare and treatable blood clots. But earlier this month, the federal government said the provinces and territories were free to expand eligibility for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to any adult over the age of 18. 

Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have opened vaccine eligibility to those aged 40 and over. In Quebec, the cutoff age is 45.

Bahnman said he thought getting the shot as soon as it became available was an important step toward herd immunity.

“It’s the longest line I’ve been in in a long time, but I think it’s for something that’s worth it,” he said.

Gulzar Hassan takes a break from standing in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at Poirier Forum in Coquitlam. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fraser Health announced the drop-in clinic shortly after noon, along with another at the Cloverdale Recreation Centre in Surrey, outside Vancouver, saying the shots were meant for residents of high-transmission neighbourhoods in the region.

However, no one who spoke with CBC News in Coquitlam on Tuesday was turned away because they live in another community.

CBC photographer Ben Nelms was on scene at around 10 a.m., when there were just a few dozen people in line. But as people learned the age limit had been lowered to 30, they began calling friends and family, causing the lineup to stretch on for hours.

Gulzar Hassan isn’t able to stand for long, but said the people next to her in line agreed to hold her spot so she could rest on a bench whenever one was close by.

“God bless them, I’m really happy for that,” she said. “They just offered, without me even asking.”

30-plus program will be expanded to pharmacies

In their daily COVID-19 update Tuesday afternoon, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix confirmed that the province’s AstraZeneca program has expanded to include people as young as 30.

They said for now, younger people living in communities that have been identified as “hot spots” for transmission will have access to the vaccine through community clinics run by the health authorities.

The lineup at the Poirier Forum in Coquitlam for vaccines was four hours long. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“As we receive enough AstraZeneca to add appointments at pharmacies, it will be made available to anyone in the province aged 30 and older,” Henry and Dix said in a written statement.

B.C.’s main age-based vaccine rollout, which uses the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna in publicly run clinics across the province, is currently booking shots for people aged 59 and up.

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